Category: ancient Greek names
By Lauren Apfel
As both a classicist and a lover of names, I find myself in a unique position. On the one hand, I have been exposed, from a relatively young age, to a swathe of wonderful monikers that wouldn’t otherwise be on my radar: Achilles, Antigone, Andromache (to mention a few off the top of my head that all happen to start with A). On the other hand, I have spent many years studying and internalizing the tales of woe that accompany these names. Achilles, for instance, is not just an interesting three-syllable option to me with the benefit of a double letter. He is an angry man, with a delicate ego, who spent a long time sulking in his tent before embarking on a brutal killing spree. Not exactly the connotation I was looking for, you can imagine, when it came to naming my sons.
Okay, to be fair, I was never really tempted to call any of my sons Achilles. But there are some ancient Greek names that make me swoon, names I might even have considered using for my own modern offspring had their backstories not been so utterly problematic. Here are five:
Spring is the time of year for gentle rains and soft winds, the greening of leaves and the growing of flowers. The animals are all awakening and the season of rebirth starts. It’s probably the most romanticized season. Historically, Spring has been known as the time for having babies, for birth and fertility and in recent studies, Spring and mid-Summer have statistically had more births. If you’re looking for a name that represents the springtime and all its lovely flowers and greenery, I have a list of generally underused Greek names just for you.
Goddesses of the Spring
Persephone – Persephone is pronounced per-SEF-oh nee and she’s the queen of the underworld, wife of Hades and goddess of spring growth. While Persephone generally has a bad rep, it’s really a very lovely name. She’s the reason we have flowers and green things during the Spring and Summer. Though her name has been attributed to having a negative meaning, it’s really an unknown as the words for ‘dark blue’ and the word for ‘sound’ both appear in her name.
Greek names, particularly for girls, are beginning to make more of a mark on the American baby namescape. The Greek Sophia is our Number 1 name, and Chloe and Zoe are at 10 and 31, respectively. Tina Fey looked back to her Greek roots for the names of her second daughter Penelope Athena and Kourtney Kardashian followed with her own little Penelope a year later. Little Greek gods and goddesses are sliding down slides in Boston and Brooklyn playgrounds, where even extreme choices like Persephone and Andromeda are becoming accepted.
But there is a wealth of baby girl names still to be imported from this ancient culture, ranging from mythological deities’ and saints’ names to botanicals to place names. Easy to pronounce, with many bearing a strong family resemblance to familiar English names, here are of the best underused Greek baby names.
Let’s say you like the basic concept of a place name, but you’re not so thrilled when it’s tied to the image of a specific locale. If, for example, you’re thinking Tulsa sounds like a nice, friendly, easygoing, Western name– but then suddenly the image of Oklahoma oil fields spring to mind, or say you think Trenton might be the perfect boy’s name—if it weren’t for the New Jersey connection.
There is one way around this. You could consider place names that are no longer on the map, either because of a name change, possibly for political reasons, or because the place itself disappeared—or may have never even existed at all.
Here, some romantic, faraway examples, mostly with non-specific images:
ANGLIA—Latin name of England
ANNAM—historic name for part of Vietnam
ATLANTIS—legendary island supposed to have sunk into the Atlantic
BRIXIA—the ancient Latin name of the modern Northern Italian city of Brescia
CANTON—Chinese city now called Guangzhou
CARAL –a Peruvian settlement considered the most ancient city of the Americas
CEYLON—old name of Sri Lanka
It’s a curious thing that, even when people prefer quirky or unusual names, they often prefer the same quirky or unusual names. Why is Clementine such a darling, for instance, while brother name Clement languishes? Why are Nora, Cora, and even Florence hot, while the equally lovely Flora is ignored?
In the nameberry spirit of promoting great unusual, underrated, unappreciated names, we bring you the latest in a series of names nobody’s using…..but should be.
CAIO – Variation of an ancient Latin name that means “rejoice”, Caio – pronounced not kay-oh or chow but kye-oh – takes the trendy Kai one step further. Contemporary artist Caio Fonseca is a noted bearer.
COLETTE – The new movie Cheri with Michelle Pfeiffer may at least bring this name of the scandalous French writer back into contemporary consciousness. Out of the Top 1000 for more than two decades, Colette is derived from Nicholas.