When Dirty Hippy and Lola both make a request, we know the name is worthy of consideration.

And so today’s Name of the Day is Cornelius.

Believe it or not, Cornelius has never been out of the Top 1000 in the US. In fact, he was once reasonably common, ranking in the Top 250 most years through 1918.

Today he’s an antique, tottering at the edge of obscurity at #975. Still, he’s fared better than Ignatius, Marius or many other ancient Roman names that now feel quite fashionable. (Atticus, for example, was unranked in the US from 1881 until 2004.) And with the revival in throwback names for our sons, Cornelius shows promise of reversing his decline.

He’s certainly got a great story. Most agree that Cornelius derives from the Latin cornu, or horn. In the New Testatment, Cornelius was a Roman centurion who became the first non-Jew to follow Jesus. Prior to his baptism, there was some uncertainty as to the requirements for conversion. Let’s just say that if Cornelius had not joined the club, odds are the world would be a very different place.

The original Cornelius was sainted, and the name was also worn by a third century pope who died in a wave of Christian persecutions. Three other Saints Cornelius appear through the 1500s, one in Ireland and the last in the Netherlands.

Most modern parents are probably inspired less by the Good Book and more by the 1943 coming-of-age novel A Tree Grows in Brooklyn. Betty Smith’s novel focuses on Francie Nolan and her family, including her younger brother Cornelius – Neeley. It was a bestseller and became an Oscar-nominated movie in 1945.

While the Nolan family struggled, another Cornelius founded the American family whose surname is synonymous with wealth and privilege – Cornelius Vanderbilt. A ruthless and innovative entrepreneur, he amassed a fortune in railroads and shipping.

Vanderbilt’s roots are Dutch. The name has enjoyed more use in the Netherlands than elsewhere, and that language gives us the attractive nickname options Kees and Niels. We also find Cornelius in modest use in Norway.

Speaking of nicknames, the obvious diminutive is Cory or Corey. From 1993 to 2000, Cornelius “Cory” Matthews was the central figure in the ABC sitcom Boy Meets World. His full name wasn’t revealed until the series’ end, so some fans of the show may be unaware of the hero’s unusual moniker. While Cory is lightweight, even with an extra “e,” as a nickname for Cornelius, it’s an interesting choice.

Parents determined to use Cory could opt for Cordell, Cornell, Corbin, Corrin or Corrigan on their son’s birth certificate, but we find Cornelius a worthy contender and perhaps stronger than some of the modern surname choices.

Parents may hesitate to use Cornelius because in recent years, he’s taken on a bit of a sci fi vibe. Roddy McDowall played Cornelius in the Planet of the Apes movies. And, of course, Cornelius Fudge is a less-than-admirable Minister of Magic in the Harry Potter series.

Overall, we find Cornelius literary, smart and historic. It’s a lot of name for a child to wear, but there are at least three strong nickname choices available and doubtless some we’re overlooking. With a simple surname, this could be a surprising, but appealing, choice for a son.

About Abby Sandel

Whether you're naming a baby, or just all about names, you've come to the right place! Appellation Mountain is a haven for lovers of obscure gems and enduring classics alike.

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What do you think?


  1. Tough name to live by in the early years of teen life when you’re just trying to get through. Definitely a memorable name when people meet me. It’s better taken internationally than local areas. My nickname is Con and I basically use that everywhere.

  2. I am considering Cornelius for baby no.4. My husband suggested it with no.3 (a character from Babar the elephant originally) but we went went with something else in the end. It has really grown on me in the duration and I’m thinking of Nils (a family name) as the nickname.

  3. We are definitely considering Cornelius for our baby! This is Tim’s grandfather’s name. I just so happen to be reading A Tree Grows in Brooklyn and love the idea of the nickname Neeley. I’m curious to hear from more Cornelius’s as to how they feel about their name.

  4. Well my name IS Cornelius. And although it sounds like a neat name, its not to cool to grow up with. Here in Australia and New Zealand we have a cereal company called Kelloggs, represented by a Rooster. This roosters name is also Cornelius. (Always nice to be called after!) Other locations for this name include the Kids TV show Babar (Being the old wise elephant).
    I often go by the name Neil, but also go by the french name Luis (taken from the last four letters and featured in the book “A day with Wilbur Robinson” and its movie adaptation “Meet The Robinsons”).
    My High school Indonesian teacher said once that many catholic priests in Indonesia are called after the original Biblical one.

    From my own studies Cornelius’ tend to be leaders particularly of Economy and Philosophy. Most have a high IQ and bare the name with great honour.

  5. Cornelius is my cousin-in-law’s name. It’s also his father’s name, and to be honest, I’m not sure how far back the naming tradition reaches. Cornelius and my cousin broke the trend when naming their own son: Lukas Cornelius. However, they do plan on giving Lukas the option of having his names legally reversed on their expense should he ever desire to do so.

  6. My son was born on the first, and we named him Cornelius(after his father…my bf). I must say I have learned a lot more on where the name may have, or has, derived from now that I’ve read this. Also, my mom wanting to call him Corey was a good call( I was wondering for the longest…”Where are you getting Corey from out of Cornelius?”). I had no idea Corey would be a nickname for Cornelius. My bfs nickname is Neal, and some people call him Nee. Back in highschool friends of his called him Corney…lol. That’s not a name I plan to call our son though. Think I’ll stick with Corey! 🙂

  7. Just a quick note for today. I actually met a Cornelius, Neil/Niall today. A lawyer, actually. Very nice to see and he was surprised I liked his name. He liked it but had never met anyone else that did. I think I made his day! 😀

  8. That last sentence outlines my problem with the darling Cornelius, I have a three syllable monster of a surname. Simple things sound awesome with it, mildly intricate names stand up well next to it(August, Atticus, Lucius) but anything a touch more intricate, like Cornelius, sort of clash a bit. I also have to admit, Niels or Neil, while readily approachable as nicknames, don’t do anything for me. Kees is neat sounding, if clashy with the Scots surname (which has a prominent K sound in the middle, to boot)! But I like his style and verve and I just can’t make myself take him completely off my list (says she who can’t shake Cosmo either). I did not realise Cory Matthews was Cornelius, though. Which puts a new spin on it for me, despite my dislike of 80’s feeling Cory. That’s one I’d be afraid would stick into adulthood and I don’t like it enough for it to last past 3. Well, All this is fodder for the other half who is not completely sold on Cornelius although the “Planet of the Apes” is what brought it to the table in the first place. Roddy McDowell was an awesome guy and wonderful actor and the other half has been a devooted fan all his life. 🙂

    Cornelius gets a huge :thumbsup: from me!