12 Powerful Roman Emperor Names Still Used Today

What are the most popular ancient Roman Emperor names still used today?

Apr 5, 2024By Mia Forbes, BA in Classics



The many emperors of ancient Rome have undoubtedly left their mark on history. From
admirable to abhorrent, their reigns were characterized by a mix of helpful social contributions and bloody tyranny. However, their actions are not the only legacy left behind. The names of Roman emperors have been preserved through the ages and remain popular. Dive into this article to explore 12 Roman emperor names still used today.


1. Emperor Augustus (Octavian)

emperor augustus and augustus gloop
Augustus from Prima Porta, 1st century CE. Source: the Vatican Museum, Vatican City (left), with Augustus Gloop, a fictional character in Charlie and the Chocolate Factory (2005)


Upon ascending to the prime position in Rome, Gaius Julius Caesar Octavianus took on the name Augustus. He took on the name of his adoptive father to legitimize his rule, and his military victory over the forces of Antony and Cleopatra at Actium in 31 BCE bolstered his claim to power. 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,’ he also extended the empire’s boundaries on many frontiers, securing Roman hegemony and consolidating his position.


Roman names such as Julius and Augustus were noted as popular when the United States government began recording name statistics. While Julius’ popularity waned towards the latter half of the 20th century, it is still a prominent name shared by almost 70,000 Americans. Although less common, Augustus also remains in use as a given name.


2. Emperor Nero

emperor nero and nero wolfe
Bust of the Emperor Nero, 1700-1800 copy of a Roman original from 60-65 CE. Source: The British Museum (left), with Rex Stout’s Nero Wolfe, named after the legendary Roman emperor. Source: michelle-cameron.com (right)


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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 from his great-uncle Claudius. The following 14 years of his reign were filled with controversial disasters, including the burning of Rome, the assassination of his mother, the persecution of Christians, and the imprisonment of his wife. Nero eventually died by suicide in 68 CE, when a rebellion broke out and the military refused him their support.


The nefarious deeds of the emperor undoubtedly marked Nero as one of the most villainous names in history. 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 media adaptations. Hopefully, this charismatic and eccentric character, rather than the murderous ruler, continues to inspire numerous sets of parents each year to name their children Nero.


3. Emperor Titus

emperor titus and titus andromedon tituss burgess
Roman Marble Portrait Bust Of Emperor Titus, 1st Century CE. Source: Christie’s (left), with fictional TV character Titus Andromedon who shares the same first name as his actor, Tituss Burgess. Source: uk.askmen.com (right)


Titus was the first emperor to inherit the throne from his biological father, succeeding Vespasian in 79 CE. He had a relatively short rule — just two years — and his most significant actions largely occurred before he became emperor. 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, where it still stands today, engraved with intricate depictions of battle.


As emperor, Titus’ greatest achievement was opening the Colosseum. Disasters, including the eruption of Mount Vesuvius and a great fire in the city of Rome, marred the rest of his reign. In 81 CE, Titus died from a fever and was succeeded by his younger and more terrible brother, Domitian.


Although one of the less common emperor names, there are many thousands of men in the United States called Titus. 2012 was a record year for the name when it was given to 836 newborns.


4. Emperor Hadrian 

emperor hadrian
Bronze Statue of Emperor Hadrian, 117-138 CE. Source: The Israel Museum, Jerusalem


One of the so-called ‘Five Good Emperors,’ Hadrian ruled from 117 to 138 CE. Following the great expansion under Trajan — his predecessor and great-uncle-in-law — Hadrian ruled the Roman Empire at its peak, consolidating its borders and unifying its peoples. One of his most lasting legacies, Hadrian’s Wall, which marked the upper boundary of Britannia, still stands in parts today. In addition to his military and political skills, Hadrian was known for his strong interest in Greek culture and philosophy. He was often portrayed in Greek dress and even took on the Greek custom of growing a beard.


saint adrian canterbury
Saint Adrian of Canterbury. Source: Franciscan Media


Although the original Roman name Hadrian fell out of use swiftly after the Roman Empire’s collapse, its derivative Adrian has remained popular throughout history. In the seventh century, a priest from North Africa whose name was recorded both as Hadrian and Adrian was beatified after traveling to England. It continued in religious use, with six popes taking on the name Adrian, and remains popular today, with over 100,000 people in the USA sharing it.


