Most names that have been worn by kings and saints are familiar, oft-used monikers: James and Alexander, Henry and David. But if you’re hoping for something less common, but just as regal and historic, here’s one to consider.
Thanks to Jess for suggesting today’s Name of the Day: Cyrus.
Say Cyrus today, and it’s hard to avoid thinking of the Achy Breaky daddy to Hannah Montana, Billy Ray and Miley Cyrus. But this moniker has ancient roots as a given name. It’s most likely from the Greek kyros, which in turn is derived from the Persian kûrush, usually given as meaning far-sighted, but that’s in dispute. Other possibilities include a link to the Greek word for lord and master – kyrios – or the Persian word for sun – khur. In any case, Cyrus is the Latinized spelling.
The best known of three princely bearers of the name was Cyrus II of Persia, commonly known as Cyrus the Great. He ruled from 559 to 529 BC. Successful as a military strategist, Cyrus’ campaigns created the largest empire the world had ever seen, including much of southwest and central Asia. He is also known for promoting religious tolerance and some personal freedoms, unusual for the historical era. In the Old Testament, Cyrus ended the captivity of the Jews. A semi-biographical account of Cyrus’ life, known as the Cyropaedia, was authored by the Athenian historian Xenophon several hundred years after Cyrus’ death. Through this work, Cyrus’ legacy has influenced thinkers from the Renaissance through Thomas Jefferson and through to today.
As a given name, Cyrus has been steadily used throughout history. In the fourth century, Cyrus was a doctor who converted to Christianity and would be martyred under the Diocletian persecutions. At least three other saints bear this name in early history.
While it’s never been a common name, you’ll find it throughout US history, too. Cyrus Peirce founded the first teachers’ college in the US in the 1800s. Later in the 19th century, Cyrus Field laid the first transatlantic telegraph cable. Cyrus Hamlin served as a Union general during the Civil War.
The statistics confirm that we’ve always had a scattering of Cyruses among us. In 1880, about 50 baby boys were given the name. Fifty years later, about 100 boys were christened Cyrus every year. Today, it’s the 466th most popular name for boys born in the US, which translates to about 575 newborns. Comparably popular names include Jasper, Walker, Moses, Nelson and Rocco.
Globally, you’ll find a few Cyruses in Canada, the UK and other parts of Europe, as well as India.
One hesitation is that Cyrus tends to be the bad guy in pop culture and fiction, but none are terribly famous for their dastardly deeds. But the name does rhyme with “virus,” making it an irresistible moniker for a villain.
Overall, we think that Cyrus’ meaning, history and relatively uncommon status make for an appealing choice for a son. If you feel that three-syllable ancient revivals like Ignatius and Atticus are over the top, then the two-syllable old school feel of Cyrus may appeal.