Chloe, Zoe, Penelope: Those Glorious Greek E Names

Feb 7th 2013

It started with the -oes. Unconventional a generation ago, girls' names ending in oe suddenly skyrocketed. Today, three of them-- Chloe, Zoe and Khloe -- rank among the top 50 names for American girls:

Since the beginning of that surge, Greek-derived names with non-silent-e endings have been one of the hottest categories in traditional names. They offer an elegant balance: classically feminine and fashionably vowel-heavy, without the typical -a ending or a girlish diminutive. Even Penelope, which had languished due to the mid-century popularity of the nickname Penny, is now a fashion plate:

Have all of the Greek -e names already been "discovered"? What's to become of all the parents who love these names but want a less common choice?

In fact, the vein of ancient -e names runs deep. The challenge is to find spellable, pronounceable names that sound good to modern ears, while avoiding the grimmest mythological associations. I've highlighted the likeliest choices, along with a list of more adventurous options for parents willing to push the envelope on ancient style.

The Top Contenders

Ariadne -- A potential tongue-twister, but this name is appealingly literary and offers outstanding nickname options. It's mythological roots are also flexible, with multiple stories in Greek and Celthic mythology.

Daphne -- A familiar choice, but one that has never been common. It may be the sweetest of the -e names; the resemblance to "daffy" puts some parents off.

Hermione -- This name is now strongly linked to the Harry Potter series, which may give you pause. But that does mean that everybody now knows how to pronounce it. Somewhat popular in the U.K. but rare in the U.S.

Ianthe -- A romantically literary name, for better and worse.

Ione -- Packing three syllables into just four letters, this name is a pure quirky classic. In some sans-serif fonts it can like the word Lone. (Dione eliminates this problem, but is inevitably mispronounced as two syllables.

Phoebe -- You might think this name belongs in the same category as Chloe, but it remains surprisingly uncommon (#310 in America at last count).

Xanthe -- A classical walk on the wild side.

And Just Maybe...



February 7, 2013 1:50 PM

I would put Kalliope/Calliope off the daring list and onto the "more commonly used" list. Callie as a nickname makes it much less daunting and approachable than many of the others.I may be influenced that I have seen Calliope, Antigone and Ione in real life use on small children, from this list.

Ianthe is new to me! Eye-an-thee, I presume?

Thanks for compiling this. I'm a big fan of the Greek -e names!

February 7, 2013 2:23 PM

Ariadne was the name of Ellen Page's character in Inception.  That was a pretty popular movie.  I would have thought that if it was going to climb, that would have been a good catalyst.

But maybe it just needed to rest in people's brains for a few years before taking off.

February 7, 2013 3:01 PM

I'm surprised some of the goddess names are not more popular. Athena seems very usable these days.

I'd also like to meet a young Briseis or Deidameia (although the latter didn't have a very happy story).

February 7, 2013 4:22 PM

My daughter's other godmother is an eighteen-year-old Ariadne, and a good friend's twenty-something daughter is Penelope, so those don't seem all that adventurous to me, but a lot of the other names on this list I'd have no idea how to pronounce in English. (Somehow I don't think a phonetic rendering based on the Greek alphabet is likely to be correct: e has two possible values, neither of which is 'ee'.)

February 7, 2013 5:07 PM

Ariadne and Xanthe are right at the top of my girl's list. I've also seriously considered Ianthe, Ione, Antigone, and Evadne....... so I guess I'm totally into this category!

I do like Penelope but it's way too popular for me now (as are Chloe and Zoe which have been mega-popular for 15 years here).  I see Antigone, Xanthe, Ariadne and Hermione popping up on NE's list from time to time but I haven't seen them used that many times.

Phoebe and Daphne seem to get reasonable usage though and don't feel that uncommon to me.

The movie Inception came out just before I was pregnant with my daughter and Ariadne was on our short list. The movie didn't seem to give the  name any bump. However, the recent surge in the popularity of the nickname Aria might, given it is a quirky way to get there.

February 7, 2013 6:11 PM

I know a real-life Kyriaki, but she's Greek so that's not particularly surprising.  It's a lovely name but I can't see it catching on...unless perhaps as a quirky way to get to Kira or Kyra?

I'd add Oenone and Psyche to the "Just Maybe" list.

