Name of the Day: Xanthe

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:

  • Acaste
  • Admete
  • Asia
  • Callirrhoe
  • Calypso
  • Cerceis
  • Clymene
  • Clytie
  • Dione
  • Doris
  • Electra
  • Europa
  • Eurynome
  • Galaxaura
  • Hippo
  • Ianeria
  • Ianthe
  • Idyia
  • Melodosis
  • Menestho
  • Metis
  • Pasithoe
  • Perseis
  • Petraea
  • Plexhaura
  • Pluto
  • Polydora
  • Prymno
  • Rhodea
  • Telesto
  • Thoe
  • Tyche
  • Urania
  • Zeuxo

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.

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31 Comments

My name is Xanthe (pronounced Zan thee). Although I’ve had my name for more than sixty years, I’m always the only one in the room named Xanthe. When I was in kindergarten, my teacher, Mrs. Wolf, told me there was no such name and that she would call me Zan—all my kindergarten papers have Zan on them, but when I went to first grade, I decided I was Xanthe and not Zan! I know of one other person in my vicinity named Xanthe, and I also knew a Zanthia when was growing up. Thank you for the information about my name—my sister picked it out of a name book at the hospital in the 1950s.

I just realized after googling my daughter’s name, Xanthe, that you picked it as your “name of the day” on the day she was born, August 26, 2008. She is now a beautiful golden-haired 5-year old with all the qualities one associates with the name.

I just thought I would share the uncanny coincidence with you!

My name is Xanthia, pronounced Zan-thia. I love it. Everyone has always complimented me on it. I even had a high school friend name her daughter after me. Very unique name.

My name is Xanthé, its pronounced like Zantay. I can honestly say that it is pretty hard to have this name as so many people get the pronunciation wrong and you have to correct them and even after the 5th time they still cant say it. I do find the name interesting… but i do somewhat wish i had a more common easier name.

I’m Greek-American, so I grew up hearing this name, as well as Xanthippe, which I believe is related. It’s always been a favorite of mine.

My name is Xhante Marie Valencia. A variant in spelling, but the pronunciation is the same. I love learning about Greek Mythology and about my name in particular! When I was younger, I hated my name because it was so unusual, but of course now I like it because it makes me unique. If I ever have a daughter, I will be sure to consult the Greek myths for a suitable name.

My name is Xanthe! I must say, I have received many comments about how beautiful my name is from others and I am proud to be the only Xanthe around. My full name is Xanthe Alexandra Giulia K and It is very nice to be unique. I’m glad y’all approve! it makes me :). thanks

That’s a shame. The 2006 100 list was confirmed by a government department as being correct. Maybe not so after all. * *expletives**

Leonie, I suspect that you’re right – it doesn’t match up with the official Top 30 on the NZ government site. (Gov list = Ella, Sophie, Olivia, Emily; Huggies list = Ella, Emily, MIa, Chloe).

Still, I think it’s an interesting indicator about emerging fashions. Even if there aren’t currently many baby Xanthes, it seems like there are quite a few parents considering the name. It’s sort of like the US BabyCenter list versus the Social Security Administration’s list (BabyCenter’s #1: Aiden; official government list’s #1: Jacob.) It might not be statistically accurate, but it reflects trends.

And so I say, wahoo! Because Lola, I agree – the list is lovely!

If that’s the Huggies list, then it’s not really official registry data, it’s a list of names in order of popularity, as chosen by website users.

I wouldn’t be able to offer any insight on the two syllable Heaven picking up a third syllable when reversed, it baffles me too. But I’d love to find out if anyone has any insight!

And wow! Thanks, whoever 😉 is, that link is awesome! Who’d’ve thought that Xanthe would rank #60! Very cool. (Also happy to see Harriet (even though I prefer Henrietta, nn Harriet, Hattie, Hettie or Etta) Also loving the boys list! Both my boys are on there! (Leo # 45, Simon # 94)
All in all, a Pleasant list, both masculine & feminine. Usually I hear the worst about names from NZ, this is lovely!

Lola, there was a Xanthe Rosalind Dunleavy on the Australian voter rolls back in the early 20th century! (You can find her listing on the ancestry.com website.) It’s a great combo. Xanthe Caroline Rose is stunning, too, Laney!

;), did Xanthe really register in the top 100 in NZ? Wild! The link I have only lists the Top 30 names. Please post a link if you’ve got a better source – we’ll all be curious to scan the list.

