Thanks to Danielle, Sara, and Saranel for suggesting our Baby Name of the Day.
QUEEN OF THE UNDERWORLD
The baby name Persephone glides. It’s tremendously pretty.
But the mythological figures reigns as Queen of the Underworld. At first glance it seems a little Goth.
Except the story is more complicated.
The daughter of Zeus and Demeter, Persephone is kidnapped by Hades – King of the Underworld. As his bride, she has dominion over the dead. The tale reads dark and gloomy. After all, she’s torn from her beloved mother.
But the goddess strikes a deal.
Every fall, Persephone dutifully returns to the land of the dead, ushering in autumn and winter. But six months later, she returns to the land of the living, bringing spring and summer. Demeter, her mother, is an agricultural goddess, so Persephone’s control of the seasons fits.
It’s also the original death and the maiden story. Renaissance paintings somtimes depict a young woman with a skeleton – the personification of death. Persephone’s story might be part of the inspiration.
The baby name Persephone becomes Proserpina in Roman mythology. The figure is sometimes called Kore – maiden, the forerunner of current favorite Cora. Her story has long been popular with artists and composers, writers and scientists. A number of creatures – moths, butterflies, even a sea snail – have been given the name.
While Persephone’s origins are debated, they can be rather dark, relating to death and destruction. But that’s not the meaning of the name as we understand it today.
BY THE NUMBERS
Regardless of the mythological figure, the baby name Persephone never quite caught on in the US.
It was given to fewer than five girls from 1880 into the early 1960s – that’s close to zero uses.
Things started to change in the 1960s.
Maybe it was the burgeoning environmental movement. There do seem to be more mentions of Persephone in popular culture – tiny ones, not nearly enough to explain a big increase in the name’s use.
But then again, there wasn’t a big increase in the use of the baby name Persephone. Six girls were born in 1962; seven in 1964; ten in 1971.
POP CULTURE PERSEPHONES
The name does surface in a handful of places.
There’s a debutante by the name in the 2010 reboot of British television series Upstairs, Downstairs. A Hollyoaks character is another.
Many parents might also think of The Matrix series. The Merovingian operates a nightclub called Club Hel. Appropriately enough, his wife is Persephone.
But none of that explains the steady climb in the number of newborn girls named Persephone.
Instead, that seems to be all about the equally Greek Penelope. She’s the faithful, clever wife of Odysseus. The name – always relatively familiar – has become a twenty-first century style-star.
It’s not just Penelope. There’s Zoe (and Zoey), Chloe, and Phoebe, to name just a few of the gorgeous girl names ending with e.
Parents have sought out more options, like Top 1000 newcomers Calliope and yes, Persephone.
The baby name Persephone debuted in the US Top 1000 in 2019 at #924. That represents 285 births – triple the number just ten years earlier.
STYLISH and SEASONAL
With ties to the natural world, like Willow and Daisy, and a sound that is popular with so many names right now, Persephone feels like a great choice for a stylish, seasonal name for a daughter.
Would you consider the baby name Persephone?
First published on October 8, 2013, this post was revised and re-published on March 18, 2021.