February 7, 2013 7:53 PM

I just watched a British archeological documentary, and one of the scientists involved was named Xanthe.  So I guess Xanthe has had some usage in the UK over the years.  My hometown attracted a number of Greek immigrants in the years immediately following WWII, so I went to school with a number of classmates with non-Anglicized Greek names, such are on the list.  I do wonder whether we will see a bunch of little Nikes while the shoes are popular.  The shoes are fairly expensive, so maybe it will be seen as an aspirational name; OTOH it's shoes, not a high-end jewelry store or a luxury car.

February 7, 2013 8:26 PM

I think Antigone has a lovely sound, though I'd never be brave enough to use it.  I've never been a fan of Chloe-- it reminds me of a cough/phlem sound you make in the back of your throat.

February 7, 2013 10:52 PM

I don't know about Nike... Especially since I'll bet I'm not the only one who would assume that a little Nike would be a boy due to the whole basketball association and all...

And I'll bet Phoebe still suffers from the Friends association, since even though the show has been off the air for a while now, people still do love it. Though I did watch it, it never really did much for me, but seriously, at least once a week someone in my lab references that show. (Especially those from France and Germany. I wonder why the show was such a hit in the foreign market.)

I really do enjoy quite a few names on that list and would love to see them used. I think that what most of them have over a name like Athena is that, though Athena is more phonetically transparent, they don't scream GREEK MYTHOLOGY to people with only a surface knowledge of the area.

February 8, 2013 7:29 AM

Chrysanthe is another very usable one, although maybe it sounds a little dated due to the Chris explosion of the 70s.

February 8, 2013 7:45 AM

Oh, and I just remembered Hebe - similar appeal to Phoebe, but with added botanicalness and arguably easier to spell.

February 8, 2013 10:59 AM

Is it pronounced like "heebee", as in "it gives me the heebie-jeebies"? (Do people still say that?)

February 8, 2013 11:05 AM

Heebie-jeebies was my first thought, too.

By Amy3
February 8, 2013 12:16 PM

I love many of these - Evadne, Ianthe, Xanthe. My husband and I had a cat called Chloe. (In my defense, I named her in 1990!)

I know an Ariadne (she's in her 30s or 40s), a middle-schooler named Chloe, a high-schooler named Daphne, and many Zoes.

February 8, 2013 12:27 PM

I like these names a lot, but find myself bothered by the fact that the American pronunciation of the "e" vowel in most cases bears very little resemblance to the Greek pronunciation. I have no problem with names being Americanized, but some of these have close enough ties to their Greek origins that I'd just feel like I was mispronouncing the name.  It also irks me that in some of the names the e is pronounced 'ay', whereas in others it's like -ie or -ey, which kind of defeats the purpose to me of having a non -a ending, because it sounds feminine and diminuitive, even though that's not necessarily the ending's meaning in the orignial language. 

Any of that make sense or resonate with others' feelings on the names?

February 8, 2013 4:40 PM

I went to college with an Antigone. She was born in the US, but either her parents or grandparents were Greek. We all called her Tig.

February 9, 2013 1:02 AM

I'd like to partially disagree that 'Ione' is pronounced with three syllables.  It should be if one considers it as a Greek name, but most American women with this name pronounce it with two syllables.  (these would generally be > 70 years old).

February 9, 2013 8:26 AM

One of my son's day care buddies is Archimedes.  He's about 2 and goes by Archie.  My three year old has trouble saying Archie though - I thought the kid's name was "RC" for the longest time.


The other similar category of names that could surge, I'll call Viking names.  Freya is the one I keep hearing, and I'll bet there's others that fit into the vowel heavy sounds that are trendy right now.

February 9, 2013 9:21 AM

Yes, Hebe like "heebie-jeebies" - I hadn't thought of that!  Apparently that wasn't an obstacle to 11 parents in the UK in 2011, not sure what use it's had in the US?

February 9, 2013 9:21 AM

Could someone perhaps list the pronunciation of each of the names listed- in typical American usage and in Greek? Thanks!!

February 9, 2013 12:03 PM

Well, in 2011, 8 girls in the US were named Hebe... which is beginning to sound like a racial slur to me :S

2010 had fewer than 5 and didn't make the Beyond the Top 1000 list; 2009 had 5; 2008 had 7; 2003-2007 didn't make the list; and it doesn't seem to appear on earlier lists, either, though I only spot-checked a few. So in 2008 it began to be used in numbers great enough to show up on the list, but that use is not yet consistent enough to always keep it there.

