History of August: Who Is It Named After?


What’s in a name?

The name of this month wasn’t always August; previously, the Romans called it  Sextilis. This was back in 753 B.C., in the days of the founding of Rome by its first king Romulus in 753 BC, when there were originally ten months (… Sept, Oct, Nov, Dec.) In 8 B.C., the Roman Senate decided to honor their first Emperor, Augustus Caesar, by changing the month’s name to Augustus.

Augustus wasn’t his name; it was a description of his importance. He was born Gaius Octavius, though he is known in the history books as Gaius Julius Caesar Octavianus or Octavius to his friends. The title Augustus in Latin comes from augere “to increase,” and was granted to him in 27 B.C. by the Roman Senate.

It meant “venerable” or “consecrated,” signifying his religious role in the Roman cultus. We use the term in English to describe someone auspicious, grand, or lordly… or with imperial qualities. The Greek equivalent is Sebaste (Σεβαστή).


Augustus in History

You know about Augustus from the Christmas story in Luke 2:

Now in those days a decree went out from Caesar Augustus, that a census be taken of all the inhabited earth [i.e., the Roman Empire].

Young Augustus

Young Augustus

Back in Rome, his mother was the niece of Julius Caesar, and his father was the governor of Macedonia. However, Dad was only of the equestrian class, the “knights” or the landowning Roman bureaucracy, ranking below the highest senatorial class. During this time, Senators and equestrians formed a tiny elite of under 10,000 members monopolising political, military, and economic power in an Empire of about 60 million inhabitants. Nevertheless, the young Octavius rose in status.

He was elected to the College of Pontiffs and later joined his great-uncle Julius Caesar on the battlefield. General (and Dictator for Life) Julius was so impressed that he changed his will and named the boy his prime beneficiary. As Caesar had no legitimate heir, this adoption meant Octavius would succeed him.

He was the first Emperor of Rome and of the first dynasty of Roman Emperors: the Julio-Claudian dynasty.

Octavius took the name, Gaius Julius Caesar, though Roman tradition required that he append the surname Octavianus (or Octavian) to denote his biological family. He is alternatively known as Octavius, Octavian, or Augustus.


Bill Petro, your friendly neighborhood Roman


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About billpetro

Bill Petro writes articles on history, technology, pop culture, and travel. He has been a technology sales enablement executive with extensive experience in Cloud Computing, Automation, Data Center, Information Storage, Big Data/Analytics, Mobile, and Social technologies.


  1. Sebastian on February 26, 2013 at 3:18 pm

    August is my favorite month, because I like hot weather. August gets very hot.

  2. Kathryn Averyheart on August 1, 2019 at 11:36 am

    Thanks for sharing all this. I shared it with my son, Aaron, who is eight. He has read all of the Percy Jackson books and the follow ups by Rick Riordin and knew some of it – so it was fun to see what we knew together and what we learned. Thanks again! Kat Averyheart

    • billpetro on August 1, 2019 at 12:34 pm


      Thanks for the comment. Percy Jackson is a demigod, meaning he has a human mother and the Greek god Poseidon as his father. Poseidon’s Roman name would be Neptune. The books are a modern way of getting into classical mythology. The Romans, for the most part, stole the Greek pantheon and renamed everyone. Or more likely, there was “synchrotism” where the previous Greek gods became amalgamated with the existing local Roman gods.

      A modern example of this is Dia de Muertos of Mexico being connected with Halloween. See my article on it here.


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