Echetus was a king of Epirus proverbial for his cruelty. His name does not reveal this, however, since it seems to mean 'possessor', from echo, 'to have', 'to know'. However, perhaps it implies 'possessing cruelty'. (Echo is a very versatile verb with several different meanings and shades of meanings.)


Echidna was a monster, the offspring of Chrysaor and Oceanus' daughter Callirrhoë. (Other accounts give her parents as Tartarus and Gaia, however, or Ceto and Phorcys.) She was part beautiful woman, part snake, and bore Chimaera, Hydra and Cerberus (a fearsome threesome!) to Typhon. She also bore the Sphinx by her brother Orthus. Her name simply means 'viper', 'adder' (echidna).

By something of a semantic twist, the modern English word 'echidna' is used for the creature known as the spiny ant-eater, otherwise, as Chambers Twentieth Century Dictionary describes it, 'a genus of Australian toothless, spiny, egg-laying, burrowing monotremes'. This sounds even more horrific than the original mythological monster.


Echion was the name of one of the Sown Men who married Agave and became the father of Pentheus. It was also the name of one of the Argonauts, a son of Hermes and Antianira. As with Echidna, the basic meaning is 'viper'.

The direct link with the Sown Man is not clear here, but for the Argonaut the name may refer to the heraldic white ribbons on Hermes' staff which were later mistaken for snakes as he was the herald to Hades. However, the first Echion mentioned here was, like all the Sown Men, planted in the ground (as a dragon's tooth) by Cadmus, and Cadmus was eventually turned into a snake by Ares, so perhaps there is after all a sinuous


Echo was the nymph on Mount Helicon sentenced (forgive the word-play) by Hera to speak only when she was spoken to, and even then merely to repeat the final syllables uttered by another. She loved Narcissus, who spurned her - or according to another story was loved in vain by Pan.

All in all, a frustrating life. Her name, of course, means what it says, although originally the Greek word (echo) meant 'sound', 'noise'. Let us perhaps compromise, and call her 'The Resounder'.


Eëtion was the father of Andromache. He and seven of his sons were killed by Achilles. His name seems to be based on êtes, 'kinsman'. This may perhaps refer either to his sons or to the citizens of Cilicium whose king he was.


Egeria was a rather obscure Roman water nymph who was the 'patroness' of Diana's grove at Aricia. Her name means 'black poplar' (aigeiros), and doubtless these were the predominant trees in the grove. Persephone also had a grove of black poplars, trees associated with death.

However, since she was a Roman goddess (or nymph) perhaps we should be looking for a Latin source for her name, and we could consider egero, 'to carry away' - perhaps as a kind of optimistic opposite of infero, 'to bring in' (suggesting something lower or inferior or even infernal).


Eidomene (or Idomene) was the wife of Amythaon and the mother of Bias and Melampus. Melampus was a famous seer, and thus Eidomene's name is appropriate for his mother, deriving from eido, 'to see', and menos, 'force', 'spirit', 'wish'.


Eidothea (or Idothea, or Ido) was the daughter of Proteus, the 'Old Man of the Sea'. Her name means 'divine form', from eidos, 'that which is seen', 'form' and thea, 'goddess'. This could mean either that she herself had a 'divine form', that is, a heavenly appearance, or that she saw things with the eyes of a goddess.


Eidyia (or Eidia, or Idyia) was an Oceanid, the wife of Aeëtes and the mother of Medea. Her name means 'the knowing one', from eido, 'to know', eidyia, 'knowing'. This is a very fitting name for the mother of cunning Medea.


Eileithyia (or Ilithyia) was the Greek goddess of childbirth whose Roman equivalent was Lucina (later Diana). As befits her speciality, her name means 'she who comes (to help)', from elelytha, 'she has come', since she came to the aid of women in labour.

However, the 'light' meanings of her Roman names also suggests a possible derivation from hele, 'sunlight' and thyo, 'to move rapidly'. In the Knossos Linear Β tablets her name appears as Eleuthia, which in turn suggests eleutheria, 'freedom', 'liberty'.


