This post was originally published on May 24, 2008. It was substantially revised and re-posted on December 23, 2014.
It’s a name both saintly and celebrity-endorsed, but remains rare in the US.
Our Baby Name of the Day is Ignatius.
Ignatius: Ancient and Fiery
The family name Egnatius dates back to the Etruscans, the civilization that flourished prior to the founding of Rome. Gellius Egnatius commanded an army in the third century BC. Six hundred years later, it was still in use.
In Latin, ignis means fire – think of ignite. Egnatius probably traded his ‘e’ for the ‘i’ spelling thanks to the association. Now most baby name guides will tell you that Ignatius means fiery.
If you don’t mind a little whisper-down-the-alley, it’s a great meaning – and maybe a touch more subtle than the equally saintly Blaise.
There’s more than one Saint Ignatius, including a first century Bishop of Antioch.
But the figure that comes to mind for most was born Inigo Lopez de Loyola, future founder of the Jesuit order. Pope Francis is a Jesuit.
The young Inigo was named after another saint. Saint Enecon, Enecus, Eneko, Innicus, or sometimes Inigo, was an eleventh-century abbot canonized in 1259. Inigo de Loyola was born in 1491.
Loyola was the youngest son in an aristocratic family. He became a knight, and fought in many a battle. In 1521, he was severely injured during a skirmish at Pamplona. During his convalescence, Loyola read works on Christianity – and his life changed forever.
Instead of returning to the army, he retired his armor and went on pilgrimage. When Loyola returned, he would study, preach, and, while studying at the University of Paris in 1534, found the Society of Jesus with six other men.
Inigo became Ignatius at some point during his sojourn in France. It was never a deliberate name change – just a shift to using a name more familiar outside of his homeland.
From the beginning, the Jesuits focused on establishing schools. By the time Loyola died in 1556, they’d already established 74 schools on three continents.
Thanks to all of the saints, forms of the name are in use throughout Europe and the Spanish-speaking world.
Ignatius: Literary Rarity
In the US, Ignatius is relatively rare. The name hasn’t ranked in the US Top 1000 since 1930. Spanish form Ignacio left the US rankings after 2012.
John Kennedy O’Toole’s A Confederacy of Dunces was published in 1980, more than a decade after the author’s death. It’s now considered a literary classic, but O’Toole’s Ignatius J. Reilly isn’t a particularly likable character.
There’s a successful Ignatius Gallaher in a short story in James Joyce’ Dubliners.
Born on a slave ship, Ignatius Sancho lived much of his early life in service in England. In his later years, he became known for his writing, and his posthumously published Letters of the Late Ignatius Sancho, an African, helped make the case for the abolition of the slave trade.
And, of course, there’s a Harry Potter tie. Ignatius is the middle name of Percy Weasley.
Ignatius: Call Me Iggy?
The logical nickname, Iggy, brings to mind punk godfather Iggy Pop – who was actually born James.
“Lust for Life” isn’t exactly a lullaby, but if Jason Biggs can name his kid after Sid Vicious, is Iggy Pop really off limits?
Cate Blanchett and Andrew Upton gave the name to their youngest son in April 2008: Dashiell, Roman, and Ignatius.
If Iggy doesn’t work for you, there are other possibilities: Nat and Nate, usually short for Nathan or Nathaniel. And Nash seems like another option.
Ignatius: Wearable Rarity
With elaborate names for boys like Sebastian, Jeremiah, and Atticus in vogue, Ignatius seems like a possibility. If you don’t mind the religious overtones and the potential for the nickname Iggy, this could make for a surprising, interesting choice for a son.