Ever since Gretchen Mol chose this ancient appellation for her starbaby, I’ve found myself wondering – would I ever dare?

Thanks to Alexis for suggesting Ptolemy as Name of the Day.

We all know that stars are operating under slightly different assumptions when they name their children. Not only are they creative, trend-setting types in the first place, they’re clocking hours in Hollywood, where Homer and Pilot, Suri and Shiloh are ordinary, workaday choices.

It’s almost inevitable that some star would land on Ptolemy – with that irrestibly quirky silent “P” – as a name. After all, Claudius Ptolemaeus was an astronomer.

He was also a mathematician and geographer back in second century Alexandria, and many of his works were the basis of future scientific discoveries. Thanks to his star-gazing, you’ll find places named after him on the Moon and Mars, as well as an asteroid called Ptolemaeus.

And yet, this Ptolemy is downright recent compared to most famous bearers of the name.

Legend has it that the original Ptolemy ruled Thebes sometime in the twelfth century BC. Ages before a monarch ever wore the name William, a handful of royal and distinguished Ptolemys lived throughout the ancient world.

Starting around 300 BC, the Ptolemaic dynasty ruled Egypt – at least fifteen kings wore the name Ptolemy over the next three centuries.

It’s difficult, if not downright foolhardy, to try to guess the popularity of given names that far back in time. But Ptolemy I Soter was not only the founder of the Ptolemaic Dynasty, he got his start as a general in the army of Alexander the Great. If Alex can top the charts this many centuries later, it is really so absurd to consider Ptolemy?

There’s also a second century Saint Ptolemaeus. And there have been a few other uses of the name, right up to the present:

  • Ptolemy I was a twelfth-century ruler of Tusculum, a medieval Italian powerhouse still wearing its Roman name. He passed his name down to one of his sons, Count Ptolemy II;
  • British architect Ptolemy Dean has appeared on the BBC as an advocate of historic preservation;
  • Ptolemy Tompkins writes for Guideposts Magazine. His father wasn’t an actor, but he wasn’t your usual soccer dad, either. At one point, Mr. Tompkins moved his family to the Bahamas to search for the lost continent of Atlantis. You wouldn’t exactly expect him to name his Bob, would you?

Needless to say, Ptolemy’s glory days are in the past. He’s never charted in the US Top 1000. His meaning feels outdated – the Greek polemeois means aggressive – but then, with boys called Gunnar and Slade, maybe that’s a plus. And there’s a funny link to Bartholomew, too. Those Italian Ptolomeys were sometimes called Tolomeo.

While it is undeniably a quirky pick, Ptolemy isn’t completely outlandish. He does fit with the affection for ancient names like Atticus. What’s more, his three-syllable, ends-in-y rhythm is common – think Anthony, Zachary, Timothy, Gregory and Jeremy.

If there’s any challenge to Ptolemy, it is his lack of an obvious nickname. But that’s never stopped Jeremy. So if you’re going for a maximum level of unusual, without actually inventing a name, Ptolemy might be for you.

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 am the Australian mother of a 30 year old Ptolemy and it has been so positive for us. He has always loved being ‘different’, enjoyed the wonderful history of the name and has never met another Ptolemy. He has a Computer Science Degree and works as a games programmer and when he entered the industry everyone wanted to know how her had chosen his moniker and they were very impressed to hear it was his given name. He has brothers named Dante and Hayden.
    My Ptolemy is strong of character, kind, highly intelligent, has a wonderful sense of humour, and is accepting of all regardless of race or creed (he is married to a wonderful Chinese girl). I highly recommend people think about giving their children unusual names as they bring a strength with them that is exciting.

    1. Now that’s a great comment, Anne – thank you for sharing your experience!

      1. Hi all. I just wanted to update my Ptolemy post. On the 19th December 2014 he and his wife became the parents of the sweetest little boy who arrived weighing just 6lbs 6oz. This darling placid little boy has been named Archer Riley O. Ptolemy has had a deep interest in archery all his life and by choosing a second name starting with R little Archer has the initials ARO (arrow). So the father and mother have already planned for this child to have great monikers should he enter a profession where they are valued. The past three weeks have been wonderful as we have seen Ptolemy quietly accept the responsibilities of father-hood with such deep kindness and love for his wife and son.

  2. I love Ptolemy. I think it is strong and unexpected. It is unusual without being made up. I think a Ptolemy could be creative or unique without being weird.

  3. I don’t know about Ptolemy as a first name, but I do like the history and tradition behind it. One of my favorite book series has a Ptolemy, and though it took a bit to get used to the pronunciation, I found it really intriguing. I think I’d use it as a middle name. Ezra Ptolemy, Derek Ptolemy, Samuel Ptolemy… I definitely like it. It adds a bit of spice to the name.

  4. I don’t have a problem with people using it – it’s not for me, though. The sound of the name doesn’t appeal to me

  5. Ptolemy…pterodactyl…pteranodon

    Not too many English words starting with “pt,” are there?

    Yes, it’s totally weird, and yet I can’t say I dislike it. I’m surprised people in the last century have actually used this name, but perhaps it actually wears better in real life than in theory.

    I like the idea of Tol or Tolly. I suppose he could also go by the everyday Tommy. Or would that be Ptommy?

    1. Ptommy – ROFL!

      I think you raise a good point, though. If history had given us Tolemy instead of Ptolemy, betcha he’d be the next Atticus. Or perhaps he’d simply have never fallen out of use at all.

  6. No way. “Maximum level of unusual” is a much more pleasant way to say “over the top outlandish,” which is what I would have said. It doesn’t matter how hip and arcane it may seem, to other kids (and most adults) it’s just plain weird.

  7. I used to know a Ptolemy, he went by Tolly or Tol as a nickname. Because I’ve known one, I find I do like it. Like JNE, it reminds me of Timothy. Ptolemy sounds familiar. The Ptolemy I knew was a Renfaire juggling fool. Strong, handsome with a mile wide streak of goofyness. Very, very appealing guy. If I hadn’t been saddled with two 3 year olds, I might have… well. Suffice to say, I have a very soft spot for Ptolemy. (I don’t even have to think about spelling either!) Now, if I brought this up to him, he’d grab it & run (he doesn’t know about the other Ptolemy). This sort of moniker is right up his alley. Case in point, The names on his radar the last few days? Laszlo & Helen. Laszlo because of “Casablanca” and Paul Henreid, Helen “because she doesn’t have any waffly pronuncation and she’s family”. If I’m not careful, I’ll end up with a Laszlo Ptolemy or Ptolemy Laszlo! And Helen? well, she’s definitely appealing to me lately!

    So Ptolemy? He gets a solid, wholehearted :thumbsup: He’s handsome, strong, uncommon but familiar to almost everyone and I like him. Huzzah Ptolemy!

  8. I kind of like Ptolemy; it’s never made me think “way out there” but more funky version of “Timothy.” Don’t get me wrong – it’s just that it has a very similar sound and rhythm to Timothy, not that it feels like Timothy, which is slightly middle-aged feeling to me. Ptolemy is half-nerd, half-tough guy (which may be a bit odd, but reading the history, it doesn’t seem so strange). In any case, I actually really like it. And while I almost certainly wouldn’t use it in reality (it would be an odd choice with a sister named Imogen), I could see using it if it weren’t for that. Ptoly is an OK nickname, although that’s one short-coming of the name (lack of nn options) for me. I don’t know, I tend to think it’s the Pt- start that makes it seem more out there than it really is. I’d LOVE to meet a baby Ptolemy (and his parents)!