Baby Name of the Day: Tiberius

by appellationmountain on December 9, 2011

Publicity photo of William Shatner as Captain ...

Captain James Tiberius Kirk; Image via Wikipedia

He puts the T. in Captain James T. Kirk, and before we went boldly where no man had gone before, he was a Roman Emperor.

Thanks to Sarah for suggesting Tiberius as our Baby Name of the Day.

If you think about Rome for a minute, you’ll find Tiberius among the most appropriate appellations to ever come from the eternal city. Legend tells us that Rome was founded on the banks of the Tiber River eight centuries BC; the river’s name has roots older than the city. Some speculate that it comes from the Etruscan Thefarie, which appears as a given name in inscriptions. Others suggest it could be from the Celtic language Italic, also spoken in the region. Or maybe it honors a king called Tiberinus who drowned in its waters. The city of Tivoli was known as Tibur in the ancient world, suggesting other possibilities.

In any case, Tiberius is almost certainly linked to the river’s name, and conjures up visions of the ancient capital at its finest. The second emperor of Rome, and a renowned military general, Tiberius reigned for two decades before suddenly stepping down. The historian Tacitus paints a scathing picture of his rule, and Tiberius was wildly unpopular by the time of his death. However, modern historians have suggested this might just be bad PR. Tiberius left the empire on sound financial footing and made wise foreign policy choices.

Happily, he wasn’t the only Tiberius. The name was a reasonably popular personal name over the centuries, lasting longer than the Roman Empire. The name appears in the Byzantine Empire, too, and Geoffrey of Monmouth called a fictional – or perhaps patchwork – Roman Emperor Lucius Tiberias in his History of the Kings of Britain.

This makes Tiberius the kind of ancient appellation that’s always out there, but seldom used for a child. Tiberius has never cracked the US Top 1000, even as Julius and Atticus have gone mainstream.

Then along came a little show called Star Trek, Gene Rodenberry’s enduring creation. The USS Enterprise first sailed across our tiny television screens in 1966 under the command of Captain James T. Kirk. His backstory was all-American with a twist: born in Iowa in 2233, a standout student at Starfleet Academy, and a capable leader.

Some fan sites attribute his middle name to a fictional grandfather called Tiberius; apparently it was actually inspired by a grandfather named Samuel who was interested in Roman history. In early days of the series Kirk’s middle initial was given at least once as R. One of the writers claims that it started as a joke that stuck.

All of this makes Tiberius an ancient appellation with a serious sci fi twist. As a given name, Tiberius feels like a fierce growl of a choice. Unlike Leonidas, he lacks an easy short form. Tib? Berry? One possibility is Ty – but that’s as unsatisfying as reducing Alexander to Al.

In the middle spot, he’s clever. Almost too clever, though he’s still more original than Danger.

Tiberius has never cracked the US Top 1000, but he’s not an all-out rarity. He surfaces in US Census records, and Nancy reports that 53 boys received the name in 2010. You’re more likely to meet a little Felix or Marcus, but with the popularity of really old school names on the rise, Tiberius won’t raise any more eyebrows than, say, Moses.

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