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 girls bearing Greek goddess names and boys named after gods 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.
(Btw, though there is no officially published list of the most popular Greek baby names, various registers have been compiled. Leading the girls’ names are: the perennial Maria, Eleni, Aikaterini/Katerina, Vasiliki and Sofia.
Acacia—One of the prettiest, Acacia is an on-the-verge-of-discovery nature name, that of the acacia tree, which symbolizes resurrection and immortality. Pronounced ah-KAH-kee-ah on its native soil, it would inevitably be ah-KAY-see-uh orah-KAY-sha in English- speaking countries.
Alala—One of the lesser known and most rhythmically lilting goddess names, Alala was a sister of Aries and—unfortunately—a goddess of war. It’s traditionally given to girls born under the signs of Aries and Scorpio, which are ruled by Aries.
Charis—A name whose meaning embraces such desirable attributes as beauty, grace and charm, its authentic Greek pronunciation is KAH-rees, but the ch sound would probably prevail here. Charis is the name of one of the Three Graces in Greek myth. Charmian is another possibility.
Clytie—She may sound more like a Southern nickname, but this is actually a Greek mythological name meaning ‘the splendid one’ and belonging to a water nymph who was a daughter of Oceanus in love with Apollo.
Elektra—Also spelled Electra—as in the O’Neill play Mourning Becomes…, Elektra has both an appealingly electric aura and some ancient tragedy associations. Jennifer Garner played a superheroic Elekra in two films, based on a Marvel Comics character. Isabella Rossellini chose the softer Italian spelling Elettra for her now grown daughter.
Eulalia—The euphonious Eulalia—one of several usable Eu–starting names, including Eudora—is a character in Faulkner’s Absalom, Absalom, and was chosen by actress Marcia Gay Hardin for her daughter back in 1998. Its apt meaning is ‘well-spoken.’
Gaia—In Greek mythology, she was the earth goddess, one of the most important of divinities. Pronounced GUY-a in English , JEE-a in Greek, it could be a successor to Maia and Kaia. Emma Thompson has a daughter named Gaia.
Ianthe—Like Violet, Lavender and Lilac, Ianthe is a purple flower name. Chosen by the poet Shelley for his daughter, Ianthe has a poetic, romantic, almost ethereal quality. In the ancient myth, she was the daughter of Oceanus, supreme ruler of the sea. Iantha is also used.
Io—One of the few two-letter names on the table, and more substantial than most because of its two syllables, Io was a mythological maiden beloved by Zeus. If you wanted to extend it, you could consider Iola, Iole, Iona or Iolanthe.
Jocasta—Like Elektra, a name with somewhat unsavory ancient associations, but Jocasta makes an interesting, modern sounding choice nonetheless, having an aristocratic air and a choice of possible nicknames. Halle Berry played a Jocasta in the current Cloud Atlas.
Kasiani — One of the newest names on Nameberry is this ancient choice in the Cassia family, also spelled Kassiani and Cassiane. Saint Kasiani was a hymnographer whose best-known hymn is chanted during Easter Week and is associated with “fallen women.” Kasiani is also famous as the beloved of an emperor who nevertheless rejected her when he discovered she was more intelligent than he was.
Pandora—Yes, her ancient namesake may have inadvertently unleashed the world’s woes when she gave in to her curiosity, but that’s no reason for her name still to be paying the price. Sometimes heard among the British gentry, it could ride the wave of other rediscovered names Dora and Theodora—unless it’s too identified with the internet radio site.
Phaedra—or Phaidra—pronounced FAY-dra, has gone from tragic Greek character to reality TV star—as in Phaedra C. Parks of Real Housewives of Atlanta. Neither association should prevent you from considering this hauntingly evocative name.
Xanthe—This exotic name, which, like all Greek names beginning with x are pronounced as if it were a z , is derived from the Greek word for the color yellow. Xenia is another alluring X name, this one meaning ‘hospitality.
Zenobia—A name related to the great god Zeus, it was worn by a third century queen, noted for her beauty and intelligence, who ruled the eastern Roman empire, and can be found in novels by Hawthorne and Wharton—as well as some comic.
What’s your favorite Greek girl’s name?