Latin is really considered a "dead" language. Present day it is only spoken by scholars, some members of the older clergy, and inside the Pope’s office at the Vatican. Older Catholics recall a time when mass was spoken entirely in Latin (Vatican II changed this in the early 1960s). It is still widely taught in school for those seeking a classical education. Latin is a subcategory of the Italic languages which developed around the Tiber River in Italy in an area known as Latium as far back at the 10th or 9th century B.C. The Latins were an Italian tribe under the influence of the ancient Etruscans who occupied the region north of Latium. The Latins borrowed from the Greek alphabet to create the Latin alphabet in order to develop their crude language into written form. The complex structure of the language was already taking shape by the time Rome was founded in Latium in the 8th century B.C.
With the dominance of the Roman Republic in the ancient Mediterranean, Latin flourished. The spoken form was more colloquial and often referred to as “Vulgar Latin”. Dialects varied from region to region. Only the educated spoke Classical Latin which also became the defacto written form by the 6th century B.C. Classical Latin literature includes the works written in the first century B.C. by the linguist philosopher Cicero and the great poets Vergil (The Aeneid) and Ovid (The Metamorphoses). As the later Republic and early Empire conquered much of Europe, Popular Latin became the root language of not only Italy, Sardinia and Sicily, but it also developed into what we know as the Romance languages of French, Spanish, Portuguese and Catalan. Although Germanic is the root language of English (thanks to the Anglo-Saxon Germanic tribes who invaded and settled in Britain in the 5th century A.D.), copious amounts of Latin have infiltrated the English language as well. First of all, the Romans conquered, occupied and “Latinized” England in the first four centuries A.D. well before the Anglo-Saxons came. Then the Normans conquered England in the 11th century, bringing their Latin-based language of Old French. So Latin has had a great influence among English speakers and westerners in general. It’s not surprising that so many of the first names available to us today come from the Latin language. Indeed, Latin is no longer spoken but by a very few yet its legacy still remains great.
Incidentally, Old Roman (Latin) names from Classical Antiquity made their way to present day by way of Christianity. Once the Christian era was underway and Christianity was adopted by the Roman Empire as its non-negotiable state religion, the Church did everything in its power from Late Antiquity through medieval times to control the naming of children. Old Roman family names or praenomens (given names) such as Augustus, Marcus, Dominus, Claudius, Julius, Antonius, Fabian, Maximus, Camillus, Paulus, Justus, Quintus, Titus and Vivianus only survived because they were borne by some important early saint. The Church distanced itself from the ancient days of Roman mythology and paganism. They suppressed the works of Classical literature, and created at atmosphere they could maintain under their hegemonic control. These old classical Roman names have yielded scores of modern derivatives, not because of the various great Emperors, but rather because of some early Christian saint or martyr. For instance, Augustus was considered the first Emperor of the Roman Empire from 27 B.C. to 14 A.D. Yet we can thank St. Augustine, an important Latin theologian (354-430 A.D.), for the spread of this old Latin name. Claudius was another remarkable first century Emperor, but St. Claudius was a revered 3rd century martyr. Where ever you see these Latin-based names which have persisted to modern times, you can look with confidence for some important early saint, martyr or Pope. Some of these Latin names (such as Claudia or Paul) also appear in the New Testament as people of the early Roman Empire co-mingled with Christ and his followers.
The importance of naming children after early venerated Christians was not only common and in full swing by the Middle Ages, but it was practically a requirement. Both the Roman Catholic Church and the Eastern Orthodox Church supplied parents with an official calendar of saints from which they could chose their child’s name. This practice still goes on today, but the sense of obligation has loosened up a bit. In medieval times, parents readily used the names of Biblical figures and early saints as a protective measure for their children, or to ensure the child’s future success. Nevertheless, as we’ve turned into the 21st century, our repertoire includes a plethora of Latin name choices both rich in history and beautiful by nature.
Today, Americans are using Latin names outside of the confines of the Church. For instance, parents may like their meaning or sound, but are completely unaware of the early saint who single-handedly served to popularize this name in the first place. These names are now adopted by not only Christians, but Jews and agnostics alike. Here are a few other places where we get Latin names:
Roman mythology has provided us with colorful characters such as Aurora (goddess of the dawn), Luna (goddess of the moon), Juno (wife of Jupiter), Ceres (goddess of agriculture), Minerva (goddess of wisdom), and Venus (goddess of love). Such names are now used (albeit sparingly). Martin is a name we get from Latin referring to Mars, the Roman god of war. Still, these names would have been practically unheard of in medieval Europe due to their association with paganism (with the exception of Martin since there was a 4th century St. Martin of Tours, a patron saint of France). These other names have survived thanks to the endurance of their mythological legends, and not because they were borne by some early martyr.
Some Latin names originated as place names. Adrian/Adriana (from Hadria); Laurence/Lauren (from Laurentum); Lucas (from Lucania); Lydia (from Lydia); Romeo (pilgrim to Rome); Siena (a city in Italy).
Other Latin names come from specific words with attractive meanings (although many of these names are also borne by saints): Amanda (worthy of love); Clara (clear, bright); Dante (enduring); Desiree (desired); Dexter (skilled); Felix (happy); Francis (Frenchman); Gloria (glory); Honoria/Nora (honor); Maurice (dark skinned); Miles (soldier); Monica (advisor); Natalia (Christmas Day); Priscilla (ancient); Salvador (savior); Stella (star); Tatiana (unknown meaning); Valeria (to be strong); Victor/Victoria (victor); Vincent (to conquer).
Lastly, the English language has borrowed untold thousands of words from the Latin language (mainly by way of the French after the Norman Conquest). Some of these vocabulary words turned first names find themselves rooted in the Latin language: April, Autumn, Cadence, Faith, Liberty, Lily, Miracle, Olive, Patience, Rose, Ruby, Scarlett, Trinity, Violet.
Although English is a Germanic language and Latin is an Italic language (both are Indo-European), the Latin influence has been enormous to the Western world in general. Just like the Hebrew and Greek languages have become highly dominant in our naming practices over centuries and centuries, the expansion of the Roman Empire and the importance of early Christians with Latin names have also predisposed our naming choices right up to present day.