5. Emperor Marcus Aurelius

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Bust of Marcus Aurelius, 170-80 CE. Source: The British Museum 


Renowned as both a philosopher and emperor, Marcus Aurelius ruled over the Roman Empire from 161 to 180 CE, during which time he 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 empire’s inhabitants lived in relative peace and stability. There were, however, notable periods of strife, including the devastating Antonine Plague. After Aurelius’ death, the throne was inherited by his son Commodus, who is most famous as the villain of the 2000 film Gladiator.


antony cleopatra painting
The Meeting of Antony and Cleopatra: 41 BCE by Lawrence Alma-Tadema, 1883. Source: Sotheby’s


The name Marcus and its derivative 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.


6. Emperor Lucius

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Bust of Lucius Verus, 161-70 CE, via The British Museum (left), with Lucius Malfoy from the Harry Potter Series. Source: E Network (right)


Overshadowed by his adopted brother, Marcus Aurelius, Lucius Verus served as co-emperor of Rome from 161 to 169 CE. Most of his time as ruler was taken up by a war in the Near East, and though he saw it through with success, it was reported that Lucius spent more time gambling and luxuriating with his mistress instead of instructing his troops. After returning to Rome, Lucius Verus continued living extravagantly, constructing a tavern within his 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.


Compared with the exciting reigns of the other early Roman emperors, Lucius Verus’ career seems somewhat insignificant. This has not prevented the name from being used repeatedly across history. A more recent example of the name is Mr. Malfoy from the Harry Potter series, and there are also several thousand real people in the USA with the name. In languages such as Spanish, Portuguese, and Italian, it has developed into the name Lucio. The more common English-language versions of Luke and Lucas are other name variations that trace back to the same roots.


7. Emperor Alexander Severus

alexander severus coin
Roman Coin depicting Alexander Severus, 222-35 CE. Source: Portable Antiquities 


In antiquity, the name Alexander was inextricably linked with the king of Macedon, Alexander the Great. No doubt inspired by his success, the name was later given to Severus Alexander, who ruled from 222 to 235 CE. He inherited the throne at the age of 14 following the assassination of his cousin. 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, resulting in Alexander’s death and the end of the Severan Dynasty.


alexander hamilton
Portrait of Alexander Hamilton. Source: the US National Archives 


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 forms, such as Alexandra and Alexa.


8. Emperor Philip the Arab

emperor philip the arab
Portrait of the Emperor Philip the Arab, 244-49 CE. Source: The Hermitage Museum, Saint Petersburg


Philip I, also known as Philip the Arab because of his birthplace in Syria, ruled for five years in the middle of the third century CE, during which he secured peace with Persian forces in the East and introduced a more lenient attitude towards Christianity, leading some to claim that the emperor had himself converted to the still-young religion. In 249 CE, Philip was betrayed by his men and killed in a rebellion.


prince philip duke of edinburgh
The husband of Queen Elizabeth II, Prince Philip (Duke of Edinburgh) continues the tradition of the Roman name


Philip is one of many Roman names of Greek origin, and it has a particular link to royalty. Thousands of years after Philip I’s rule, another Philip stood at the top of the royal pyramid as the husband of Queen Elizabeth II. The name was on the list of the top 100 boys’ names for most of the 20th century. Statistically, it remains a common name throughout America, where over 300,000 people share it.