Eioneus was a king of Magnesia and the father of Dia who married Ixion. He may have been related to Ixion, and was indeed killed by him. His name seems to derive from eon, 'bank', with perhaps a reference to a river or its god - not that he was either.


Elaïs was one of the three daughters of Anius and Dorippe. Her name means Olive oil', from elaeon, thus according with the names of her two sisters, Oeno and Spermo, which together promote the growth of oil, wine and grain.


Elatus was the name of several persons, including the son of Aries who was a king of Arcadia and married Laodice, a Centaur killed by Heracles, the father of Caenis, Ischys and Polyphemus (the Argonaut), a Trojan ally killed by Agamemnon, and one of Penelope's suitors. For all five the name Elatus seems to derive from elater, 'driver', that is, 'charioteer'. This could be suitable for almost all of them, although there is no record of a Centaur turning charioteer.


Electra was the name of three women: the daughter of Atlas and Plei'one, the daughter of Oceanus and Tethys, and (probably the best known) the daughter of Agamemnon and Clytemnestra who is the heroine of two well-known tragedies, respectively by Sophocles and Euripides.

Her name conjures up 'electric', of course, but this is merely coincidental (although etymologically justified), since it really means 'amber' (electron) or, possibly, the word of which this is a derivative, 'the beaming sun' (elector). Exactly why this famous name should have the meaning it does is something of a mystery. We know that the Greeks valued amber highly, but the precise link with any of the Electras mentioned here is not clear.

Perhaps the name is purely a 'bright and shining' propitious one. Stesichorus, a lyric poet of the fifth century BC, suggests - perhaps not all that seriously - another derivation. He takes the Doric form of Electra's name, Alectra, and makes it mean 'unmarried', from a-, 'not' and lectra, 'bed', that is, someone who is 'unbedded'.

But he may have been echoing what another poet, Xanthus, had said two centuries earlier, when he pointed out that Agamemnon's daughter was originally called Laodice but had her name changed by the Argives as for a long time she was not married.


Electryon was a son of Perseus, whom he succeeded as king of Mycenae. His mother was Andromeda. Electryon married Anaxo, who bore him Alcmene (who became the mother of Heracles). Let us here stick simply to the 'beaming sun' that we proposed for Electra, and regard the name as just one of fair omen.


Elpenor was the youngest member of Odysseus' crew. He under went a number of adventures (including falling from the roof of a house where he was sleeping off a hangover), but his name means simply, and rather charmingly, 'man's hope', from elpis, 'hope' and aner, 'man'.


Elymus was a friend of Acestes (otherwise Aegestes) who returned to Sicily with him after the Trojan War. His name seems to mean 'quiver' (elymos) which presumably is a propitious name for a warrior.


Empusa was a female monster, an 'amorous fiend' who assumed various shapes and like Lamia devoured her human lovers. Her name looks Greek enough, but is not so easy to explain. Perhaps it derives from empoieo, 'to put in', 'insert', with some sort of reference to her seductiveness or actual seduction.


Enalus was a young man who was rescued by a dolphin (like Arion) when he leaped overboard from a ship to join his love Phineïs. (She had been thrown into the sea to appease Amphitrite, and was herself also rescued by a dolphin - the mate of the one that rescued Enalus.)

His name means 'one of the sea' - perhaps we should call him 'Young Man of the Sea' to counterbalance all those Old Men of the Sea - from enalion, 'of the sea' (en, 'in' and hals, 'sea').


Enarephorus was the son of Hippocoön and the nephew of Tyndareüs. He planned to abduct Helen when she was still a child, so the wary Tyndareüs entrusted her to Theseus to look after. In view of his failure as a cradle-snatcher, Enarephorus has a highly inappropriate name, since it means 'spoil winner', from enara, 'booty', 'spoil' and phero, 'to win'.


Enarete was the wife of Aeolus, to whom she bore six sons and six daughters (who to their parents' horror committed incest with one another). Perhaps Enarete's name is intended to offset all this wantonness, for it means 'virtuous' - literally 'in virtue', from en, 'in' and arete, 'virtue' (compare Arete).


