Geilissa was Orestes' old nurse. According to one story, she sent her own son to bed in the royal nursery so that he would be killed by Aegisthus instead of Orestes (who was then only ten years old). Her name means 'smiler', 'laugher' from gelao, 'to laugh'. This is an attractive name for an old nurse. In other accounts, she is named as Arsinoë or Laodamia.


Gelonus was one of three triplets (with Agathyrsus and Scythes), the sons of Heracles and Echidna. As with Geilissa, his name means 'laughing', from gelao, 'to laugh'. This is an agreeable name for the son of a disagreeable mother!


Geryon (also Geryones or Geryoneus) was the son of Chrysaor and Callirrhoë, and he was a three-headed monster with rich flocks of cattle. Robert Graves suggests geranos, 'crane' as a possible origin of his name, but this has no relevance at all to the monster.

Graves also proposes tricephalon, since Geryon was three-headed (tri- and cephale, 'head'), but this also seems too far removed from the name. Perhaps 'speaker', 'shouter', is more realistic, from geryo, 'to speak', 'utter', 'cry'. He would certainly have shouted at anyone trying to make off with his fine oxen, and fighting invariably involved war-cries.


Giants basically get their name from ge, 'earth', since they were the sons of Gaia. More directly, they were gegenes, 'earthlings', 'sons of the earth', and this word more closely approximates to English 'giant' and 'gigantic'.

If Gaia was their mother, their 'father' was Uranus, since they sprang from the spot where the blood from Uranus' genitals, severed by Cronos, touched the ground. These were the giants 'proper' who fought in the 'Gigantomachia', the battle of the giants against the gods (in which they were all defeated or killed). More 'specialised' giants, also the offspring of Gaia, were the Titans and the Hecatoncheires.

The names and numbers of those who fought the gods vary, but Apollodorus in his account of the battle includes: Alcyoneus, Porphyrion, Ephialtes, Eurytus, Clytius, Mimas, Enceladus, Pallas, Polybotes, Hippolytus, Gration, and Agrius and Thoas. (Another famous giant mentioned by Homer and Virgil is Titus.)

The actual Greek word for 'giant' was gigas, plural gigantes. Attempts have been made to connect this with the root gen-, 'to be born', 'beget' (as in 'generate'), but this is apparently unrelated linguistically, say the experts. A pity, since the link between ge and gigas seems quite likely.


Glauce was another name (or perhaps the real name) of Creusa, the daughter of king Creon of Corinth. It was also the name of the daughter of king Cychreus of Salamis, who was the first wife of Telamon.

It appears to derive from glaucos, 'gleaming', 'bright' and thus be a kind of 'green light' name for a propitious future. (As a colour, glaucos did actually mean 'pale green'.) However, glaucos also means 'grey-eyed' and even sometimes 'blue-eyed', so perhaps Glauce was just that.


Glaucia was the daughter of the river Scamander (called Xanthus, 'yellow', by the gods) who conceived a child by Deïmachus but bore it after he had been killed in the Trojan War. She then fled to Heracles for refuge who entrusted her to Cleon, the father of Deïmachus.

Meanwhile she had named her baby son Scamander (after her father), and he grew up to be a king of Boeotia and to name two streams in Boeotia respectively Scamander and Glaucia! Thus do names travel and propagate. Glaucia's name means 'grey-green' {glaucos), which cannot be anything other than the colour of the river. Scamander (father, grandson and stream) has a name that may well be interpreted in a 'rivery' way, too.


Glaucus is the name of several mythological characters, including the son of Anthedon and Alcyone (or Poseidon and Nais), who was a sea god; the son of Sisyphus and Merope; a son of Minos; and a son of Hippolochus.

For the first of these four, the name, meaning 'grey-green', is obviously suitable in view of his maritime nature. For the son of Sisyphus the name will also have connotations of the sea, since this Glaucus (in one story) leaped into the sea in grief for Melicertes (the son of Athamas).

For the son of Minos, however, we must find a different explanation, since his chief claim to fame was that he chased a mouse, as a small child, and fell into a jar of honey and drowned in it. We cannot really see a 'grey-green sea' in this, so the best thing is to change the origin to glaux, glaucos, 'owl', for owls, after all, chase mice!

In general, however, Glaucus is a name that either denotes the sea or else has its primary sense of 'gleaming', 'bright' (as it did for Glauce) to indicate either a 'bright' future or the 'bright' eyes of a healthy and active person.


