She’s just two letters long, but still packs a style-rich, two-syllable punch.
Move over Mia. Our Baby Name of the Day is Io.
I first heard of Io when learning the moons of Jupiter. I think they were casually listed, an afterthought almost, in an astronomy textbook in seventh grade.
Moons, of course, take their names from myth, and Io’s story is a familiar one. She was either a maiden or a nymph, depending on the account, and a priestess of Hera. She was lovely enough to catch the eye of the lecherous Zeus, poor thing. Io did her best to resist his advances, and Hera schemed to keep the two apart. She was eventually transformed into a white bull, running across the continents to try to escape her unwanted suitor.
On her flight, Io gave her name to the Bosphorous – a straight leading from the Black Sea. It means ox passage, referring to Io’s bovine form. The Ionian Sea might also be named in honor of her rushing ’round the world.
At some point, Io crossed path with Prometheus, the bound and tortured Titan who gave fire to mankind. Prometheus tells her not to fret. She’ll be restored to her human form, and all will end well for her children and descendants.
And, in a rather un-Greek-myth-like fashion, it does.
Io returns to her lovely human form, and has both a son and a daughter. She marries a king. One of her descendants is the legendary Heracles, and also the warrior Perseus.
So it feels almost unfair that we’ve given Io’s name to the moon most closely circling Jupiter. She had the gumption to try to get away, to challenge fate.
But there she is, in the night sky. All of Jupiter’s moon are named after his paramours.
It was discovered by Galileo, but he numbered it Jupiter I. Fellow astronomer Simon Marius spotted the planets about the same time, and he gave them their more romantic names.
In the 1970s Voyager I sailed close enough to see some of the moon’s features, and Io has been observed by satellites since. She’s not as pretty as, say, Venus. Her mottled surface has been compared to a rotten orange.
Plenty of writers have set their stories on the planet, like Isaac Asimov. On sci-fi Britcom Red Dwarf, the unlikable Arnold Zimmer hailed from Io.
More recently, the rebooted Clash of the Titans borrowed the name for a character who acted as a guide to Perseus. She was played by the lovely Gemma Arterton, who stayed in human form the whole time, with no mention of heifers.
As a given name for real girls, Io is nearly unheard of. She’s a refrain in Old MacDonald – E-I-E-I-O. But then, Mia and many short names are also abbreviations.
Five girls were given the name in 2000, and a dozen in 2012.
Besides our affection for short names, Io’s all-vowel status makes her an appealing choice. And ends-with-o names for girls are having a moment, too.
If you’re after a short, complete, and distinctive name for a daughter, Io is a daring possibility worth a look.
I think there may be more to Io here than just the Greek myth, though that’s probably what will first come to mind when people hear it. ‘Io’ (EE-oh) in Latin is an exclamation of excitement or joy — like ‘yay’ or ‘whoo-ho’. I think I first came across it while studying Latin in college. Today we are most likely to hear it at Christmas in two different songs: ‘Ding Dong Merrily on High’: ‘And “io,io,io!”/By priest and people sungen’; and in Adeste Fidelis: ‘Cantet nunc io chorus angelorum.’ The verse in English is ‘Sing choirs of angels’ but a more literal translation is ‘Now sing “whoo-ho’ choirs of angels!’ Obviously ‘io’ doesn’t translate very well. And this is the point. ‘Io’ in Latin is a profound exclamation of joy (which is why it shows up at Christmas). And I think this is a great meaning for a child’s name– especially one for whom you waited and anticipated for so long.
My name is io 🙂
For almost 29 years of my life I thought nobody else had my name. Loved reading this! Anyone else called io out there?
Steve Howe says
Io is my daughter’s name! 🙂
Zena Eve says
I’ve always had a soft spot for Io, it’s so poignant for two letters. The thing is, I’m still not sure if the accepted pronunciation is EE-o or II-o. Perhaps I’d better save it for a book character.
Ancient Greek: EE-oh, English: EYE-oh.
Man, I love this name. Also short listed for #2.
Jupiter has other great moons, too:
Some of these would be lovely on a little girl.
I love this name. It’s a stunning little gem.
I think the E-I-E-I-O thing would get old for a real-life Io, but what a gorgeous and unexpected middle name it would be, especially for a scifi or astronomy fan!