It sounds geriatric, maybe even a smidge hick. But with fashionable mamas considering choices like Homer and Earl, can this one be far behind?
Thanks to PhotoQuilty for suggesting Virgil as Name of the Day.
Once upon a time, Virgil was a hero name. Publius Vergilius Maro, better known to history as Virgil, was a Roman poet remembered for the Aenid. It’s hard to overstate his importance in classical Rome. Unlike most other works from the era, the Aenid was still read in the Middle Ages – scholars reinterpreted his writings as a foreshadowing of Christianity.
If you’re curious about the spelling, you’re not alone. Vergilius should have become Vergil. There are a handful of explanations, but suffice to say that Virgil became standard, even though some classicists are mightily troubled by the change.
The poet’s name inspired parents starting in the 1800s. In the US, Virgil peaked at #93 in 1907. It was a good year for high-minded appellations. Homer ranked #84, Milton #89 and Horace #108.
Virgil has fallen consistently since then, disappearing from the rankings after 1991. But there’s no shortage of notable Virgils, including:
- In 1973’s Battle for Planet of the Apes, Virgil is a brainy orangutan;
- Astronaut Gus Grissom was born Virgil Ivan Grissom;
- Virgil Earp was Wyatt’s brother – not as well known, but a life-long law enforcement officer;
- Virgil Runnels, Jr. wrestled as Dusty Rhodes for the WWE. His son, Virgil Runnels III, wrestled as Dustin Rhodes and later as Goldust. Yet another wrestler – Mike Jones – adopted the name Virgil;
- Virgil Exner designed cars for Chrysler and Studebaker, and was quite fond of putting big fins on cars.
Farther back in history, there’s Saint Virgil or Vergilius. Born in the eighth century, he served as Bishop of Salzburg. The medieval thinker proposed the idea that the Earth was round. (This got him in some trouble with Saint Boniface, but it was eventually resolved.) Born in Ireland, he’s also referred to as Saint Fergal.
There’s also Virgil the Grammarian – Virgilius Maro Grammaticus – a strange and wonderful writer from sometime before the 1100s and probably as early as the 600s. His manuscripts combine some genuine grammatical guidance with playful parody – or maybe just outlandish tales.
Virgil is a name that can be found in use over centuries, a genuninely ancient appellation that might fit right in with Atticus and Julius. And if V-names are poised to follow X-names to the heights of popularity, Virgil could benefit.
Trouble is, many of us still know octogenarians answering to this one – but give it another few years, and Virgil could sound positively novel.