The baby name Julian spent years under the radar, but today it belongs with the the established Top 100 for boys.
Thanks to Kelly for suggesting our Baby Name of the Day.
The truly old school Julius traces its roots all the way back to ancient Rome.
You’ve heard of Caesar, right?
Gaius Julius Caesar conquered Gaul, crossed the Rubicon, and convinced the Roman Republic to vote him “dictator for life.” He met his death at the hands of rebellious senators, but ultimately, Caesar brought about the Roman Empire.
His patrician family claimed descent from Julus, son of Trojan war hero Aeneas, who was the son of the goddess Venus. They’d been powerful for generations, and other family members answered to Julius and Julia in the ancient world.
The name might mean downy-bearded, implying youth.
It could also connect to the god Jupiter, via the term Jovilios.
More famous Romans followed. Along the way, the name morphed from Julius to Julian.
By 361, the emperor of the Roman Empire answered to Julian. We often refer to him as “the Apostate” because he was the last non-Christian ruler, and pursued attempts to reinstate traditional Roman religious practices.
The early Julians we remember best, though, are considered saints.
Among the most famous – and perhaps only legendary – is Saint Julian the Hospitaller. It was wildly popular in the Middle Ages, and re-told by others, including Flaubert.
It’s said that witches cursed the newborn Julian, foretelling that he would one day murder his parents. Julian’s dad suggested that get rid of the infant, but his mother refused. Years later, he met a stag in the forest, and the stag revealed Julian’s dreadful fate. Rather than give in, Julian left home, settling in Galicia where he married a wealthy widow.
Years later, Julian’s parents come after him. Sure enough, they find his wife while Julian is out hunting. Their daughter-in-law encourages them to rest, giving up the master bedroom for her newly discovered in-laws’ comfort.
And this is where the story gets really dark.
Another hunter sees a couple in Julian’s bed, and reports to Julian that his wife has been unfaithful. In a rage, Julian rushes home and kills both sleeping figures … only to discover his wife, alive and well, sitting in the village, eager to share her good news about his parents’ arrival.
To atone for his sins, Julian used his wealth to build hospitals. He’s also considered the patron saint of travels seeking safe lodging.
True or not, it’s helped the name endure across centuries.
JOLYON and JULIEN
A popular saint tends to make for a classic name, and the baby name Julian is one.
Jolyan and Jolyon developed in medieval English. John Galsworthy used the latter spelling for four characters in The Forsyte Saga, set from the 1870s into 1920. They use nicknames, Jo, Jolly, and Jon.
The French spelling is Julien. Anne Rice’s Mayfair Witches series introduces us to a New Orleans family, including powerful warlock Julien Mayfair.
HUXLEY, BOND, COPE, LENNON
But beyond fiction, plenty of real life men have answered to the name.
To name just a few, there’s UNESCO founder and founding member of the World Wildlife Fund, scientist Julian Huxley.
Civil rights activist Julian Bond served as chairman of the NAACP for a dozen years.
And, of course, The Beatles’ song “Hey Jude” was written for John Lennon’s eldest son, Julian. The lyrics were changed from “Hey Jules” to “Jude” during the songwriting process.
There are dozens more – actors and athletes, the celebrated and the infamous. But that’s the strength of a classic name.
BY THE NUMBERS
Despite all of this history, the baby name Julian remained relatively uncommon in the US. It mostly ranked in the 200s and 300s, briefly dipping into the Top 200 in the 1920s.
But then it started to gain, rising in use from the 1980s onward.
Maybe our affection for J names like Jason, bolstered the baby name Julian, too.
Or maybe feminine form Julia entering the Top 100 in the 80s encouraged the use of Julian for boys.
By the year 2000, Julian entered the Top 100 for the first time.
As of 2018, the name ranks #36. It’s popular across much of Europe, too.
It fits with longer names for boys, like Oliver and Sebastian.
There’s something charming about Julian. It’s a handsome name with ancient roots, very much at home in the twenty-first century.
Would you consider the baby name Julian for a son?
First published on December 28, 2009, this post was revised substantially on June 5, 2020.
Always quite liked Julien (rather than Julian) French spelling. In fact, I love Julien Temple’s films. New one looks ace http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7CZMLs8Ke40
I’d love to get away with it on a girl but it’s no longer the middle ages so I wouldn’t do that to my daughter. Still, I can dream.
It has a bit of a nerdy, comical and/or effeminate vibe for a boy but it doesn’t help that I associate this name with Mr Bean now thanks to a comment made by Rowan Atkinson re: the character’s possible first name.
Jolyon is much nicer although a bit ‘posh’. Still, I’d consider it for a middle.
Bewildertrix, Julianne Moore played a female Julian resistance leader in 2006’s Children of Men. (I’m pretty sure it was based on a book.) I guess dystopian sci fi that doesn’t fare terribly well at the box office isn’t enough to say “Oh, yes, of course, Julian for a girl” – but she was an appealing character.
I know, I know! That’s where I picked up my little guilty obsession 😛 although I felt almost vindicated when I discovered Julian, Christian and other similar names were considered unisex once.
Julian isn’t a bad name, it just does not appeal to me.It’s actually one of the names where I have bizarre connotations. I actually dislike it a lot, to me honest. Loads better than Julius. For some utterly bizarre reason, the Spanish pronunciation reminds me of Horton Hears A Who. Now, that is biazrre
However, I can understand why others like it.
In middle school I chose the combo Julian Francis for my future son. It remained on my list until a few years ago, when I finally decided that I couldn’t give my son a name that didn’t have nicknames that I liked. Jude is the only potential nickname that I like, and that just doesn’t feel natural to me.
Lovely combination, Panya! Jude might not be a natural nickname, but there’s some basis for the choice. The story goes that Paul McCartney wrote a song called “Hey Jules” to cheer up John Lennon’s son during his parents’ divorce. But “Hey Jules” wasn’t quite right to sing, so they changed it to “Hey Jude.”
Both Jules and Juli/Julie are nicknames for Julian, even for males.
Julian’s lovely, but both Jolyon & Julius are lovlier to me. I know three little Julians through Josie’s school. One’s in another Kindergarten class, one’s a second grader and one’s in third, with a twin named Sabrina (what a gorgeous set)! I firmly like Julian but prefer him on someone else’s boy, thank you very much.
Julius reigns supreme of the Jul- names for me. He’s a bit more distinctive sound wise and also reminds me of Groucho Marx (born Julius). I’m a HUGE fan of the Marx brothers. How awesome would he be with Leo, Simon & Josephine, too? My problem is him. He says Julius feels girly. I’m working on that, Julius or Rufus, his choice at this point!
Julian and Sabrina – that is a LOVELY set.
I’m really in love with Rufus right now. 🙂
I know thre baby Julians born last year. A little common? Yep. I’m not realy a fan, though I like it heaps better than Julius.
A question: what Top Ten are Sebastian, Elijah and Nathaniel a part of? Did I miss something?
No, you didn’t miss something – you caught my mistake! It’s corrected. Thank you!
Ah, I see. Well, I wish they were in the Top Ten! What a nice Top Ten that would be! No more Jayden, hopefully…
It would make for a nice Top Ten. Maybe in 2019 …
eek. I had the craziest lunatic of a boss a few years ago called Julian. No way. Can’t even get past the bias to think if it’s a nice name or not!!