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.