I’m delighted that Xanthe’s getting such a good reception. I think Xanthe would fit in just fine in our ‘hood, but I’ve yet to meet one.

Laney, I legally changed my name at 28. Seven years later, I still find my birth name rattling around. But I think it’s smart to use a nickname to bridge the gap between your first and second identities – it’s what I did, and it made it much, much less awkward for everyone – including me.

As for the “why does the 2-syllable heaven pick up a third syllable when reversed” question? I’m almost tempted to do Nevaeh as a NotD just to pull that one apart. It’s a daffy, daffy name – but undeniably a popular one. I don’t actually *know* any, though – and since I do know a Madison, a Kayla and a Jordan, it makes me wonder *who* chooses Nevaeh? Hmmm …

With Greek choices like Zoe, Chloe and Phoebe so mainstream, I can’t see Xanthe being so terribly difficult to live with. There were a few Xanthes born in New Zealand last year. Enough to register it in the top 100 baby-names for 2007.

I guess I like it in theory but it seems like it would be a hard name to bear. I don’t think I would want my name to be Xanthe but I can see the appeal in naming your child that. I do love classical names, but this one is just a bit too conspicuous for me.

lol Lola. You read my mind. Also, isn’t naming your child Nevaeh like calling her “Hell”? Cuz it’s Heaven spelled backwards and Hell is the opposite of that. lmfao Thanks for the name comment. I like Xanthe Caroline Rose too. I just thought of it last night and it flows perfectly. Classic names are really nice and they’re a great change from all the Madisons, Aidans, etc… I’m soooo sick of hearing those names. I want my kids to stand out and not have to go by Madison M or Aidan M once they start school or something.

My real name is really common (Amanda Lynn McDonald) and I decided to go by Laney about a year or two ago because I was sick of being Amanda M. I am actually working on changing my name to Helena Elizabeth McDonald. Helena is after my maternal grandmother Mary Helen (first and middle, not 2 first names) and Elizabeth is her sister’s name and my mom’s confirmation name. I want something that is uncommon and alot classier than Amanda Lynn and still keep my nickname. I would have had my name changed when I was still a kid but my dad wouldn’t let me and now I’ll be 22 as of Sept. 16th so all I need is some money and I’m all set.

Unknown, I agree. Nevaeh is awful and almost unpronounceable. I just pronounce it Na-vay-ah, but no matter how you say it, it is a very ugly name and way overused. It was unique like 10 years ago but now it’s a top 50 choice. Xanthe is a way better alternative. It is a really beautiful name and has class unlike Nevaeh and all the other trendy names.

I’m a little horrified that Nevaeh is three syllables – being an ignorant Brit who has never come across the name except on naming blogs, I had no idea!

Xanthe is awesome! I’ve noticed the name appear on the odd Telegraph annoucement previously and always wondered about it – it certainly stands out but then X names always do! Both Xanthe Rosalind Elinor and Xanthe Caroline Rose are lovely and very classy to boot…

Laney, Xanthe Caroline Rose is delightful! (and yeah, Nevaeh always makes me say Nev-ah. I figure, if Heaven’s two syllables, it shouldn’t be three backwards!)

Xanthe is a great name. I am a huge fan of Greek names and this one is unique without being too over the top. The Greeks have some pretty colorful names. Now that I think of it, I may actually name my next child Xanthe if it’s a girl and if my boyfriend will allow it. I was thinking Xanthe Caroline Rose, Caroline after my aunt Carol and Rose just because I like it. My last name is a pretty easy one so most names work with it, and Xanthe is no exception.

I like Xanthe too! It’s a really pretty name and definitely an unique choice! It sounds lovely and compared to a name like Nevaeh, it isn’t really that difficult to pronouce. (I can never figure out how Nevaeh is pronouced!) It’s an awesome choice for a girl!

Xanthe’s a favorite of mine, along with Calypso, Ianthe, Clytie, Electra & Perseis. Xanthe’s gorgeous looking, fun to write & fun to look at, too! Her meaning is sweet and she’s fun to say, to boot!

(I have a tenative: Xanthe Rosalind Elinor) I could happily have four girls and name them Xathe, Calypso, Ianthe, Electra & Perseis! I agree, this sort of creativity is more so than endless respellings of Caitilin or *shudder* Mackenzie.

Xanthe gets a huge :thumbsup: from me!