Famed for their beauty, passion, and power, the goddesses of ancient Rome have always provided inspiration for the names of people, places, and characters. Read on to discover ten goddess names that originated in the Roman pantheon, the story behind the goddess, and the legacy of her name.
Goddess Names Denoting the Natural World And The Cosmos
In ancient Roman mythology, some goddesses presided over certain environmental or cosmological allocations, such as land, sea, and the sky. Below are some modern versions of these ancient goddess names.
Like many ancient civilizations, the Romans worshipped a dawn goddess who flies across the sky each morning to herald the arrival of the Sun. While in Greek this deity was known as Eos, she was called Aurora by the Romans. Brother to the Sun, Sol, and sister to the Moon, Luna, Aurora fell in love with a mortal, named Tithonus. She asked the king of the gods, Jupiter, to grant her human lover immortality, but forgot to specify eternal youth. According to the myth, Tithonus grew ever more decrepit besides his perennially young and beautiful lover. Eventually, overcome with pity for him, Aurora transformed him into a cicada.
Associated with light, radiance, and youth, it is no surprise that the name Aurora has been popular throughout history. Most famously, Disney’s Sleeping Beauty was named in honor of the goddess of dawn, but it is certainly not confined to fiction. After becoming popular in the nineteenth century (perhaps due to the prominence of Neoclassicism) the name has continued to climb the ranks, and in 2018, it was the 44th most used girl’s name in America. Interestingly, there was a surge in the use of the Russian version after the Revolution, due to the importance of the cruiser Aurora in the action: it was a shot from the deck of the ship that signaled the storming of the Winter Palace.
While her mythological background is not as rich as the other deities, Flora, the goddess of flowers, nature, and springtime, occupied an important position in Roman religion. She was one of the numerous goddesses that Roman women looked to in matters of fertility. There was a priest dedicated entirely to the worship of Flora and the annual Floralia festival, which was held in early May, represented renewal, fecundity, and abundance.
Like Aurora, the name Flora suggests natural beauty, delicacy, and youth. It has always been popular to name girls after flowers, like Rose, Daisy, Lily, and Violet, and the name Florence, which comes from the same root, can be found throughout history. Flora itself was particularly popular in the early 20th century, peaking in 1920, and while it has undergone a slow decline since then, it nonetheless remains an attractive and beloved name.
In a world in which agriculture played a central role in everyday life for the majority of people, the goddess of the harvest, fertility, and farming was a very important deity. Ceres, the Roman counterpart to Demeter, joined her daughter Proserpina and the god of wine, Bacchus, to form the Aventine Triad, a group of three divine figures worshipped by the masses on the Aventine hill. Like Flora, Ceres had her own festival, the Cerealia, held in early spring to herald the coming of a (hopefully) bountiful harvest. As a maternal figure, she also played a role in key rites of passage throughout life, including birth, marriage, and death.
The name Ceres comes down to us most plainly in the word ‘cereal’, which reflects the goddess’ association with crops and natural produce. In 1801, when Italian astronomer Giuseppe Piazzi discovered a new dwarf planet, he immediately gave it a goddess name; only two years later, a newly-discovered chemical element, cerium, also took on the ancient name. The name has never reached the popularity lists, but several girls are called Ceres each year, with small peaks roughly every ten years.
From the Latin adjective maior (‘greater’) comes the name of the minor Roman deity Maia (Maya), who was associated with the earth, natural power, and growth. Part goddess, part metaphorical personification, she was often paired with the fire god Vulcan, and each year the priest of Vulcan at Rome would sacrifice a pregnant pig to her in order to protect the city and help it to prosper. Maia was also the mother of Mercury, and just as her son was worshipped by merchants hoping that he might increase their profits, so Maia was believed to promote growth and prosperity.
As well as lending her name to the month of May, the goddess Maia has inspired hundreds of new parents each year. Over the last two decades, Maia has held its place in the charts of popular names, with around 400 girls receiving the name each year. Of course, these are not all tributes to the Roman deity; in fact, the goddess name Maia has origins in Hebrew and Maori, as well as Latin and Greek.
According to Roman mythology, the sister of the dawn goddess, Aurora, and the sun god, Sol, was the moon goddess, Luna. Sometimes an independent deity, and sometimes combined with Diana or Juno, Luna is depicted wearing a diadem with two points, representing the horns of a crescent moon. Both Sol and Luna were of particular importance to the imperial cult, as the ubiquity and omnipresence of the sun and moon were made to symbolize the limitless power of the Roman Empire.
Her equivalent in Greek mythology is known as the goddess Selene (Selena), daughter of the Greek Titans Hyperion and Theia.
Once again, this ancient Roman goddess name has JK Rowling to thank for its resurgence in popularity over the recent years. Luna Lovegood is one of the most loveable and recognizable characters from Harry Potter, her whimsical attitude and ethereal appearance making the name a great fit. Since her first appearance on paper, thousands of girls have been called Luna: in 2018, it was the 23rd most popular girl’s name in the USA, while in the UK, it was one of the fastest-growing names of 2019. Celebrities such as Chrissy Teigan and Penelope Cruz have contributed to the trend by giving their own children classical goddess names such as this one.
