From the revered to the revolting, the emperors of ancient Rome certainly left a legacy. While some of them were known for their tyrannical rule, some also left behind arts, architecture, laws, and literature. Ancient Roman names have also been passed down through generations. Read more for a closer look at ten Roman emperor names that are still used today.
1st Century AD Roman Emperor Names
Gaius Julius Caesar Octavianus: Emperor Augustus
Upon ascending to the prime position in Rome, Gaius Julius Caesar Octavianus took on the name Augustus which reflected the reverence and stature he was due as leader of the new empire. Augustus had taken on the name of his adoptive father to legitimize his claim on power, buttressed by his great military victory over the forces of Antony and Cleopatra at Actium in 31 BC. There is no end to the achievements made by Augustus during his reign as ‘first citizen,’ a title he adopted to avoid the negative associations of kingship. Not only did he ‘find a city of bricks and leave it of marble,’ but he also extended the boundaries of the empire on many frontiers, securing Roman hegemony and consolidating his position.
The series of emperors that followed Augustus, although not all directly descended from him, were collectively known as the Julio-Claudian Dynasty, which ended with the death of Nero in AD 68. Although only two of them bore it themselves, Julius remained one of the important emperor names taken by each successive leader.
Their legitimacy stemmed from the achievements and success of both Julius Caesar and Augustus.
Roman names such as Julius and Augustus, with their associations of power, supremacy, and history, were noted as popular as soon as the United States government began recording name statistics. While Julius’ popularity waned towards the latter half of the 20th century, it is nonetheless still a prominent name shared by almost 70,000 Americans. Augustus, although far less common, also remains in use as a given name, with over 8000 Augustus’s (or Augusti!).
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Perhaps the most infamous emperor of them all, Nero came to the throne at only 16 years of age, inheriting rule over the empire from his great-uncle Claudius. The following 14 years of his reign were filled with disasters and controversies, from the burning of Rome to the assassination of his mother, the persecution of Christians to the imprisonment of his wife. Nero eventually committed suicide in AD 68, when a rebellion broke out in the city and the military refused him their support. Reportedly, the last words he uttered were “what an artist dies in me!”
The nefarious deeds of the emperor undoubtedly marked Nero as one of the most villainous emperor names in history, and yet American mystery writer Rex Stout still chose to name the protagonist of his most successful series after Nero. The fictional detective Nero Wolfe was one of the best-loved characters of the mid-20th century, appearing in 33 novels, 41 short stories and numerous films, radio, television, and theatre adaptations. Hopefully, it is this charismatic and eccentric character, rather than the murderous ruler, who continues to inspire numerous sets of parents each year to name their sons Nero.
Titus was the first emperor to inherit the throne from his biological father, succeeding Vespasian in AD 79. But his most significant actions largely occurred before he reached the top. A renowned soldier, he had served in his father’s army in Judea where he violently put down a Jewish rebellion, destroying the Second Temple in Jerusalem. In honor of this victory, the Arch of Titus was erected in Rome, and still stands today, engraved with intricate depictions of battle.
Titus was emperor for just two years, during which his greatest achievement was opening the Colosseum (construction had started under Vespasian), but the rest of his reign was marred by disasters including the eruption of Mount Vesuvius and a great fire in the city of Rome. The following year, Titus died from a fever and was succeeded by his young, and more terrible, brother Domitian.
Although one of the less common emperor names, there are nonetheless many thousands of men in the United States called Titus. 2012 was a record year for the name when it was given to 836 newborn boys.
2nd Century AD Roman Emperor Names
One of the so-called ‘Five Good Emperors’, Hadrian ruled from AD 117 to 138 after the death of his predecessor and great-uncle-in-law, Trajan. Following the great expansion that had occurred under Trajan, Hadrian ruled the Roman Empire at its peak, consolidating its borders and unifying its peoples. One of his most lasting legacies has been Hadrian’s Wall, which marked the upper boundary of Britannia and still stands in parts today. In addition to his military and political skill, Hadrian was known for his interest in culture, learning, and the arts, for which reason he is often portrayed in Greek dress. Greece is considered the birthplace of civilized culture. He was also responsible for bringing beards into fashion!
Although the original Roman name Hadrian fell out of use rather swiftly after the collapse of the Roman Empire, its derivative Adrian has remained popular throughout history. In the 7th century, a priest from North Africa, whose name was recorded both as Hadrian and Adrian, was beatified after traveling to England to teach God’s message. It continued in religious use, with six popes taking on the name Adrian, and remains popular to this day, with over 100,000 men in the USA sharing it.
Emperor Marcus Aurelius
Renowned as the philosopher-emperor, Marcus Aurelius ruled over the Roman Empire from 161 to 180 AD, during which time he also penned his famous Meditations. The last of the ‘Five Good Emperors’, his reign saw Rome triumph over foreign enemies to the east and north, and the inhabitants of the empire lived in relative peace and stability. There were, however, notable periods of strife, including the devastating Antonine Plague. We now believe this to have been some form of smallpox, which wiped out around 5 million people, perhaps including Marcus Aurelius’ co-emperor, Lucius Verus. After Aurelius’ death, the throne was inherited by his son Commodus, most famous as the villain of the 2000 film Gladiator.
