.The baby name Maximilian occurs in the ancient world … and then was reinvented in Europe.
Thanks to Karla for suggesting our Baby Name of the Day.
Max names are having a moment.
Just Max is most popular, and surname Maxwell isn’t far behind.
Russell Crowe’s star turn as Maximus in 2000’s Gladiator helped usher in an era of ancient names, just in time for the twenty-first century.
Other Max names abound. Maximilian isn’t even the longest in the US Top 1000 – that distinction belongs to Maximiliano.
But Maximilian fits right in with so many names we love for our sons right now. It’s a dashing choice, a brother for Sebastian or Alexander, a substitute for Leonardo or maybe Jameson.
Strictly speaking, this name comes from Maximus, meaning the greatest.
Those ancient Romans loved their elaborations, and so Maximilianus was in use by the third century. There’s a martyr saint by the name, a missionary who died rather than renounce his faith. Around the same time, a second Maximilianus refused to serve in the Roman army on religious grounds. He, too, was executed.
So the name, like so many ancient possibilities, was waiting for rediscovery.
Instead, the Holy Roman Emperor Frederick III re-coined Maximilian for a son born in 1459.
Some say the emperor named his son for one of the early martyr saints, inspired by a dream.
Other accounts insist that the name came from the Roman generals Fabius Maximus and Cornelius Scipio Aemilianus. The creative papa smooshed them together, and the rest is history.
What we know for certain is that Frederick’s son became the Holy Roman Emperor Maximilian I, and the baby name Maximilian filtered into broader use as the German aristocracy embraced it.
Perhaps the most notable bearer of the name today is Saint Maximilian Kolbe. Even non-Catholics know his story.
After the Nazis invaded his homeland, the Polish-born priest refused to sign papers that would’ve given him German citizenship. Instead, he operated his monastery as a hospital and used it to help 2,000 Jews evade capture. The Nazis arrested him, but in Auschwitz he continued to make trouble by ministering to his fellow prisoners.
After an escape attempt, ten men were chosen to die as punishment. Kolbe wasn’t among those chosen. Instead, he volunteered.
His story is one of selflessness and unshakable faith.
BY THE NUMBERS
The baby name Maximilian is barely heard in the US data in the late nineteenth and most of the twentieth centuries. It’s not until the 1970s that it started to rise.
That tracks with the canonization process for Kolbe. Pope John Paul II formally began the process in 1969, and canonization followed in 1982. (Becoming an officially recognized saint takes some time.)
In 1982, 40 boys received the baby name Maximilian – a new high.
By 1986, Maximilian entered the US Top 1000 at #843.
GRAND and TRENDING
The Catholic faithful and those inspired by Kolbe’s personal story might have piqued interest in the name, but that’s not enough to sustain a Top 1000 choice long-term.
Instead, Maximilian remains in the Top 1000 thanks to several trends:
- Our love of long names, like Sebastian and Alexander.
- The popularity of many Max names, including just Max.
- An interest in names from the ancient world.
- A feeling that bold, grand names aren’t too much to live up to.
That last one encompasses modern word names, like Legend and Maverick, as well as borrowings from days gone by. Not only has Maximilian fared reasonably well, but so has the equally grand Augustus.
It’s not always easy to know which Maxes are really Maximilians.
Jennifer Lopez’s son Max is one. Disney trivia buffs might know that Goofy’s son Max is, too.
But overall, this name remains fairly uncommon – a Top 1000 choice that isn’t quite a household name.
If you’re after an elaborate, dramatic name for a son that still feels wearable, the pairing of lengthy Maximilian with accessible Max might make this dashing classic the perfect choice.
What do you think of the baby name Maximilian?
First published on May 18, 2010, this post was revised substantially and re-posted on April 27, 2021.
Great name, surprised no one referred to the movie ‘A good year’ where Maximilian Skinner is the main character! It has a very aristocratic sound to it…
It’s odd. I find this name so overly fussy and yet boring at the same time. Probably because of the ubiquitous Max.
Charlotte Vera says
Not my style — too long, complicated, and over-the-top for a little boy. Of course, I shouldn’t necessarily be saying that seeing as there’s a possibility that a future daughter could end up being named Guinevere (Mark’s suggestion, and one that I haven’t actually vetoed since it could be used as a tribute to my mum).
I took Roseanna to her first swim class today and one of her swimming companions is a little Maxwell. I prefer Maxwell to most other Max variants, but even then it’s not a name I’m particularly fond of.
Too many letter and syllables…way too formal and over the top.
One of my good friends is naming her baby on the way Maximilian, and calls him baby Max. He is being named after her husband (who is in his late 20s), but she gets upset if you call him a junior. He is going to have a different middle name, so he’s not a junior according to her. I wasn’t aware of that being the difference—is that true?
I think it’s a cute name, but I’m not a big fan of naming after the dad. We are also a “Max and Luby” house…as my 2 year old calls them.
British American says
I’ve heard that from friends before – that the son has to have the same first *and* middle name to officially be a Junior. Though our friends named their son with the same first and middle name as Dad and he’s a II ( 2 / 2nd) on the birth certificate, I think (rather than a Jr.) I looked it up once on wikipedia, but I don’t remember now.
Jr. is in fact only if they share the same exact full name, but people use it otherwise.
British American says
Max is cool – I do like it because I didn’t grow up knowing any Maxes. 🙂 I don’t think I know any preschoolers with the name either right now.
We somewhat considered it for our 2 year old son. Mainly it was suggested to us by my in-laws and my brother-in-law. Which made me not want to use it, because I didn’t really want family picking the name for us. I wanted something more unexpected. My brother in law did go on to name one of his cats ‘Max’ so that worked out. 😛
I probably would have either gone with Max or Maxwell because that’s the most familiar version of the name for me. Maximilian is nice enough, but a little too much like “Max-ee-million” which sounds like it should be some really rich fancy guy. We also considered Sam – which would have been Samuel – which makes me feel like Max should have a longer version, but I’m not really comfortable with any of them. So it’s good that we didn’t decide on Max really.
Maximilian is a nice continental classic. Love it!
Well, as much as I like Max, I’ve grown somewhat tired of it. I have a friend with a little Max (Maximus in full) and I know one other Max (not sure what, if anything his full name is). Then Max and Ruby on Nick Jr. is a staple in our house, currently. (Also, I know about a dozen Magnuses, no joke. I worked for a Swedish company for a while and Magnus is as ubiquitous as Mike.)
With that said, Max is fun and cute and I do understand the appeal… but Maxx? Erm, the double x on names just doesn’t sit well with me… it evokes adult films, ‘gentlemen’s clubs’, and somewhat less distastefully, the new Dos Equis commercials. I think Max, much like Maddie, Belle/Bella, Izzy, and Lily, ends up even more popular because of the long list of names for which it’s a nick name, in addition to being a name given in full (just as Abby points out), and that’s a big bummer. Maximilian might be somewhat rare, but Max isn’t. It’s exactly the dilemma we faced considering Isadora for our daughter – she’d be one of many Izzies, anyway, despite her ‘unique’ full name – definitely part of why we shied away from the name, although not the main reason, admittedly.
As for pronunciation, I say Maximilian: MAX-a-MILL-yuhn. Like Max-a-million, wrong though it might be! It would not cross my mind to say MEEL-ee-ahn at the end, unless I were talking to a Spanish-speaker, and then I would definitely say MEEL-ee-ahn.
Thing is, I *like* Max, but much like so many other popular names that I like, I find them kind of ho-hum, unfortunately.