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349237-julia-gillardJulia Gillard, who became Australia’s first female prime minister in 2010, is our prime minister no longer. Just as she became prime minister by ousting Kevin Rudd, so she was deposed in her turn when Kevin staged his long-threatened comeback and was reinstated.

Her name deserves to be covered as a “famous name” because she made Australian history by dint of her sex. As well as being the first woman prime minister, she is the first Australian PM to never be married; she is in a domestic relationship with her partner, Tim Mathieson. She is the first prime minister since Billy Hughes (1915-23) to be born overseas, because she is originally from Wales; Welsh politician Aneurin Bevan is one of her political heroes.

Much has been made of the fact that Ms Gillard is childless by choice, and an atheist, but that isn’t too unusual for an Australian prime minister. Stanley Bruce, James Scullin, Ben Chifley and John McEwen didn’t have children either, and Gough Whitlam, John Curtin, John Gorton and Bob Hawke all identified as either atheists or agnostics. She isn’t even the first redheaded prime minister – James Scullin had red hair.

Kevin Rudd also made history by returning as prime minister, because he is the first to do so since Robert Menzies in 1949, and is only the second Labor prime minister to ever do so – Andrew Fisher was the last, in 1914.

Even for those who do not agree with Julia Gillard’s politics or policies, it is admirable how hard she has worked, and what she has managed to achieve. Operating from a minority government which was tipped to do very little, she managed to get almost 500 pieces of legislation through parliament during her time in office, requiring great diplomacy and bipartisan support. (Here’s another history factoid: the last hung parliament was in 1940).

Throughout her term in office, Julia Gillard was often pilloried and treated vilely by opposition supporters. She proved to be extremely courageous and tough in the face of it, and always remained graceful under  fire. Unfortunately, her strength and dignity was probably misread by the electorate as coldness and formality, and her government failed to sell its many successes to the public.

Nevertheless, Julia Gillard has left an impressive legacy behind, including a model for other women to reach for high political office in Australia. A pity her opponents have made it unlikely any of them will want it.

The Iulia or Julia was one of the most ancient and noble families of ancient Rome, and their most famous member is Gaius Julius Caesar, the dictator who ruled the Roman Republic and helped bring about the Roman Empire. Julius Caesar gave his name to July, which makes Julia a suitable name to cover this month.

The Julii came from one of the leading houses of the Alban Hills near Rome, and gained their name from a mythical ancestor named Iulus. When it became fashionable in Rome to claim a divine origin for your noble family, the Julii decided that they were descended from Ascanius, the son of Aeneas, who according to legend founded the ancient city of Alba Longa. Aeneas was the son of a prince named Anchises, from a kingdon near Troy, and the goddess Venus. To make things easier, their ancestor Iulus was identified as being the same person as Ascanius.

The meaning of Iulus can’t be known for sure, due to its great antiquity, but it is possibly related to the name of the god Jupiter, identified as meaning “O father sky-god” in Old Latin. On the top of Monte Cavo, the dominant peak of the Alban Hills, was a very ancient shrine to Jupiter, suggesting that he had been their most important deity since time immemorial.

There are several famous women named Julia who were members of the Julia family. One was the mother of Mark Antony, another the aunt of Julius Caesar, while Julius Caesar had two older sisters named Julia, and also called his only daughter Julia, a lady renowned for great beauty and virtue.

The name Julia wasn’t uncommon in the Roman Empire, and there were many first century queens and princesses bearing the name. Saint Paul mentions an early Christian named Julia living in Rome, and there are at least two saints named Julia, who were martyrs. Julia is a character in William Shakespeare’s Two Gentlemen of Verona, another of his cross-dressing girls, and this time with a very fickle lover.

Julia is a classic name in Australia, which has never left the charts. It was #119 in the 1900s, and got as low as #205 in the 1920s before rising. It reached the top 100 in 1995 at #99, and peaked in 2000 at #64 before suddenly dropping out of the Top 100 the following year.

Since then, it has been on the decline (with a small upward blip in 2010, when Julia Gillard became the first female Prime Minister), and is currently #211, the lowest point it has ever reached. It is #153 in Victoria, the state where Julia Gillard launched her political career, and in Queensland, Mr Rudd’s home state, there are fewer babies called Julia than Kevin.

Politics rarely seems to do baby names any favours, and the name Julia appears to be rapidly losing popularity. Yet it is a classic which has never been out of the 200s, so it doesn’t seem dated. Simple and elegant, Julia travels well internationally, and on the right person, this can be a jewel of a name.

POLL RESULT: Julia received an approval rating of 72%. People saw the name Julia as classy and elegant (34%), and simple and understated (15%). However, 12% thought it was frumpy and middle-aged. 2% of people were put off the name because of Julia Gillard.

(Photo of Julia Gillard from news.com.au)