If that's how this name is pronounced, why is it not in use?

The name in question is Hypatia.

I was driving back from a long day doing survivalist activities competition style in the snow with my eldest, and on the last leg of our journey I searched through the child-friendly podcasts downloaded to my phone. I usually fall instantly asleep to Gone, a podcast about missing things, because the people who do it have such soothing monotones, but it feels fated that this time we actually listened to the end of a podcast about what happened to the Library at Alexandria. Not only did this podcast spawn debates about "who is your favorite conqueror?" (Ghengis Khan has better genetic success, Alexander the Great made a cool library and spawned a popular name, Vikings were not interested in colonizing/ruling and rather focused just on getting stuff, which seems more ethical), but then I was floored to discover that I've been saying the name Hypatia wrong for a long time. (Both soothing narrators say, "hih-PAH-tee-ah".)

That's NOT "hy-PAY-shuh", as somehow my brain decided it should be when I was roughly the age of the child I was having this conversation with. And unlike many "oh no, you've been pronouncing it wrong for three decades" situations, it's so pretty and melodic and not at all a let-down!

So, why the heck aren't people using this name? Can someone please use it? I'm cheesed off that Alexander and Zenobia which also came up in the podcast *are* getting used but poor Hypatia is languishing.... although it should be noted that in very recent years a few fabulously stylish people HAVE been using it. 





In female science hero names, Hedy (which is a name that I've never thought was super stunning as a name, although the namesake is rock solid) actually gets higher use. Whoops.

It was a productive car ride, onomastics-wise. My child decided he liked the name Theodore, and I got to talk about root words and how Theodoric is not god-based after all, although my kid decided that it sounded like a Greek hero. Sowing the seeds for those future grandchildren names... 


January 21, 2019 1:03 PM

It's one of those Anglicization things. Hypatia is originally more akin to hi-pah-tee-ah (with accent more or less equal), but under English phonics, hi-PAY-sha is more expected.

The name that gets the worst of it? Agnes. It's from French, where it's pronounced more like Anya.

Because, let's face it, expecting English speakers to speak imported words and names as originally spoken is quixotic. 

January 21, 2019 2:11 PM

I have friends who are among those fabulously stylish people :). They pronounce it Hi-PAY-shuh. I don't know whether they considered the alternate pronunciation, but my guess is it would be non-intuitive here in the Midwest and therefore hard to enforce. I wasn't sure at first whether such a long, unfamiliar name would work for everyday, especially without an obvious nickname, but it fits in fine. My toddler calls her "Pay-shuh", which is pretty cute. (And, come to think of it, more wearable than Pah-tee!)

January 23, 2019 2:58 AM

Pay-shua is adorable, and it's a wonderful name. Please congratulate your friends on their excellent taste! I did very much like Hy-PAY-shuh too, but Hih-PAH-tee-ah seems much more on trend with the melodic flowing vowel cascade. I am happy to live in a world where both of these are legitimate alternative pronunciations. 

I know a young Tia with super normal, on-trend sibling names, so with the hih-pah-tee-ah pronunciation that seems like an obvious nickname. 

January 26, 2019 6:47 PM

I would pronounce it Hi- pay - shuh too,  sounds a pretty cool name too

January 22, 2019 6:08 AM

My husband had to write a children's book about Hypatia! This spawned a temporary discussion of it as a possible name. I was going to say that the spelling in English makes the pronunciation ambiguous in ways that it is not here (100% -ee-PAH-tee-ah), but looking at the Spanish statistics, it is in no kind of use here either. It exists in the statistic tool, so there must be one or two, but does not appear on the map, so there are less than 20 in the whole country. Then again, naming practices are a bit more conventional here.

When it did come up in our naming discussion I nixed it. I think she is not generally well known enough (this will likely be less of an issue with all of the biographies of interesting historical women currently glutting the children's book market), the name is not stylish enough, and people inclined towards a name LIKE Hypatia are perhaps using Hermione. I'm also not sure that potential nicknames of Hippy and Patti are selling it much.