Glenus was the son of Heracles and Dei'anira. His name means just 'wonder', fromglenos, 'a thing to stare at' (from glene, 'eyeball'). Perhaps he was just that - a little wonder. (We are not told much about him.)


Gordius was the father of king Midas, and was the king of Gordium in Phrygia. He was the originator of the 'Gordian knot': he dedicated his chariot or ox-cart to Zeus with the yoke tied to the pole in a special knot; anyone who could find out how to untie the knot would rule all Asia. Alexander the Great (a historical character, of course) saw the knot at Gordium and simply solved the problem by cutting the knot with his sword.

Unfortunately it is not quite so easy to solve the problem of Gordius' name. There are no Greek words starting gord- so we must consider some such derivation as gryzo, 'to grunt' (literally 'say "gry"'). Maybe Gordius grunted or muttered when he spoke?


Gorge was the daughter of Oeneus and Althaea, and she grew up to be the wife of Andraemon, king of Calydon. As with the Gorgons, her name means 'grim' (gorgos), which seems an unlikely name for an apparently blameless daughter and mother (of Thoas).

But perhaps she was not so blameless after all, since some accounts say that she, not Periboea, was the mother of Tydeus and that she bore him to her own father, Oeneus, since Zeus had willed that Oeneus should fall in love with his own daughter.


Gorgons were the 'grim ones' (gorgos, 'grim', 'fierce'), three female creatures of frightening aspect. They were the daughters of Phorcys and Ceto, that is, the 'Old Man of the Sea' and his monstrous sister. Their names were Stheno, Euryale and (the most famous, and the only mortal) Medusa. The name has its origin where the very word gorgos does, and it seems that it may simply be meaningless - or rather, be intended to suggest something fearful.

It is remarkable, in fact, that many English words starting 'gor-', 'gro-' or 'gr-' generally have unpleasant meanings. Among the best examples are 'gore', 'grime', 'grimace', 'grunt', 'groan', 'grief, 'grisly', 'grumble', 'grave', 'gorge', 'gross', 'gruesome', 'grovel', 'growl', 'gruelling', 'gruff', 'grumpy', and of course 'grim' itself!

Even the Russian name of Ivan the Terrible (Ivan Grozny) has been shown to be related to Greek gorgos. Of course, there are exceptions, but even 'gorgeous', it appears, has links - rather tortuously, via gorgias, an old French word for a kind of neck-scarf- with 'gorge', 'regurgitate' and other grim 'throaty' words.


Gorgophone was the name of the only daughter of Perseus and Andromeda. She became the wife of Perieres and, later, Oebalus. Her name literally means 'Gorgon-death', from gorgos and phone, 'murder', 'slaughter'. She did not kill any Gorgons, but of course her father did (Perseus slew Medusa), and her name is thus a commemorative one.


Graces (Latin Gratiae) were goddesses as pleasant as the Gorgons were unpleasant. They were usually said to have been the three daughters of Zeus and Euronyme, and their names, all with agreeable meanings (which see) were Aglaia (called Charis by Homer in the Iliad), Thalia and Euphrosyne. (Homer also introduced another Grace called Pasithea.) Their group name hardly needs interpreting: they were, after all, personifications of beauty and grace. The Greeks called them Charités (which see).


Graiae, however, were unpleasant, since they were the Gorgons' three weird sisters, also the daughters of Phorcys and Ceto. Their names were Enyo, Deino and Pemphredo (see the disagreeable meanings of these). If anything, they were even more sinister than the Gorgons since they were born as old women.

Their name, thus, seems to be from the root of grays, 'old woman'. As Hesiod described it in his Theogony, 'They came into the world with white hair; that is why they are called Graiae by both gods and men.' (The English word 'grey' is not related to their name, even though the old women had grey hair.)


Gration was a giant who in the battle of the giants against the gods (the 'Gigantomachia') was shot by Artemis with her arrows. His name seems to mean 'scratcher', from grapho, 'to scratch' ('grave', in fact), although in what precise sense (with his hands?) is not clear.


Guneus was a king of Cyphus, near Dodona. He was the son of Ocytus and led twenty-two ships in the Trojan War. His name may refer to his kingly possessions, since it derives from gounos, 'fruitful land'.


Gyes was one of the Hecatoncheires, or 'Hundred-handed Giants', the offspring of Uranus and Gaia. Appropriately, his name derives from gyion, 'limb', so can be translated as something like 'many-limbed' or 'multi-membered'.


Gyges was a shepherd in the service of a remote king of Lydia, or possibly even the original ancestor of this particular royal family. His name means 'earth-born' (gegenes, compare Giants), which would be a suitable name for one who both worked on the land and was himself the progenitor of an important family or dynasty.


Hades was the infamous god of the dead, the ruler of the Underworld. In classical Greek, his name is always that of a person, never a place, although later, by extension, Hades came to be the name for the Underworld itself. (This happened through an elliptical use of the name in the genitive, meaning 'of Hades', with the missing but understood first word being 'house'.)

The original form of the name was Aides, this meaning 'the unseen', from a-, 'not', and eido, 'to see' (this latter verb being ultimately connected with Latin video). This 'invisibility' was by implied contrast with the sun, Helios, who was clearly visible.

In spite of this generally accepted derivation, however, there have been other suggestions regarding the origin of the name, one of them being a development from aianes, 'everlasting', 'wearisome', 'horrible'. This certainly conjures up an unpleasant endless torment in a version of Hell.


Haemon was the name of one or more of the sons of Creon of Thebes, and also of the son of Andraemon. The name seems to derive from haema, 'blood', and indeed the first Haemon came to a 'bloody' end when he was throttled by the Sphinx for being unable to answer her riddle. (For the man who finally outwitted her, see Oedipus.) But perhaps we must consider another origin as a possibility, this being haimon, 'skilful'. Such a generally commendatory name would be suitable for almost anyone.


Halia was a nymph who married Poseidon and bore him Rhode and six sons. When these wanton boys ravished their mother, Poseidon sank them underground, but Halia threw herself into the sea where she was deified as Leucothea. (This same story, incidentally, is also told about Ino.)

So there are certainly enough maritime connections to justify her name, which means 'of the sea', from hais, halos, 'sea'. (The word is a base for several of the names that follow below.)


Haliartus was the brother of Coronus and the son of Thersander. The story goes that he had been adopted by Athamas, son of Aeolus, when Athamas had been guided by the oracle to find food after a flock of sheep had all been devoured by wolves. Haliartus has a name that thus means 'bread of the sea', from hals, 'sea' and artos, 'bread', and so was a kind of 'manna in the wilderness' for Athamas.


Halirrhothius was a son of Poseidon and the nymph Euryte. He attempted to rape Alcippe, the daughter of Ares, but Ares killed him. (As a result of this, Ares was brought to trial by Poseidon on a hill at Athens that henceforth came to be called the Areopagus, or 'hill of Ares'.)

As we know, Poseidon himself was not overmodest when it came to amatory advancement, and the name of Halirrhothius could be taken as referring to him in this regard, since it means 'roaring with waves', 'sea-beaten', from halirrhothios (hais, halos, 'sea' and rhothos, 'rushing noise as of waves', 'hoarse noise').


Halmus was a son of Sisyphus (with brothers Glaucus, Ornytion and Thersander). His name, too, appears to be connected with the sea, deriving from halme, 'sea' (more specifically, 'sea water that has dried', 'brine').

This would make him a seaman of some kind, or one who worked by the sea. Thomas Keightley suggests that the names of all four brothers may indicate the bustle of commerce since Sisyphus was a trader at Corinth.


Hamadryads were nymphs that some believed to be individual trees. As such, they died when their own tree did. This bonding is indicated in their name, which literally means 'together with a tree', from hama, 'together' and drys, 'tree'. See also Dryads.


Harmonia was the wife of Cadmus of Thebes. She was the daughter of either Ares and Aphrodite or Zeus and Electra (the daughter of Atlas). Her name is obvious, whether we interpret it as 'harmony', 'concord', 'union' or 'agreement'.

It is, however, an unexpected name for one who was (in one account) the daughter of the god of war (Ares) and the goddess of love (Aphrodite). One would expect there to be anything but harmony here!


Harpalyce was the name of a daughter of Clymenus, king of Argos (who abducted her when she married Alastor), and of a daughter of Harpalycus, a Thracian king. The second Harpalyce clearly gets her name from her father.

The first was involved in a violent situation - before she married Alastor, Harpalyce's father had incestuously raped her, and after he abducted her, she murdered the child she bore him - and this may explain her name which means 'ravening wolf, from harpazo, 'to ravish', 'abduct' and lycos, 'wolf. (The name refers to her father's acts: compare Halirrhothius, whose name similarly relates to his father.)