Goddess Names Denoting Love, Wisdom and War
Like their cosmological and biological counterparts, many ancient Roman goddesses were embodiments of ideological or conceptual allocations, such as desire, warfare, and intelligence. Below are the modern adaptations of these goddess names.
The goddess of love, Venus, was worshipped by the Romans as the deity of sex, fertility, triumph, and prosperity, as well as the special patron of Rome, since the mythical founder of the city, Aeneas, was supposed to be her own son. Later leaders such as Julius Caesar also legitimized their power by claiming Venus as their ancestor. The stories associated with her Greek equivalent, Aphrodite, were appropriated for this Roman goddess. Aphrodite’s love affair with the god Ares, for example, became the passion of Venus and Mars, which has since become an artistic trope.
Tennis legends the Williamses are no strangers to classical goddess names. While Serena takes her name from the Latin word meaning ‘bright’ or ‘heavenly’, and gave her daughter the even more ancient middle-name of Olympia, Venus is named for the goddess of love. The use of the goddess name Venus peaked in the 1970s, just before the tennis player was born, but has not dropped off the radar since then.
Queen of the heavens, wife, and sister to Jupiter, Juno joined her husband and Minerva in the Capitoline Triad. Her mythology is filled with stories of anger and punishment, as she sought out Jupiter’s many mistresses and took her revenge. Juno is often depicted wearing a crown, accompanied by her sacred animal the peacock, or sometimes in armor as part of her role as protector of the Roman Empire.
Probably due to the vengeful presentation of Juno in Roman mythology, the name Juno has been little used and relatively obscure throughout history. In 2007, however, it appeared as the name and protagonist of an Oscar Award-winning film, which brought it back to prominence. Actress Ellen Page portrays a pregnant teenager named Juno, who explains that “My dad went through this phase where he was obsessed with Greek and Roman mythology. He named me after Zeus’s wife. I mean, Zeus had other lays, but I’m pretty sure Juno was his only wife. She was supposed to be really beautiful but really mean. Like Diana Ross.” The year after the film was released, the number of girls named Juno doubled and continued to increase slowly in popularity, peaking in 2011. Surprisingly, the name Juno was given to more boys than girls in 2007.
In ancient Rome, Victoria was the divine personification of victory and triumph. The Roman equivalent of the Greek goddess Nike, she was of special importance to the state as a representative of Rome’s glory and conquest across the Mediterranean. Statues of the goddess were erected in the city after a victory, and temples were built to celebrate her patronage. Victoria was even featured on Roman coins, a sure way of ensuring that the image would be widely seen and admired.
The name Victoria has never gone out of fashion. Representing triumph, skill, and supremacy, it is easy to see why it has so often been given to girls in royal families across Europe, who would one day be entrusted with great power. One such girl was born Princess Alexandrina Victoria of Kent; it is something of a royal tradition to be known by one’s second name. Before Elizabeth II, Queen Victoria was the United Kingdom’s longest-serving monarch, and under her the British Empire expanded to an incredible size, proving that her name was entirely appropriate. Victoria is still a hugely popular name, currently ranking at number 21 in the charts of America’s most popular girls’ names.
Like Minerva, Diana was a virgin goddess whose skills extended across multiple domains. As well as being a formidable huntress, she was the goddess of childbirth, protecting women as they brought new life into the world. Like her Greek counterpart, Artemis, Diana’s mythology is rich with stories of contests and hunts; in her most famous story, the hunter becomes the hunted, as the young Actaeon is turned into a deer and torn apart by his own dogs after he stumbled across the chaste goddess bathing.
With associations of pride, power, and independence, the name Diana has been popular throughout history, ranking within the 200 most common names in the USA ever since the 1930s. The emergence of Lady Diana Spencer only boosted its prominence, with the name jumping up the charts following her tragic death in 1997. In fact, that same year 11 boys were given the name Diana in the United States… Today, it maintains a strong prominence in popular culture, historical awareness, and contemporary trends, with 1605 girls named Diana in 2018.
A symbol of strength, wisdom, and art, Minerva is equivalent to the Greek goddess Athena. The multifaceted virgin goddess predominated over music, learning, poetry, medicine, defensive warfare, weaving, and crafts. In ancient art and statues, Minerva is typically shown standing erect, wearing ornate armor, and carrying a spear; sometimes she is accompanied by an owl, which represents her knowledge and wisdom. She joined her father, Jupiter, and her step-mother, Juno, as a member of the Capitoline Triad, the three deities associated with the elite and worshipped most elaborately atop Rome’s Capitoline hill.
No doubt the best known Minerva of the modern-day is Harry Potter’s Professor McGonagall, the head of Gryffindor House and teacher of transfiguration at Hogwarts. Like the eponymous Roman goddess, Minerva McGonagall is a symbol of wisdom, strength, and power. Thanks to JK Rowling, the name Minerva has been steadily increasing in popularity in recent decades, with over 20,000 people in the USA now sharing the name.
All statistics have been sourced from the official government information available to the public: