Lost Latin Names Ready to Return: Aurelius to Octavius
Thanks to mass mega-phenomena like Harry Potter and The Hunger Games, we’ve been exposed to lots of previously fusty-sounding ancient Latinate names, and some of them are beginning to sound more and more wearable as baby names—in fact several have landed on the current popularity list. Guest blogger Andy Osterdahl, in his extensive study of the strangest names in American political history, has found many examples of these in the names of past American politicos.
Four years ago I was invited to share my political strange name findings with the readers of Nameberry and with this, my third guest blog, we delve into the musty, cobwebbed world of Latinate names. While many today consider Latin to be a “dead language” used only by college professors, scholars and theologians, this classical language of the ancient Romans produced many intriguing names, many of which are being brought back and used today by the daring parent.
During the 18th, 19th and even early 20th centuries, parents of all walks of life bestowed intriguing names ending in “us”, “ius” or “ious” upon their children, bridging the gap between ancient history and the modern day.
A name like Flavius, for instance—recently that of a stylist character in The Hunger Games– has proven to be curiously frequent among 19th and 20th century political figures, in particular the combination Flavius Josephus. To date, I have cataloged 22 politicians named Flavius (nine of them actually Flavius Josephus, named in honor of the Roman-Jewish scholar.)
Still more unusual Latin names abound in the annals of the U.S. House of Representatives: Brutus Junius Clay, Sempronius Hamilton Boyd, Romulus Zachariah Linney and Americus Vespucius Rice all served terms in Congress during the 18th and 19th centuries.
Americus V. Rice’s unusual first and middle names derived from the Latinized version of Amerigo Vespucci (1454-1512), the Italian explorer who would lend an alternate version of his first name to two continents. While Rice‘s name is unique, he is one of several men named Americus elected or nominated for public office in the US.
Lucius Quintus Cincinnatus Lamar (1825-1893), one of the most preeminent Southern politicians of his day, is another eye-catching Latinate name, receiving it from his identically named father, who was named in honor of the ancient Roman statesman and military figure Lucius Quinctius Cincinnatus. Lucius, the name of villain Draco Malfoy’s father in Harry Potter, is currently ranking #182 on Nameberry!
There are also a number of American political figures whose names were Latinized by a parent tacking on an “us” or “ius,” perhaps in a vain attempt to make their names sound important. Lambertus Wolters Ledyard, a onetime mayor of Cazenovia, New York is one example; “Lambert” originally being Germanic. Karelius Nelson, a member of the South Dakota House of Representatives of Scandinavian descent was given the Latinized version of the Germanic name Karel. New York Congressman Jeromus Johnson is another example of this trend and one can only wonder if his parents originally picked the name Jerome for their son only to attempt to make it more fanciful!
In over a decade of research on curiously named political figures, I have observed several of these Latinized names to be more prevalent than others. The name Flavius mentioned above was given to over two dozen individuals as was the name Lycurgus, which has over 25 instances. Aurelius (currently #192 on Nameberry) and Rodolphus were each given to 14, Octavius (#299 on NB) was given to six, Archelaus to seven, Philetus to ten, Theophilus to 31 and Leonidas (497 on the national list and 266 on Nameberry), with a whopping 50 instances!
Theophilus and Leonidas lead to the friendly nicknames of Theo and Leo. With Alan Millar’s graphic novel 300 and 2007 film in which Gerard Butler portrays Spartan warrior king Leonidas, it even has some pop culture cred.
There are other Latinate names that are equally unique. My research has revealed only one instance of the name Narcissus, borne by California jurist Narcissus Augustus Dorn. And then there’s Iowa jurist Apollonius Bohun Huston (1823-1902), who shares a first name with several important figures from ancient Rome.
Other “use-at-your-own-discretion” type names were given to Tennessee State Senator Vitruvius Jackson Kennedy and Scipio Africanus Jones (1862-1940) an Arkansas delegate to several Republican National Conventions who was named in honor of Roman military leader Scipio Africanus.
Finally, there’s Texas State Representative Decimus et Ultimus Barziza (1847-1882). A native of Virginia, he was the tenth child born to his family. His father, an Italian immigrant count, was said to have been at a loss for a name for the child when a friend suggested Decimus et Ultimus which in Latin, means “tenth and last” –a truly a one-of-a-kind statement name!
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tp b Said
on August 1st, 2018 at 9:44 pm
Great post Andy.
How common were the Roman number names, like Septimus and Decimus?
Did people ever name all the way up by number?
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