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.

{ 14 comments… read them below or add one }

Tiberiu January 6, 2014 at 5:13 PM

Hey, my name is Tiberiu (tih-BEH-ree-u). The short version is Tibi (TIH-bee). This is the Romanian version.
Also, I’m Romanian.

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Father of Tiberius February 20, 2013 at 4:37 PM

We named our Firstborn (Oct 6, 2011) Tiberius. Almost universal praise (to our face at least).
I’m going to teach him a phrase: “Emperor or Captain; take your pick”
Ty for short.

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appellationmountain February 20, 2013 at 8:53 PM

Now that could be incredibly funny! Though maybe less cute around the high school years …

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Geekgirl September 29, 2012 at 6:03 AM

I think it’s a really great name and quite uncommon while not totally on the weird side. Easy to understand, spell and pronounce. I like the fact that it’s not easily shortened. Still it’s possible to come up with some creative nicks: Tibo, Tibor (Hungarian version of them name), Rus, Jus, Rius or something like that. It’s on top of our list for the baby that’s due 4 months from now :-)

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Nook of Names December 10, 2011 at 11:22 AM

Oh, what a joy! I adore Tiberius. It was also the first name of my favorite emperor Claudius, and I’ve always thought its choice as James Kirk’s middle name was inspired. I’d love to see more baby Tiberiuses around :).

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Charlotte Vera December 10, 2011 at 1:32 AM

Mark suggested Tyberius when we were trying to come up with Alaric’s name. I said that, while a casual fan of Star Trek, there was NO WAY I was going to name my son after the show! Of course, Mark’s fondness for the name comes from both Star Trek and HBO’s Rome (which I’ve never seen). I like long names, but this one’s just a bit too much for me — and too tied to James T.

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Julie December 9, 2011 at 3:34 PM

I’m a Geekgirl, but I’m not a big enough of a Geek to use Tiberius.

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Sarah A December 9, 2011 at 3:26 PM

“Tiberius won’t raise any more eyebrows than, say, Moses”, ha! I guess I have a thing for over the top boys names. Our top contender for a potential future son is Moses Tiberius Eugene :) Eugene is my FIL, total coincidence with Rodenberry.

I fell in love with Tiberius when I heard it on HBO’s Rome, so I hear Ancient Rome before Star Trek. The only Star Trek I’ve actually ever seen is the Zachary Quinto movie. If I remember correctly, in that film they state that Tiberius is the name of the grandfather, though when his wife brings it up Kirk’s father says it’s a terrible name and so they move it to the middle spot.

I agree that short form Ty is unsatisfying (and so connected to Tyler), but I love the idea of Bear or something unrelated like Buddy or Bo. I was also thinking, though it’s a stretch, of Rhys.

I like to think I’d have the guts to use Tiberius as a first name but if a kid ends up being shy, slight, and bookish, then it just feels way too sci-fi geek.

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Eva December 9, 2011 at 2:54 PM

Tiberius just screams ANCIENT ROME to me. And not in a good way.

Robert De Niro’s character in Meet the Parents was called Jack Tiberius Byrnes. He pronounced it tih-BEH-ree-us which I do prefer to ty-BEER-ee-us.

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C in DC December 9, 2011 at 2:36 PM

I can see a teen Tiberius being called “Bear” or something completely unrelated like “Buddy”. Russ is another nn possibility. Tiberius might appeal to those parents wanting a long name that doesn’t shorten easily, unlike Alexander or Jonathan. Nice, strong name.

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i.heart.nerds December 9, 2011 at 8:28 AM

I know a Tiberius. He is in his mid twenties and of Romanian descent.
He usually just goes by Tiberius but has been known to shorten it to Tiber.
I think it is a strong names without being violent like Gunner and Hunter are.

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Catherine December 9, 2011 at 9:59 PM

it’s funny, I actually dated a guy named Attila (his parents were Eastern European immigrants) who usually went by his middle name. He was a really nice guy – kind of bookish and geeky but cute.

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Catherine December 9, 2011 at 5:36 AM

I’d use Tiber for a short form (Tiber Septim is also a major character in Elder Scrolls lore). Or use it for a middle name.

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Lauren December 9, 2011 at 8:13 AM

If I was to go all Elder-Scrollsy, I’d cut to the chase and just name the child Talos. Might be slightly presumptuous though.

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