Numerical Names: One to Ten, from Primo to Decima

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.

1

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.

2

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

3

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.

5

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.

6

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.

7

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.
8

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.

9

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.

10

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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28 Responses to “Numerical Names: One to Ten, from Primo to Decima”

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XIXMMX Says:

February 24th, 2011 at 2:47 am

Sextus is definitely not ready for a comeback! I have always liked Octavia, very pretty and regal-sounding. I remember a book I read as a teenager with a character (British, I think) named Oona. It’s a little out there for me but not too far off from Uma. It has a nice sound.

Persephone Says:

February 24th, 2011 at 7:36 am

Oh PLEASE don’t unearth Octavia! She’s mine, all mine. The last thing I need is for her to go the way of Olivia.

Lola Says:

February 24th, 2011 at 9:46 am

I adore Oona, but dislike Una (reminds me of the card game) but that’s about it for girls. Primo’s neat for a boy, but if I used it, I’d worry about his brothers. None of the others are my cup of tuna.

Whitney Gigandet Says:

February 24th, 2011 at 11:57 am

There are two Romanian number names that I love: Tavian (eight) and my absolute favorite, Decebal (ten) 🙂 I also like December, which falls more into the category of month names.

spotlightstarlit Says:

February 24th, 2011 at 12:43 pm

I think one of the best examples of these names comes from Neil Gaiman’s novel Stardust in which each of his royals have a numerical name according to their birth order. That is where I fell in love with Una.

I adore Octavia and would use it as a fn or mn for an 8th child/daughter.

Nona and Tertia have possibilities as well for Nora and Tricia fans.

Amber Says:

February 24th, 2011 at 1:20 pm

Don’t forget about Tripp for a third boy. Definitely not Latin, but it’s something.

linda Says:

February 24th, 2011 at 1:29 pm

And there’s also Trey too.

Trustedwriter Says:

February 24th, 2011 at 1:52 pm

I love Una, Tertia, and Nona! Prima’s kind of cool sounding too…

christena Says:

February 24th, 2011 at 2:25 pm

I LOVE Oona, but hubby’s not on board.

I saw a movie recently with the main character named Oona, and now i’m seeing it everywhere!

Sarah Says:

February 24th, 2011 at 3:40 pm

what happened to number four?

Scrambledmegs Says:

February 24th, 2011 at 4:50 pm

I work with a woman who named her third daughter Tressa, as in the Spanish “tres.” She’s a teenager, and the name is definitely unique and exotic among her age group.

sadiesadie Says:

February 24th, 2011 at 5:02 pm

I know a Trois which is French for three. It is pr. Twah and is after her inclement Antoine who died before she was born.

Claire Says:

February 24th, 2011 at 5:48 pm

For number 4, what about Tetra? She was a character in one of the Legend of Zelda games. a princess disguised as a pirate. She’s also a species of fish.

Elea Says:

February 24th, 2011 at 7:10 pm

Kensa, Nessa and Tressa are Cornish girls names that mean ‘first’, ‘second’ and ‘third’ respectively.

stephanie_elizabeth Says:

February 24th, 2011 at 10:36 pm

Love Octavia! Would use it for any daughter, whether first or eighth! I like Una and Unity as well.

Elowen Says:

February 25th, 2011 at 1:35 am

I adore Octavia and would use it regardless of birth order if Mr. Elowen liked it 🙁

ladymadonna Says:

February 25th, 2011 at 11:30 pm

I know a Cuatro – Spanish for “four.” He likes his name because it’s unusual, but declined to name his son Cinco.

Sunday Summary: 2/27/11 | Appellation Mountain Says:

February 27th, 2011 at 3:00 pm

[…] look … Nameberry mentioned […]

crazynamegirl Says:

March 17th, 2011 at 3:39 pm

Um, you know how it said that octavia was the teenage wife of Nero? I’m fairly sure that he kicked her to death while she was pregnant…that’s why I prefer ottavia….

Chris Says:

May 22nd, 2011 at 9:37 am

I’m probably missing something obvious, but what’s dodgy about Nonus?

*person* Says:

May 26th, 2011 at 9:31 pm

My friend’s name is Octavia… Her twin’s name is Rebecca, Octavia got the better name I think, but I would never say that to Rebecca of course.

*person* Says:

May 26th, 2011 at 9:33 pm

Chris, is just sounds weird. Also it is very similar to “none” so…

*person* Says:

May 26th, 2011 at 9:35 pm

Oops! In that last comment I meant I was responding to Chris’s comment about the name Nonus…

Stephanie Says:

May 27th, 2011 at 2:50 pm

We are thinking about naming our son Mark III, (after his father & grandfather obviously), & thought about Trace, like tres in Spanish, as a nickname so we wouldn’t have three Marks running around haha. That idea is still up in the air though. We go back & forth on whether or not that’s tacky or clever haha.

john_l_uk Says:

February 5th, 2012 at 3:05 am

Elowen if you had a boy Octavian would be the masculine version although I don’t think anybody would go for that today!

Bahamut Says:

August 20th, 2013 at 2:09 am

Oddly enough; I had seen Tai pop up with the one immediate meaning from Chinese (whether it is Mandarin or Cantonese is debatable).

I can also associate it with being three in the Slavey language. I had looked it up in an online dictionary to confirm my thoughts from when I had studied the language in high school. In my case, pronunciation is similar from having been rather rusty at the language for some time.

tararyaz Says:

January 24th, 2014 at 8:11 am

I learned about Trip or a third boy or for John III for example here in the forums! I also think Decca is nice and month names could be another way to signify birth order.

alicia Says:

February 17th, 2015 at 9:58 am

My paternal grandmother’s name was Sixta! We never knew why or how she got the number name. She was the only one with it. She was a lovely and wonderful grandmother

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