Harpies were monstrous bird-like women. Traditionally, there were three or four of them and they were held responsible for anything that could not be found or had somehow disappeared. In Homer, they carried people off to their death, but later they mainly snatched away food.

They seem originally to have been wind spirits. In any event, their name means 'snatchers', from harpazo, 'to carry off, 'snatch up' (compare Harpalyce). The English words 'rapt' and 'rapture' are related to the Greek word that gives their name.


Harpina (or Harpinna) was, according to some accounts, the mother of Oenomaüs, king of Pisa. The name was also that of a mare owned by Oenomaüs. It can mean either 'snatcher', from harpazo (see Harpies) or more likely 'falcon', from harpe.

This would be a good descriptive name for a horse that was very swift (as the Harpies were). Admittedly, it is less fitting when applied to Oenomaüs' mother.


Hebe was the cup-bearer of the gods and the personification of youth, a kind of female equivalent of Ganymede. She was the daughter of Zeus and Hera and the sister of Ares, and there is evidence in a temple at Phlius (a town usually allied with Sparta) that she was locally actually called Ganymeda.

Her name means simply 'youth', 'puberty', and the word hebe implied freshness, vigour, passion and the like - in fact, all the joys of youth. Her rather less exciting Roman equivalent was Juventas.


Hecabe has a name that to most people, almost entirely thanks to Shakespeare, is more familiar in its Roman form of Hecuba. She was the daughter of Dymas, king of the Phrygians, and became the wife of Priam, by whom she had nineteen children, including Paris, Hector and Cassandra. A lady of some consequence, therefore.

Her name, however, is not so straightforward. Like that of Hecate (with whom she must not be confused), it may mean something on the lines of 'far off, from hecas, 'far'. This could mean she was 'distant' in some way - perhaps having an influence from a distance, or producing a distant effect.

In one account she was stoned to death, and as she died turned into a bitch, later returning in this form to haunt the area where earlier her youngest son Polydorus had been murdered by the Thracian king Polymestor. This haunting could be regarded as a 'distant' influence.


Hecate was a Titaness and thus an earth goddess. She was associated by the Greeks with the moon, and her parents were Perseus or Zeus and Demeter. For a goddess associated with the moon (and later specifically with Artemis) her name can be more confidently interpreted as 'she who has power from afar'.

This refers not only to the rays of the moon but to her special power as a giantess. The name was also one of the many by-names of Apollo and his sister Artemis.

In this respect it is worth noting that the Greeks quite often formed names from the by-names of other gods (but only very rarely from the real names), and it might almost be that this particular by-name somehow became detached from Artemis and became a separate moon goddess. Robert Graves and others, however, derive her name not from hecatos, 'far' but from hecaton, 'hundred'.

This could refer to a hundred of a number of significant things: victims on her altars, years during which unburied souls were detained, months of a king's reign, multiplicity of a harvest (a hundredfold), and the like. Either way, whether 'far-darting' or 'a hundredfold', she has a powerful and impressive name.


Hecatoncheires were the three hundred-armed giants Cottos, Gyes and Briareüs who were the offspring of Uranus and Gaia (who also bore the Cyclopes). Their name (from hecaton, 'hundred' and cheir, 'hand', 'arm') may be taken literally in view of their special status, or perhaps more metaphorically, for example because they acted a hundred more times more powerfully when they did anything than anyone else.


Hector was the great Trojan hero who was the son of Priam and Hecabe and the husband of Andromache. His name derives from echo, 'to hold fast', 'uphold', 'defend', since he was the Trojan war leader, the 'prop of Troy'.

It is interesting that the name of his little son Astyanax has a similar meaning, reflecting his father's great powers of resistance. The English verb 'to hector' meaning to bully or bluster (or both) derives from his name, since this is how Hector was represented in medieval romances.


Hegemone was one of the two original Charités, with Auxo. Auxo represented the spring, and Hegemone autumn. Her name actually means 'leader', 'ruler', from hegemon, 'leader'.


Heleius (or Helius) was the son of Perseus and Andromeda. He plays only a small part in mythology, in spite of his famous parents, and his name means simply 'pity', 'mercy', 'compassion' (heleos).


Helen, best known as 'Helen of Troy', was the famous daughter of Zeus and Leda. She was the wife of Menelaüs, king of Sparta, and later of Paris, son of Priam. Her name in Greek is Helene, and most authorities derive it from hele, 'light', 'heat', although there are good grounds for regarding it as a non-Greek name, but as one associated with birds and trees in some way.