Enceladus was " a giant who fought against Athena (and lost when she flung the island of Sicily after him and crushed him as he fled). His name seems to suggest more noise than nous, for it basically means 'cheerer', 'urger on', from enceleuo, 'to cheer', 'urge on', 'shout huzzah'.


Endeïs was the wife of Aeacus and the mother of Peleus and Telamon. Her name would appear to derive from endo, 'to entangle', presumably meaning 'one who lives at cross purposes', or even 'enemy'. We do know that she hated her step son Phocus (Aeacus' son by Psamathe) and that she and one of her sons killed him and hid the body.


Endymion was the son of Aëthlius, son of Zeus, and Calyce. He is usually described as a king of Elis. He was loved by the moon, Selene, and this is usually explained as the fact to which his name alludes, since it derives from endyo, 'to go in', 'enter' (the same verb as Latin induco), this referring to the moon's seduction of the king.

It could also refer, of course, not to the moon but to the setting sun which 'enters' the sea, or else allude to the cave where Endymion met the moon. (In Hesiod's Theogony Night and Day live alternately in the same building, and some accounts tell of Endymion being a hunter who hunted at night and slept in a cave by day, so was thus always thought to be asleep.) So maybe it is the moon that 'enters' Endymion, or perhaps it is Endymion who finds himself 'entered', that is, encompassed or 'bathed' by his love the moon.

The reference to sleep could be significant, too, since Selene put Endymion to sleep for ever so that he should not die (or according to another tale, Zeus gave him a wish and he chose to sleep forever in a cave). It was this that some classical name explainers had in mind when they derived his name from the Latin somnum ei inductum, 'the sleep put upon him'.


Enyo was the goddess of battle and the personification of war. She was also one of the Graiae. Her name seems to be a belligerent one meaning something like 'goader', 'inciter', from nysso, 'to prick', 'goad'. Enyo's Roman equivalent was Bellona (which name see).


Eos was the goddess of the dawn, and the daughter of Hyperion and Theia. She was the sister of Helios (the sun) and Selene (the moon). Her name is the Greek word (eos) which means either 'dawn' or 'east', although one theory suggests that her name could derive from ao, 'to blow', with reference to the cool morning breeze before sunrise.

This is attractively poetic, but possibly smacks more of poetic licence than reality. In some stories Eos is also the name of one of the four horses that drew Helios in his chariot. Eos' Roman equivalent was Aurora.


Eosphorus was the god of the morning star and the star itself. He (or it) was the child of Eos by Astraeüs, the father of Ceyx. The name is readily translatable as 'dawn bringer', from eos and phero, 'to bring'. His Roman opposite number is Lucifer.


Epaphus was the son of Zeus and Io, and his name means 'touching', from epaphao, 'to touch', 'stroke', since Io became pregnant simply by a touch of the hand of Zeus. His name is actually a good example of 'wilful translation', since really he began life as the Egyptian bull-god Apis (with whom Herodotus equates him). To the name of Apis was added the prefix pe-, and this produced the 'Greek' word that translates as 'touches'.


Epeius was the son of Endymion who married Anaxirrhoë. There was also an Epeius who was the son of Panopeus and built the Trojan horse (with, of course, the help of Athena). The name means 'successor' (epion), and certainly Endymion's son won the race for the succession to the throne. The same word can also mean 'attacker', and this will do very well for the other Epeius.


Ephialtes was a giant who in the 'Gigantomachia' or battle between the giants and the gods was hit by arrows in each eye, from the bows of Apollo and Heracles. Most of the giants have sinister names, and this is no exception, since it means 'he who leaps on', from epi, 'on' and iallo, 'to put'.

This seems to indicate a personified nightmare. There is, however, a later story that tells how he and his brother Otus ('pusher') piled up mountains, this being the 'putting on'. Of course, one who leaps on someone could perhaps be nothing more than some kind of personification of the wind.


Epicaste was the name Homer used for Jocasta. It is not clear what it means: perhaps it comes from a word formed from epi, 'before' and cazo (in the form cosmeo), 'to adorn' (compare Castor). This could mean 'fore-adorned', with reference to her name being changed to Jocasta (the Greek form is locaste) when her fate changed. Robert Graves impressively suggests that the meaning could be 'upsetting over', with the name being a worn-down form of epicatastrephomene.


