Numerical Names: One to Ten, from Primo to Decima

February 24, 2011 Linda Rosenkrantz

Back in the days when being an octomom –as in mother of eight– was no rarity, babies were often given a name that indicated their place in the birth order.  This began in the Roman Era, and was revived by the Victorians.

Now that ancient names (eg Atticus, Maximus), are coming back– partly influenced by the Septimus-type names heard in Harry Potterand starting to be seen as fresh rather than fusty, I thought we’d take a look at some of those long dormant number names—both Latin and others.


Prima — Perfectly plausible–and ego-boosting– name for a first girl, though rarely heard in this country other than as a surname (as in Louis P.) or terms like prima ballerina. Connie Sellecca and John Tesh used it for their now grown daughter, named after her maternal grandfather.

Primo —Historically, Primo has been among the most frequently used of the birth-order names, with its jaunty ‘o’ ending and Italianate flavor. It was the name of a Spanish saint, and author Primo Levi was a famous bearer.

Primus —The original form of the prime names; more appropriate to a Hybrid model car than a modern baby.

Una —Though this is an Irish name (Oonagh/Oona) with a different meaning, Una can also be thought of as a number one name and could be used for a first child. In literature, Una personifies the singleness of religion and the quintessence of truth and beauty in Edmund Spenser’s The Faerie Queene, and it was a favorite character name of Rudyard Kipling.

UnityUnity means ‘oneness’ and is one of the neglected virtue names, associated with the colorful British Mitford sisters. Definitely up for revival, along with others like Amity and Verity.


Segundo—an occasionally used Spanish name for a second child.


Tertia—which is occasionally used in the UK, but rarely in the US, would make an unconventional but interesting possibility for the third child in a family. Terza and Terzo are lively Italian female and male variations.

Tertius—Most of the numerical names were saved for later children—the first few could be named for family members, but an exception was made for Number 3. In the New Testament, the martyred Tertius was the Apostle who wrote down Paul’s letter to the Romans. Tertius Lydgate was an idealistic doctor in George Eliot’s Middlemarch.


Quintus —would make an interesting alternative to Quentin or Quintin, both of which also relate to the number five and have been fairly widely used. Quintuses appeared in such period films as Gladiator and Titus. Quintin was another Trollope choice, Quinto is a lively Spanish version, the feminine Quinta is another possibility.


Sextus — It may have been perfectly acceptable for the buttoned-up Victorians, but we can’t imagine a modern parent burdening her child with this first syllable. Sextus was the name of the seventh pope of the Christian church, while Sixtus the Second was canonized as an early martyr. Not surprisingly, there was a Sextus Parker in a Trollope novel.

Six—the name of a female sitcom character on Blossom in the 1990s. Hasn’t been heard from since.


Septimus–. A name with a certain dashing charm, it was popularized by the Roman Emperor Septimus Severus, a patron of arts and letters. There was a Septimus in Wilkie Collins’s The Moonstone, in Dickens’s Edwin Drood, and in Trollope’s Barchester novels. Probably it is most familiar to modern readers as one of the principal characters in Virginia Woolf’s Mrs. Dalloway, and as another Harry Potter wizard, Septimus Weasley.

Seven -Singer Erykah Badu gave this name to her son, but the only time it was heard again was when Seinfeld‘s George Costanza declared it his first choice for either a daughter or son.

Octavia —The attractive Octavia has a rich history and literary pedigree. Commonly used in the Roman Imperial family, one first century BC Octavia was the daughter of Claudius, sister of the Emperor Augustus and the second, pre-Cleopatra, wife of Mark Antony (she appears in Shakespeare’s Antony and Cleopatra), while another ancient Octavia was the teenage wife of Nero. The British civic reformer Octavia Hill actually was an eighth daughter.

Octavio —is a numeric name widely used in the Latino community. It is associated with the distinguished Nobel Prize-winning Mexican poet Octavio Paz, and was the name of the main character in Stendhal’s Armancia. The Italian version is Ottavio.

OctaviusOctavius sounds a bit more ponderous and pompous than most of the others. The first Roman emperor, now known by the imperial title Augustus, was born Gaius Octavius, and appears in Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar and Antony and Cleopatra as Octavius Caesar. Octavius Robinson was a character in Shaw’s Man and Superman, Octavius Pepper was a Harry Potter wizard. Stretching it a bit further, there was a fifth century Saint Octavianus.


NonaNona was another of the three Roman goddesses of childbirth, the nine meaning related to the months of pregnancy, and she was also one of the Fates who shaped people’s lives. This is one example that doesn’t scream out its numerical origins and actually has Welsh roots as well. Two contemporary musical Nonas are singers Nona Hendryx and Nona Gaye—the latter the daughter of the iconic Marvin. About the male version, Nonus—the less said the better.


Decima —This name of a Roman goddess of childbirth and prophecy, one of the Three Fates, is a usable possibility—though there might be some comments when the decimal system comes up on her syllabus.

Decimus —A name not only given occasionally to nineteenth century babies, but also to several notable literary characters in the works of Wilkie Collins and Anthony Trollope. Decimus Burton was a noted ninetenth century English architect.


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