She’s a borrowing from Greek myth, an elaborate name that could sound right at home in 2014.
Thanks to Felecia for suggesting Deianira as our Baby Name of the Day.
She’s often written with a diacritical mark – Deïanira or Deïaneira. It’s staggeringly pretty.
Deianira is the second wife of Heracles, better known by his Roman name, Hercules. Their marriage ends on a tragic note, foreshadowed by the meaning of her name: man-destroyer.
She was an exceptional beauty, and a fierce and independent spirit – she drove her own chariot. In one story, river god Achelous wanted to marry her; in another, a fearsome centaur was her suitor. In the end, she weds Herc.
But there was no happily ever after. The legendary hero was a mighty philanderer, with a girl in every port and children aplenty.
An opportunistic centaur took his revenge on Herc through a vulnerable Deianira. After Heracles shot the centaur Nessus, Nessus told Deianira that his heart’s blood could be used to create a potion, one that would force her husband to remain faithful. She believed him.
Eventually Deianira decides to test the potion. She paints it on her husband’s favorite lionskin shirt, and waits.
Only the potion was a poison, and it burned Heracles so badly that his mortal self died. Horrified, Deianira committed suicide. An unhappy outcome, to be sure. And yet, it’s not widely known.
Maybe her pronunciation gives us pause. In Ancient Greek, she was probably day ah nay rah, which is sort of singsongy. In American English, I’d guess die eh NEER uh or maybe dee yeh NEER uh, though I prefer the first.
It is tough to say, because she’s been in such sparing use. A dozen newborn girls were given the name in 1995. Six new Deianiras were born in 2009, with a handful in between.
And yet, Deianira feels familiar.
Could the name be connected to Dayanara? Puerto Rican beauty queen Dayanara Torres is known as a model, actress, and ex-wife of singer Marc Anthony. There’s also Dayanara on Orange is the New Black.
Dayanara has been in steady use since the 1970s, and charted in the US Top 1000 from 2003 to 2009. She peaked in 2005, with 909 newborn Dayanaras. 122 girls were given the name in 2012.
Is Dayanara a phonetic respelling of Deianira?
Tough to say. On the small screen, Tawny Kitaen played Deianira in Hercules: The Legendary Journeys from 1995 to 1999. And a 2005 television movie gave the role to Leelee Sobieski – which corresponds to the peak year for Dayanara. The television series seems to favor the dee pronunciation, but I’m not sure about the movie.
Is it a coincidence that the two names are so close? Spell the name Deianira, and some may recognize the name’s classic roots. (Or assume you’re a big Kevin Sorbo fan.) Dayanara feels more like a nouveau coinage, a twentieth century name without history. They don’t necessarily share a pronunciation, but they’re not far apart.
Overall, Deianira is an intriguing possibility. Rich with history, and not unknown in recent years, at least as a character name. Her similarity to Dayanara is either a plus – proof that the sound works in 2014 – or a risk that the name will be misunderstood. Call her an ancient rarity worthy of consideration.