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.