She sounds like an exotic botanical or a minor goddess, but her story is far more intriguing.

Thanks to UrbanAngel for suggesting Hypatia as Baby Name of the Day.

The Greek hypatos is a superlative. It means the supreme, the highest. Hyper comes out of the same soup. Hyper has a certain meaning today, but originally it meant over – think hyperextend, hyperventilate.

The original Hypatia was undeniably an overachiever.

Born in the 300, she’s oft-quoted for saying “Reserve your right to think, for even to think wrongly is better than not to think at all.” Born in the 3oos, Hypatia was accomplished in mathematics, astronomy and philosophy.

If you like the idea of an ancient appellation, but prefer to avoid saints, Hypatia works. While a quartet of early male martyrs answered to the masculine Hypatius, Hypatia of Alexandria was a pagan killed by a Christian mob.

She’s never been forgotten, and she’s become quite the feminist icon in recent decades. A feminist journal of philosophy established in 1986 is called Hypatia. She’s among Judy Chicago’s guests at her groundbreaking piece of installation art, The Dinner Party. Her place setting puts her at the end of the “Prehistory to Classical Rome” wing, right after warrior queen Boadaceia.

Hypatia’s death is sometimes treated as the starting bell for the Dark Ages. Her legend grew, and some of her biography was lost in the process. By the Age of Enlightenment, Hypatia was a young and virtuous maiden, wise beyond her years, murdered by thugs sent after her by frightened church leaders.

Research suggests that’s probably way off base. Hypatia probably lived into her sixties, teaching scores of students, including bishops and priests, as well as the well-born. She was engaged in the government of Alexandria, advising officials and commanding a great deal of respect.

But it is true that Hypatia met her end at the hands of Christians, probably motivated by rumors that the wise woman had ensorceled the community. There was widespread political conflict between church and secular leaders; Hypatia’s attempts to intervene led to her death sentence.

You can imagine Hypatia taking off in the nineteenth century, and she appears in US Census records. (My favorite combo: Hypatia Hatzenmoner, born in the late 1890s.) But she’s never cracked the US Top 1000.

Modern parents might discover her thanks to the Goya-award winning Spanish film Agora, starring Rachel Weisz as Hypatia.

While Hypatia doesn’t offer much in the way of nicknames – Pacey, maybe? – she’s not so far from popular choices in use today. If you’re seeking something just as smart as Sophia but far less common, Hypatia is one to consider.

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 love the name and one of my friends wants to name is daughter this. I want to clear up the pronunciation though (as a speaker of Greek) It’s hi-pa-TEE-uh. Hi like in hit.

  2. My daughter Hypatia is now 18 years old. We pronounce it Hi PAY sha, the Spanish pronounce it hipPOTia. Nickname as a small child was Pacie, as an older child was Tia.

  3. What a wonderful name! I love the sound, history and the possible nickname option of Pacey.

  4. I first became aware of Hypatia in a Colin Dexter novel. In the book a jackass called a female professor a “modern Hypatia.” The jerk meant it as a insult, but she took it as a compliment and I became intrigued.

    I wouldn’t necessary use it as a first name, but as a stealthy middle name it would be wonderful. Plus, Hypatia is a much prettier sounding name than Boudicca or Zenobia.

  5. Not really a fan, but i would rather meet one of those over another Isabella, Olivia, Addison, etc. Could Pasha work as a nickname? I guess it depends on the pronunciation.

  6. Hypatia reminds me of the human version of a small high-strung dog… impeccably groomed, very pretty, but a little too high-maintenance for my tastes. No idea why I have that immediate reaction to the name, but that’s the impression it gives me very strongly. The background to the name is great, but it is definitely for someone else.

  7. Interesting– I know a little Hypatia, actually. They pronounce it hi-PAY-sha. Hypatia of Alexandria is a very nice namesake, but I don’t think I’m a fan of the name itself.

  8. Do you know the pronunciation, maybe high-PAY-shah? Lovely story, but I don’t care for the name.