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We all know Amelia, but this elaborate appellation is a rarity.

Thanks to Dragonflymv for suggesting Amalthea as our Baby Name of the Day.


Amalthea: Mythological Roots

Amalthea comes to us from myth, and that’s a good starting point for a girls’ name – think of Juno and Isis and Penelope.

But Amalthea isn’t a goddess or a gorgeous mortal.

She’s a goat.

But she’s a Very Important Goat, the one who nursed the endangered infant Zeus, future lightning-bolt-wielding King of the Gods.

The story goes like this: the god Cronus was ruler of the Titans.  He married Rhea.  But, wary of a prophecy that said his sons would overthrow him, Cronus decided to simply eat any child Rhea delivered.  Demeter, Hestia, Hera, Hades, and Poseidon had all been devoured when Rhea gave birth to baby Zeus.

Instead of dutifully handing over Zeus, Rhea fed her husband a rock.

Here’s where Amalthea enters the tale: the infant Zeus was raised on a mountain, by the goat Amalthea.  Or maybe Amalthea was a nymph, who happened to tend the unnamed goat, as well as the baby.

Zeus grew up to challenge Cronus, free his siblings, and rule Olympus.  So the goat-nymph was a pretty major figure – even if she’s not a household name.

There is a moon of Jupiter named for her, discovered in 1892.

Myth gives us a second Amalthea: a priestess at Apollo’s oracle at Cumae, near Naples.  She’s mentioned in Virgil’s Aeneid and painted by Raphael and Michelangelo.  Except her name shifts – Virgil called her Deiphobe, while other accounts name her Amaltheia.

Amalthea and the Unicorn

Let’s fast-forward to 1982.

Mia Farrow voiced an animated unicorn for The Last Unicorn, based on a novel written by Peter S. Beagle in 1968.

The unicorn realizes she’s the very last of her kind, and decides to find out what happened.

She learns that they’re not dead, but exiled.  And so she sets off on a perilous rescue mission.

After overcoming some significant obstacles, the unicorn is transformed – into a human, with long, unicorn-white hair.  As a human, she’s called Lady Amalthea.  She also falls for a handsome prince.

All ends happily-ish, with Amalthea restored to her original form, and all of the unicorns freed.

Beagle’s novel remains widely read, and rumors persist of a new movie version or re-release of the 1982 film.

Amalthea: A True Rarity

And yet, despite the cult following for the flick, there have never been as many as five girls given the name in a single year – not even 1982 or 1983.

While she’s undeniably different, Amalthea wouldn’t be out of step in recent decades.  With girls answering to Isabella and Penelope, Amalthea works.

Nickname options are plentiful: Amy and Thea are obvious choices, and maybe Mali/Molly or Alta, too.

Overall, Amalthea is an elaborate obscurity, but a reasonably wearable one.  If you’re a fan of The Last Unicorn or just looking for an uncommon name with history, this is one to consider.

What do you think of Amalthea?  Is she wearable in 2014?

About Abby Sandel

Whether you're naming a baby, or just all about names, you've come to the right place! Appellation Mountain is a haven for lovers of obscure gems and enduring classics alike.

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What do you think?


  1. I am seriously considering using this with a middle name of Honey, as both names are reminiscent of my first name.

  2. My fingers are crossed that my comment works, even though I can’t read it! Umm, wut? Last Unicorn remake? You just made my day Abby. I honestly never considered Amalthea! It’s everything I love about the name Dorothea, plus an eighties movie reference, which is a win in my book 😉

    1. Well, I can see your comment! But, nope, they’re still not working for the rest of the universe. 🙁

      And yes, the 80s movie tie is just fabulous. I vaguely remember this movie, but I don’t remember Amalthea being her name at all … and I came of age when the unicorn Trapper Keeper was a must have! Need to see if I can find it on Netflix …