She’s an asteroid, a shrub, a minor literary figure, and an Ancient Roman matron.
Thanks to Paul for suggesting Calpurnia as our Baby Name of the Day.
Plenty of ancient appellations wear well in 2011. Julia and Alexander are classic. If Annia and Junia didn’t exist, chances are they would have been invented.
Calpurnia has equally ancient roots, but she is a rarity, all but extinct circa 2011.
The most famous bearer of the name was Calpurnia Pisonis, a well-born woman who married Julius Caesar when he was at the height of his power, and she was a mere teenager. It’s said that Calpurnia had a vision of Caesar’s assassination on the Ides of March and warned her husband – but he wouldn’t listen.
Calpurnia came from a noble Roman family. They first appear in the historical record in the third century BC. A century later, the first Calpurnius became a consul. Their accomplishments were many.
She’s a literary character, too. The historical figure inspired William Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar.
Then there’s the maid in To Kill a Mockingbird. From Scout to Atticus, to author Harper Lee, the novel has inspired plenty of names for this generation of children. But young Scout is at odds with Calpurnia in much of the novel, and she refers to her simply as Cal. Calpurnia might be hired help, but her relationship with Scout and Jem is an important one. Even if she’s not the most obvious choice from the book, Calpurnia might strike a familiar chord.
More recently, you can find Calpurnia in the young adult section of the bookstore. The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate has garnered rave reviews. The year is 1899, and young Calpurnia is growing up in an affluent Texas family. She’s not succeeding at the domestic arts, but turns out to have quite a head for science. Unfortunately, opportunities for a well-born Texas girl in the era are limited, and Callie struggles with the reality of her future.
There’s one more bearer of the name: Calpernia Addams. She’s an activist for transgendered rights. Her story of choosing a name is fascinating: Addams was inspired by Shakespeare, but also the 1991 Addams Family movie.
Do you remember the scene?
Morticia is at a parent-teacher conference for young Wednesday. Wednesday has brought in a photo of an ancestor: Calpurnia Addams. Morticia explains that Calpurnia was Wednesday’s great-aunt, burned as witch in 1706, after “she danced naked in the town square and enslaved the minister.” The teacher appears both horrified and fascinated, and Morticia assures her: “Don’t worry. We’ve told Wednesday college first.”
There’s also a flowering shrub native to South Africa and an asteroid discovered by an MIT/NASA/US Airforce research project that has identified more than 225,000 asteroids to date.
The references from the natural world reinforce Calpurnia’s image. She’s distinctive and historic, but quirky and offbeat at the same time. If there were a compromise between Tallulah and Charlotte, it might be Calpurnia.
With the easy nickname Callie, Calpurnia has the option of blending in to the crowd, while still retaining her unusual formal version. It makes for an intriguing, distinctive choice.