Penelope, Athena, and Phoebe - what do these popular feminine names have in common? They’re all associated with Greek mythology, a fantastic source for name inspiration today.
Strong but still graceful, tenacious yet feminine, these names of the goddesses, queens, and nymphs of ancient Greece balance the best of both worlds. Let’s take a look at a few divine choices that haven’t yet become popular.
Image: Wikimedia Commons
Artemis. Confident and cool, Artemis has a modern sound despite its roots in the ancient world. The legendary Artemis is known as the goddess of hunting and the wilderness, giving the name a natural twist. With Arthur and Athena rising, parents may be drawn to the tenacity of Artemis.
Persephone. Another mythological alternative to Penelope, Persephone has a similar sound but a more ethereal vibe. She is the queen of the underworld in Greek myth, but she’s also associated with the springtime. If you’re looking for a name that balances the dusk and the dawn, Persephone is ideal.
Hestia. Derived from the Greek for “hearth” or “altar,” Hestia is a friendly and feminine pick. It’s akin to vintage names like Esther or Hazel, but doesn’t have their popularity - it’s never been recorded in the United States. Hestia is also an uncommon route to a multitude of nicknames, from Hattie to Tia.
Calypso. Edgy and dramatic, Calypso is a bold choice with a legendary backstory; she was a nymph who held Odysseus captive for years, with a name meaning “to deceive”. Such intrigue hasn’t deterred modern parents - Calypso’s melody (and connection to the Pirates of the Caribbean franchise) has helped it find fans over the past few decades.
Althea. Pretty Althea fits in with popular A-a names like Amelia and Alexa, but maintains its rich and expansive history. Althea was the queen of Calydon, and her names comes from the Greek for “healer”. This unique connection would make Althea an appealing and subtle honorific for familial doctors or nurses.
Selene. Luna and Nova are shining bright - might Selene join their ranks? This celestial pick is the name of the goddess of the moon, and can be pronounced Seh-lee-nee or Suh-leen. Selene is a sleek update to Selena, with a sophisticated and elegant air.
Ianthe. This exquisite choice comes from the Greek for “violet flower,” but has a more delicate and resolute sound than vintage Violet. Ianthe was also the name of a nymph associated with flowers, making this an understated floral pick. It’s also been recorded sporadically since 1914, enriching its credibility as an established Western name.
Andromeda. Featured in both the Harry Potter series and My Sister’s Keeper, Andromeda is a pop culture pick with style and substance to back it up. In Greek myth, she was the daughter of Casseiopeia, and an early inspiration for the “princess and dragon” motif in storytelling. Today, ornate Andromeda would work well as an alternative to Amanda or Alexandra.
Echo. A modern word name that could harmonize with a musical family, Echo has been growing in popularity thanks to its amiable sound and attractive vibe. In mythology, Echo is a nymph cursed by Hera to repeat others’ words back to them - a rather unfortunate story that still doesn’t hurt the favorable qualities of this sweet name.
Cassiopeia. Beautiful and opulent, Cassiopeia is a fabulous way to reach the kind Cassie nickname through an unusual path. Once a proud queen of Aethiopia, Cassiopeia became a constellation after offending the god Poseidon. For today’s parents, Cassiopeia may raise some eyebrows, but it’s within the realm of lavish and luxurious name choices.
Hera. The queen of the gods, and the goddess of women, Hera has received surprisingly little attention despite its aural similarities to favorites Sarah and Hannah. Her mythological history is admittedly complicated, but this simple and graceful name deserves another look. Perhaps with Nora and Clara rising, Hera could finally find favor.
Demeter. With a one-of-a-kind sound and the adorable nickname Demi, this name may also appeal to fans of the natural world - Demeter is the goddess of agriculture. The boys’ list has seen Dimitri a few times, but Demeter brings strength and wisdom to the girls’. Variants Demetra and Demetria add a bit of flair to this divine choice.
Anthea. Like Ianthe, Anthea is an unexpected botanical pick, coming from the Greek word for “blossom”. She is, in fact, the goddess of flowers and one of the Graces in lore. Anthea is a great update to Andrea or Anita, and has been used quite a bit more in the United Kingdom.
Clio. Looking for an alternative to Chloe or Claire? Check out Clio - she’s the muse of history and great deeds in Greek mythology. This name is also associated with annual awards in advertising, but may yet appeal to fans of the creative and contemporary. It’s bound to be confused with Cleo, but remains a charming name nonetheless.
