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.