January 23, 2019 3:03 AM

Swapping in the spanish EE renders the name absolutely stunning and removes any lingering issues about the unfashionable nature of the first syllable. I want people in Spanish-speaking areas to use it even more than I want people to use it here... otherwise I suspect your point about Hermione is spot-on. Tia works as a nickname in English contexts, though obviously not as well in Spanish ones. 

I would very much like to read your husband's book if it's available! 


By EVie
January 22, 2019 2:44 PM

This one is really interesting! I actually thought it was high-PAY-shuh, too, following the usual rules for Anglicizing ancient Greek names. I did a very unscientific survey of a handful of YouTube videos on the topic, and found several that do use that pronunciation (along with one of the very similar hih-PAY-shuh). But another, a lecture by an English professor, used hih-PAT-ee-uh, and Forvo offers up yet another variant: hih-puh-TEE-uh. 

And the Greek spelling reveals... <drumroll>...


... suggesting that the Forvo pronunciation is actually the most true to the original (that diacritic on the iota showing the stress). But of course, that means nothing in regards to "correct" English pronunciation, since Anglicized pronunciation is often different. I think this is just one without an established consensus... in fact, Hypatia is an entry in my dictionary, and it does give two pronunciations:

Hypatia | hīˈpāSHə, -patēə |

January 22, 2019 4:08 PM

That's interesting about the Greek spelling, because I might have expected Spanish and Catalan to reflect that a bit more, but neither of them do; they both place the stress firmly on the second syllable.

January 23, 2019 1:39 AM

That IS a nicer pronunciation than high-pay-shuh, but it's a bit reminiscent of "hippopotamus."

As other commenters have mentioned, "pat" is a dated name element.

And if the filter will let me say this, the first two words I think of that begin with "hy" are "hygiene" and "hymen."  Auto-complete in my search box is reminding me of things like "hypertension," "hypnosis," "hypothyroidism" and "hypocrite." So I guess it sounds a bit clinical to me.

Then again, so does Lysander (sounds exactly like a cleaning product!) and that seems to be well-liked right now.

January 23, 2019 3:15 PM

I think of hype and hypnotic and hydrangeas and words like hyperspace... it's a fun rorshach blot test! But I love Lysander, too, cleaning product vibes notwithstanding. :) 

I think hippopotamus is a fair issue with the hih-pah-tee-ah pronunciation.

January 23, 2019 6:30 AM

I’ll throw out that Lysander (and definitely Hermione) are probably more well-liked thanks to Harry Potter; the generation who grew up on the books have now reached child-bearing age. I don’t *think* there’s a Hypatia in HP. 

Hypatia is a bit foreign and just... unsure in pronunciation. I suspect a pop culture reference could change that.

January 23, 2019 3:16 PM

That's an excellent point.

I'm hoping for a sweeping biopic set in Alexandria to change that. Pop culture needs more historical lady mathematician icons to look up to!

January 24, 2019 5:23 AM

There was a film with Rachel Weisz, but it was pretty meh. Sweeping, but tedious.

January 25, 2019 8:08 PM

Alexander has thousands of years of popular use, and it's no longer 'foreign' or 'weird'. I wouldn't put it in the same category. I find a more apt name to wonder about usage is Persephone: it's very unusual, the spelling isn't intuitive, and it's primarily associated with a tragic Greek myth. But I see so many people using it--maybe as a Penelope alternative?

Hypatia feels very Telegraph-y to me, especially with your listed correct pronunciation. It's too posh. You might as well ask why your average American doesn't consider Ptolemy as a baby name. 

January 26, 2019 3:11 AM

I know multiple Persephones... which is why I'm asking. Hypatia is definitely a try-hard intellectual name, but to be frank I *am* a try-hard intellectual and I live in an area with other try-hard intellectuals, and they/we are using names LIKE this in terms of the neoclassical revival. Also I know kids who are straight up named for their parent's favorite philosophers of antiquity, but they're all boys. (One of them has a sister named Penelope actually, given that you mention it... which is an interesting departure from the traditional wisdom that parents like to go more experimental or trendy with their daughter's name(s) and then with trusted traditional choices for their sons.)

