Penelope is among the most stylish of names. Could this Greek name be next?
Thanks to Danielle, Sara, and Saranel for suggesting Persephone as our Baby Name of the Day.
Persephone is a tremendously pretty name. But does her reputation as Queen of the Underworld give some parents pause?
She’s the daughter of Zeus and Demeter, kidnapped by Hades to be his bride and to reign with him over the dead. It’s a tale that can be violent and sad, tearing Persephone away from her mom. Other versions show Hades resulting to trickery, forcing Persephone to eat pomegranate seeds, an act that condemns her to spend part of her existence with Hades.
It’s the original death and the maiden story. Have you ever seen the medieval paintings showing a skeleton – the personification of death – with a young woman? It’s a major theme in medieval art and literature, and Persephone’s story is said to be the earliest version.
And yet you might say that her story ends happily(ish). Persephone spends a half of the year in the land of dead, and we mere mortals experience fall and winter. Her return to the land of living marks the start of spring. For the daughter of a harvest goddess, it is very fitting. It makes Persephone a seasonal name, and maybe even an uplifting one.
Similar myths are found in other cultures to explain the seasons.
She’s known by other names:
- Sometimes she’s just called Kore - maiden, the origin of Cora.
- In Roman mythology, Persephone becomes Proserpina or Proserpine.
- In other Greek tellings, Persephone is sometimes known as Persephoneia, Persephassa, Persephatta, Pherepapha, Periphona, Phersephassa.
- There’s a separate figure known as Persa, a daughter of Oceanus.
- There’s also Persephione, the daughter of a king and a nymph.
The multiple Greek versions point to the uncertainty about her name’s origins:
- One of the darkest is pertho - to destroy.
- Not any happier is pherein - bringer of death.
- Others suggest a link to the color blue, or something else entirely.
All of the debate and different versions suggest that Persephone might be an import, borrowed from an earlier language. Demeter and Persephone probably date back to 1500 BC, centuries before Ancient Greek civilization flourished.
But what of her more recent uses?
- Persephone is the wife of The Merovingian, one of the bad guys in The Matrix trilogy. He’s also the operator of a nightclub called Club Hel, a haven for exiles, so there’s no mystery as to the reason for her name.
- A Hollyoaks character answered to the name, as did a minor character in Upstairs Downstairs.
- Add in a butterfly, a sea snail, and various other creatures, and she’s in steady rotation in the natural world.
Where she’s rare is the nursery. From the 1960s into the 90s, it was rare for more than a dozen or so girls to receive the name. By 2007, the name was given to 64 girls. And in 2012, 141 newborn Persephones arrived.
Heavy meaning and lack of easy nicknames aside, her similarity to Phoebe, Penelope, and other Greek ends-with-e possibilities is enough to make Persephone wearable in 2013. She strikes me as a Hermione name – complicated, smart, clunky but cool.
If you’re after a stand-out name, Persephone is one to consider.