He’s a widely admired Roman emperor, but somewhere between antiquity and 2009, he shed his H.

Thanks to Emmy Jo for suggesting the Name of the Day: Hadrian.

Hadrian is the ancient equivalent of Brooklyn – a place name. The Roman Hadrianus referred to the Etruscan port city of Atria. Dig a little deeper, and the city’s name comes from either the Latin adjective atra – black, dark – or the Illyrian adur – water. Atria, in turn, gave its name to the Adriatic sea.

Publius Aelius Hadrianus became Roman Emperor in the second century. While the imperial line was often handed from father to son, Hadrian was the third of the “Five Good Emperors” – a succession of men of aristocratic birth, but chosen for their leadership qualities.

The British Museum recently mounted an exhibit about his accomplishments. An adept military strategist, Hadrian preferred to avoid conflict. You can still see the remains of Hadrian’s Wall in Northern England. Not only did wall-building help control the empire’s vast borders, it allowed the Romans to collect tax.

Hadrian was a Renaissance man – centuries before the concept existed. He wrote poetry, studied architecture and even set style trends – he brought beards into vogue.

Given his success, it isn’t surprising that his name survived. But early on, Hadrian dropped his H – and became Adrian. As Adrian, he was in use through the Middle Ages. Six Popes have worn the name.

In fact, Adrian is currently at his most popular worldwide. In the US, he comes in at #61. Internationally, Adrian is a Top Ten pick in Spain, Top Twenty in Norway and Top 100 in Sweden. He’s also a traditional favorite in Romania.

Hadrian has never cracked the US Top 1000. Combing the historical record for Hadrians turns up very few bearers of the name. James I of England tapped theologian Hadrian Saravia to edit the King James Version of the Bible.

However, some Hadrians have become Adrians over time. A Catholic saint from the 300s is recorded as both – though he’s officially Adrian in the church records.

Proving that even manufacturers of the mundane have a sense of humor, the Hadrian corporation produces partition walls for public restrooms.

On balance, Hadrian seems like an appealing choice for a child’s name. The only hazard is that you may find yourself correcting others constantly. With more than 7,500 Adrians born in the US alone last year, odds are that you’ll have to insist on the H.

But with Adriana, Adrianna and Adrienne all in the Top 1000 for girls, Hadrian sounds a smidge more distinctive. Plus, it’s easy to imagine a girl called Adrian – along with her sisters Ryan and Dylan. Hadrian is clearly a name for a boy.

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. I have a question on the pronunciation of this name, do you say it with a hard a or a soft one? I’ve been to Hadrian’s wall in England and the locals pronounced it with a soft a, but I am curious how it would be widely pronounced in the US?

    1. In my experience, Hadrian rhymes with Adrian – long a, as in Aidan. But I promise to sit my British brother-in-law down next week and get some feedback on this one.

      1. Thank you so much for checking into it! We just found out we’re having a boy (our first) and I’m trying to get my husband on board. So far I love this, Felix, and Julian. But we live in the South and my husband has some concerns that he’d get mocked with those.

  2. Hadrian,successful?.The chap diminished the Roman Empire.Trajan(Optimus Princeps),had conquered Parthia and Dacia and had gotten to the Persian Gulf.
    Hadrian gave up Parthia because he could not defend it.Hadrian’s wall became a defensive wall built to keep out the barbarians from overrunning the boundaries of Scotland into England.
    Hadrian was a psychopath who butchered half of the senate because he feared plots from everywhere.When he died ,the Roman Senate thought of withholding the honors due to him as an Emperor.
    His Pantheon is the only legacy he bestowed on History.The chap who designed it(Apollodorus),he had put to death on contrived offenses.
    Hadrian?.May he rot in hell!.

    1. CharleyJK4, you may well be right. I’m not a historian, and my knowledge of Roman Emperors is far from extensive, and too much of it is based on I, Claudius. Hadrian may not have been good in the moral and upstanding sense, but he was successful. Especially compared to, say, Caligula. Or Nero.

  3. Hadrian a widely admired Emperor?.This was a chap who suffered from bouts of depression and might have had his wife,Sabina poisoned in her old age.
    She never loved him and there is an anecdote of her carrying out an abortion when she found out that she was pregnant.She allegedly said that she did not want to bring in another monster into the world. Hadrian was bi-sexual.He mourned Antinous who had been his lover and had him deified.
    Hadrian also put to death Apollodorus of Damascus to death because he had criticised his design of the Temple of Roma and Venus.
    Hadrian was an extremely bad chap.

  4. Oh gosh, I immediately thought ‘The 3rd of December?! That’s a long time to wait!!’ but of course the American dating system puts the months AFTER! Anyway, thank you very much, I will eagerly anticipate it.