Map of Ancient Greece, Graecia Vetus (Macedoni...

After a Greek heritage choice that’s less expected than Zoe?

Thanks to Leslie for suggesting Thessaly as our Baby Name of the Day.

Thessaly doesn’t have much use as a given name: just five newborns in 2013, and a handful in the years before.

But doesn’t Thessaly sound like a possibility, part-Cecily, part-Tess?

If this one lacks history as a personal name, as a place it is rich with story.

Homer’s Odyssey refers to Thessaly as Aeolia.  Doubtless it had a few other names over the millennia.  Evidence suggests that the earliest human settlements may have been back in 6000 BC, and was certainly over two thousand years BC.  It’s been part of the Macedonian Kingdom, the Roman Empire, the Ottoman Empire, and plenty of other empires and kingdoms along the way.

Stories?  The place has stories.  Hercules went to the underworld to rescue Alcestis, the wife of King Admetus.  It home to Achilles.  Jason and his Argonauts started their journey here.

Since the nineteenth century Treaty of Berlin – which was mostly about Bulgaria, but also re-arranged other parts of Europe – Thessaly has been part of Greece.

If you visit, you can actually climb Mount Olympus, and all of those various civilizations have left their architectural marks on the region.

But where does the place name come from, and what does it mean?

That’s shrouded in mystery.  Usually I can find a few decent guesses, but Thessaly is a dead end.

Still, we’ve gone wild for place names in recent years.  Given Thessaly’s similar sound to so many girls’ names, it wouldn’t be a stretch to consider her.  There’s also:

  • Way back in the ancient world, none other than Philip of Macedon named his daughter after the place.  Thessalonike was the daughter of a woman from Pherae, an important city in the region.  And legend has it that she was born on the day the Macedonian army won an important victory there.  Her name literally means “victory in Thessaly.”
  • An appealing fictional character always helps, too.  Neil Gaiman – defender of libraries, popularizer of the name Coraline – has given us one.  In his comic, The Sandman, Thessaly is a powerful witch.

Here’s a twist – Princess Thessalonike’s name came from the map.  When she grew up, she was quite the prize on the marriage market, even after the death of her world-conquering half-brother.  Thessalonike married Cassander of Macedon, the new ruler of the region.  And while Cassander was eager to erase the memory of Alexander and Philip’s reigns, he seems to have treated his royal bride well.  Thessalonica, another Greek city, was named in her honor.

Overall, this is a daring place name that might wear well on a girl in 2014.

What do you think of Thessaly?  Would she be confused with Cecily?  Would you use the nickname Tess, or something else?

More names to explore:

About Abby Sandel

Whether you're naming a baby, or just all about names, you've come to the right place! Appellation Mountain is a haven for lovers of obscure gems and enduring classics alike.

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What do you think?


  1. I like both Thessaly and Thessalonike, I, also, like Pompeiana. I think historical names have an interesting element and charm to them, not to mention, it might encourage your child’s interest in history. Names like these are real conversation starters.

  2. Thessaly is also the stage name of a character in one of my favorite Madeleine L’Engle books: A Live Coal in the Sea.

  3. I found your sight while hunting for a name for my new Betta boy. I wanted something French since I live in Louisiana. I have now discovered Scandinavian names. So I combined them. Ansgar Gracien! How is that for a Betta name!

    And now I’ve found Thessaly and Belphoebe. Love, Love, Love! Now I gotta get a female Betta.

  4. I have a little neighbor girl with this name, she’s maybe 7 or 8? They pronounce it “thess-uh-lee.” I always thought it was a made-up name…. I should have known better!

  5. Is this pronounced tess-uh-lee or thes-uh-lee? I prefer the former, but suspect it’s the latter which just sounds like Cecily with a lisp to me.

  6. I love ancient place names! And Thessaly is one of my favourites.

    Some Ancient Greek women were named Thessalia meaning “from Thessaly.”

  7. I like both Thessaly and Thessalonike as names. There’s also the Biblical connection: Paul’s letters to the Thessalonians.