Rhea. Though lovely Rhea ranked highly at the end of the nineteenth century, it’s only recently come back into the spotlight after re-entering the top 1000 in 2015. Rhea is a Titan and the “mother of gods” in Greek mythology, giving the name more gravity. However, it’s also a type of large flightless bird, which could be a bit too eccentric for some tastes.
Every year, a new crop of baby names stakes its claim to a place in our culture. I call them the "100 Club": names given to 100 American boys or girls for the first time ever.
Some of the 100 Club members are doubtless one-hit wonders that will fade from view. Others, though, point to the future. This year's top-1000 name chart features many 100 Club honorees of recent years, including 2016's top risers Kehlani and Kylo.
Meet some more of this year's notable new names that just might be on the verge of big things.
Bowie (M) – In the year of music legend David Bowie's passing, parents used names as memorials.
Finnick (M) – I've written about Finnick, a character from the Hunger Games saga, as one of the "names everyone wonders about." The popularity of the name Finn and the coming of age of some Hunger Games fans has pushed the trend from just wondering to naming babies.
Ripley (F) – 37 years after the first Alien film, kickass heroine Ripley is finally making baby name waves.
Daenerys (F) – Four years ago the name Khaleesi, the regal title of a Game of Thrones character, was a 100 Club debutante. This year the same character's given name, Daenerys, joins the party.
Lyanna (F) – Another Game of Thrones name, Lyanna leapt up in popularity after the much-discussed Lyanna Stark finally made an appearance on the tv series.
Elon (M) – Entrepreneur Elon Musk, founder of Tesla and SpaceX, has raised the profile of this previously obscure biblical name.
Calder (M) – This is one of the "new generation -er names" that take their style cues from tradesman names like Cooper and Tanner but have very different cultural associations, in this case with sculptor Alexander Calder.
Linkin (M) – This spelling of Lincoln transforms the popular presidential name into a tribute to rock band Linkin Park. Some parents are motivated by the spelling of the nickname Link.
Ivanka (F) – Americans don't name after current political figures any more, but we do name after their children, who are treated more like regular celebrities. It's worth noting that these little Ivankas were born before Ivanka Trump took an official White House role, potentially moving her name into the "political" column.
Wells (M) – Last year's news headlines were filled with stories of widespread fraud at Wells Fargo Bank. The sports headlines were filled with the controversial Wells Report, with its physics-defying claims of a "more probable than not" plot to deflate footballs. It's unlikely that many babies were named after either scandal, but their names certainly stuck in parents' heads. Babies named Wells were up 40%.
The Full 2016 100 Club:
Each year we challenge the name-loving public to guess America's fastest rising and falling baby names. This year's trend-spotting champion is Tracy F., with this winning set of predictions:
Rising names: Adeline (F), Everly (F), Finn (M)
Falling names: Alexis (F), Kadence (F) Jase (M)
Tracy, a 24-year-old New Jersey resident, took an analytical approach to her selections, which is only fitting. She's currently pursing a master's degree in applied linguistics and works for a firm that analyzes a lot of name data. A sampling of her thinking:
"I spend a lot of time looking at name trends, and I based my predictions on what I've seen rise and fall in previous years. For instance, the elements in the name Everly have been on the rise through names like Evelyn and Paisley, and it looked like it could make that jump as well. Adeline also made a lot of sense to me as a fresh take on Madeline/Madelyn. (It's also interesting to note how much the spellings Adeline/Adaline jumped ahead -- yet Adelyn/Adalyn stayed about the same.)"
Tracy also shares the life-long love of names that inspires everything we do here. As she put it: "I think what makes them so fun to talk about is that almost everyone has a story to tell."
The top predictor of falling names was Caitlin of Cambridge, a perennial Name Pool powerhouse. She predicted the decline of Brandon, Alexis and Kaitlyn, and divulged her secret recipe for predicting popularity drops: "I mostly look at the top 150 or so and see which names peaked 15-20 years ago and have experienced widening declines in the past 3 years....Those criteria give nice, predictable fallers."
Finally, I'd like to acknowledge reader "Katjsh" who was the only entrant to predict this year's #1 fastest-rising boy's name, Kylo. Nobody picked the overall top riser, the girl's name Kehlani. Which goes to show you that even to a group as savvy as BNW readers, names still have the potential to surprise.
Congratulations to the top scorers. I'll see you all next year!