It’s a mythological moniker that’s rarely heard in the US – or anywhere, for that matter.
Thanks to Laney McDonald for suggesting today’s intriguing Name of the Day: Xanthe.
If you’ve been scouring your Bullfinch’s for lesser known figures, you might have tripped across Xanthe. At least two bearers of the name appear in myth.
First, Xanthe is one of the Oceanids, the 3,000 daughters of Titans Oceanus and Tethys. (And you had a tough time naming your twins, right?) Each of the Oceanids was assigned some natural dominion – a spring, pond, pasture, cloud or the like. There were also 3,000 brothers to the Oceanids, charged with looking after rivers.
Not all of their names are recorded, but Hesiod lists a bunch of the sibs, including sisters:
And, of course, Xanthe. Compared to some of these, the name seems downright accessible.
A second bearer of the name was an Amazon warrior. Xanthe sometimes appears as an alternate name for Epione, the wife of Asclepius, the Greek god of medicine and a goddess in her own right.
While our pronunciation of this obscure name is ZAN thee, we find references to at least two different sounds: KSAN thee and ZAN thah. Variant Xanthia appears in a few baby name guides, but is even more sparingly used.
Xanthos simply translates to yellow in Greek. Sometimes you’ll find the meaning extended to “fair or fair-haired.” This doesn’t seem an unreasonable stretch – and may explain how Epione picked up the alternate name. But beware a handful of sites that insist that Xanthe means beautiful maiden – it just isn’t so.
She’s never appeared in the US Top 1000, though it can be found in late 19th and early 20th century census and birth records. While many of the bearers also have distinctively Greek surnames, it’s not always the case, suggesting that some parents have always skimmed their Hesiod for baby name inspiration.
It would be a truly unusual choice for a daughter today. And yet we think it’s probably on the right side of obscure. We’re used to Xavier and Xander casting a starting “X” in the role of “Z.” And Zara, Zelda and especially Zoe are familiar choices for girls. Factor in starbaby names like Zavala and Zahara and this name starts to sound reasonable.
We like Xanthe’s history and obscurity, but it would take a bit of determination to make this one work. And yet, with parents developing ever-more tortured respellings of Mackenzie, Michaela and Caitlin in an attempt to stand out, it seems that something like Xanthe would be a more direct route to a distinctive, interesting appellation.