She’s the goddess of wisdom, but would it be smart to choose this name for a child?

Thanks to Photoquilty for suggesting our Name of the Day: Minerva.

Minerva’s place is in the Roman pantheon, where she combines the qualities of the Greek Athena with the name of Etruscan goddess Menrva. There’s an etymological link to the Latin word for mind – mens – but that might be a happy accident.

Despite the goddess’ reputation for learned achievements, she’s been worn by few real women. You can find references to Minerva at universities worldwide. She features in the state seal of California and on the United States’ Medal of Honor. But a professor or a Congresswoman called Minerva? Not so much.

Still, she’s not a true rarity. Minerva was in use, charting in the US Top 1000 from 1880 through 1970, and appearing once more in 1973. Minervas include:

  • Early 20th century painter Minerva J. Chapman;
  • Comedienne Minerva Pious, known for her role on Fred Allen’s radio show in the 1930s and 40s;
  • Late 19th century strongwoman Minerva, holder of several Guinness Book world records – though she was actually born Josephine Wohlford.

But the best known MInervas are fictional, including:

  • In the Harry Potter series, Hogwarts professor Minerva McGonagall;
  • Animated Animaniacs primadonna Minerva Mink;
  • One of the Transformers, a French teenager who became part-medic, part-Porsche;
  • From the Artemis Fowl series, the brainy Minerva Paradizo.

Minerva is also sometimes considered the formal given name of a very famous Mouse, better known as Minnie. And as it happens, the actress Minnie Driver is not a Minerva – she’s an Amelia.

Call your daughter Minerva, and she’ll share her name with ships – at least two cruise ships, as well as those of the French and British Royal navies. The name has been worn by a Belgian automobile company, a genus of owls, and a tiny Pacific island that briefly declared itself the sovereign Republic of Minerva. The last was located near New Zealand’s Minerva Reefs; you’ll also find the name on the map in at least three US states.

While similar choices like Miranda and Marisa have fared well in recent years, Minerva feels a bit harder to wear. Perhaps it’s the simple fact that her Greek equivalent, Athena, is doing well. She came in at #444 in 2007, about the most popular she’s ever ranked, and we can imagine Athena continuing to rise. Of course, Athena lacks a built-in nickname.

Overall, Minerva is undeniably quirky and brainy, too. On the right child, this name would be downright charming. But Minerva’s drawback is that the full name is awfully dramatic, while the obvious nickname is far too cute to be worn by most adults. There is the possibility of using Mina or Minna as a short form; it might be the most accommodating option. And, of course, we can’t help but love the fact that while she’s recognizable and well-known, odds are that your Minerva would never meet another.

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 Minerva! I really like the nickname Minna better than any other. Min, Mina and Minnie just don’t do it for me. Minerva McGonagall is also a wonderful role model and one of my very favourite characters, I like Lily too. I’d like to use those two names one day for my future children. 🙂 Jeez, my family’s gonna be like Hogwarts! XD

  2. I am a sucker for anything that will get me Mina, and I do mean anything. Minerva’s on my long list too. 🙂 I have others I prefer more though and Harry Potter really did Minerva a small favor, bringing it to the attention of us Yanks again. I too find her a bit dramatic, but is that really a bad thing? My own daughter’s name was considere d “too dramatic” less than 20 years ago. What goes around, comes around, my Mom always said. Minerva’s day is coming, ready or not.

    I would be thoroughly enchanted by a small Minerva, whether she be Mina, Minna or the full Minerva. Just lovely!

  3. I like Minerva and every once in a while wonder why I never hear it. I have a friend who is considering Miranda, I think I’ll suggest Minerva to her. Mina is a fine nn for those parents who like using them.

  4. Minerva is a town near where we would vacation every summer, so for me, it seems a bit backwoods… (this is in upstate NY) I find the sound kind of awkward and unattractive, to be honest.

    I do think Mina is a really cute nickname, worn well by children and adults alike, but I’d find a better way to get there.

  5. Many names have an interesting history or meaning but not an attractive sound and this is one of them in my opinion. Minnie to me sounds like the old lady that lived down the street when I was little, or the mouse.. Mina and Minna are better.