This one brings to mind both a latter-day muppet and the actor who immortalized Sherlock Holmes.
Thanks to Unknown for suggesting today’s herbaceous Name of the Day: Basil.
Basil’s roots are deep, indeed. The plant has been around for at least 5,000 years, grown in India and Asia, and today can be found in both cuisines, as well as Italian cookery.
As a given name, it goes back a ways, too, to at least the 4th century BC, when Saint Basil the Great served as bishop of Caesarea and a theologian of considerable influence. Two Byzantine emperors and a handful of saints have worn the name since.
Whether it’s the plant or the person, the roots of the name are probably Greek. The word basileus meant king, and Basileios would’ve been bestowed in ancient times. However, there’s also an Arabic source for the name that gives the meaning of brave.
Today, there are an infinite number of Basil variants across the globe. A few of the more common ones include:
Consider the international variants and our list of notable Basils expands to include Russian abstract painter Wassily Kandinsky and several Russian rulers called Vasili. We’re quite fond of Vasily, though odds are that any American child with this exotic moniker would find it mangled into something more like vaseline.
As for Basil himself, on the Disney Channel, he’s one of the Sprites – a muppet-like character – on Johnny and the Sprites. The British actor Basil Rathbone is best known for portraying Sherlock Holmes in a series of movies during the 1940s. Rathbone brings us full circle back to Disney – the animated mouse-sleuth in 1986’s Great Mouse Detective was called Basil. Throw in plenty of noteworthy scientists and politicians, many of them British, and the name takes on a certain tweedy Englishness. He also sounds undeniably smart.
While the name has never been common in the US, Basil enjoyed steady use from the 1880s through the late 1960s. But by 1973, he’d dropped out of the US Top 1000, and has not been heard from since.
Today you’ll hear the Vasily/Wassily variants in Eastern Europe; Basile is sometimes used in Belgium. But in the US, this name seems like one of the more daring throwback choices. If you’re an organic farmer or a cutting edge artist, your son might wear this name without fear. But for the average kiddo coming home to a suburban subdivision? We think Basil crosses the line from distinctive to burdensome.
We love his bright “a” sound and the “z” in the middle. And yes, we wish there were more nature-name choices for boys. Brainy names are among our favorites, too – we love Arthur, Simon and Henry because they sound bookish. But we’re just not sure about this name – we love him, but we’d be surprised to meet a baby Basil.