Epidaurus was the man who gave his name to the city so called on the east coast of Argolis. He was the son of Argus and Evadne (or else the son of Pelops or Apollo), and his name rather strangely seems to mean 'with shaggy hair', from apt, 'over', 'with' and daulos, 'shaggy'. There is nothing in any story about him to justify this. Perhaps being hirsute (like Samson) could signify strength.


Epigoni was the title, rather than name, given to the sons of the Seven Against Thebes. Ten years after the original attack on Thebes by the Seven, their sons renewed the attack on the advice of the Delphic Oracle, mainly to avenge their fathers who had all been killed, except Adrastus.

The names of the Epigoni were: Alcmaeon (their leader), Diomedes, Sthenelus, Euryalus, Promachus, Amphilocus and Aegialeus (son of Adrastus, who was the only one to perish as his father had been the only one to survive). The name means simply 'successors', more precisely 'those born after', from epi, 'after' and gonos, 'child', 'offspring'.


Epimedes was one of the Dactyls. His name boils down to meaning 'fool', from epi, 'after' and medea, 'plans', 'counsels', that is, one who makes plans too late. (Compare Epimetheus.) The Dactyls were a form of fingers, and in some western countries a nickname for the middle finger is the 'fool's finger'.


Epimetheus was the son of the Titan Iapetus who married Pandora. More relevantly as far as his name is concerned, he was the brother of Prometheus. His name thus means 'afterthought', from epi, 'after' and medos, 'plans', 'schemes', in other words he thought when it was too late, instead of planning in advance, as did his brother Prometheus (whom see). Epimetheus' big mistake was to marry Pandora; he did so in spite of the warning of his brother who saw the danger of accepting gifts from the gods.


Epistrophus, with Mynes, was the son of king Evenus. He was killed in a battle against Achilles (who was fighting the Trojans). Epistrophe means 'wheeling round', 'returning to the charge': no doubt this was Epistrophus' tactical error.


Epopeus was a king of Sicyon, of uncertain or disputed parentage. His wife was Antiope. His name means 'all-seer', from epopao, 'to look out', 'observe' (in turn from epi, 'over' and ops, 'eye'). This would seem to be a propitious name, suitable for one who is to be a king and oversee his people.


Erato was the Muse of lyric poetry or songs. Her name simply means 'lovely', 'passionate' (eratos).


Erebus was the son of Chaos and Nyx, and the father of Aether (the air), Hemera (the day) and Charon. He is almost more a place than a person, since his name means 'darkness', this being the region that was located above the even deeper Hades. The name is apparently related to the Gothic word riqis, 'darkness'.


Erechtheus was a king of Athens married to Praxithea. He is often confused with his grandfather Erichthonius, indeed, they may have been one and the same person. His parents were Pandion and Zeuxippe - or (according to Homer) he sprang straight from the soil without any human parents.

He fought a war against the neighbouring people of Eleusis and was involved in a number of violent episodes, including the sacrifice of one of his daughters (Chthonia). His name may, of course, mean much the same as that of Erichthonius (which see), otherwise it could be a shortened form of Erechthochthonios, from erechtho, 'to shake' and chthon, 'earth', thus 'earth-shaker'.


Erginus was the son of Clymenus, king of the Minyans of Orchomenus in Boeotia. Another Erginus was one of the Argonauts, usually regarded as the son of Poseidon. The name may derive from eirgo, 'to confine', although in what sense is not clear. Perhaps it is a militant name for one who will capture prisoners.


Eriboea was the second wife of Alöeus. It was also another name for Periboea, the daughter of Alcathoüs. It seems to be a propitious name, meaning 'one who has much cattle', from eri, 'much' and bous, 'ox'. It could also derive from eri, 'much' and bosco, 'to feed', 'pasture', which is almost the same thing.


Erichthonius was both the name of an early king of Athens described as the son of Hephaestus and that of the son of Dardanus and Batia who married Astyoche and was the father of Tros. For the first Erichthonius there are several popular origins.

