April Fool’s Day is this coming Monday. To celebrate, this blog discusses names inspired by the many tricksters of myth and folklore from around the world. Though the gods and goddesses, spirits, and other individuals on this list each fool others in unique ways and vary from fun-loving to straight-up evil, all of these tricksters have in common a desire to bring about chaos.
Like these fictional swindlers, I too have a trick up my sleeve this week! As you know, I only feature on this blog names that have never been in the U.S. Social Security’s top 1,000 list (from 1900 to the most recent data, currently 2017). However, I’ve purposely included in the list below one name that has been in the U.S. top 1,000 before. How dastardly of me—muhahaha!
But who will be the first to see through my deception? In the comments below, type in the name of the trickster whose name you believe has been in the U.S. top 1,000 before. (No checking ahead of time, and please only include a single name.) Whoever is the first to guess which of these names sneakily and erroneously made its way into this blog entry can choose the topic for next week’s blog—anything you want! 🙂
So, enjoy the names of these beguiling baddies, and be on the lookout for the imposter…
In West African lore, Anansi (pronounced Uh-non-say) is a spider trickster figure best known for fooling the sky god, Nyan-Konpon, into giving him all the stories of the world. This name would therefore be a good option for those who love myths, folklore, or books and reading in general. While the fictional figure Anansi is male, I think this name could work well for a boy or a girl. Ananse is an alternate spelling option, and Ana, Ani, Nansi, Nanse, or Nancy could be possible nicknames.
One of the nice things about the Native American trickster figure Azeban (pronounced Ah-zuh-bahn) is that this raccoon spirit is a benevolent, harmless entity (unlike some of the more malevolent entities on this blog’s list). From the lore of the Abenaki and Penobscot tribes, native to what is now New England and Canada, this funny and furry troublemaker is a central figure in tales for tots. Alternate spellings Azban, Asban, and Azaban. Possible nicknames: Ahz, Oz, Zeeb, or Ban, Bahn, or Ben. Based on these nickname options, I think Azeban would work best as a boys’ name.
A recurring trickster character within the oral stories of many different Native American tribes, Coyote is a particularly interesting figure because his deceptions are almost always unsuccessful, as he is repeatedly bested by other, more shrewd con artists (such as Rabbit). Coyote is a really cool, strong name that could work well for a boy or a girl, with possible nicknames Kai, Oyo, or Yote.
Those familiar with the Greek god Dionysus (pronounced Die-oh-nye-sis) know that he is the god of wine. But Dionysus is also the god of other things, among them “ritual madness.” That’s kind of a baller thing to be the god of. Because Dionysus was the son of a god (Zeus—who hasn’t that playboy knocked up?) and a mortal woman, he was considered somewhat of an outsider on Mount Olympus, and this fringe status is what caused Dionysus and his followers to subvert boundaries in various ways. And, like so many of the tricksters on this list, Dionysus can shape shift, a power which doesn’t hurt when you’re looking to stir up some trouble. I actually think Dionysus could be for boys or girls. Possible nicknames: Dio, Dion, Ion, Nye, or Nysus.
Eris (pronounced Eh-riss) is the Greek goddess of chaos whose trickery was the catalyst for the Trojan War—see The Golden Apple of Discord myth. Per this story, Eris’s trickery exposes the vanity of three other Greek goddesses (Hera, Athena, and Aphrodite), so Eris could be a great name if you especially want to foster in your child a love of what’s on the inside rather than the outside. I like Riss, Rissa, or Reese as nickname options for Eris, and I think this name could actually work for both girls and boys, similar to how Ellis has become a gender-neutral name.
Gwydion (pronounced Gwih-dee-uhn) is a Welsh trickster figure, possessed of great magic, who uses his sorcery and illusions to deceive others into doing his bidding. One of Gwydion’s funniest swindles was when he temporarily turned some mushrooms into horses and hunting dogs, traded those animals to some king in exchange for the king’s magical pigs, and then left town before the horses and dogs reverted to their original fungal form. Gwydion would work well as a boy’s name, since this fictional character is male and given that this name is a direct and fun alternative to the much more popular name Gideon. However, since this name has a start similar to the girls’ name Gwendolyn, I could also see Gwydion wearing well on a girl. And I like Gwyn or Dion as possible nicknames for Gwydion.
