Wednesday, January 6, 2016

Literary Names: The Odyssey

Sing to me of the man, Muse, the man of twists and turns, driven time and again off course...

The man referred to above is literary idol Odysseus, whose story is still taught in high schools across the country and referenced in hundreds of books and films - including one of my favorites, O Brother Where Art Thou? Today we'll be looking at just a few of the names of characters in his epic journey.

While some etymologies of this name list the meaning as "hate" or "wrath", the Odyssey itself lists the meaning as "trouble" - and one would really have trouble either wearing or pronouncing Odysseus. His character, however, is a persevering, brave warrior delayed by divine circumstances. The variation Ulysses or Ulises (in the top 1000) is a bit more usable, especially with the namesake Ulysses S. Grant, US general and president

Another name of uncertain meaning - either "weaver" or "duck". But Penelope is infinitely more wearable. In the epic, she's the faithful wife of Odysseus who fends off suitors and raises her son alone while waiting for her husband to return from war. Today, this feminine name is in the top 50 in the US, and only slightly less popular in England and Australia. There are also quite a few nicknames and variations to choose from: Penny, Nell, and Poppy, for example. 

The Greek goddess of wisdom and warfare, Athena is Odysseus' personal guardian throughout his troubles in the Homeric epic. As a name, Athena is fantastic - the a-ending and beginning help it fit in with Arianna, Alyssa, etc; the meaning is strong and inspiring; and the namesake is a literal divinity. I'm definitely a fan (and not just because it's also rife with pop culture references!)

Meaning "she who hides", Calypso's character in the Odyssey is that of a lovesick nymph who tricks Odysseus into staying with her for seven years - so not super positive. However, the name itself holds a lot of possibilities: the reference to Calypso music, the nicknames Cal or Callie, and the completely unique sound and spelling. Other trivia: her father is Atlas, and her symbol is a dolphin. 

I include this name in the list because of the aural similarities to Tyrese and Tyson, both in the top 1000 over the past 10 years. In the epic, Tiresias is the prophet of Apollo who meets Odysseus in his journey to the underworld. According to some sources, his name means "seer" or "sign", which is very auspicious. Of course, there are plenty of nicknames that go along with Tiresias too!

Always on the lookout for E-names, Eumaeus stood out to me because of its many vowels - with names like Noah and Aaliyah at the top of the charts, I predict the vowel-heavy names will get longer! In the Odyssey, Eumaeus is a loyal shepherd and friend to Odysseus who helps him reclaim his throne (spoilers, sorry). While this name might not be modern enough, there might be some other Eu-names that could make a comeback: Euphemia, Eulalia, or Euan.

Meaning "far from battle", this name is also a mouthful. But the devoted son of our noble hero Odysseus is a great namesake, and there are quite a few nickname possibilities: Tel, Mac, Clem (?). Established names that sound the same include Theophilus, Thelonius, or Timotheus. Other warlike names include Marcus, Ptolemy, and Arrio.

Odysseus' greatest enemy throughout the epic, the god Poseidon throws obstacle after obstacle in front of him throughout the Odyssey. However, the god of the sea has an aurally appealing name that would fit in with the current -don names, like Brandon or Jadon. I'm a little skeptical of Poseidon, because unlike Athena, it seems to be associated only with the divinity. But if your child has a confident nature, Poseidon might hit all the right notes.

Her name sounds perfectly formed to stand on its own while fitting in with trends like Sydney or Sierra. But her character leaves much to be desired: like Calypso, she tricked Odysseus into staying with her for a year before returning to his wife and son. Still, this goddess of magic is mentioned in all sorts of stories, and Circe is more complicated than Homer makes her out to be.

Meaning "mighty mind", Alcinous is an interesting character to inspire a name. In the Odyssey, he helps Odysseus return to his wife and son; in the story of Jason and the Argonauts, he protects Jason's wife Medea. As a name, Alcinous may be hard to swallow, so similar-meaning alternatives might be a better bet: Aydin, Akira, or Hugo.

Are any of these names totally unusable? What about Homer? Tell me what you think in the comments!

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