Penelope’s Sisters: Names from Greek Myth

Terpsichore, Muse of Music and Dance, an oil o...

Terpsichore (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Zoe and Chloe are popular.  Penelope is the hot name of the moment.  Are there other names from Greek myth that could follow the same trend?

Oodles, actually.

But they don’t all wear equally well.  You could name your daughter Terpsichore, but it might not be the easiest choice.  Mnemosyne feels like a total non-starter.

Others fall somewhere in between.  They’re less user-friendly than the short and sweet Zoe, but remain attractive, approachable – the kind of rarities that parents are looking for in 2013.

Of course, some of these are in use in modern Greece, though the spellings tend to be different: Antigoni and Kalliopi.

To make this list, the name had to be Greek in origin, and end with the letter e and the ee sound.  Surely I’ve missed some – or overestimated how easy it would be to answer to Aphrodite.

Anemone – A floral name, and a gentle punch line in Finding Nemo.

Antigone – In myth, the idealistic, rebellious Antigone met with a sorry fate.  But her name has an appealing weight to it, somewhere between Penelope and Alexandra.

Aphrodite – This one might be too much to live up to, but then there’s Venus Williams.

Arachne – Before there were spiders, there was a weaver, a woman of such extraordinary skill that she bested the goddess Athena in a contest.  Her prize?  Lending her name to the crafty spider forevermore.

Ariadne – Here’s a name ready to catch fire.  Ellen Page played an Ariadne in Inception.  In Greek myth, she’s the clever girl who helps Theseus defeat the Minotaur.  Plus, Ariana and Arianna come from this name, and they’ve become Top 100 staples.  So why not Ariadne?  It’s hard to say … but it means that she’s a fresh alternative to Penelope, familiar but underused.

Calanthe – An orchid, sometimes elaborated as Calanthia.  I suspect most people would misread this as kah LANTH, omitting the final ee sound.  Still, she’d shorten nicely to Callie.

Callidice – Another non-intuitive pronunciation, and another name that shortens to Callie.  kah LID eh see sounds clinical to my ear.  I was thinking of the Italian pronunciation of Eurydice when I first encountered Callidice, which would give her a very different sound: kahl eh DEE chee, maybe?

Calliope – The first Callie name that could easily work in English.  Calliope is one of the muses, charged with epic poetry.  Her name was borrowed by the inventor of a steam-powered musical instrument, popular with circuses and river boats.  That might have been a negative in years past – they’re terribly loud – but now it sounds nostalgic, and a little bit like a sister for Harmony.

Detalhe da musa Callíope no quadro The Muses U...

Calliope (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Callisthene – The last of the Callie names, she shares her roots with our word calisthenics – beauty + strength.  Masculine name Callisthenes was definitely in use by the ancients.  There’s also a fourth century Saint Callisthene, a well-born woman who gave all of her wealth to the poor.

Circe – An enchantress who tangled with Odysseus on his travels, Circe might be too femme fatale for a modern girl.  Or not, in our age of Lola and Delilah.

Cleophee – I’ve only heard this name used in French, where she’s Cléophée.  But she slips into the list thanks to her Greek roots.

Cybele – She looks like another variant of Sybil, but she’s pronounced SIB eh lee.  She’s an Anatolian fertility goddess imported to ancient Greece.

Danaë – The American Danaes that I’ve met – all two of them – have pronounced their name da NAY, almost an alternative to the once so popular Danielle.  But strictly speaking, she’s dan AH ee, cast off to sea in a wooden chest with her infant son Perseus.  Perseus’ pop was none other than Zeus, and mother and babe were set adrift in an attempt to thwart a prophecy.

Daphne – A nymph pursued by Apollo, the gods turned her into a laurel tree to avoid his advances.  It’s a name with considerable history in recent centuries, and one of the most wearable on this list.  Daphne ranked #450 in 2011.

DiantheDiana is a Roman goddess and a royal icon, too.  Dianthe is far more obscure, pronounced di AN thee.

Eirene – You know her as Irene, but this is the original version of the goddess of peace’s name, complete with an extra ee sound at the end.

Elene – I’m use to seeing this one spelled Eleni, but the Greek version of Helen makes this list only when spelled Elene.

Elete – The bad news: it would look as if you’d gone all braggish and named your child Elite, which is either a sibling name for Treasure or a stage name for a future gentleman’s club headliner.  The real story: Elete is one of the Hours, the goddesses of seasons and times.  Elete was charged with one of the times of day – prayer, immediately following lunch and before the afternoon’s work begins.

Evadne – One of the most wearable on this list, a formal name for Evie, and at least four separate figures in myth.

Hecate – She’s associated with witchcraft in 2013, but Hecate was probably a foreign goddess imported to the Greek pantheon – and a gentler figure, not a sinister one.  Today this choice might be seen as controversial – or maybe just plain obscure.

Hermione – The Harry Potter heroine has yet to inspire many namesakes, but she has a history of use, and could wear well in our Penelope era.

Ianthe – Like Dianthe without the D, Ianthe was worn by an ocean nymph.  It comes from the Greek for violet flower – ion plus anthos.

Ione – 1980s actress Ione Skye is forever remembered as the love interest in Say Anything … but her name never caught on.

Ismene – She sounds a little bit like a slurring of the phrase “is many.”  There’s more than one mythological Ismene, but the one that probably comes to mind for most is the daughter of Oedipus and Jocasta, sister to Antigone.

Nike – The goddess of victory could be a great name for a girl, an alternative to Nicole – if not for the sneaker.  Don’t do it!

Persephone – The obvious alternative to Penelope.  The whole goddess of the underworld gig is the tiniest bit goth, but her sound is stunning.