9. Julian

Julian the Apostate presiding at a conference of sectarian, by Edward Armitage, 1875. Source: Art UK


Through a series of unlikely circumstances and political battles, Flavius Claudius Julianus — better remembered as simply Julian — became ruler of the Roman Empire in 361CE after the death of his cousin. Although he only reigned until 363, his short rule was characterized by his effort to promote paganism and diminish the influence of Christianity. This later earned him the nickname ‘Julian the Apostate,’ though his interest in philosophy and promotion of the field also led to the epithet ‘the philosopher.’ However, it has been argued that his rejection of Christianity was ultimately his downfall, as some accounts say one of his own Christian soldiers killed him while on a military campaign against the Sassanid Empire.


A photo of Julian Lennon, by Deborah Anderson. Source: Pop Culture Beast


Despite the emperor’s untimely end, Julian has remained a relatively popular baby name in the United States. The lowest ranking it’s ever been was 366th in 1963, but since the birth of Julian Lennon in 1963 — the son of John Lennon and the inspiration behind The Beatles’ “Hey Jude” — the name has steadily climbed in popularity charts. It has remained in the top 100 since 2000 and hit an all-time high in 2019 when it landed in 31st place.


10. Theodosius I

Gold solidus coin of Theodosius I, with reverse depiction of Constantinople’s personification, c. 388-93, Coin Cabinet of the National Museums in Berlin
Gold solidus coin of Theodosius I, with reverse depiction of Constantinople’s personification, c. 388-93, Coin Cabinet of the National Museums in Berlin


Theodosius I, or Theodosius the Great, began his reign in 379 CE. He left a lasting — and controversial — impact on the religious landscape. He instated Nicene Christianity as the official state religion and was responsible for convening the Second Ecumenical Council of Constantinople in 381 CE. However, his harsh policy of intolerance for paganism has led to modern-day critiques. Although Theodosius is most remembered for his efforts to consolidate and strengthen the empire, upon his death at the end of the fourth century, the Roman Empire was divided among his two sons, leaving Theodosius as the last leader to rule over both the Eastern and Western halves of the Roman Empire.


A photo of Julian Lennon, by Deborah Anderson. Source: Pop Culture Beast


While Theodosius might not be that popular a name, Theodore — the name from which Theodosius derives — is. From historical figures like Teddy Roosevelt and writers like Dr. Suess to beloved fictional characters like Ted Lasso, Theodore and its subsequent shortenings continue to remain desirable. In fact, in 2021, Theodore was among the top 10 male baby names in the United States, with over 9,500 babies being given the name.


11. Eastern Roman Emperor Leo I the Thracian

emperor leo the thracian leo tolstoy
Bust of Emperor Leo I the Thracian, Musée du Louvre, Paris (left), and Count Lev Tolstoy, whose name has been anglicized to Leo. Source: Indiana University (right) 


Leo I, or Leo the Thracian, ruled over the Eastern portion of the empire, now more commonly known as the Byzantine Empire. He presided over this domain for 20 years in the fifth century CE and put great effort into strengthening 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. It picked up again in the 1990s, no doubt thanks to Leonardo DiCaprio’s popularity. The name climbed almost 300 spots in the popularity charts during the early years of the 21st century and is now once again in the top 200.


12. Justin (and Justinian)

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Mosaic of Justinian I with Court Officials and the Praetorian Guard, Basilica of San Vitale in Ravenna. Source: Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York 


While there were two Eastern Roman emperors called Justin during the sixth century CE, 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 today. 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 stop the fall of the Roman Empire, Justinian made valiant efforts to uphold the legacy of the earliest emperors.


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Justin Bieber’s name descends from antiquity. Source: Forbes 


While it has been in regular use throughout history, the name Justin began to surge in usage in the mid-20th century, and from 1972 on, 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 millennials account for many of the half a million people in the USA now called Justin.


More On Roman Emperor Names 

These stories, statistics, and examples 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.


This article was last updated by Natalie Noland on April 5th, 2024.

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By Mia ForbesBA in ClassicsMia is a contributing writer from London, with a passion for literature and history. She holds a BA in Classics from the University of Cambridge. Both at work and at home, Mia is surrounded by books, and enjoys writing about great works of fiction and poetry. Her first translation is due to be published next year.