Etymology & Historical Origin of the Baby Name Cassius
The more we learn about the name Cassius, the cooler we decide it is. Starting, of course, with the legendary boxer Muhammad Ali (aka Cassius Clay). But before we get to that, let’s take a trip back to Ancient Rome where the name first took form. The Romans were early trend setters when it came to the structure of names. Their three part naming system comprised of a praenomen (given name), a nomen (clan name) and cognomen (nickname). Cassia was a nomen (clan name) from the Latin “cassus” meaning “empty, hallow, vain”. But before we scare you away with this etymology, let’s put it in perspective. Vanity is not an altogether bad thing after all, is it? During the age of the Roman Republic the Cassii clan belonged to the patrician class. We know the name dates back to at least the 6th century B.C. in the name of Spurius Cassius Viscellinus, one of the most distinguished and highest elected officials during the infancy of the Roman Republic. After a series of war victories against the various Italian tribes surrounding ancient Rome, Cassius took it upon himself to pass a series of laws having to do with land ownership between the patricians (upper-classes) and plebeians (ordinary citizens). His efforts angered his fellow patricians who saw the laws as too plebeian-friendly. They tried Cassius as a traitor who aspired to royal power, sentenced him and executed him in a rather violent manner. From then on, the Cassius descendents (who were spared this awful end) moved from the patrician to plebeian class. Um, yah. We’d be “vain” about that injustice, too. In the first century B.C., another notable Cassius, Gaius Cassius Longinus, was (along with “et tu Brutus”) was a leading instigator behind the Julius Caesar assassination (44 B.C.). The name Cassius was sustained in the Middle Ages not because of any illustrious ancient Roman, but rather because three or four notable early Christian saints shared this name. Now let’s fast-forward to modern time: 1942 Louisville, Kentucky and the birth of Cassius Marcellus Clay, Jr. who was named after his father. His father, in turn, was named after a white man, Cassius Marcellus Clay, the notable Kentucky abolitionist. Trust us when we say that a wealthy landowner from the South who also happened to be anti-slavery was not exactly the most popular person in town (in fact, he was almost assassinated for it). Well that just brings us 2,500 years back to Spurius Cassius Viscellinus – another member of the elite who fought for some semblance of equality. Empty and hallow these men were not. That’s why we can’t help but to love this name – it seems fitting on a strong and dignified man despite what the etymology says. History gives us another perspective. Yet there’s something to be said about the bravado and vanity displayed by our beloved Cassius Clay.