🔼The name Linus: Summary
- Linen Man
- Straight Man
- From the Greek noun λινον (linon), flax.
- From the Latin noun linea, line.
🔼The name Linus in the Bible
The name Linus occurs only once in the Bible. At the closing of his second letter to Timothy, Paul conveys Linus' greetings along with those of some others (2 Timothy 4:21). The people Paul mentions were probably with him, or had visited him in his prison cell in Rome.
Although Linus plays a mere marginal role in the Bible, according to the early church fathers and the later Catholic Church, Paul and Timothy's Roman friend Linus succeeded the apostle Peter as bishop of Rome and is therefore generally considered to have been the second Pope, namely Pope Linus, who was incumbent from 67 to 76 AD.
🔼Etymology of the name Linus
It's not wholly clear where the name Linus came from, but in Roman mythology there were at least two gods known by that name, namely a son of Apollo and Psammate, and a son of Apollo and Terpsichore (the latter Linus was considered the inventor of melody and rhythm). Pliny even makes mention of a fountain in Arcadia by that name.
In Greek mythology, Linos was a mythical minstrel, and apparently the Greeks knew a song, the Song of Linos, that was either ascribed to him or was about him (Iliad.18.570), although the ancient Homeric scholar Zenodotus thought that the linos of the Song of Linos had to do with the flaxen string of the instrument upon which it was played (see below).
Liddell and Scott (A Greek-English Lexicon) know of three occasions where the word λινος denotes a certain constellation, and translate it with the Bands. It's not clear which constellation this would be, but it brings to mind what YHWH says to Job: "Can you bind the chains of the Pleiades or loose the cords of Orion?" (Job 38:31).
But whatever the formal etymology of our name Linus, it's clear that Latin and Greek speakers would have associated it with the nouns linum in Latin and λινον (linon) in Greek:
The noun λινον (linon) means flax or items made from flax, such as garments or lamp wicks. This word also described the mythical thread of destiny spun by the Fates and even strings of musical instruments.
Our name might even be a truncated form of word such as the noun λινοστολια (linostolia), meaning a wearing of linen, or the verb λινοστατεω (linostateo), meaning to lay nets.
In Latin our noun is used with the same meanings, and additionally for sail, rope or cable, and even a string of pearls. The word linteus means of linen.
The exact meaning of the name Linus is difficult to establish but it seems to have to do with either linen, or whatever could be done with it. Perhaps it's short for linarius, meaning linen-weaver and originally denoted a linen trader or producer or even processor, and means Linen Man. But Linus the Linen Man could also denote someone who professionally played on or sang along with the instrument that according to Zenodotus was equipped with a linen string. Perhaps Linus even denoted someone who produced nets from linen or handled them exceptionally well. Pope Linus himself, or at least his supporters, may have taken his name from the Latin noun linea, and figured it meant Straight.