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Greco-Roman Names

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The ancient Greeks and Romans had a strong impact on the development of virtually every facet of today's civilization, including the development of the arts, philosophy, psychology, and religion. Because neither civilization believed in a single god, they created an entire world populated by various gods and goddesses, which they believed controlled various realms.

Most of the deities were the same for both the Greek and Roman civilizations, but they had distinctive names. The better-known ones, as you can see by the following table, survive to this day as the basis for a number of names in the naming pool, or, as in the case of names like Diana, Minerva, Flora, and Selene, as the actual names themselves.

Greek and Roman Deities
Sphere of Influence Greek Roman
Death and rebirth Adonis Janus
Goddess of love, beauty Aphrodite Venus
Goddess of the hunt, the moon, and nature Artemis Diana
Goddess of wisdom Athena Minerva
Goddess of flowers Chloris Flora
Goddess of the earth, grain, and harvests Demeter Ceres
Goddess of dawn Eos Aurora
God of love Eros Cupid
Queen of the goddesses Hera Juno
Son of Zeus Herakles Hercules
Goddess of the hearth Hestia Vesta
Goddess of victor Nike Victoria
Goddess of death and rebirth, the underworld Persephone Proserpina
Goddess of the moon Selene Luna
God of wine Dionysius Bacchus

Not all the names of Greek and Roman gods ended up in wide use as given names. You won't ever find a whole lot of kids named Hercules running around, but I did recently meet a young woman named Nike who seems to love her name! More often than not, they played a stronger role in providing the basis – either in their Greek or Latin form – for many popular names, including:

What's in a Name

Parents in ancient Greece gave their children names on the seventh or tenth day after they were born. The father chose the name, which he could also elect to change later if he desired. Generally, children were named after relatives, but rarely after their fathers.

  • Dennis: Along with Dion and Denise, it derives from Dionysius, the god of wine.
  • Athena: Like her Roman counterpart, Minerva, it doesn't show up very often on name lists today, but they were once relatively popular.
  • Chloris: Spelled Cloris, this is the first name of actress Cloris Leachman. Flora, its Latin form, was a popular Victorian flower name.
  • Aurora: The Roman goddess of the dawn was the name novelist Larry McMurtry used for the mother in Terms of Endearment. Rarely used today, but it has a nice sound and feel to it as a middle name.
  • Victoria: Along with Diana, probably the best-known of all the god and goddess names.
  • Selene: This is a classic name choice that is currently overlooked, but may come back with the trend toward using old-fashioned names. It comes from the Greek word selene, meaning "moon."
  • Demeter: The very popular Russian name Dmitri is based on the name of the Greek goddess of the harvest.


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Excerpted from The Complete Idiot's Guide to Baby Names © 1999 by Sonia Weiss. All rights reserved including the right of reproduction in whole or in part in any form. Used by arrangement with Alpha Books, a member of Penguin Group (USA) Inc.

To order this book visit the Idiot's Guide web site or call 1-800-253-6476.


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