Ancient Greek Names That Work Today
by Sophie Kihm
In Ancient Greece, it was common practice to skip a generation when using honor names. The first-born son was traditionally named after one of his grandfathers—whichever one was of higher status. The second son was named after his other grandfather (usually the maternal grandfather), and daughters were named after grandmothers or great-aunts.
Children could also be given theophoric names that were related to the gods. These names were not the exact names of the gods, but rather variations of the divine names. Demeter, for example, became Demetria. It wasn’t until the rise of the Roman Empire that the Greeks began to use god and goddess names in their original forms. The Romans also introduced the concept of surnames to the Greeks.
Here are sixteen names used in Ancient Greek culture that would work well on modern babies. For more, check out our list of Ancient Greek Names.
Apollonia: Apollonia was a name created in ancient times to honor Apollo, the Greek god of the Sun. Its most famous bearer was Saint Apollonia of Alexandria, a Christian martyr and patron saint of dentistry. Although somewhat of a mouthful at five syllables long, Apollonia would make a grand and alluring choice for a daughter.
Charis: In Greek mythology, the Charites were goddesses of splendor, good cheer, and festivity. A singular goddess was referred to as a Charis, which was then appropriated as a name for baby girls by the Ancient Greeks. In Greece, Charis is pronounced HAR-ees, while in America and other English-speaking countries, KAR-is is the preferred pronunciation.
Dion: Meaning “a child of heaven and earth,” Dion originated as a nickname for names like Dionysios. It was in the US Top 1000 from 1957 to 2006, peaking at #340 in 1969. But with the current trend of aspirational and spiritual names, might Dion be perfect for a 2019 baby? It’s at #315 on the Nameberry charts, which could indicate a future rise nationally.
Eulalia: It’s a wonder Eulalia isn’t more common, with its lilting sound and romantic charm. It’s Greek in origin but was beloved by the Spanish—Saint Eulalia is the patron saint of Barcelona, and Infanta Eulalia was the daughter of Queen Isabella II of Spain. Eula, the traditional nickname for Eulalia, overtook the original in popularity in 19th century America, but nowadays we prefer the longer version. Potential nicknames include Lalia, Lally, Lula, and Lulie.
Galen: Galen is heavily tied to Galen of Pergamon, an ancient Greek medical researcher who made major contributions in the fields of medicine and philosophy. It was the most popular in the US in 1949, when it ranked at #330. Despite that, Galen doesn’t feel dated, however, in 2018 only 57 boys received the name.
Heron: Although it may make you think of the white, leggy bird, the name Heron means “hero.” In fact, the Ancient Greek girls’ name Hero is a derivative of Heron. It’s a likable name connected to namesakes including Saint Heron of Antioch and Heron of Alexandria—a Greco–Roman inventor who created the first steam engine, vending machine, and more in the first century. And it’s also has an avian connection to the heron bird.
Isidore: Isidore, and the original Isidoros, were popular names in Ancient Greece. Many Catholic saints bear the name, but in modern times it is mostly used among Jewish families. Shockingly, only 26 boys were named Isidore in 2018. With Theodore soaring in popularity, Isidore is the perfect alternative.
Kallisto: Kallisto is one of the rare names used straight from mythology without variation in Ancient Greece. In the myth, Kallisto, a nymph, and Zeus fell in love. Hera turned Kallisto into a bear, and she later became Ursa Major, the Great Bear constellation. One of Jupiter’s moons is named Callisto, the alternate—and generally preferred—spelling of the name.
Leander: The handsome name Leander also comes from myth—in his tragic tale, Leander swims across the Hellespont each night to be with Hero in her tower until one night he is drowned by a winter storm. Leander has yet to catch on in the US, but it’s a favorite in Norway, ranking at #65.
Linus: It may still conjure images of a blanket-toting cartoon boy, but trust us—Linus is going places. It’s stylish -us ending, popularity in Europe, and other notable namesakes—including many mythic Linuses and Pope Linus—point to a future rise in the US rankings. Although it was only given to 147 boys in 2018, Linus is #245 on Nameberry.
Sappho: The best-known Sappho is the 7th century BC poet from Lesbos, a Greek island. She is a lesbian icon, as her poems often featured themes of love between women, and the word Sapphic derives from her name. Count it among the feminist baby names.
Thaddeus: Thaddaeus would have been the Ancient Greek spelling, but Thaddeus is the slightly simpler form preferred by parents 14:1. One of the twelve apostles in the Bible is named Thaddaeus, although he is sometimes referred to as Jude. Thaddeus has never left the Top 1000, although it had some close calls in 1898 at #991 and 2010 at #987. It now sits at #710.
Thais: The most famous Thais of Ancient Greece was a lover of Ptolemy I Soter, a general in Alexander the Great’s army. Thais had a larger-than-life personality and is said to have prompted the burning of Persepolis. She inspired many works of art and literature, including her namesake opera by Jules Massanet. Thais is a very common name in Portuguese-speaking countries, particularly Brazil.
Theron: Although he’s not remembered much today, the most notable Theron of ancient times was Theron of Acragas, the corrupt Greek ruler of Acragas, and later Syracuse, in Sicily. These days we’re more likely to think of Charlize Theron, or perhaps you have a Theron on your family tree—it was in the Top 1000 until 1992.
Theodosia: If the musical Hamilton were to revive any baby names, Theodosia would top our list. The numbers have increased slightly—fewer than 5 baby girls received the name in 2015, and 11 were named Theodosia in 2018—but nothing major. Theodosia Burr went by Theo among those close to her, which is a cute, boyish nickname a la Charlie. Thea and Tia also work as nicknames, as does Theda, as in silent film star Theda Bara (who was born Theodosia).
Xanthippe: Xanthippe is best known as the name of Socrates’s spirited and argumentative wife, which has cast a kind of dour shadow on the name as it’s become synonymous with a nagging woman. It has potential to be saved, though, with its zippy X and upbeat rhythm. There’s a character named Xanthippe who goes by Xan on the Netflix show The Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt.
Xenia: Xenia is the Greek concept of hospitality—literally translated it means “guest-friendship.” It was adopted as a name in Ancient Greece in honor of Zeus, who was occasionally referred to as Xenios, as he was a protector of guests. There are several Saint Xenias, the most famous being the patron saint of St. Petersburg. Xenia and its variants Ksenia and Oksana are popular in Russia, and Xenia also ranks in the Catalan region of Spain.
Sophie Kihm has been writing for Nameberry since 2015. She has contributed stories on the top middle names of 2019, the top baby names in each state, and the hottest nickname names of 2018. Sophie is Nameberry’s resident Name Guru to the Stars, where she suggests names for celebrity babies. She also manages the Nameberry Instagram and Pinterest accounts. You can follow her personally on Instagram or Pinterest, or contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org. Sophie lives in Chicago.
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on July 14th, 2019 at 11:59 pm
I really like Galen! Linus and Isidore also stood out to me. I think Kallisto and Arthur would make a cool sibset with the bear association.
on July 15th, 2019 at 8:58 am
Xanthippe is horrific. I hope it is not saved. I like Leander, Linus, Theron, and Xenia!
on July 15th, 2019 at 2:46 pm
Love Sappho! We briefly considered it for daughter #1 but decided the backstory — though awesome, in our opinion — could prove too burdensome, sad but true.
And my husband was almost Thaddeus (or Dmitri… I’m sending a theme!) I really like Thaddeus, as well as Thais, Hero (love!), Isidore and Eulalia.
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