In his Agamemnon, Aeschylus ingeniously relates her name to Helenas, 'ship-destroyer', since she 'took the ships' (helein, 'to take', naus, 'ship'). Her name may go back to Sanskrit sarama, 'born of the sky', fittingly enough for her, since she was the daughter of Zeus.

Whatever the case, the modern girl's name Helen seems to owe its popularity not so much to her but to a more earthly Helen - St. Helena, the mother of the emperor Constantine. But inevitably some of the mythological Helen's charisma and beauty must rub off on modern Helens.


Helenus was the son of Priam and Hecabe, and the twin of Cassandra. He was a noted seer and warrior who figures in the Iliad of Homer.

According to one account, he allowed the Greeks to capture him in the Trojan War because he was angry with the Trojans for giving Helen, whom he coveted for himself, to be married to Deïphobus. (But Deïphobus was killed before he could do so.) Perhaps we should translate his name as 'Helen man' in view of this.


Helicaon was the son of Antenor whose wife Laodice fell in love with Acamas. His name has no bearing on this, however, but is merely propitious, meaning 'burning sun', from helios, 'sun' and caio, 'to burn'.


Helice was the daughter of Selinus, king of Aegialus, and the wife of Ion. Her name appears to mean 'of the same age', helix, helicos, although we have no evidence that she was the same age as Ion, say, or anyone else. But perhaps she somehow linked up with Mount Helicon, either mythologically or linguistically.


Helios was the sun, of course, or rather its god. Originally he was also known as Hyperion or Phoebus, but these became dissociated from him. His name means what he is, 'sun' (helios), in turn perhaps from hele, 'bright', 'hot' (see Helen). His Roman name is Sol, which is actually a variant of Helios since 'h' in Greek words often corresponds to 's' in their Latin counterparts (for example Greek hepta, 'seven' and Latin septem, Greek hyle, 'wood' and Latin silvd).


Helle was the daughter of Athamas and Nephele. She was the girl who with her brother Phrixos fled on the golden ram from Athamas and her stepmother Ino, but fell off its back into the sea - which from then on was called the Hellespont ('sea of Helle'). Her name may well mean 'bright', from hele, 'bright', 'hot' (as with Helen). But hellos means 'young deer', 'fawn', and this could also be an apt name for her.


Hellen was the eldest son of Deucalion and his wife Pyrrha who gave his name to the Hellenes, otherwise the Greeks. As with Helen and Helle, his name may mean 'bright' and so be simply propitious.


Hemera was the daughter of Erebus and Nyx, that is, of Darkness and Night. Perhaps on the principle of 'two negatives make a positive' she therefore turns out to be Day, hemera (hence English 'ephemeral' for something that lasts only a day or a short time).


Hemithea was the daughter of Cycnus, king of Colonae, and a sister of Tenes. Her name, rather obviously, means 'half-divine', 'demi-goddess'.


Hephaestus was the Greek equivalent of Vulcan, the great smith and metal founder of the gods. He was the son of Hera - according to Hesiod, without a mate - and with Aphrodite as his wife became the father of Eros. As in so many cases, this is probably not a Greek name, although the root of his name certainly suggests 'to shine' (phao). Robert Graves thinks this, and proposes a derivation from a word hemerophaestos, 'he who shines by day', in other words - the sun! (For the first part of this word, see Hemera.)

However, this may be over-ambitious, and we would do better to consider some sense of 'shining' or 'light' with the first two letters of his name unexplained. (Possibly they were simply added for euphony, which means his name is exactly the same as that of Phaestus) Hephaestus, like Vulcan, seems to have been some kind of volcanic god originally, so that the 'light' would have been a burning, fiery one.


Hera was the Greek equivalent of Juno. She was the wife of Zeus and also his elder sister, the daughter of Cronos and Rhea, and her divine status was that of 'Queen of Heaven'. As often, her name is no doubt pre-Greek, but traditionally there are two main contenders by way of an origin. The first is the meaning 'lady', with her name being a feminine form oiheros, 'hero', 'warrior'.

The second is a derivation from aer, 'air'. Both these, of course, are perfectly fitting for her. And if we consider her name jointly with that of Zeus we get a perfect combination for the two rulers of the heavens, with Zeus perhaps ruling the upper air (aither) and Hera the lower, denser air (aer) (see Aërope). Other proposed derivations have been erao, 'to love' (again, fitting for the goddess of marriage, as she was), and even era, 'earth' (the Latin terra), although this seems less justifiable.

