Circe Offering the Cup to Odysseus. Oldham Art...
Circe Offering the Cup to Odysseus; Image via Wikipedia

She’s a beguiling sorceress who captivated Odysseus.

Thanks to Heather for suggesting the enchanting Circe as our Baby Name of the Day.

Circe was a golden-haired goddess with a sweet set-up on the island of Aeaea. When Odysseus landed, he and his men found an island filled with strangely tame beasts. Their gracious hostess invited them to a feast – and presto change-o, Odysseus’ brave crew were transformed into swine. Despite this trickery, Circe persuaded Odysseus to spend the rest of the year on her island.

Not too shabby, but not necessarily inspiration for a daughter’s name. While there are Circes in US Census records, she’s never appeared in the US Top 1000. Nancy tells us that six little girls were given the name in 2009.

Her name has two possible origins:

  • The source most often given is bird, or maybe falcon;
  • An intriguing theory links her name to the Greek word for “to ensnare,” referring to her magical powers.

Circe’s sound – SIR see – splits the difference between Sophie/Sarah and Zoe/Chloe. On that alone, you might expect to meet a few more. If names like Delilah and Jezebel can overcome their once-scandalous reputations, why not Circe?

The characters answering to the name have never strayed too far from the Greek original:

  • In the nineteenth century, Nathaniel Hawthorne’s 1853 Tanglewood Tales for young readers related the story of Circe’s Palace;
  • DC Comics has pitted an evil sorceress called Circe against Wonder Woman since the 1940s;
  • James Joyce and Ernest Hemingway have referenced Circe. So did Toni Morrison;
  • In the Percy Jackson series, Circe turns young Percy into a guinea pig;
  • Gemma Doyle is something of a Harry Potter figure, only from a series of novels set in the late 1800s at fictional Spence Academy. Gemma faces off against an evil sorceress named Circe. We eventually learn that Circe was once a student at Spence herself. The trilogy was written by Libba Bray.

But as with any bad girl, you know there’s a redemptive reading of Circe. Here’s my favorite: Victorian poet Augusta Webster suggested that Circe didn’t turn Odysseus’ crew into pigs. She merely stripped away the disguises that hid their true character.

2011 is not an age when a name’s negative association is a deal-breaker. Damien, Regan, and Peyton all got a boost from horror movies.

Had Libba Bray’s book been adapted for the big screen – a deal was in the works for a while – then Circe might’ve caught on.

For now, parents don’t hear her as an option, and not hearing her, might read her as Circle-minus-an-l, or maybe just SERK. Confusing, instead of attractive.

Too bad, because despite Circe’s checkered past, her name remains brief, complete, sophisticated and yet not overwhelming on a child – a tough combination to find.

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. It’s ok. I can never decide on which pronunciation to use.

    And I think Circe probably had more integrity in her ‘witchy’ pinky finger than ‘hero’, Odysseus ever had.

  2. I don’t like it. When I see Circe I think of the word circus and when I say Circe aloud I hear Xerxes.

    1. Thought about it some more, and now I’m getting it mixed up with Xerxes in my head [which I say as kserk-sees]. I’m not feeling it.

  3. Circe is a no for me. At first glance it looks like Circle, which isn’t a bad thing necessarily. I would have guessed that the “e” in Circe is silent, with a pronunciation that rhymes with purse or maybe fierce.

    Most of these names from mythology have too much of a made-up, sci-fi feel for me.

  4. A few years ago we fostered a dog, named Circe, while she recovered from surgery. When she first arrived I loved her name, but it in reality it wasn’t the easiest name to say, especially when you’re saying it over and over again. Circe come, Circe sit , Circe stay… it’s up there with “she sells seashells by the seashore.” More often than not, we called her Cici or Cissy by accident.

    1. That’s an interesting observation, Julie – and makes me think that any little Circe probably would find herself answering to Cici or Cissy because her playmates/siblings couldn’t say Circe.

  5. I love Circe but it almost rings masculine to me. It would make a very unexpected middle name choice.

  6. I know of one little Circe. She’s probably about 2, born to very hipster parents in New Orleans. ‘Ice and Fire’ pretty well ruined Circe for me, I’m afraid.

    1. actually the real pronunciation of the character’s name is sir-say, NOT Circe. different names.

  7. I like Circe! Rather reminds me of Cersei, used by George Martin in his epic “Ice & Fire” series. If you go to his webpage, there’s at least 1 little Cersei around. 🙂
    I don’t like Martin’s character (she’s irredeemably nasty, it seems) but Circe as a mythological figure is very appealling. If I were in the market for a ‘bad girl’ name, she’d be at the top of my list. As it stands, ‘good girl’ names with ‘bad girl’ nicknames (Laura/Lola, Josephine/Fifi) seem to be more my speed. But I’d love to meet a Circe or three!

    1. I was thinking that this reminded me of Cersei as well – I’m sure Martin drew on that for inspiration, don’t you think?

      I’d say the sound, in combination with Martin’s character, just leaves me feeling uninspired and wary of Circe. Just not a fan I suppose.

  8. I love Circe! I love the way it sounds when I say it, and I’m a fan of the “redemptive reading”…