🔼The name Cornelius: Summary
- Little Horn
- From the nouns cornu and κεας (keras), horn, or the verb קרן (qaran), to radiate or have horns.
🔼The name Cornelius in the Bible
There's only one Cornelius in the Bible, and he is remembered as the first recorded gentile convert to Christianity (Acts 10:1), although that may be a touch generous since Christianity did not yet exist properly separate from Judaism and Philip the Evangelist had converted the Ethiopian official of Candace two chapters prior (Acts 8:35), and the Samaritans prior to that (Acts 8:5).
But whatever claim to primacy Cornelius has, he was a military man as well as one of a huge number of gentile appreciators of Judaism called God-fearers (at that time, Judaism was recognized as a highly potent scientific system and studied by academics of any inclination at numerous schools and centers of learning all over the known world). One day an angel of God appeared to him and ordered him to retrieve Simon Peter from the tanner's house at Joppa (Acts 10:5).
Peter in the meantime received his famous vision of the great sheet filled with animals, from which he learned that certain previously deemed unholy things were no longer so, which helped him to decide to go with Cornelius' men to their master's house in Caesarea (Acts 10:28).
Peter explained to Cornelius and his household the gospel of Jesus of Nazareth, and while he was speaking the Holy Spirit descended and filled the people, who promptly began to speak in tongues and exalt the Lord (Acts 10:46). Peter had all of them baptized and remained in Cornelius' house a few more days.
The name Cornelius occurs 9 times in the New Testament; see full concordance.
🔼Etymology of the name Cornelius
The name Cornelius comes from the Latin word cornu, meaning horn (hence such useful English words as cornet, cornel, corneous and cornigerous, but not corn, curiously enough, which derives from an old German word kernam, meaning small seed, hence also our word grain).
The Latin word cornu shows up all over the classics and describes besides horns also items that were of a horn-like material (hoofs, bird-bills, warts), were made of horn (bugles, bows, lanterns), or were horn-shaped (the moon, elephant tusks, land-tongues, branches of a river — which is why Roman river-gods had horns).
Very frequently our word was used in a military sense, namely to describe the extreme wing of an army (which could explain Cornelius' name if we assume he and his cohort were customarily placed at one of the flanks of the main column). And the horn also served as emblem of power, which is why Bacchus, the giver of courage, was represented as having horns.
Our Latin word is cognate with the Greek noun κεας (keras), which is the Greek word for horn, things made from horn or items that look like horns, in pretty much the same way as does the Latin word. Most significant differences consist of the usage of κεας (keras) in reference to a mountain peak, or the extremities ("the horns") of the earth and even of the uterus, which may then refer to the ovaries:
The Greek noun κερασ (keras) means horn and is cognate with the Latin cornu and probably the Hebrew קרן (qeren). The usage of these words demonstrates an association with words and speech. The noun κερασ (keras), horn, is related to κρανιον (kranion) meaning skull, hence the Greek version of the name Calvary.
Both our Latin and Greek words are in turn cognate to the Semitic noun קרן (qeren), again meaning horn, but with a twist:
The verb קרן (qaran) means to radiate and became applied to the having of horns of certain animals. Subsequently, the noun קרן (qeren) means horn or ray.
The name Cornelius probably stems from an adjective and a diminutive form combined, and means A Bit Like A Horn or, slightly more striking: Of The Little Horn.
Readers who are familiar with the Book of Daniel will immediately recognize the conspicuous phrase "little horn" as the boastful resultant of the four big horns in which the empire of Alexander was to disintegrate (Daniel 8:9).
By the time of Jesus, the library of Alexandria, which was founded by Alexander the Great, held about a million volumes and was dominated largely by Jewish scholarship (see our article on the name Zenas).