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Today is the start of Daylight Saving Time in New South Wales, Victoria, South Australia, Tasmania, and the Australian Capital Territory. Clocks went forward at 2 am this morning, so if you forgot, you are now an hour behind.
Because daylight saving becomes more pointless the closer you are to the equator, states which have tropical regions do not have daylight saving, and this means Queensland, Western Australia, and the Northern Territory. For everyone else, it’s a reminder we are moving towards summer and increasing hours of daylight, so it seems the perfect opportunity to look at a name connected with light.
Lucius was the most common name in ancient Rome times across all classes; it is usually said to be derived from the Latin word lux, meaning “light”. One theory is that it was given to children who were born at dawn, but the sheer number of people called Lucius makes this untenable. Another theory connects it to loukus, which originally meant “bright, shining”, although by the classical period it had come to mean “a cleared grove”.
Lucius is the name ascribed to an early Roman king, but it is probably a misunderstanding of Lucumo, the Etruscan word for “king”, which would be his title; the name Lucius was traditional in his family, suggesting another origin for the name. The Roman dictator Sulla, who served as an inspiration for Julius Caesar, was named Lucius Cornelius Sulla Felix. There were at least two Roman Emperors named Lucius: Lucius Dominitius Aurelianus (called Aurelian), and Lucius Aurelius Commodus (called Commodus).
Commodus was the son of the emperor Marcus Aurelius, and grandson of an emperor: he was the first emperor to be “born in the purple” (during his father’s reign). He is probably best known to us as the wicked emperor in the movie Gladiator, killed by Russell Crowe in the role of Maximus: although a fictional story, the real Commodus was eccentric and cruel, and assassinated by his wrestling partner, Narcissus.
The name Lucius was a favourite choice amongst early Christians because of the meaning of “light”, and there are several saints with the name. Saint Lucius of Cyrene is mentioned in the New Testament as a founder of the church in Antioch. There have been three popes named Lucius, and Pope Lucius I is also a saint.
Another Saint Lucius is a legendary 2nd century King of the Britons, who tradition credits with introducing Christianity to Britain by writing to the pope asking to be converted. His story became well known after it was included in the histories of Venerable Bede, and embellished by Geoffrey of Monmouth. For centuries it was an important myth of British Christianity, and although there’s no solid evidence he existed, some feel there must be a grain of truth to the legend. The church of St Peter Under Cornhill in London claims St Lucius as its founder.
The Roman philosopher and statesman known to us as Seneca had the full name Lucius Annaeus Seneca. He wrote many of his famous works while in exile, and later became an advisor to the Emperor Nero. This didn’t end well for him, as he was (probably wrongly) implicated in a plot against Nero, and forced to commit suicide. Early Christians greatly approved of him, and virtually hailed him as a humanist saint. According to medieval legend, he was converted to Christianity by Saint Paul, and is mentioned by writers such as Dante and Chaucer.
Despite all this heavy-duty Christian background, and even a British connection, Lucius has never been a common English name. It does seem to have had some history of use in Yorkshire, which has strong ties to the legendary Saint Lucius.
The name Lucius is a traditional one in the aristocratic Cary family, who bear the title Viscount Falkland. The 2nd Viscount fought on the Royalist side in the English Civil War and was killed in action. The current Viscount Falkland is named Lucius, and so is his son (a writer who goes by his middle name, Alexander), and his grandson.
Lucius has probably been used more often in America, and there are a number of famous politicians from the United States bearing this name. It’s also known from American writer and bon vivant, Lucius Beebe, and American sci-fi author Lucius Shepard.
Lucius isn’t too unusual a name in Australian historic records. Dr William Harvey, who was featured on the blog earlier this year, had a father named Lucius who was also a doctor, and it was his father’s death from tuberculosis which led Dr Harvey into specialising in thoracic medicine. A famous Australian with the name is musician Lucius Borich, the son of Kevin Borich, who was in the band The Party Boys.
Lucius doesn’t chart in Australia. 14 baby boys were named Lucius in England/Wales last year, while in the US (where Lucius peaked at #257 in the 19th century), 125 boys were named Lucius in 2013 – the same number as those called Hollis and Zephaniah.
If there seems a lack of real life Luciuses, fiction has stepped into the breach, for they abound in books, movies, TV programs, and video games. It’s no new phenomenon, for Lucius is the narrator of The Golden Ass by African author Apuleius; written in Latin in the 1st century, this comedy is sometimes regarded as the world’s first novel. Lucius is also in Arthurian legend, a fictional Emperor of Rome who King Arthur defeats, thus becoming not just King of Britain, but Emperor over all the West.
Lucius has been used as a character name twice by William Shakespeare, in Titus Andronicus and Julius Caesar. In fact, pretty much anyone who writes a story set in Roman times will include a Lucius somewhere, as it was the #1 name.
One of the best known fictional Luciuses of contemporary times is the slippery Lucius Malfoy from the Harry Potter series. Upper crust, corrupt, bigoted, and ready to slip over to the Dark Side whenever convenient, Lucius is a dyed-in-the-wool villain and general Mr Nastypants for most of the series. Only towards the end does he receive a lukewarm redemption.
His name, although suitably aristocratic, brings to mind Lucius from The Golden Ass, which is a book about witchcraft and magic – not to mention someone (literally) making an ass of themselves. However, just as Malfoy’s son’s name, Draco, means “serpent” and reminds us of the Devil, Lucius’ name is reminiscent of Lucifer, a name related to Lucius, meaning “light-bringer”, and which is often understood by Christianity as Satan’s name before his fall.
Unfortunately, some people think Lucius and Lucifer sound too similar for comfort. Stories that make the connection don’t help, such as the video game Lucius, Son of Lucifer, or the horror novel The Haunting of Sister Mary Francis, which has a character named Lucius Lucifer. On the plus side, that gives Lucius a bit of a “bad boy” edge.
An alternative is Lucian, which is derived from Lucius. Lucian is more popular in Australia than Lucius, being around the 500s, and fits in with the trend for boy’s names ending in N – Lucian almost seems like a fancier version of Lachlan.
Lucius can be pronounced either LOO-see-us, or LOO-shus. The ancient Romans said it more like LOO-ki-us, which perhaps suggests the three syllable pronunciation is more “correct”. Obvious nicknames are Lucky, Luke, Luc, Luca, Luce, Loosh, Lou, and Louie. I have seen a baby Lucius nicknamed Luci or Lucy by his family, which startled me, even though it makes perfect sense.
Handsome, intelligent, and with a rather upper-class image, Lucius does have a few issues, but seems like a name that someone could really fall in love with. It’s quite seductive – even luscious! I’ve noticed this name is often favoured by dads, suggesting that many guys appreciate the richness and power that stand behind it.
This is a rare boy’s name that is perfectly balanced between elegance and strength, brightness and darkness, history and magic, with lashings of Ancient Roman street cred and a bit of sex appeal to boot. Lucius could well be the name that lights up your life.
(Photo shows daybreak at Delderfield, Marysville, in country Victoria)