Theophile: Baby Name of the Day

by appellationmountain on June 12, 2014

TheophileIf Theodore is catching on, how ’bout this related name?

Thanks to Caitlin for suggesting Theophile as our Baby Name of the Day.

File Theophile with Theodule and Theodosia - an unusual Theo- name that has undeniably seen use, but has mostly faded, at least in English.

Theophile is the French form of the Greek Theophilos, Theophilus in Latin - theos refers to God, and philos to love, so Theophile is loved by God, or one who loves God, or maybe just a friend of God.

The name was in use in the ancient world.  Coins tell us that an Indo-Greek king, somewhere in the last two centuries BC, wore the name.  And Plutarch quoted an earlier writer’s work on the geography of Italy – the writer was also Theophilus.

Then comes the New Testament.  Both the Gospel of Luke and the Acts of the Apostles are dedicated to Theophilus.  But exactly who Theophilus is remains unclear.  There are three possibilities:

  • It could be the given name of a historical figure.
  • It could be an honorific used for a real person.
  • It could be a general form of address, something like writing to “dear Friend.”

Theories abound, but let’s leave with this: all of the Theophil- names are ancient, indeed.

History gives us many more bearers of the name:

  • In the late eleventh and early twelfth centuries, someone – possibly a Benedictine monk – wrote under the pen name Theophilus Presbyter. Writing in Latin, he compiled descriptions of various medieval arts, from painting and drawing to creating stained glass windows and building organs.  It’s quite the tome.
  • Here’s one of my favorites – Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart was baptized Johannes Chrysostomus Wolfgangus Theophilus.  The first two – Johannes Chrysostomus – were given in honor of his day of birth, January 27, the Feast of John Chrysostum.  Wolfgang was a family name, and Theophilus the name of one of his godfathers.  Theophilus became Amadeus in Latin, and Gottlieb in German.  It’s an interesting piece of name history, but Mozart was rarely referred to as Theophilus, and never in the course of his musical career.
  • The first governor of New Haven Colony in Connecticut was Theophilus Eaton.
  • Nineteenth century French poet, travel writer, and art critic Théophile Gautier, has been cited as an influence by writers as distinguished – and different – as Honore de Balzac, T.S. Eliot, and Oscar Wilde.  He was a devotee of the Romantic Ballet, and extraordinarily well-traveled – his writing took him to Spain, Italy, Egypt, Algeria, and Russia.  Later in life he became part of Princess Mathilde Bonaparte’s court, officially serving as her librarian.
  • Thornton Wilder’s last novel was the semi-autobiographical Theophilus North.
  • Rapper Theophilus London was born in Brooklyn of Trinidadian descent.
  • It’s Teofilo in Italian, Spanish, and Portuguese, and there are a handful of notable examples of both.

From history to literature to music, there’s a Theophilus for nearly everyone.  Theophile is much harder to pin down, and according to Meilleurs Prenoms, he’s rarely bestowed upon boys in France today.

Still, you’ll find the occasional Theophile in the US, mostly in Cajun families.

Is he wearable in 2014?  Maybe.  Theophilus could blend in with other ancient names like Atticus and Augustus.  Plus, the nickname Theo is very stylish.

What do you think of  Theophile?  Is he wearable in 2014?

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{ 6 comments… read them below or add one }

Kerry June 16, 2014 at 12:43 PM

I agree that the -phile ending is probably a non starter in the US right now. Even if kids are enlightened enough to take the suffix’s actual meaning rather than making an immediate association with pedophile, there are probably going to be a fair number of Theos in this next generation’s classrooms.

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Jennifer R. June 16, 2014 at 12:15 PM

I like Theodore, Theo, and Theon. I can even perhaps see Theophilus on just the right kid. But I can’t imagine any child with a name ending in -phile. Even though the suffix just means to love/loving, it has a very negative association. I would venture to guess that 99% of my neighbors who don’t love names/words like I do would immediately think of the only word they regularly hear with the ending – pedophile. Unfortunate, because the sound is rather nice.

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Kimberley June 16, 2014 at 6:01 AM

I would never in a million years have guessed that Mozart Latinized his name from Theophilus to Amadeus. That’s completely fascinating!

I quite like the sound of Theophilus. Hmmm…will have to think on this one!

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Skylar June 14, 2014 at 9:52 PM

I love Theophilus (Theophile, like a PP said, reminds me of other “phile” words lol). Funnily enough, I recently took an etymology class, and one of the final questions asked why Mozart changed his middle name from Theophilus (theo=god, phile=love/like) to Amadeus {ama=love/like, deus=god). I love how the two are practically synonyms–just one is Greek and the other Latin.

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Caitie June 12, 2014 at 8:29 PM

Hmm I am undecided. Fascinating history, and I am not sold on the Theodore but love Theo (and have the problem of feeling like I need to put a full name on the birth certificate). I think Theophilus/os is better than Theophile – the phile sound makes me think bibliophile, or similiar words. Are there any other ways to get to Theo?

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Amy3 June 12, 2014 at 12:36 PM

I love how this name looks and its correct pronunciation (at least per Forvo.com). I think it could be challenging in the US, but then even the ‘simplest’ of names can be mispronounced. :)

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