Perhaps the true meaning of her name is nearer 'protectress', since this seems to be the basic sense of the root of her name and that of 'hero', as Greek hews is linguistically related to Latin servare, 'to safeguard' (compare English 'servant'), with the original name being something like Herwa.


Heracles, of course, is the great Hercules, as the Romans called him, and here we have the most famous and popular of all Greek heroes. (With the Romans, he was more a god of physical strength, an image that he still popularly bears today, as a kind of classical Tarzan or 'Superman'.)

His name has been the subject of much argument and speculation, with some sources saying flatly 'origin unknown' and others boldly asserting that it means 'Hera's glory'. This latter is indeed the widely held derivation, the interpretation being that he was 'one to whom Hera gave glory'. There is one serious drawback to this, however, as hardly any Greek god has a name that is compounded of that of another god or goddess.

Since we are told in the tales about him (by Pindar and others) that his original name was Alcides, we may perhaps conclude that Alcides was his divine name and Heracles was his human name - in other words the 'glory of Hera' was the gift of a son to his parents.

This is to suggest, in turn, that there may even have been a real man who became famous for his exploits, and that Heracles developed out of this folk hero. Even here, though, there are difficulties, since Hera actually persecuted Heracles and was in fact his lifelong enemy! As for his name Alcides, Pindar tells us that he was so named in commemoration of the name of his reputed father's father Alcaeüs, with Heracles' father being Zeus.

As a name, too, Alcides echoes that of Heracles' mother, Alcmene, with its root alee meaning (most aptly for the great god) 'force', 'bodily strength'. (Compare other names starting Ale-.) Of course, there could well be a close link between the two names Alcides and Heracles, since the 'might' root (ale-) is present in both.

In his chapter on Christian names in Remains Concerning Britain, William Camden interprets the 'might' somewhat differently, and his entry for 'Hercules' runs: 'Gr. Glory, or illumination of the air, as it pleaseth Macrobius [a fourth-century Latin grammarian], who affirmed it to be proper to the Sun, but hath been given to valiant men for their glory.' (Macrobius was here working on aer, as mentioned for Hera, and cleos, 'fame', 'glory': in other words, he was dividing the name not as Her/acles but as Hera/cles.)

Before leaving the name, it seems worth pointing out that its meaning is almost certainly highly favourable, and that this is a characteristic of almost all names ending in -cles, even those of real people such as Sophocles (glory of wisdom) and Themistocles (glory of lawfulness). (Heracles' 'real' father, incidentally, was Amphitryon, the popular account of his birth stating that Alcmene had actually slept with Zeus when the latter was disguised as Amphitryon.)

The Roman version of the name has a derivation that is exactly the same as those already considered for Heracles: he seems to have been one of the earliest gods to have been imported from Greece - in fact, he may even have been the first.


Hermes, the Roman Mercury, was the famed messenger of Zeus, the protector of travellers and bringer of luck. He was the son of Zeus and Atlas' daughter Maia, and he was the father of Pan. Maia was traditionally regarded as 'Mother of the Earth', so it is tempting to see Hermes' name as deriving from era, 'earth'.

The widely held origin of his name, however, is not this but herma, 'rock', 'stone'. Hermes was (as a protector of travellers and a messenger) the god of roads, and at certain points on roads a stone heap would be placed to mark a holy spot (something on the lines of a Christian shrine such as the French calvaire).

This stone heap conventionally became a pillar with the representation of a human bust (Hermes), and as well as being a religious or mystical symbol was also a phallic one. However, herma has the basic meaning 'prop', 'support', and the name can thus also be taken metaphorically. But, as so often, the name is very likely not of Greek origin at all.


Hermaphroditus has a name that perfectly reflects those of his parents, Hermes and Aphrodite. He was, furthermore, a hermaphrodite, that is, he combined the physical characteristics of both sexes.

He was not originally so - he was born as a conventional baby boy - but became thus as a result of a total physical union (against his will, in fact) with the Naiad Salmacis when they embraced in a pool and their bodies joined together to form a single person (who had female breasts and proportions but male genitalia).

Hermaphroditus had been a handsome young man, however, and his name can be interpreted less anatomically, to imply one who had inherited the best characteristics (and especially the beauty) of both his parents. Socio-historians like to see his name as symbolic of the transition in Greek society from matriarchy to patriarchy.