He’s the ultimate doomed romantic hero, with a name so deliciously literary and brooding that it’s hard to imagine a real boy wearing this one.
Thanks to Another for suggesting our Name of the Day: Romeo.
Believe it or not, last year more than 500 newborn boys were called Romeo in the US alone. He also appears sparingly in Canada, Belgium and Sweden.
If you follow celebrity offspring, you might link Romeo’s popularity to the 2002 birth of Romeo James Beckham. But this time we can’t blame a celebrity parent. Romeo re-entered the Top 1000 back in 1996, a year or so before Posh and Becks were even dating.
The driving force behind the name’s rebirth was the lush Baz Luhrmann update of the famous tragedy. In late 1996 Romeo + Juliet earned box office bank worldwide. Leonardo DiCaprio played the lovesick Montague. With the feuding families reinvented as postmodern gangsters vying for supremacy in a stylized Verona Beach, the movie’s edgy alt vibe sold the tale far better than any high school English class.
Just like that, Romeo was back. Juliet also resurfaced in 2006, after more than five years out of the rankings.
While the name was never a hit in the US, neither was Romeo taboo. In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, we find Romeo in use, along with other ends-in-o choices like Fernando, Ignacio, Domingo and Orlando, as well as literary choices like Ulysses, Virgil, Homer and Milton.
Romeo’s history prior to the 19th century is less clear. Shakespeare borrowed the bones of his play from an Italian poem by Matteo Bandello. Bandello called his lovesick swain Romeus. It’s a simple name, derived from the Late Latin meaning “pilgrim to Rome.” Dante references a Romeo di Villanova, and given the popularity of Rom- names, it’s likely that this moniker existed in medieval Italy. While it’s not Giovanni, we also find a handful of Italians wearing the name into the 20th century.
But Romeo is clearly at his most popular today, having climbed to #505 last year.
The pint-size rapper once known as Lil’ Romeo and featured on Nickelodeon’s Hey Romeo may’ve encouraged some parents to view it as a legitimate possibility. (Today he’s in college, and goes by just Romeo – which is actually his middle name.) Football fans might recognize Romeo Crennel, currently head coach of the Cleveland Browns.
Over the past decade, Romeo has slowly transitioned from an unthinkably dramatic choice à la Lestat or Django, to a name that the most daring parents can consider. With Orlando ranking #368 and Tristan a white hot #87, it’s easier to imagine other romantic heros’ appellations appearing on a playground.
But it’s still a stretch, and we’re not entirely confident that your son will thank you for it.