“Aidan, Jayden, Braeden, Brendan, Landon, Logan, Macon, Mason … has anyone thought to bring back Urban?”
Thanks to Arthur for suggesting today’s Name of the Day: the on-trend, but fabulously obscure Urban.
Eight popes have been called Urban. While John, Paul, Gregory and Leo continue to inspire many a child’s name, we can safely class Urban with Innocent, Pius and Boniface – not likely choices for even the most Catholic among us.
Today, we consider Urban an adjective to describe city living – urban renewal, urban homesteading, urban decay, urban planning. It comes directly from the Latin urbanus, meaning “pertaining to city life.” But while the word has been around, it was rarely used in the modern context until the 17th century, and wasn’t common for another 200 years. The term urbane, taken from the Middle French urbain, was used interchangeably with urban for a time. Today, urbane means sophisticated and refined while the other just means, depending on your point of view, crime and grit or excitement and access to mass transit.
Back in the 200s, Urban was the birth name of Pope Urban I, who served from 222 to 230. He was bookended by Popes Callixtus and Pontian; the idea of naming your child after a saint had not yet been established, and most Christians were probably adult converts anyhow. Little is known of his early life, and even tales of his papacy are based on legend more than established fact.
Seven subsequent Popes Urban took their name from the original. They were actually born:
Urban I became a saint, and so while the given name was never common, it was in use at least in the 200s. Besides the religious leader, there was a would-be revolutionary named Urbanus who attempted to stage a coup circa 270.
The name also appeared in Medieval Europe and again in 19th century America. Some of the later uses may stem from Urban’s popularity as a surname. Variants appear in at least nine European languages, stretching from England to the Ukraine.
You’ll find plenty of Urbans in early 20th century census records, and the name appeared in the US Top 1000 through 1931. The best known bearer of the given name in recent years is probably Urban Meyer, head football coach at the University of Florida.
The coach aside, this name is just about extinct. Google “baby name urban” and you’ll come up with lists like this one: Urban Baby Names, including some eye-poppingly unusual choices like Na’Chauncia and Zamarious. And, of course, there will be many references to Miss Sunday Rose Kidman Urban.
Urban’s exact origins remain shrouded in mystery. As the name has become more of a descriptive term and less of an appellation, his appeal has suffered. He’s not helped by the unpopularity of the “urb” sound – Herbert and Herman, once staples, are at a low ebb, too.
While Urban fits the two-syllable, ends-in-n trend, he’s unlikely to be revived. But we can’t help feel this one does have some quirky, ancient appeal.