Roman names and derivatives such as Marcus and Mark both remain popular to this day. A surge in its use occurred in the 1960s and 1970s, which some have attributed to the growing Civil Rights Movement and one of its leading figures, Marcus Garvey. Garvey spoke out against inequality and founded the newspaper Negro World, which advocated the rights of African-Americans. Although its use has dropped somewhat since then, there are still over 200,000 people with the name Marcus in the United States.
Overshadowed by his co-emperor and adopted brother, Marcus Aurelius, Lucius Verus served as emperor of Rome from AD 161 to 169. Most of his time in the top job was taken up with a war in the Near East, which he saw through with success, although it was reported that the emperor spent more time gambling and luxuriating with his mistress instead of instructing his troops. After going back to Rome, Lucius Verus continued living in extravagance, constructing a tavern within his own house, and demonstrating a passion for chariot racing. When another war broke out on the empire’s northern border, however, he was forced to return to the field, where he caught smallpox and died soon after.
Compared with the exciting and important reigns of the other early Roman emperors, not least that of his co-ruler, Lucius Verus’ career seems somewhat insignificant. This has not prevented the name from being used again and again across history. The best-known Lucius is likely to be Mr. Malfoy from the Harry Potter series, but there are also several thousand real people in the USA with the name. In other European languages, such as Spanish, Portuguese and Italian, it has developed into the name Lucio.
3rd Century AD Roman Emperor Names
Emperor Alexander Severus
In antiquity, the name Alexander was inextricably linked with the legendary king of Macedon, who extended his control across the entirety of the known world. No doubt inspired by his success, the name was later given to Severus Alexander, who served as Emperor of Rome from AD 222 to 235. At the age of 14, he inherited the throne following the assassination of his cousin by his own guards. Alexander Severus’ reign was one of the longest and most prosperous Rome had seen in many decades, but his openness to compromise with foreign forces alienated him from his army. As a result, a military conspiracy was launched, which resulted in Alexander’s death and the end of the Severan Dynasty.
More due to the eminence of the Macedonian king than the success of the Roman emperor, Alexander has remained one of the most common emperor names, favored throughout history and shared by members of all social classes. For some of the 20th century and much of the 21st, it has been in the Top 10 most popular boys’ names. There are almost 600,000 American men and boys named Alexander, and many more girls with feminine Roman names such as Alexandra and Alexa.
Emperor Philip the Arab
Another short-lived emperor was Philip I, also known as Philip the Arab because of his birthplace in Syria. He ruled for five years in the middle of the 3rd century AD, during which he secured peace with Persian forces in the east and introduced a more lenient attitude towards Christianity which led some to claim that the emperor had himself converted to the still-young religion. In 249 AD, Philip was betrayed by his own men and killed in a rebellion led by his successor, Decius.
Philip is one of many Roman names that comes from Greek origin. It derives from the Greek word for love, philos, and has a particular link to royalty. It was thus used as one of the Roman emperor names. The father of Alexander the Great, himself a great leader who did much to advance the status of Macedon, was called Philip. Over two millennia later, another Philip of Greek descent stands at the top of the royal pyramid, beside his wife Queen Elizabeth II. The name held a place in the list of Top 100 boys’ names for the vast majority of the 20th century, falling out of favor only in the 1990s. Statistically, it remains a common name throughout America, where it is shared by well over 300,000 people.
Roman Names From Emperors Of The 5th and 6th Centuries AD
Eastern Roman Emperor Leo I the Thracian
Leo I, or Leo the Thracian, was one of the Eastern Roman emperors who ruled over the portion of the empire now more commonly known as the Byzantine Empire. He presided over this domain for 20 years in the 5th century AD and put a great deal of effort into buttressing the weakened western empire, which was well into its decline. He also marked the increasing separation between east and west by publishing official edicts and laws not in Latin, but in the form of ancient Greek that was then used across the eastern Mediterranean.
Like many names, Leo has fluctuated in popularity from generation to generation. The first half of the 20th century saw thousands of new Leos, but in the later decades, its usage dropped, until it began to become popular once again in the 1990s. No doubt the advent of Leonardo DiCaprio inspired some expectant mothers… The name climbed almost 300 places on the popularity charts during the early years of the 21st century and is now once again in the Top 200 boys’ names. In fact, there are almost 200,000 people in the United States with the same name as the 5th-century emperor.
While there were two Eastern Roman emperors called Justin during the 6th century AD, the similarly-named Justinian, whose reign occurred between theirs, was far more significant. His legal action to rewrite and unify Roman Law resulted in the Corpus Juris Civilis, which remains the foundation for civil law to this day. This was part of his attempt to restore the Roman Empire to its former grandeur, which also involved recovering lost territories and re-establishing its hegemony over the Mediterranean basin. Although unable to stem the tide of calamitous events that eventually led to the fall of the Roman Empire, Justinian made valiant efforts to uphold the legacy of the earliest emperors.
While it has been in regular use throughout history, the name Justin began to surge in the popularity charts in the mid-20th century and from 1972, it has never left the rankings of the Top 100. Between 1987 and 1990, it was even in the Top 10 most popular boys’ names, meaning that millennials account for many of the half a million men in the USA now called Justin. The most famous among these is surely Justin Bieber, who was born shortly after the name peaked.
More On Roman Emperor Names
These stories, statistics, and examples go to show that the legacy of the ancient Roman Emperors continues to inspire people and influence real-life decisions to this day.
Roman emperor names continue to influence and inspire the way we live today. Click here to discover more about Roman names, with the Roman gods and Ancient Goddesses.