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.

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. One of those names that I just don’t like, and I can’t explain why. No bad associations or negative images; I really have no idea why I have such a strong dislike for it. But even if I loved it, any chance of “Virgil the Virgin” taunts would be prohibitive to using it.

  2. It just reminds me of that movie with Val Kilmer, The Saint. I’m not a fan, but reading about Virgil’s history was pretty interesting! Thanks!

  3. Hmm – I’m not a fan of Virgil. Though I do agree, Lola; he is very snazzy indeed, he just isn’t all that appealing to my ear! That said, I can’t think of any ‘V’ names I like on boys, or even that many of girls, really (Vera & Viola are pretty much it!).

    I don’t know about the states, or anywhere else, but most kids older than 10 will turn any name beginning with ‘vir-‘ to ‘virgin’, so he’s instantly out for me! Still, I wouldn’t be opposed to meeting a little Virgil – endearing amongst the sea of Noahs, Williams and Lachlans around here!

  4. Virgil is one of those names that I like but he doesn’t. Same problem he has with Virgina, without a nickname to hide behind. *sigh*.

    I do think it’s snazzy. I’ve never known one, ever. And I used to hang out with my Grandparents and their friends! So I’m familiar with a fair amount of old people names but Virgil escaped me. I solely assocaiate Virgil with the Aenid. I’m more a fan of Homer’s Oddessy but if I had to pick one ancient poet to name my kid after, Durante/Dante, please. “Inferno” still makes me weep in spots, it’s so gorgeous a read.

    I’d happily consider Virgil myself, if he’d let me. I think he’d make a snappy middle, for those afraid of him up front. Edward Virgil? William Virgil? Very cool, those.

    Virgil gets a solid :thumbsup: from me, he’s got serious style!