French military leader Napoléon Bonaparte may have spent his life trying to conquer a continent, but that life began and ended on islands.
He was born (as “Napoleone Buonaparte”) on the Mediterranean island of Corsica in 1769 — the same year that France took Corsica from the Republic of Genoa (now part of Italy). He died while in exile on the remote South Atlantic island of Saint Helena in 1821.
In between, Napoléon: attended military school on the mainland, began serving in the French Army, rose to prominence during the French Revolution and the French Revolutionary Wars, became the de facto leader of France in 1799, declared himself Emperor in 1804, and proceeded to build a vast empire via the Napoleonic Wars (1803-1815).
Needless to say, a large number of babies all over the world have been named “Napoleon” since that time.
I don’t want this post to get too crazy, though, so I’ve decided to collect namesakes from just two locations — France and the U.S. — and to stick to the years during which Napoléon was active.
Napoléon’s namesakes in France
Thousands of French babies were named in honor of Napoléon from the mid-1790s to the mid-1810s.
In contrast with namesakes in other countries (like the U.S. and England), most of his French namesakes were given only his first name — not both names — and it was typically combined with one or more traditional French names (e.g., “Louis Napoléon,” “Jean Baptiste Napoléon”).
With that in mind, I went out of my way to find combinations that were a bit more varied…
- Napoléon Baillot, b. 1793 in France
- Jacques Napoléon Desiré Campa, b. 1795 in France
- Napoléon Stéphanie Joseph Therin, b. 1797 in France
- Napoléon Joseph Buttin, b. 1799 in France
- Napoléon-Jean Demeester, b. 1800 in France
- Napoléon Nicolas Senelar, b. 1801 in France
- Guillaume Napoléon Pelletier, b. 1802 in France
- Willebrod Napoléon Désiré Degrave, b. 1803 in France
- Charlemagne Napoléon Lambert, b. 1804 in France
- Napoléon Louis François Richounne, b. 1805 in France
- Napoléon Parfait Furpille, b. 1806 in France
- parfait means “perfect” in French
- Bienaimé Napoléon Le Cagneux, b. 1807 in France
- bienaimé means “beloved” in French
- François Desiré Prosper Napoléon Loiseau, b. 1808 in France
- Napoléon La Paix Lemasson, b. 1809 in France
- la paix means “peace” in French
- Gustave Napoléon Fichet, b. 1810 in France
- Esprit Napoléon Houdry, b. 1811 in France
- esprit means “spirit” in French
- Napoléon Bonaventure Dusautier, b. 1812 in France
- Auguste César Napoléon Decoene, b. 1813 in France
- Napoléon-Etienne Vernoni, b. 1814 in France
- Fructueux Napoléon Artigue, b. 1815 in France
- fructueux means “successful” in French
Almost all of the namesakes in this group were boys, but a handful were girls with feminized forms of the name (like Napoléonne, Napoléonide, and Napoléontine).
Several dozen more boys — most of them born early on — were given only the surname:
- Jacques Dominique Bonaparte Venkirch, b. 1796 in France
- Augustin Bonaparte Joseph Galle, b. 1797 in France
- Jean Baptiste Bonaparte Mollard, b. 1798 in France
- Séraphin Adolphe Bonaparte Decorne, b. 1799 in France
- Alexis Sébastien Bonaparte Poirée, b. 1801 in France
Napoléon had usually been called “General Bonaparte” or “citizen Bonaparte” before mid-1802, when the people of France went to the polls to decide: “Should Napoléon Bonaparte be consul for life?” Millions voted yes, and, after that, “he was generally known as Napoléon rather than Bonaparte.”
Napoléon’s namesakes in the U.S.
