Will you be rooting for the Assassins?
“Assassin’s Creed,” a film based on the popular video game series, opens in theaters Wednesday. Michael Fassbender stars as Callum Lynch, a modern man destined by his DNA to be an Assassin, a secret order in perpetual conflict with the equally secret Templars.
Callum (also spelled Calum) is the modern Scottish form of Colum, Gaelic form of Latin Columba, “dove.”
Callum Lynch is a new character created for the film. In it he relives memories of his 15th century Spanish Assassin ancestor Aguilar de Nerha. Aguilar means “eagle.” Fans of the games know other Assassins named Altair, Ezio, Shay, and Arno — “eagle” in Arabic, Italian, Irish Gaelic and German. Running out of eagle names, the screenwriters picked a dove instead.
In Christianity, the dove’s a symbol of both peace and the Holy Spirit. Soon after St. Patrick converted the Irish to Christianity, they began naming both boys and girls Colum. At least 32 men and women named Colum were revered as saints in medieval Ireland.
The most famous was Colum of Iona (521-597). Called St. Columba in English, his name is often expanded to Columcille (“church dove”) in Irish Gaelic. That in turn is respelled as Columbkille in English (as in the name of the Roman Catholic parish in Papillion).
Columba, born a prince of Ulster’s Uí Néill dynasty, became a monk who founded three monasteries. In 560, he made a copy of a psalm book owned by St. Finnian. They argued heatedly over who owned the copy.
When Diarmait, high king of Ireland, ruled in Finnian’s favor, Columba incited the Uí Néills to rebel against the king. Many men were killed in the resulting battle — one of the earliest and deadliest copyright disputes in history.
As punishment, Columba was exiled. Gaelic speakers from Ireland had been colonizing the western coast of Scotland, creating a kingdom called Dál Riata. Columba went there, founding a famous monastery on the island of Iona. He pledged to convert the pagan Picts of eastern Scotland to Christianity.
Columba made Iona a great seat of learning and founded churches throughout Scotland. He was said to have performed many miracles. In one, he saved a man from an attacking “water beast” in the River Ness — claimed as the first reference to the Loch Ness Monster.
Families called McCallum and McCollum had medieval Scottish ancestors named after the saint.
Meanwhile back in Ireland, Colum became Colm. Colmán, a diminutive form, was even more popular — 234 Irish saints were named Colmán.
The most famous St. Colmán was an Irish pilgrim on his way to the Holy Land mistaken for a bandit and hanged in Stockerau, Austria, in 1012. Miracles were reported at his grave, and many churches in Germany, Austria and Hungary were named after him.
Despite all the saints, Callum, Colm and Colman largely disappeared as first names in Britain and Ireland after 1500. In the 1851 census of Scotland, there were only three Callums.
The Scots rediscovered Callum around 1950. It boomed until ranking third there in 2005.
Callum also became fashionable in England and Wales, peaking at eighth there in 1998.
In the U.S., all these names were rare. The 1940 census found 1,219 Colmans, 91 Calums, 42 Callums, and 40 Colms.
The Irish form Colm is best known through actor Colm Meaney (born in 1953), who played engineer Miles O’Brien on “Star Trek: The Next Generation” and “Star Trek: Deep Space Nine.” Irish author Colm Tóibín’s “Brooklyn” was turned into the popular 2015 film, while Colm Wilkinson (born 1944) originated the role of Jean Valjean in the musical “Les Misérables” in both London and New York.
Canadian actor Calum Worthy (born 1991) played Dez on the Disney Channel’s “Austin & Ally.” English actor Callum Blue (born 1977) played villain Zod on “Smallville.” British violin prodigy Callum Smart (born 1997) is gaining fame with classical music fans.
American parents have just started to discover Callum. It debuted among the top thousand names in 2008, at 972nd. It’s increasing swiftly, with the 368 born in 2015 ranking it 683rd. If the “Assassin’s Creed” film is as big of a hit as the games, Callum will soon fly even higher up the baby name charts.
Cleveland Evans is a Bellevue University psychology professor and author of “The Great Big Book of Baby Names.”