Count Athen among the dozens (and dozens!) of rare baby names that can be tough to explain, but easy to wear.
Thanks to Katy for suggesting her son’s name as our Baby Name of the Day.
Athen: Drop the S
The most logical explanation for this name’s origin? Perhaps it comes from the ancient city of Athens. It’s among the oldest named cities in the world, first settled sometime between the 11th and 7th millennium BC. (And I thought Colonial Williamsburg was a big deal.) The ancient coexists with the modern, with every other era layered on, too. It’s been considered a prominent city for all of Western civilization; it’s often called the cradle of our culture as we know it today.
The city name is associated with Athena, the goddess of wisdom. Historians suggest that the story doesn’t hold; instead, both the city and the goddess owe their name to some long-forgotten and much-debated origin.
Speaking of the goddess, Athen could be viewed as a masculine form of her name, too.
Athen: Drop the N
Others suggest that this one comes from Nathan, drop the ‘n’ and swap the second ‘a’ for an ‘e’. It’s possible, but this feels less likely.
Yet another theory suggests that it comes from Ethan. With kids named Alivia instead of Olivia and Alijah instead of Elijah, this seems equally reasonable.
Of course, either the Nathan or the Ethan stories suggests a different pronunciation – a long ‘A’ instead of the goddess/place name’s short ‘A’ sound.
Athen: By the Numbers
Here’s the thing: this name is being used in small, but respectable, numbers.
It was first given to five boys in a single year back in 1991.
By 2016, there were 43 boys who received the name.
Those numbers fuel the idea that Ethan influenced the name’s rise. Ethan entered the US Top 100 most recently in 1989. Of course, Nathan also occupied the US Top 100 during that time.
Athen: Another Theory
I wondered if this name ever appeared as a surname. The answer is yes; in fact, a noble family in twelfth century Sardinia used it. I couldn’t find much about them. Apparently they became embroiled in a plot to overthrow the Sardinian ruler, and lost all of their power.
And yet, this might – at least some of the time – be a surname.
Athen: Back to Europe
In German and Danish, the Greek place name drops the ‘s’.
At least two German ships have been named for the city. One sunk in the English Channel in 1906; today it serves as a dive site.
Athen: Elsewhere on the Map
Besides a ship or two, plenty of American cities were named for the original. There’s a city and county in southeastern Ohio, where you’ll find Ohio University. A city by the name in Georgia also claims ties to higher ed. It’s home to the University of Georgia.
The Georgia city might resonate for many parents. R.E.M. and The B-52s both came out of local music scene in the 1980s. They’re only the best known of the many indie rock bands to call the area home. Most recently musician Danger Mouse also claimed roots in the college town.
Athen: Wearable Rarity
Overall, this name picks up the best of all its associations. It shares the two-syllable, ends-in-n style of Ethan and Nathan. The ties to the ancient city and the goddess of wisdom make this name feel smart, while the connections to Georgia music scene take it in an indie direction.
While the name remains very unusual, it’s easy to see this rarity wearing well.
What do you think of Athen? Would you consider this name for a son?
I know this post is dated, but my son’s name is Athen. We must be one of the 43 from 2016 We pronounce it with the long A. He is named after my fathers father. It was his middle name and he was born in June of 1919.
J – thank you for commenting! So interesting about pronunciation. And how cool to have such a great name on your family tree!
That is my sons name. He’s almost 7.
I knew a littl boy with Greek ancestory named Athan (but pronounced AY-then). I think it was used as a short form of Athanasius though.
Mandie L. says
At my very first real job, one of my coworkers was named Athen. He told me he had been named after the theologian Athanasius. (Hmm . . . Now that I think about it, he may have spelled it Athan. I never asked how it was spelled).
I know an Athen. He’s probably around 10 now. He was named after Athens, GA, where his parents met their first year at UGA. FYI: It’s the University of Georgia that’s in Athens, not Georgia State. 🙂
Thanks, Names4Real! Fixed. 🙂
I know a spunky 1yo GIRL named Athen. I’m not sure I’d use the name for a child myself (since I have other names I like better), but I love it as hers.