Friday, January 27, 2012


The name of this ancient mythical hero is enjoying increasing use.

Orion (pronounced "oh-RIY-ohn") is a figure from Ancient Greek mythology. No one is quite sure where the name comes from, but there is some speculation. It could be based off of the Akkadian term Ura-anna, meaning "the light of heaven."

There are several conflicting myths about Orion. Surprisingly, there isn't much official information about him. He was first referenced as a great hunter in Homer's The Odyssey, in which Odysseus sees Orion's spirit in the underworld. Ovid wrote a poem about Orion's birth, but that is really the only piece of ancient literature written about him. We know that he was particularly venerated in Boeotia, which is where Orion was supposedly born. In one version, he is the son of Poseidon (god of the seas) and Euryale. Because of his parentage, he could walk on water. He once got drunk and attacked Merope, which led to him being blinded by her father. Luckily, Helios (who is the sun) restored his sight. He was either slain by Artemis (because Orion threatened to kill every beast on earth) or by the scorpion that became the constellation Scorpio.

Aside from perhaps The Big Dipper, Orion is the most well recognized constellation in the the skies. The layman is especially adept at pointing out Orion's Belt, which is three bright stars in a row. It is believed that the constellation depicts him with a bow and arrow, although older depictions show him with a club. The star Sirius is believed to be his dog. Other cultures have different interpretations of the constellation. The Ancient Egyptians believed it was Osiris. The Babylonians called him "The Heavenly Shepard." In Old Hungarian tradition he is known as Nimrod, a giant hunter and father to Hun and Hungarian. The Chinese simply dubbed it Shen, literally meaning "three." The Ojibwa Native Americans called this constellation "The Winter Maker," because it's appearance in the night sky herald's the beginning of winter.

This name is often given to instruments used for astronomy and space exploration. Orion of Thebes was a scholar that lived in Ancient Egypt. Orion is the name of Sirius Black's father in the Harry Potter series, falling into the family's tradition of celestial names. There is a song that I enjoy listening to around Yuletide called "Bold Orion" by Susan Mckeown and Lindsey Horner.

It experienced modest use in the late 1800s, but it has come back with a vengeance. It now ranks at #466, and it's showing no signs of falling any time soon. Some attribute the growth to the fact that it's a sound-alike to the popular boy's name Ryan.

Orion is a great name. It's popularity would be a benefit for people who don't want to broadcast their Paganess to the world. At the same time, Orion's popularity (along with that of Athena and Isis) could help normalize other names that come from mythology.


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1 comment:

  1. This is a great name! I love that it's a Greek mythological name, but such a folksy, non-classical name.

    As Orion is a hero of the people, I wouldn't be surprised if his name means "big lump" in a long-forgotten country dialect or something. I somehow get the feeling it's not very high-faluting.


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