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Meaning and etymology of the name Julia

Julia Julia

The name Julia occurs just once in the Bible. The apostle Paul mentions her in his letter to the Romans (16:15). He mentions her in close proximity to Philologus, which makes some scholars (Spiros Zodhiates, for instance) assume that she was probably his wife.

The name Julia is the feminine version of the masculine Julius, although Julia existed long before Julius ever did. Julia was originally a family name, adopted by a family that figured they descended from a very ancient deity called Iulus or Iullus, who, conveniently, was a son of Venus. What motivated the construction of the name Iulus is no longer clear, but chances are excellent it has to do with the identical word iulus, meaning down or the wooly part of plants, or "catkin" (say Lewis and Short in A Latin Dictionary) and that means "a cylindrical unisexual inflorescence, usually pendent and downy or silky, borne by various trees" (says the Oxford dictionary).

Lewis and Short also claim that this Latin word iulus is the cognate of the Greek word ioulos (ioulos), which thus obviously means down, but also "the first growth of the whiskers and bear." Because this Latin word may very well have originated as the Greek word, and the Greek word denotes the downy facial hair of a young man, many commentators have assumed that our word's underlying idea is that of youth or being young. But that may not be the case.

Liddel and Scott (A Greek English Lexicon) list three more meanings of our word ioulos. It may also mean corn-sheaf, and we're guessing that's because of the bristly appearance of a corn sheaf, not because it's young. The goddess-of-the-harvest Demeter was sometimes called Ioulo, after the corn-sheaf. Obviously corn is harvested not when it's young.
Another usage of our word ioulos is in the meaning of centipede or wood-louse. A centipede is not known for being young, but rather for it's bristly set of legs.
The fourth listed usage of our word is as the Greek name Coris Julis; the rainbow-wrasse, which is a kind of barse.

Liddel and Scott note that our word ioulos in its meaning of the rainbow-wrasse may be cognate with the word oulos, which means wooly or "of thick, fleecy wool," which ties it neatly to the primary meaning of our word ioulos. But an identical word oulos means whole or entire (perhaps the root for the Indo-European words "all, whole"?). And a third identical word oulos means destructive, baneful, cruel.

Another word of interest, which is doubtlessly related to our word ioulos is the verb ioulizo (ioulizo), meaning to become downy or hairy.

The name Julia means Downy or Hairy, which is probably kind of awful for a girl, but since Julia originated as the name of a male deity, not at all unusual. Other Biblical names that may mean Hairy are: Esau and Seir.



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