Achilles: Baby Name of the Day

English: Achilles in Corfu Achilleion

If Atticus can be among the most fashionable of choices for boys, how ’bout this ancient name?

Thanks to Elle for suggesting Achilles as our Baby Name of the Day.

If we were playing word association and I said “Achilles,” you’d almost certainly respond with “heel.”

There’s so much more to this name.

The hero appears in Homer’s Illiad.  It’s the Trojan War, and Achilles is a great warrior, considered invulnerable.  Some of that is because he’s the child of the nymph Thetis, daugter of a sea god, and the mortal King Peleus, and thus a hard-to-kill demigod.

Beyond his parentage, Thetis dipped him in the river Styx, in a bid to make him truly immortal, just like her, when baby Achilles was just a babe in arms.  She held him by his ankle, leaving that one tiny part of his body subject to the rules of mortal men.

Some accounts report that Achilles died after Paris shot him in that exposed heel.  The Greeks eventually defeat the Trojans, and not all versions are the same – for example, Achilles’ death is not mentioned in The Illiad.

Back to that heel.  An “Achilles heel” can be any weak spot.  Even as we’ve embraced Atticus, Atlas, and many other similar choices, the association with weakness might give parents pause

As for his origins, the warrior’s name could mean:

  • The Greek akhos means ache or pain, and is often suggested as the origin.  It can also mean grief, and laos can refer to a nation or tribe, or maybe even an army.  It could be a clever bit of wordplay – kleos is glory, so Achilles refers to a people’s grief, which in war, may be so very close to a nation’s glory.
  • The Achelous River was named after an ancient river god.  His name pre-dates Greek language, and its origins are uncertain, but he could be the source of Achilles, too.

Regardless, Achilleus and Achillia were both in use as personal names in the centuries BC.  While they’re not often heard in English, they do survive in other European languages.  There’s a Greek prince named Achileas-Andreas – his father, Prince Pavlos, is called the crown prince of Greece, though the monarchy is no longer recognized.

Achille is worn in both French and Italian, though with different pronunciations.  If Achille Lauro rings a bell, that’s because a cruise ship by the name was hijacked in 1985.  The original Achille Lauro was an Italian businessman and politician.

Brad Pitt played the warrior in 2004’s Troy.  The historical epic probably deserves credit for the name’s transition from seldom-heard to slowly rising.  Since 2005, at least 100 newborn boys in the US have received the name every year.

It is easy to argue that Achilles is too much of a tough guy name to live up to.  Except that we’re borrowing names like Orion from myth and using words like Legend as boys’ names.  In that company, Achilles seems perfectly reasonable.

Nicknames are in short supply.  While the kill sound isn’t a dealbreaker – think of the Irish Killian – it does limit short forms.

If you’re looking for a strong choice for a son with a bold, distinctive sound, and you don’t mind going nickname-free, Achilles could be one to cautiously consider.

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14 Comments

I don’t think I could ever use it myself (Achilles always struck me as a bit of a jerk, and it looks like “ache ills” to me), but I would like to meet a little Achilles.

Agatha Christie’s Hercule Poirot’s brother was named Achille – he was the “Mycroft” to Hercule’s “Sherlock”.

Not to turn this into an endless string of replies, but Cochran’s actually one of my Grandfather’s names! And as wonderful a man he is, I cannot and will not be honoring him with any namesakes! I don’t think he expects any, thank goodness.
I notice no one else on the 2012 SSA list could bring themselves to use it either 😉 I feel a little better.

I feel like this name could surprise me with its wearability (it’s my brother in law’s future son’s name by all accounts) but currently I find the thought of a child named Achilles quite comical. What if he’s a shy little boy with glasses, an awkward tween with bad skin and a bit of leftover baby fat, a fry cook at McDonalds for a summer or two in high school? Don’t get me wrong, I can totally see Achilles’s appeal as a quirky middle name, but a first name? It’s so imposing and so steeped in its “warrior” image (unlike Orion, whose resemblance to Ryan I find softens the effect) that I just don’t think I can imagine it on an average guy…prove me wrong future nephew Achilles! 😉

I know what you mean, Hettie – we were so worried about this with our firstborn that we played it super safe. And you know? Now that he’s eight-going-on-nine, I feel like would have been fine with any name. Maybe that’s because the other names of kids his age are so all over the place … And no one really blinks at our daughter’s out-there name. So while I still worry about that in general (the kid is called Maverick but he’s impossibly shy and bookish, or he’s named Sophocles and he’s athletic and outgoing) but I’m not sure it matters as much as I think it matters.

I think my hesitation with certain names stems from the fact that we are not yet parents, so we aren’t getting the classroom “reality check” you described. And it’s true, as a person inclined to notice and mull over the names I come across, I’m prone to overanalyzing potential issues that may not matter a whit once the name is actually being worn and it’s just “their name” to the people who interact with them. I do sort of hope my BIL has a son and names him Achilles, because I would love to change my mental picture of it!

Me, too! There are some names that I think I’ll always raise an eyebrow over – a friend of a friend used to say he was going to name his firstborn son Cochran. Nickname … nevermind about the nickname. It was a bad idea. I really hope he outgrew that one.

Achilles, on the other hand? I can cheer for Achilles!

I feel like Atticus is popular not because of its classical background, but because of Atticus Finch (see also: the rise of Scout). I have an Atticus (of the Finch variety) in my family. If that is the case, then I don’t think Achilles is going to fly. It doesn’t have the same aspirational quality to the parents with literary tendencies. Achilles, though a demigod, was a jerk.

(I campaigned hard for Odysseus in a boys’ middle spot, though!)

Fair enough, Diana – there’s a new Atticus in my family, too … and I don’t think Achilles was on their shortlist, either, though I know Marcus was another contender. I’ll have to ask over the holidays.

Achilles is my youngest son’s middle name and boy does he hate it lol. We still love it though 😉 Since we went with such a common first name(Christopher is my husband’s middle name and was the name of my childhood best friend and we love it so we went with it despite the popularity) we wanted something cool and unusual (but not unheard of) for the middle name. We love Greek mythology! Our other two boys had ended up with the same initials by chance, so we decided to go with the same initials again and use Achilles in the middle name slot.

I LOVE your ”name style”! Just stumbled across your site while looking for middle names for this next baby. I’ve never really considered trying to make my kids’ names ” match” (and it’s a little late if they don’t), but I thought you might have a few good suggestions. I have a Demetri Allen, Orlando Charles, Theodore Joseph, and Xander (Alexander) Nathan. Strangely, and unfortunately, my husband and I have THE hardest time agreeing on boy names. If this baby is a girl she will be Alexis Leilani. But a boy? Oh boy. I love names like Felix, Reginald, Sullivan, Atticus, and Willoughby…but my husband isn’t on board. So far the only possibility is Lorenzo. Any good middle names for that, or great first names that my husband will magically love:-) ?

Thanks so much! There are a couple of those that I just love:-).
(P.S. -It would probably work with most people, but I’ve found that if I repeat a name often enough to my husband it will usually start to grow on him, especially ones that sound a little odd or unfamiliar at first.)

I think it is cool. I had it as a middle name on my list for a while. I like Killian a lot too and for some reason don’t even think of or hear the “kill” in that. So that doesn’t bother me in Achilles either. Great post!