Pick of the Week will feature a name which is oozing Pagan charm but which does not feature in the top 100 names in the UK or US (and often not in the top 1000!).
If there’s a particular name you’d like to see featured in Pick of the Week, why not drop me an email?
So — let the fanfare sound! — the first Nook of Names Pick of the Week is Lucius!
Lucius is a particularly rich and potent name, with a long Pagan history.
It began as a Roman first name — or praenomen, to be precise.
By the end of the Roman Republic, there weren’t very many praenomina in use any more, as most Romans were known by the name of their gens (‘family’ or ‘clan’), or their cognomen — a sort of surname or byname which was often (but not always) inherited.
But Lucius was a praenomen — the closest thing to our concept of given names as the Romans got. Moreover, it was one of the three most common praenomina (the other two being Gaius and Marcus).
It was in use in Rome from at least the 7th Century BCE.
One of the earliest recorded bearers was Lucius Tarquinius Priscus, the legendary fifth king of Rome. He was actually an Etruscan by birth — and the legend says he was originally called Lucumo.
This has caused some to speculate that Lucius is actually derived from the Etruscan Lucumo. Lucumo, however, was an Etruscan title — often translated as ‘king’ — given to Etruscan princes and priests.
It therefore seems more likely that Lucumo (if he and Lucius Tarquinius Superbus really ever existed, and really were one and the same) adopted the Latin Lucius as a Roman version — something people have done across the ages.
By far the most likely origin of Lucius is the Latin lux ‘light’. And in all probability, Lucius was in use as a given name before the Romans developed family names.
It almost certainly parented the gens name Lucilius.
Light was strongly associated by the Romans with birth — the time when a baby first saw light, after its long gestation in the dark womb. The Roman Goddess of childbirth is Lucina — whose name also derives from lux. It is she who brings a new baby ‘into the light’.
Prehistoric barrows, such as Newgrange, which have a distinctly womb-like appearance and are aligned to allow light to enter at a certain time of the year, perhaps demonstrate a similar association between birth, (rebirth) and the light among the ancient Celts too.
Another important sacred term deriving from lux is lucus ‘sacred grove’ — presumably arising from the fact such groves tend to involve a clearing of some kind, which will naturally be lighter than the surrounding wood.
Technically, Lucius could also mean ‘of/belonging to the sacred grove’.
Although the association of Lucius and light may have had deeper spiritual connotations when it was first used, by the historic Roman period, the association had become more general; Roman commentators said that Lucius was a name given to those born during the hours of daylight.
So many significant Romans bore the name that it would be impossible to list them all, but here are just a few:
- Lucius Junius Brutus — one of the legendary founders of the Roman Republic. Marcus Junius Brutus, assassin of Caesar, claimed descent from him.
- Lucius Cornelius Sulla — Dictator of Rome in 81 BCE
- Lucius Annaeus Seneca — Roman philosopher and playwright — and tutor of the Emperor Nero.
- Lucius Domitius Ahenobarbus — birth name of the Emperor Nero.
- Lucius Aurelius Augustus Verus (generally known as Lucius Verus) — husband of the Emperor Marcus Aurelius’ daughter, Lucilla. He and Lucilla had two daughters and a son, Lucius Verus, who died young. Both Lucilla and the younger Lucius Verus featured in Ridley Scott’s Gladiator in 2000.
Another Lucius was the writer Lucius Apuleius. His surviving work is The Golden Ass, a bawdy, frivolous romantic comic novel in which the principal character – also Lucius – experiments with magic, ends up turned into an ass and eventually, restored to human form, is initiated into the cult of Isis.
Inevitably, being such a common name, Lucius crops up in the New Testament, and there are five saints of the name, of varying degrees of historicity.
Despite this, the name wasn’t really seen in the English-speaking world until the 16th Century, when it was plucked straight from the pages of classical mythology.
A significant early bearer was Lucius Cary (1610-43), an English writer and Royalist politician.
In recent years, however, Lucius has become firmly associated with just one figure, the fictional wizard Lucius Malfoy, played in the films by the delicious Jason Isaacs. J. K. may well have chosen it for its similarity to Lucifer, though whether in her mind she had simply the Christian devil in her head, or whether she was also thinking of the name Lucifer’s real meaning and significance is impossible to say without asking her (and I’m not sure she’d answer!).
And what is Lucifer’s real meaning and significance?
In Latin lucifer means simply ‘bearing light’, deriving from lux + fero ‘to bear’ and ‘to bring’.
To the Pagan Romans, Lucifer was the name of the Morning Star — Venus — the son of the Goddess Aurora (Goddess of the dawn), and carried no connotations of evil of any kind.
But because a single passage in the Old Testament (which isn’t even about a so-called fallen angel, but a Babylonian king!) makes a reference to the Morning Star, the Roman mythological/astronomical name Lucifer got pinched, and glued onto the Christian devil.
And it has been sadly stuck there festering ever since.
Other fictional Lucii (Latin plural of Lucius ) include two Lucii in Shakespeare’s plays — one in Titus Andronicus (Titus’ son), and one in Julius Caesar (a servant).
No fewer than four Lucii appear in the Arthurian cycles. The most signicant is a Roman Emperor, sometimes called Lucius Tiberius or Lucius Hiberius, with whom Arthur goes to war and defeats in battle at Soissons in Gaul.
Other more modern fictional bearers include Lucius Fox in the Batman universe, the vampire Lucius a.k.a. ‘Lucien LaCroix’ in Canadian TV series Forever Knight (1992-96), played by Nigel Bennett, and Roman soldier Lucius Vorenus in Rome (2005-07), played by Kevin McKidd.
The traditional English pronunciation of Lucius is ‘LOO-see-uhs’, but ‘LOOSH-uhs’ is heard too. If a short-form is required, Lu works well.
So if you’re after something a bit different, a good, solid ‘Pagan name’ with plenty of tradition and heritage, Lucius might be just the name for you!