Persephone: Baby Name of the Day

Leighton depicts Hermes helping Persephone to ...

Penelope is among the most stylish of names.  Could this Greek name be next?

Thanks to Danielle, Sara, and Saranel for suggesting Persephone as our Baby Name of the Day.

Persephone is a tremendously pretty name.  But does her reputation as Queen of the Underworld give some parents pause?

She’s the daughter of Zeus and Demeter, kidnapped by Hades to be his bride and to reign with him over the dead.  It’s a tale that can be violent and sad, tearing Persephone away from her mom.  Other versions show Hades resulting to trickery, forcing Persephone to eat pomegranate seeds, an act that condemns her to spend part of her existence with Hades.

It’s the original death and the maiden story.  Have you ever seen the medieval paintings showing a skeleton – the personification of death – with a young woman?  It’s a major theme in medieval art and literature, and Persephone’s story is said to be the earliest version.

And yet you might say that her story ends happily(ish).  Persephone spends a half of the year in the land of dead, and we mere mortals experience fall and winter.  Her return to the land of living marks the start of spring.  For the daughter of a harvest goddess, it is very fitting.  It makes Persephone a seasonal name, and maybe even an uplifting one.

Similar myths are found in other cultures to explain the seasons.

She’s known by other names:

  • Sometimes she’s just called Kore – maiden, the origin of Cora.
  • In Roman mythology, Persephone becomes Proserpina or Proserpine.
  • In other Greek tellings, Persephone is sometimes known as Persephoneia, Persephassa, Persephatta, Pherepapha, Periphona, Phersephassa.
  • There’s a separate figure known as Persa, a daughter of Oceanus.
  • There’s also Persephione, the daughter of a king and a nymph.

The multiple Greek versions point to the uncertainty about her name’s origins:

  • One of the darkest is pertho – to destroy.
  • Not any happier is pherein  bringer of death.
  • Others suggest a link to the color blue, or something else entirely.

All of the debate and different versions suggest that Persephone might be an import, borrowed from an earlier language.  Demeter and Persephone probably date back to 1500 BC, centuries before Ancient Greek civilization flourished.

But what of her more recent uses?

  • Persephone is the wife of The Merovingian, one of the bad guys in The Matrix trilogy.  He’s also the operator of a nightclub called Club Hel, a haven for exiles, so there’s no mystery as to the reason for her name.
  • A Hollyoaks character answered to the name, as did a minor character in Upstairs Downstairs.
  • Add in a butterfly, a sea snail, and various other creatures, and she’s in steady rotation in the natural world.

Where she’s rare is the nursery.  From the 1960s into the 90s, it was rare for more than a dozen or so girls to receive the name.  By 2007, the name was given to 64 girls.  And in 2012, 141 newborn Persephones arrived.

Heavy meaning and lack of easy nicknames aside, her similarity to Phoebe, Penelope, and other Greek ends-with-e possibilities is enough to make Persephone wearable in 2013.  She strikes me as a Hermione name – complicated, smart, clunky but cool.

If you’re after a stand-out name, Persephone is one to consider.

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19 Comments

As a girl named Persephone my nickname is PerSy (with a s) I think that Peri, Perry is such a cute name and i wish that was my nickname.

Wow! I named my oldest child Persephone after learning her story from a Greek Mythology class in the late 90s. No one can say her name right, but when they now the right pronunciation they love it. I never knew all of this though. Her name suits her well. She is one of a kind, smart, funny, and just about everyone like her that she comes across. She got so excited when I told her she was one out of a dozen plus in the that time frame to be given her name. Thanks for the info. We enjoyed it.

I’m late to the party, but my one year old daughter is named Persephone, too. It came to me in a vision and I would not let it go, despite my husband’s lack of enthusiasm. People often think I am saying “Perstephanie” but once they are corrected, they love the name. I find it to be ultra feminine and strong at the same time. We call her Persie for short and I love the nickname, too. That I get to educate people about greek mythology is a bonus. Go Persephone!

my daughter’s name is persephone, so i clearly love the name and think it’s beautiful (with the idea of the nickname “percy”, which we thought was cute for a girl). she was a fall baby, so we thought it fit nicely into the myth of the fall/harvest. she passed away shortly after birth. since now i feel like i am the mother grieving the loss of her daughter, it makes her name even more perfect to me. love to see it getting recognized!

Hi gk, I’m so very, very sorry for your loss. What a lovely story of her name – thank you for sharing it, and for telling us about your daughter. Best, Abby

gk, I am holding back tears for you as I write this. My heart grieves for you; I cannot imagine what you have suffered.

You made a beautiful choice for your daughter’s name. “Persephone” is first on my list if we are blessed with another baby girl.

I will hold you close in thought and prayer today.

I’ve always liked Persephone. I personally like it more than Penelope. I think of the mythical character as the goddess of Spring and just associate her with picking flowers, a kind, sweet, innocent girl. I like Proserpine/Proserpina also. Both seem like names that might be hard to wear. But maybe times are changing and they will seem perfectly fine in 15 years. After all, a name like Ella was very old-fashioned when I was growing up.

In the newest version of the British drama “Upstairs Downstairs”, Lady Persephone “Towyn, younger sister of one of the main characters Lady Agnes, is called “Persie”. Persephone seems the sort of name that the British might favor, but in England and Wales only 38 baby girls were given the name in 2011 and just 25 in 2012. Persephone reminds me in sound of Stephanie (which I’ve always liked), and I think Persie or Persy is cute as a nickname.

I agree with Katybug. I always found the story of Persephone and Hades somewhat romantic, but I think it depends on what version you read. When I was in HS the standard issue was “Heroes, Gods, and Monsters” and my copy is to dog-eared after years of thumbing through my favourites (Hades, Orpheus, Hephaestus and Atalanta to name a few). I really like this name, but I think a great deal of its power is in the imagery the myth brings to mind. The more I hear it being used, the more it loses that mystique for me unfortunately. Persephone starts to sound a bit like the new Stephanie.

I personally love the story of Persephone and Hades. I’ve never seen it as a negative at all. I can’t think of pomegranates without thinking of her 🙂

Persephone was one of my top 3 names for my baby. I chose another, but I loved the idea of Percy as a nickname. Plus my oldest child would have loved it as the namesake of her favorite train! Haha. The name itself is just so beautiful and flows so well. It doesn’t seem clunky to me at all! Thanks for writing it up!

Adore Persephone, too. I’ve been in awe of her as a myth-figure for so long– and I’m so glad the namesake is getting popular (at least, from my tip-toe-ing around name boards, it seems to be).

LOVE Persephone. She’s high on my list, though likely to be in the middle. And I love many of the potential nicknames too: Penny, Peppy, Poppy, Sephie, Effie, Persy, Posy…