Thanks to Emma for suggesting our Baby Name of the Day.
ORIGIN and MEANING of the NAME DAMIAN
The Greek name Damianos comes from the word damazo, meaning “to tame” or “to subdue.”
It’s also possible that Damian might be derived from Damia, a fertility goddess in Roman mythology. The name is sometimes associated with the earth goddess Ceres or Demeter.
Among the earliest Damians was a physician who lived around the year 300. He and his twin brother Cosmas both practiced medicine, curing many, often without charging a fee.
Early in the 4th century, the Emperor Diocletian led one of the most severe persecutions of Christians in the Roman Empire.
Cosmas and Damian were living their faith and practicing medicine in the country of Syria when they were arrested. Both refused to recant and went to their deaths.
Early Christians venerated them as saints, and their names spread widely across Europe.
Saint Damian the martyr, along with this twin, are now considered the patron saints of physicians.
Others by the name are mentioned in the ancient world, suggesting that the martyr wasn’t the first – and certainly not the last.
DAMIANUS to SAINT PETER DAMIAN
The history books are dotted with more men by the name, including:
- A seventh century Bishop of Rochester, England was known as Damianus.
- Damian, Bishop of Pavia, who lived in the late 7th and early 8th centuries.
- During the late 800s, Damian of Tarsus converted to Islam, became a naval officer, and led attacks on the Eastern Roman Empire into the early 900s. He died in battle in the year 924.
- The 11th century Saint Peter Damian was born in Ravenna, Italy. He became a Benedictine monk, a noteworthy advocate of reform, a teacher, papal envoy, and, eventually a Doctor of the Church. Dante placed Saint Peter Damian in one of the highest circles of Paradise.
- Geoffrey Chaucer gave the name to a handsome youth in the Canterbury Tales in 1387.
- Born in Belgium in 1840, SaintDamien of Molokai became a priest and missionary to serve those suffering from leprosy in Hawaii for over a decade. He arrived in 1873, providing practical, medical, and spiritual assistance to the leper colony, at a time when such a diagnosis meant utter isolation. He eventually contracted leprosy himself, passing away in 1889.
All of this made the baby name Damian a staple. It wasn’t exactly William or John. but Damian is heard across multiple languages and cultures. From Poland to Ireland and Ecuador to Greece, the personal name Damian can be found. The spelling changes little: Damijan in southern Slavic languages. Damon in Greek mythology. Damien in French.
The name remained rare in American English, but not unknown.
Boston-born actor Damian O’Flynn played a recurring role in long-running television Western The Life and Legend of Wyatt Earp during the 1950s.
But ever since 1976 blockbuster The Omen hit the big screen, this name has an edge.
Damien is actually the French spelling. It isn’t clear why screenwriter David Seltzer picked the name, though perhaps the superficial similarities to the word “demon” influenced his choice. It’s a creepy flick, and the sinister small fry is downright scary.
Characters modeled on Damien have been popular culture go-tos ever since, from South Park to Good Omens. In the Batman comics, Damian Wayne is Bruce’s son. He’s considered a superhero, but the younger Wayne has a dark side, too. An upcoming DC Universe movie is expected to introduce the first live action take on the character.
Another horror classic from the 1970s also featured the name – the priest charged with saving the soul of Regan in 1973’s The Exorcist was Father Damien Karras. The movie was based on a 1971 bestseller by William Peter Blatty.
A handful of other notable Damians includes:
- Bob Marley’s youngest son, Damian Marley, is a Grammy-winning artist in his own right.
- Fictional Damian Grimaldi was a long-running character on soap opera As The World Turns.
- Elizabeth Hurley named her son Damian. He’s now a model and actor, following in his mother’s footsteps.
Dozens more actors, athletes, politicians, musicians, and more men of distinction have answered to this popular name.
BY the NUMBERS
Damian debuted in the US Top 1000 in 1952. It has been used in small numbers for years before then, but the name didn’t begin to catch on until the middle of the twentieth century.
There’s a big jump between 1971 and 1972, when the baby name Damian rose from #417 to #296. That suggests a pop culture explanation.
One possibility: Fr. Damien Karas, from The Exorcist. The spelling Damien leapt nearly just as much, from #681 in 1971 to #473 in 1972.
Of course, Karas was the hero of the story, saving young Regan when others failed. So maybe it makes sense that parents would embrace the name.
But The Omen didn’t slow down the name, either.
In 1977, Damian stood at #210 and Damien at #246. The year after the movie came out, Damien leapt to #161. Damian fell slightly, to #296 – but that feels like parents finally deciding that the -ien spelling was preferable.
Trends have reversed since then. As of 2022, Damian stands at #108 and Damien at #304.
It fits in nicely with popular baby boy names Adrian, Julian, and Sebastian – all names that reinforce the -ian version of the name.
As a girl’s name, it’s been used in tiny numbers for the opposite gender – but Damian is overwhelmingly masculine.
Overall, this makes the baby name Damian an interesting choice.
It’s the name of a popular early 4th century saint, enough to make it familiar across the Christian world. And it’s been so steadily use in American English that Damian feels like a staple – which, indeed, it’s become.
But somehow Damian defies easy categorization, too. It fits on a smooth, uppercrust Englishman. But it also sounds creative, handsome, surprising. Maybe it’s because it’s spent so many years near the very top of the popularity charts, but has never become wildly common.
Instead, Damian feels timeless, versatile, handsome, and strong. It’s a timeless classic, worn by heroes and villains, saints and ordinary men across the ages.
What do you think of the baby name Damian?
First published on April 1, 2009, this post was revised on September 15, 2023.