By ejh
February 10, 2013 3:44 PM

What about Iolanthe?

February 10, 2013 5:06 PM

I love some of these names, particularly Xanthe ( my younger sister was at school with one) and Ianthe.

How about Parthenope? I think that qualifies as a "just maybe". Name of one of Handel's operas (like Semele)! Ooh, and there's Ariodante.

By Joni
February 12, 2013 2:09 PM

Love lots of these names - but personally Daphne is too "Scooby-Doo" for  me. :-\

February 12, 2013 2:18 PM

Iolanthe, Briseis, and Semele also belong on that list!  I love all of them, although they violate my personal rule of names that are easily pronouncable.  I am a classical singer, and my daughter's name is Katherine, so, sticking with a Greek theme, I have thought I might bend my rule for Semele.

February 12, 2013 2:45 PM

Thank you! I was just thinking this about Iolanthe! We actually kind of like it, although I doubt we would use it, but we have a 4 syllable Greek name thing going so far with our son (A) and daughter (E), so I would be next. ;-)

Love that it means "Violet"--sneaky way to get to Violet without going with popular. ;-) 

By kddp
February 12, 2013 2:51 PM

I really like the Latin varient Aoede (Ay-ee-dee) instead of Aoide (Ay-oy-dee), but probably would never use it.  I do know an Elene (Eh-leh-nee), though, and think that's quite pretty.

February 12, 2013 3:17 PM

A friend of my daughters is an Israeli named Daphna. This is an alternative to Daphne. Still has the "Daffy" connotation, but the -a ending softens it up a little.

February 12, 2013 3:57 PM

One of my favorite real-life "found" names was a Eurydice--the last name made it even more awesome, but I can't put it here because I suspect she's unique in the world. She'd be in her mid-twenties now, I think. I can't see the name taking off soon, though, due to that unfashionable initial y- sound.

On the "maybe" list--I've always liked the idea of a Persephone, nickname Kore, for a very mythology-heavy name. (Kore meant something like "the maiden" and was another common name for Persephone, especially in her role in the Eleusinian Mysteries.)

@dorit: I think the longer -e names avoid the diminutive feel of traditional -ie/-y names just by virtue of how long they are, and sometimes due to their mythological connotations--Penelope feels more substantial than Penny, and I don't see Antigone ever sounding fluffy. I agree, though, that the shorter ones can certainly sound more cutesy--there's a reason Sesame Street picked Zoe for their three-year-old girl monster. For folks who like the Lucy/Molly/Katie style but want something a little more erudite or grown-up looking, the short Greek -e names are a good choice.

February 13, 2013 7:31 AM

Although even serious baby name books list Iolanthe as greek I don't believe it: The first bearers of the name were frankish women in the early mediaeval ages, so I assume a germanic origin. But the whereabouts are unclear.

The problem is that the greek word for violett has a "d" in the end and does not contain an "l" at all.

February 14, 2013 1:38 AM

I recently came across the name Khione, and thought it was very pretty.  Thanks to the Percy Jackson series my son is 12, he and his friends are getting into these books and with the second movie set to release this year we may see a big spike in these names.  Side note...we got a grey kitten two months ago and the kids named her Athena.

March 2, 2013 8:27 AM

I've always loved the name Psyche and think her myth, the precursor to Beaty and the Beast, is charming. But I would never use it today because it's so easily changed to Psycho. The taunting would be endless. Nike is also beautiful but ruined as a given name. It's now the equivalent of naming your child Reebok. 

March 5, 2013 4:31 PM

Wow, I'm so excited to see a post that includes all of my girls' names! We decided with our first pregnancy to go with classical Greek names, so over the years I've done a lot of looking into them. Most of those listed here have been on my lists. I would also add Ismene to the Just Maybe list (mostly since I like the nickname Izzie).

The names we chose were:
Evadne, Ariadne, Persephone, Penelope, and Eurydice

I really love the sound of this group of names, and while the pronounciations aren't always obvious, they tend to lend themselves well to more common nicknames which I think makes them very flexible.

March 22, 2013 2:48 AM

I thought the name Phoebe is popular enough to be at the top list. Because it seems like a very common name, and it's actually very nice.

April 8, 2013 8:51 PM

I know TWO Io's, pronounced like the letters!

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Those are on a list of names that i probably use someday. They are absolutely marvelous.