Thanks to Melissa for suggesting our Baby Name of the Day.
SAINT DOMINIC and the DOMINICANS
Not so long ago, the baby name Dominic was heard mainly amongst Catholic families.
That’s thanks to Saint Dominic, born in Castile in 1170. He wasn’t the first famous figure to wear the name – in fact, the future saint had been named after an earlier Spanish monk, Saint Dominic of Silos.
But this Dominic became the founder of the Dominican order of monks.
Details about his early life are sketchy.
One popular story tells that his pregnant mother went on pilgrimage to the Abbey at Silos, where she dreamed that a dog leapt from her womb with a torch in his mouth, and proceeded to set the world aflame.
Except it’s probably a play on words that emerged many years later. Dominicanus, in Latin, sounds almost exactly like Domini canis – dog of the Lord.
What we know for certain is that Dominic was educated. While still a student, famine swept the land. Dominic gave away his money, and when it wasn’t enough, sold his personal belongings to help the poor. He eventually became a priest, and later, a diplomat, part of a delegation attempting to secure a bride for the crown prince of Castile.
Religious strife dominated medieval times, and Dominic found himself confronting a group known as the Cathars, whose beliefs were considered heresy.
In 1215, along with another priest, Dominic became the founder of an important monastic order.
They called themselves the Order of Preachers. We know them as the Dominicans.
It’s hard to overstate his influence.
The baby name Dominic comes from the Latin name Dominicus – “of the Lord.” The designation A.D. is short for Anno Domini – medieval Latin for “in the year of our Lord.”
The Latin comes from domus – house. In fact, it predates Christianity; dominus referred to the master of a house.
In fact, the Emperor Diocletian – better known for sending Christians to the lions – used the title Dominus. And Portuguese bluebloods still use the title Dom, equivalent to an English Lord.
And our words domain and dominate share the same roots – the first relating to the idea of home; the latter, to the concept of rule.
Still, we often hear it as specifically religious today.
After all, Sunday is domingo in Spanish and domenica in Italian. It means the Lord’s day, and is associated with the traditional Christian day of worship.
DOMINGO, DOMENICO, DOMINIK
The Spanish saint established his order in France, and they’ve since become one of the larger religious orders in the Catholic church.
No surprise, then, that forms of the name are heard across Europe, inspired by the saint and the meaning of the name Dominic, too.
- Domingo and Dominga in Spanish and Portuguese
- Domenico and Domenica in Italian
- Dominik and Dominika in German, as well as several Slavic languages
- Dominique and Domenique in French, used for both genders
You may also see Dominico, Domenic, Domenik, short forms like Domi, Domek, and Domik, feminine forms incluidng Dominetta and Domino, and medieval rarities like Domenge.
In the US, the name was particularly popular among Americans of Italian heritage.
Twentieth century actor and comedian Dom DeLuise helped cement the name’s image. And if you’ve ever heard Lou Monte sing 1960’s holiday novelty tune “Dominick the Christmas Donkey,” well … yes.
But put down that cannoli, because the name has long since transitioned to a widely-used favorite, regardless of family background.
Notable bearers of the name are many, especially in recent decades.
British actor Dominic Monaghan donned Hobbit feet to play Merry in The Lord of the Rings trilogy. There’s also Dominic West, who recently appeared as Prince Charles in The Crown.
Drummer Dominic Howard co-founded the rock band Muse.
Retired nine-time NBA All-Star Dominique Wilkins is American, but was born in France where the -nique version is gender neutral.
Czech-born Dominik Hašek is a record-setting NHL goalie known for his stint with the Detroit Red Wings.
Baseball legend Joe DiMaggio had a younger brother named Dom, who also played baseball professionally.
In 2010’s Inception, Leonardo DiCaprio played Dom Cobb. An even more famous character on the big screen is Vin Diesel’s Dominic Toretto, a central figure in the long-running Fast & the Furious franchise from 2001 to the present.
BY the NUMBERS
In the year 1900, the baby name Dominic held a relatively chilly popularity rank of #686.
But it gained in use across the twentieth century. That tracks with a dramatic increase in immigration from Italy.
By the late 1900s, it was rising steadily. As of 2002, it reached #83. The baby name Dominic has ranked in the US Top 100 ever since, standing at #99 as of 2021.
What explains the popularity?
During the 1990s, we loved Nick names, and Dominic shortens to Nick, Nicky, or Nico. Nicholas appeared in the US Top Ten from 1993 through 2002, so odds are that helped push this -nic name into wider use.
The Fast & the Furious character probably helped raise Dom’s profile, too.
But in general, longer names for boys have fared well over the last few decades. Dominic fits right in with Sebastian and Alexander, Julian and Nathaniel.
And so the baby name Dominic emerges as a time-tested favorite. It’s saintly and spiritual, but also strong and capable. No nickname is required, but plenty of options exist.
What do you think of the baby name Dominic?
Originally published on January 21, 2010, this post was revised substantially and re-published on March 7, 2023.