Phoebe – Along with Daphne and Penelope, another choice modern parents have embraced.  We all know the name thanks to Friends and Charmed and Phoebe Cates.  She’s clearly among the heirs of Zoe and Chloe.

Thisbe – Before there was Romeo and Juliet, there was Pyramus and Thisbe.

Xanthe – With our affection for zippy z names, Xanthe – or maybe Zanthe – feels like a natural.  She’s among the names from Greek myth worn by more than one figure.

What do you think of these ends-with-e options?  Are there any that you would avoid?  Any others that should be on this list?

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

21 Comments

Myrophora
Derived from Greek Μυροφόροι (Myrophóroi) meaning “Myrrhbearers”, which in Eastern Orthodox Christianity is a term that refers to the women with myrrh who came to the tomb of Christ early in the morning, only to find it empty. The term is ultimately derived from Greek μυρον (myron) meaning “myrrh” (also see Myron) and Greek φορεύς (phoreus) meaning “bearer, carrier”.

I love Ariadne (plus it’s DH’s favourite name – bingo!), and also Calliope, Circe, Hecate, Hermione, Ianthe, Ione, Ismene, Thisbe and Xanthe. Great list!

I love this list! I’ve wanted to name a daughter Antigone for a long time. It’s my favorite of the ancient Greek plays I’ve read, and Antigone was an extremely principled and brave (albeit tragic) figure. I think “Tig” would be a cute nickname, but she could also go by “Ann” or some other variation. BUT I’d be concerned that people would pronounce it like “anti-gawn”. Hmm.

I know three pets named from this list (Daphne and Nike the dogs, and Calliope “Opie” the cat), so if that’s any indicator of names we love but aren’t quite ready to use for children, then these names should be getting more popular in the future. Ariadne and Phoebe are two of my favorite girls’ names–Ariadne is so regal and Phoebe is so upbeat. Love them!

I really like lots of these – how useable they are ‘in real life’ is a tricky one though! My cats are Persephone and Antigone… I also have a three syllable surname than ends in y! Very difficult to make them work with it.

I am surprised you missed Selene (SEL-uh-nee) which I would have thought is one of the more wearable names, and more up-to-date than Selena, which I assume is its modern equivalent. Merope is also a nice easy one, although JK Rowling used it as the name of Voldemort’s mother, which may be offputting for some for a variety of reasons! Thalia is relatively popular in the UK (TAR-lee-a though, not Thay-lee-a).

I’ve also had a sneaky desire to name a child Oenone, just because it would be fun to watch people try and figure out how to pronounce it… Perhaps a bit harsh on the child though!

Oenone would be a tongue-twister!

I think Selene would inevitably be pronounced seh LEEN in the US, as in Celine Dion. But you’re right, she’s more wearable.

My eye landed on Merope more than once, but I can’t separate her from Voldemort’s mom. I’m not sure if that’s really a deal-breaker, but I decided to take her off the list anyhow.

In last weeks BAs I saw a Nausicaa. It’s not one I’d have the guts to use in English-speaking country, but it’s pretty when it’s pronounced correctly. (now-see-KAY-uh)

Danae, Ianthe and Evadne are all names I’d use in an instant. Some others I love: Atalanta, Halcyone, Niobe

There’s a Phaedra on one of the Housewives shows. I don’t watch it, so I don’t know what kind of person she is… but I wonder if Phaedra could become the next Phoebe? The mythological figure is tragic, but that hasn’t stopped some people from using Juliet, Cordelia or Ophelia.

I am in love with so many of these! My #1 choice right now is Daphne. Swoon! Penelope is great. Ariadne, Evadne, Calliope, Hermione, Persephone, Phoebe and Thisbe are all ones I’ve considered. I would love one of these to be a sister to Atlas 🙂

I forgot to mention that I noticed Daphne, Penelope, Phoebe and Zoe all rose in 2012, which makes me think we may see some of the more obscure ones enter the top 1000 eventually.

I love so many of these — Antigone, Persephone, Callanthe, Ariadne, and Thisbe. I would totally use one for baby #4 if they matched my other kids’ names at all!

My mother is friends with a lady named Aphrodite. I was really surprised when I first heard it but I have to admit it feels pretty normal now. Funny enough, my mom also knows a woman named Anubis! It’s really amusing to me when she says she’s grabbing lunch with Aphrodite and Anubis 😛 Even funnier when there’s a third woman going with an incredibly normal 1960’s name: “Aphrodite, Anubis and Cheryl are meeting me at Chili’s”.

I had to giggle at this as well. But I have an entire family full of unusual names. So it is incredible easy for them to sound perfectly natural to me but to others it feels and seems out of place.

I’m actually quite surprised by the rise of Penelope- I find its sound rather ridiculous, like a caricature you’d find in Roald Dahl (Augustus and Penelope Gloop sound like siblings.) Most of the names on this list seem a lot more wearable to me.

Oh gosh, we looked at a ton of names from Greek mythology in our search for a name for our daughter. My own name comes from a Greek myth and I thought it would be cool if my daughter’s did, too. But ultimately we never found one that we totally fell in love with. I do really like Xanthe, Calanthe, and Iolanthe, but my husband didn’t, and I didn’t love them enough to really push for any of the three.

I love how Antigone sounds, but obviously because of spelling alone, I could never give that to a child. Maybe a pet.

I adore so many. Penelope herself, then Xanthe, Ione, Calanthe, Ariadne, Arachne… and my grandmother being an Irene makes Eirene appealing.

But the catch… am I kidding myself to think ANY are workable, if my last name is three syllables and ends in -y? 3-3 rhythim is not particularly appetizing, but what about 2-3 or 4-3?

I am obsessed with the name Nike, especially after seeing Winged Victory of Samothrace at the Louvre as a teen. I would use it as a middle name in a heartbeat.