Hypatia has a pleasing sound either way to my ear, so while I don't really expect it to be a top 10 or a top 1000 name, I'm curious about why it's really not being used much at all in this particular context, of overeducated people in search of statement names.

January 26, 2019 6:26 PM

I move in similar circles, and know a baby Ptolemy (but no Hypatias).

January 26, 2019 10:30 PM

Yes, the small Hypatia I know has two STEM academics for parents, so it makes perfect sense. I actually think it works much better as a statement name than Persephone, whose main claim to fame was getting kidnapped and ravaged and then forced to live with her abuser for half the year because she was foolish enough to eat his fruit. Penelope is better—she had her fair share of cleverness—but the whole waiting-faithfully-for-her-philandering-husband bit always bothered me. Of course, the Greek mythology name I really wanted to use was Medea, so obviously I don't think mythology = destiny or anything.

Ironically, the classicists I know gave their kids really standard names (like Chris and Margaret).

January 28, 2019 11:20 AM

I'm soon to welcome a baby El3ctra into the friendship circle (if it's a girl), which has definitely gotten some pushback for mythical/complex reasons. It's also a good example of the "start early, repeat often" method of spouse convincing that we were talking about on the Saoirse thread, as the name was a categorical no from the father back in September!



By mk
January 30, 2019 3:07 PM

Honestly, I've always pronounced Hypatia as hih-PAH-tee-ah (and know who she is), but don't find the sound all that pleasing. So that would probably be my answer as to why it's not used.

But maybe it is because she isn't well known.

February 1, 2019 5:08 PM

I'm with you. I wouldn't even have contemplated the alternate pronunciation. Neither are pleasing my ear.

February 4, 2019 11:07 PM

My observation of 'overeducated people in search of statement names' is that they want the name to be recognizable--otherwise it isn't a statement. There's a lady on nameberry with a kid named Archimedes, that's what I'm thinking of. Hypatia just isn't well known enough. And less well known Greek names will feel super ethnic, and overeducated people are also the type to be concerned about cultural appropriation--not applicable to Hypatia since it doesn't seem to have any historical use outside of the one, but not well known Greek names in general. 

February 5, 2019 5:58 PM

I definitely grew up knowing who Hypatia was, but some of the other obscure philosopher names I've encountered have been learned only when I encountered them on a young child. However, I suspect this was definitely because my teachers were steering me as a young female math nerdling to encounter the maximum number of female math role models, so I appreciate that this probably isn't represented.

I do think you might hit the name on the head with the concern about cultural appropriation... it's hard to say where to draw the line on that issue. At the time OF Hypatia her culture was definitely a dominant ruling culture,  which would make me less concerned about appropriation concerns... plus, as you said, she's such a strong dominant association, and I'm with you that this feels like it should make it less of a concern, but that doesn't mean it's irrelevant either.

I also wonder whether the situation surrounding her death complicates things. She was Pagan but taught Christian students as well and I don't think there's any evidence that she had a particular grudge against them, but she was advising one member involved in a political feud and then as a result of the political intrigue she ended up being killed by a mob of angry Christians.  Her death then caused a period of greater resistance to Christianity, and if the circumstances of her death mean she's seen more as a symbol of resistance to Christianity rather than excellence and teaching in mathematics, that might make reviving her name a harder sell. 

Thanks for the food for thought, gretai. I think my cultural appropriation musings might need to get their own thread in Names and Society.

As for whether the sound is pleasing to the ear, that's definitely a "de gustibus non est disputandum" matter. I think it's lovely, though!

January 30, 2019 5:22 PM

Ah, I just figured out why I like the pay-shuh pronunciation so much better than pah-tee-uh! It's because of the huge crush I had on Morticia Addams when I was little. I loved Gomez's nickname for her, Tish, and I think I've had a soft spot for the -tia/-cia names, pronounced -shuh, since.

February 12, 2019 6:29 AM

What would you think of someone changing the spelling to lead more into that Spanish pronunciation? Like Ipahtia/Ipatya, or another spelling starting with I? I know this visually moves far away from Hypatia. I just like to play around with slightly different spellings and sounds.