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 an English mum of a three year old Ptolemy and I’ve never regretted calling him it. It suits him, he is feisty, head strong and with his poor health, a real fighter. We thought long and hard about giving him a name no-one can pronounce or spell, but I love the sound of it and our family call him Tolly for short.