Napoléon didn’t wage any wars on North American soil (though he did sell a lot of that soil in 1803, when he let go of the Louisiana Territory for $15 million). Nonetheless, U.S. newspapers paid close attention to him:
Americans were clearly impressed by Napoléon’s achievements, judging by the hundreds of U.S. namesakes born in the late 1790s and first decades of the 1800s. Many of these babies received both his first name and his surname:
- Napoleon Bonaparte Coleman, b. 1799 in Kentucky
- Napoleon Bonaparte Roundy, b. 1801 in Vermont
- Napoleon Bonaparte Ward, b. 1802 in North Carolina
- Napoleon Bonaparte Hemenway, b. 1803 in Massachusetts
- Napoleon Bonaparte Taylor, b. 1804, probably in Alabama
- Napoleon Buonaparte Coleman, b. 1805 in Massachusetts
- he had one son named “Dewitt Clinton,” and another named “William Tell“
- Napoleon Bonaparte Hughes, b. 1806 in Maryland
- he had a sister named “Marie Antoinette”
- Napoleon Bonaparte Buford, b. 1807 in Kentucky
- he became a Civil War general
- Napoleon Bonaparte Kenney, b, 1808 in Kentucky
- Napoleon Bonaparte Archer, b. 1809 in Vermont
- Napoleon Bonaparte Thomas, b. 1810 in Tennessee
- Lewis Napoleon Bonaparte Main, b. 1811 in Connecticut
- Napoleon Bonaparte Foy, b. 1812 in Pennsylvania
- Napoleon Bonaparte Lockett, b. 1813 in Virginia
- Napoleon Bonaparte Tindall, b. 1814 in New Jersey
- Napoleon Bonaparte Corbin, b. 1815 in South Carolina
- Napoleon Bonaparte Giddings, b. 1816 in Kentucky
- he became a politician and Civil War colonel
Others were given only his first name:
- David Napoleon Hayden, b. 1800 in New York
- Napoleon E. Larche, b. 1804 in Louisiana
- Addison Napoleon Philleo, b. 1804/1805 in Connecticut
- Jefferson Napoleon Horine, b. 1806 in Kentucky
- Napoleon Luce, b. 1807 in Vermont
- Napoleon John Mitchell Smith, b. 1809 in Virginia
- Napoleon W. Burks, b. 1810 in Kentucky
- Napoleon Dillard Norman, b. 1811 in Virginia
- Adam Napoleon York, b. 1812 in North Carolina
- Alpheus Napoleon Barnes, b. 1813 in New York
- Napoleon Collins, b. 1814 in Pennsylvania
- Napoleon Cheney, b. 1815 in Massachusetts
And a good number simply got his surname:
- Buonapart Manly Towler, b. 1796 in New York
- Buonaparte Bennett, b. 1797 in Maryland
- Buonaparte Mann, b. 1798 in Rhode Island
- William Bonaparte Wood, b. 1799 in Massachusetts
- Charles Bonapart Hunt, b. 1800 in Maine
- George Washington Bonaparte Towns, b. 1801 in Georgia
- he became the 39th governor of Georgia
- Louis Bonaparte Chamberlain, b. 1802, probably in Mississippi
- Lucion Bonaparte Keith, b. 1803 in Massachusetts
- Consul Bonaparte Cutter, b. 1804 in Massachusetts
- Napoléon Bonaparte served as Premier consul from 1799 to 1804
- John Bonaparte Dixon, b. 1805 in North Carolina
- Erastus Bonaparte White, b. circa 1806 in Rhode Island
- Socrates Bonaparte Bacon, b. 1807 in Massachusetts
- Bonaparte Crabb, b. 1808 in Tennessee
- Madison Bonaparte Miller, b. 1809 in Vermont
- James Madison served as 4th U.S. president from 1809 to 1817
- Bonaparte Hopping, b. 1810 in New Jersey
- Israel Bonaparte Bigelow, b. 1811 in Connecticut
- Joseph Bonaparte Earhart, b. 1812 in Pennsylvania
- Ampter Bonaparte Otto, b. 1813 in New York
- William Bonaparte Steen, b. 1814 in South Carolina
- Leonard Bonaparte Williams, b. 1815 in Virginia
A few of the people named Bonaparte (but not Napoléon) did have other given names — like Lucien, and Jerome — that could have been inspired by other members of the Bonaparte family. I found a Josephine Bonaparte Evans (b. 1815), for instance, who was probably named after Napoléon’s first wife.
Another of the relatively few females in this group was Federal Anne Buonapart Gist (b. 1799), the daughter of Joshua Gist, who served in the Maryland Militia during the Revolutionary War.
Defining “Napoléon” and “Bonaparte”
Other famous men named Napoléon Bonaparte (including Napoleon III) also had namesakes, but it was the original Napoléon Bonaparte who put these two unusual names on the map.
So…what do they mean?
The Italian forename Napoleone has obscure origins, so the meaning isn’t known for certain. One popular theory is that it’s made up of the elements Neapolis, the original name of Naples, and leone, meaning “lion.” When Bonaparte was born in 1769, the name was “relatively common around Genoa and Tuscany,” though it was spelled a variety of ways (e.g., Nabulio, Nabulione, Napulione, Napolionne, Lapulion). The name had been used in his family before; his father’s uncle, for instance, was also named Napoleone.
The Italian surname Buonaparte, on the other hand, is much more straightforward: it’s made up of the elements buona, meaning “good,” and parte, meaning “part, share, portion.”
Was anyone in your family tree named after Napoléon?
- Dwyer, Philip. Napoleon: The Path to Power. New Haven: Yale University Press, 2008.
- Find a Grave
- Gueniffey, Patrice. Bonaparte: 1769-1802. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2015.
- McLynn, Frank. Napoleon: A Biography. New York: Arcade, 2011.
- Naming Napoleon: how exploring first names can give an insight into Victorian world history
- Napoleon – Wikipedia
- Napoleon I – Britannica
- Online Etymology Dictionary
- “Paris, May 9.” Alexandria Advertiser and Commercial Intelligencer 9 Jul. 1802: 2.
- Where does the name “Napoleon” come from? – Napoleon.org