She’s a mythological priestess and a virtuous Shakespearean character. But this one is still a lot to live up to!

Thanks to Natalie for suggesting Hero as Name of the Day.

Heroes didn’t don capes and tights until fairly recently. The word entered English use in the fourteenth century, to refer to an exceptionally strong and brave man. By the seventeenth century, we also find the feminine form heroine, and lead characters in plays were referred to as heroes. Not until the 20th century did a hero become a sandwich.

The word comes from the Greek heros and originally meant something closer to demi-god. After all, the Greeks had plenty of tales of gods fathering children by mortal women and bestowing superhuman powers as christening gifts.

But the first Hero’s story is a tragedy. One of Aphrodite’s priestesses, Hero lived in a tower across a channel. Every night, she would light a lantern and her beloved, Leander, would swim across to see her. All went well for a while. But then, on a dark and stormy night, a breeze extinguished Hero’s lantern and Leander drowned in the choppy waters. When Hero realized her lover’s fate, she leapt to her death.

It’s not a happy story, but it one that has captured popular imagination for centuries. Ovid, Christopher Marlowe, Ben Johnson and Lord Byron all penned versions of their stories. Countless paintings depict their tale. But it is William Shakespeare who not only referenced the tragedy, but named one of his characters Hero, too.

In Much Ado About Nothing, Hero is a modest, well-behaved and well-born girl about to be married. Treachery leads to heartache and Hero is jilted at the altar. Word is given out that Hero died of shock, and eventually the bad guys are caught. Her doubting fiance is overcome with grief, but then there’s another plot twist and all ends happily.

Don’t you just love Shakespeare?

Anyhow, Much Ado About Nothing was penned circa 1598 or even earlier. The word hero might have been in use, but the lovers’ story was probably so well known that it still sounded like a girl’s name.

In fact, there were a handful of ancient male Heros – the first century Greek mathematician and engineer, Hero of Alexandria is the best known. Today, spell it Hiro and it is a Japanese male name. Often short for longer names like Hiroshi, Hiroaki, Hirohi or Hirohito, the name is very familiar thanks to television hit Heroes where Hiro Nakamura can travel through time.

While Hero and Hiro are legitimate names with history, I can’t help think that you’d be setting your child up for a lifetime of frustration.

Hero is close to other goddess names like Hera, Juno and Clio – choices that are still unexpected, but don’t suggest that your kiddo should leap tall buildings in a single bound. Then again, names that once seemed outrageous – Romeo, anyone? – are now in more frequent use. So never say never … but I’m not sure I’d want to risk it.

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. Hero is an AWESOME name, with a great history and literary pedigree. Kudos to you Hero mamas and your daughters for wearing it with pride!

  2. I actually named my daughter Hero Elizabeth when she was born in 2008. Ever since she started Kindergarten we have always let her know that it’s OK with us if she decides to go by her middle name (as her brother does, since he is named after my husband). She’s now a rising second-grader and she loves, loves, LOVES her name. She may reconsider when she gets to middle-school age, but for now, she loves standing out.

    Other kids have occasionally said, “What, like SuperHero?” To which she replies, “YES, EXACTLY like that!” Sometimes, when she introduces herself to adults and doesn’t speak up enough, they mishear it as “Kira” or ask her to repeat it, but she just stands up straight and says with confidence, “Hero, H-E-R-O.” Sometimes other adults look at me like, “That can’t be her real name,” but I just smile and nod. Occasionally, I’ll get someone who says, “Oh! Like in _Much Ado_!” and that’s when I know I’ve found an English major, lol.

    She was SO excited when Big Hero Six came out the Christmas before she turned seven. She is tall for her age, and she would go around telling people, “It’s my favorite movie, because I’m big, I’m Hero, and I’m six!” Hilarious.

    All in all, her dad and I are really pleased with her name and, rather than it being something she feels she has to live up to, we talk to her about the character traits that heroes in movies and books have and how she already has those qualities. Heroes aren’t just strong — although my Hero *is* strong — they’re also brave, kind, and compassionate. And so is she.

    I ran across this article while I was googling to see how many other girls were named Hero in 2008, but couldn’t find any data. I was shocked at the horrible comments some people tweeted at Mylene Klass when she named her baby girl Hero in 2011. (Cree Summer also has a little girl named Hero born around that time, but I didn’t see any outcry against that for some reason. I suspect that’s because white people don’t tend to care what nonwhite people name their kids.)

    I hope my experiences help reassure some of those who expressed concern about “saddling” a kid with a name she may hate. (I know lots of Jennifers who despise having such a common name, BTW.) I get that unusual names aren’t for everyone, but it’s possible to dislike a name and not be rude about it.

    1. I was googling around for the same thing and have had the same experience (my daughter is six). She really loves comic books and when we go to conventions people get very excited and ask if she’s named after the character in Y: The Last Man (she’s not, but that’s okay.). Occasionally we get snobby looks from adults, but other kids have never even thought to make fun of her name.
      Anyone who’s been to a park these days should know by now that there are no more weird names, everyone has something different. The only downside I’ve encountered has been constantly having to spell h-e-r-o out to people, which I didn’t not expect.

  3. I really started to come around to the idea of using Hero, but as a nickname for either Catherine or Henrietta.

    1. Hero for Henrietta is pretty genius. And for Catherine, maybe, too – though Catherine is one of those names where everyone assumes they know the short form, and you have to be far more insistent to get a non-obvious nn to catch on.

        1. Hey, I call my kid Clio so I’m very, very supportive of anyone willing to go for an unexpected nickname! But even I failed miserably with Alexei … because my 6 year old is far more stubborn that I could ever manage.

  4. Whoa! I’m ITA with photoquilty on this one! I can see using Hero only for the name of a character. Do I hear someone falling off a pedestal?