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Naming after Gods and Goddesses

2 August 2021

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Naming after gods and goddesses by Aaliyah Zaph

I’ve only ever known two people who shared a name with a Greek goddess: Athena, a small, shy, reserved girl in my 2014 ballet class whose black hair wisped out the front of her bun in playful, dark tufts, and Artemis, a girl in the grade above me who taught me and my friends how to do the monkey bars. So I was surprised to discover that numerous names inspired by mythological gods have been milling around the top 100 of the most popular baby names for years now. Names like Adonis, that I had never heard of before, have been climbing the rankings for years and now sit within the top 400.

So what’s with this sudden trend?

Flash back to Ancient Greece. Beautiful stone columns and statues graced the busy cities, open-air theatres stood with pride, a classy source of entertainment. And although the people of these villages believed the gods, generally no one was named after these mythological deities. Naming your child after a Greek god or goddess was strange and unheard of as it expressed excessive amounts of shameful confidence. At the time, the gods were feared and presented with utmost respect, so naming your child after one was seen as cocky, as if you thought you shared the same status. Instead, it was common for children to be named adjectives relating to specific gods – for example, Artemisia (of Artemis) or Demetrios (belonging to Demeter).

Flashforward to present day. Greek god names are becoming trendy and popular: almost every baby name website has a post dedicated to the unique beauty of mythology inspired names. Generally, most people couldn’t care less – “it’s not my kid and it’s not particularly degrading or humiliating.” In fact, names like Aphrodite and Zeus target positive, strong traits that some believe bring good luck to the child.

Surprisingly, science backs up this claim of these powerful names affecting these children! Psychologists often reference the Dorian Gray effect – a theory that links our own names with how we are perceived by others, our self-perception, our personality and even our physical presentation. For example, a girl named after a flower, like Rose, might subconsciously adapt more feminine traits due to social coding. She might grow her hair out long, prefer the aesthetic of skirts over the practicality of jeans; she might be more reserved and dainty, prefer pop over rap music. Interestingly enough, a girl named Charlie (shortened from the feminine name Charlotte) might not feel these underlying, extremely subtle pressures to act feminine. Because of her masculine name, she is already perceived as more tomboy and may find it easier to challenge gender stereotypes with her interests and clothing. So, with this in mind, names inspired by Greek gods seem like a good thing. Naming your child after Aphrodite automatically creates this seemingly positive stereotype of beauty and passion, thus subconsciously dictating the way your child is viewed in a positive light.

However, there are competing studies that make these unique, mythological names seem less desirable and more like a pain. A recent Australian study showed that people tend to gravitate towards names they can easily read and pronounce. It also claimed that people have better impressions of coworkers, employees and political candidates if their names are familiar and straightforward, making mythological names suggested by MomJunction, like Dionysius and Agamemnon, seem intimidating and negative.

Despite the burdens associated with difficult and unique first names, some social scientists encourage the increased usage of them. A sociologist from New York University pointed out a huge benefit of these names: the development of impulse control. He claimed that children getting teased or constantly being asked about their name “actually benefit from that experience by learning to control their emotions or their impulses, which is of course a great skill for success.”

It’s also interesting to hear opinions about this topic from present-day worshippers of these gods and goddesses. The name Persephone has been scaling the charts, according to Baby Center data that claimed it climbed 674 places since 2018, currently being ranked #888. However, various worshippers of Persephone are, least to say, not impressed by the popularity of this lyrical name. In Ancient Greece, Persephone’s name was never spoken aloud as she was both respected and feared by mortals there; because of this ancient custom many followers deem it disrespectful and morally wrong to name a child that. However, Belle Wallace, a follower of Persephone who expressed great distaste in regards to the use of the name offered the name ‘Kora’ as a substitute (derived from Persephone’s maiden name, ‘Kore’). Various sources were wary of the potential curses the gods would burden a child whose parents had enough self-righteousness to name-share. Other followers claimed it was fine to use variations of these names, such as Persephassa as it wouldn’t offend the gods.  It was noted that we can’t speak on behalf of the gods, we can only make assumptions of what they would like based on ancient customs.

Ultimately: it’s up to you. But beware, there’s a lot more in a name than you might expect!