One is to derive his name from eris, 'strife' and chthon, 'earth' with reference to the strife between his father Hephaestus and Athena: the story went that Hephaestus embraced Athena and made to possess her but she pushed him away and his semen fell on the earth.

According to another version of this incident Hephaestus ejaculated against Athena's thigh when she pushed him away and in disgust she wiped off the semen with a piece of wool (erion), which she then threw to the ground (chthon).

Another explanation of his name derives it from eri, 'very', 'much' and chthon 'earth' in the sense 'plentiful land', a suitable name for a king. But perhaps his name is really just an expanded form of Erechtheus. The two are sometimes confused. The second Erichthonius above was reputed to be very wealthy and to own three thousand mares: for him the 'plentiful land' definition seems best.


Erigone was the name of the daughter of Icarius and also the daughter of Aegisthus and Clytemnestra. The name could mean 'child of strife', from eris, 'strife' and gonos, 'child', 'offspring', or 'much offspring', from eri-, 'very', 'much' and the same gonos.

For Icarius' daughter, at least, the first interpretation would be fitting since she hanged herself and prayed that all the daughter of Athens should do likewise. The second Erigone does not seem to merit either version, so we must perhaps settle for the propitious 'plentiful offspring' meaning for her.

There is no record of this being fulfilled. But possibly another meaning altogether could be appropriate. One alternative is 'born in spring', from ear, 'spring' and gonos, 'child'. A spring child is clearly one born at a propitious and fruitful time.


Erinyes was the Greek name for the Furies, the female spirits of justice and vengeance. The derivation of the word is uncertain, although Hesiod claimed it meant 'the strong ones', presumably from the root eri, 'very', 'much'.

Other conjectures have been elinuo, 'to rest', 'sleep' - hardly appropriate for angry beings seeking vengeance - and even the ingenious en era naiein, 'dwelling in the earth'. The Erinyes were said to have been born when the blood of the castrated Uranus fell on to Gaia, the earth.


Eriopis was probably the name of the daughter of Arsinoë or, according to some writers, of the daughter of Jason and Medea. If we take the eri- again as 'very', 'much', then we can try a meaning of either 'large-eyed' (from ops, 'eye') or 'very rich' (from pion, 'rich'). The former could suggest a gentle attractiveness, the latter be highly propitious.


Eripha was the name of a mare that belonged to Marmax, the first of the many suitors of Hippodamia (notice her 'mare' name, incidentally). Another mare who belonged to Marmax was Parthenia, and both poor horses were killed, together with their master, by Oenomaüs, who was systematically disposing of Hippodamia's suitors as he wanted her for himself. (Strangely, Oenomaüs was said to be fond of horses . . . ) Eripha's name means 'kid', 'young goat' (eriphos), which seems somewhat out of place.


Eriphyle was the daughter of Talaüs and Lysimache. She was killed by her son, Alcmaeon, after she had been bribed by Polynices to send her husband Amphiaraüs to his death with the Seven Against Thebes. This was as a result of Eriphyle having become the arbiter between Amphiaraüs and her brother Adrastus.

From this family dissension springs her name, meaning 'strife producer', from eris, 'strife' and phyo, 'to produce'. True, we could make her name mean 'many leaves' (eri-, 'many' and phyllon, 'leaf), referring to some ritual or fertility rite, but this would be more speculative than suitable.


Eris was, as her name clearly indicates, the goddess of discord (eris). According to Hesiod she was the daughter of Nyx. She is famous for her part in the marriage of Peleus and Thetis: at the gathering she threw a golden apple inscribed 'for the fairest' among those present.

Zeus suggested that the three goddesses who claimed the title, Hera, Athena and Aphrodite, should ask Paris to decide who was the rightful winner. Aphrodite was selected, and this was one of the main causes of the Trojan War. The apple was the proverbial 'apple of discord'. The Roman equivalent goddess was named, predictably, Discordia.


Eros was, of course, the god of love, corresponding to the Roman Amor or Cupid. Hesiod said he was born out of Chaos, together with Tartarus and Gaia. The Greek word eros specifies erotic (i.e. sexual) love.