What is the significance of Atticus's name in To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee?

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teachsuccess | High School Teacher | (Level 1) Educator Emeritus

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During Roman times, Atticus was a popular name because it exemplified sophistication and refinement. In fact, Atticus was a popular cognomen, a surname which followed the nomen and praenomen. All three (cognomen, nomen, and praenomen) made up a Roman name in the Classical period. The name Atticus is an allusion to the Roman ideal of civilized enlightenment and dignified poise, both qualities embodied in the fictitious Atticus Finch.

As my colleague above mentioned, Titus Pomponius Atticus was a legendary figure in Roman society, a patron of the arts. Another important figure named Atticus was Herodes Atticus. This Atticus was wealthy and a famed orator of Greek rhetoric to Marcus Aurelius. However, he was also a combative character and abused his wife. In short, his actions did not match the grand implications of his name. The only possible characteristic he may have shared with our famed Atticus Finch was his claim as an excellent orator.

In To Kill a Mockingbird, however, Atticus Finch lived up to the best of his Roman name, proving it is essentially the character of a man that makes the name. When the chips were down, Atticus's extraordinary poise, dignity, and courage were exemplary:

Before I can live with other folks I’ve got to live with myself.

The one thing that doesn’t abide by majority rule is a person’s conscience.

litteacher8's profile pic

litteacher8 | High School Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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Atticus’s name is Latin and an allusion to Roman history.

 Lee chose to name an important character after an historical figure.  Titus Pomponius Atticus was a patron of the arts.  He is considered one of the first publishers, and copied and distributed copies of his friend Cicero’s works.

[My] father, Atticus Finch, went to Montgomery to read law, and his younger brother went to Boston to study medicine. (ch 2)

By naming Atticus after this ancient Roman, Lee establishes a link between Atticus and an early tradition of law.  The name also means “from Athens” and therefore links him to a democratic tradition as well.  The name is therefore both an historical allusion and symbolic.


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