Kitsune (pronounced Key-tsu-nay) is the Japanese word for fox. In Japanese folklore, kitsune are a group of trickster spirits rather than a single mischievous figure. With actions ranging from whimsical and harmless trickery to scary, evil deeds, the common moral of kitsune tales is that you should not doubt the powers of nor mess with these deceptive creatures. Kitsune could be a great girls’ or boys’ name, with possible nicknames Key, Kit, Itsu, Tsu, or Une / Unay.
A character from a series of children’s “Trickster Tales from the Louisiana Bayou,” Lapin (pronounced Lah-pah) is a small rabbit with big wit who constantly outsmarts a big buffoon named Bouki. Since the word lapin actually means rabbit in French, this name would also be a great option for someone having a baby in the springtime or near Eastertime. While this name is already fairly short, I think Pan could be a good nickname (which, of course, is the name of another mythological trickster, discussed later in this blog post).
Thanks to Thor and many of the other Marvel movies in which Loki (pronounced Low-kee) appears, this guileful, shapeshifting Norse god is already somewhat familiar to most Americans. And it appears that the Marvel movies actually did a reasonably good job of capturing the nature of this god, a “scheming coward who cares only for shallow pleasures and self-preservation.” (See the story of The Kidnapping of Idun for a consummate example of Loki having zero loyalty to anyone and doing whatever it takes to save his own skin.) Possible nicknames for Loki are Lo, Low, Loak, Ki, Kee, or Key.
Just as Loki is now well-known thanks to the Marvel movies, almost everyone in the U.S. has heard of Maui (pronounced Mow-ee), the Polynesian demi-god hero and trickster, thanks to Disney’s Moana. One interesting tale about Maui is the story of how he (accidentally) created Polynesia. Maui was reputed to be a very poor fisherman; as a result, his two brothers refused to take him on fishing trips. When Maui used his magical fishing hook—a gift from his father—to trick his brothers into thinking he actually had great fishing prowess, Maui actually “caught” the ocean floor! After two days of tugging, part of the ocean floor that had risen above sea level is what we know today as Polynesia. Maui could be a boy’s or a girl’s name, though I’ve always preferred this name for girls, though I’m not sure why.
The Greek hero Odysseus (Oh-diss-ee-iss) is best known for two major acts of trickery. First, he defeated a cyclops by tricking the cyclops into getting drunk enough to be defeated. Second, during the Trojan War, Odysseus conceived the idea of the Trojan Horse, a huge and hollow horse in which the Greek army hid and thus was able to clandestinely gain entry to Troy by claiming the horse was a gift of surrender, thus taking their enemies by surprise and ultimately winning the war. Possible nicknames for Odysseus include Odie, Dys, Dice, Sea, and Sias.
One of the oldest of the Greek gods, Pan (pronounced as spelled, like a kitchen pan) is a nature god, heavily associated with forests. Most of Pan’s capers are whimsical quests for romance with the many nymphs who frequent his woodlands. And though Pan is considered a somewhat wily character, his trickery usually does not win him the day, which is a departure from most trickster paradigms. Given how short this name is, I can’t think of any good nicknames for the first name alone; however, if you were to choose a middle name that starts with J, then PJ would be a very cute nickname.
In traditional folklore in England and other parts of Europe, Puck (pronounced as it is spelled or sometimes Pook) was considered a demon or devil who tricked people in wicked ways. But Shakespeare’s version of Puck in A Midsummer Night’s Dream changed this character into a more whimsical and lighthearted mischievous sprite rather than an evil entity. (It is possible that Shakespeare took some traits of Pan, discussed just above, into account when developing his Puck character.) Like the name Pan, Puck is too short to lend itself easily to a nickname, but the middle and/or last name accompanying Puck as a first name could potentially lead to some nickname options.
Veles (pronounced Vay-lay-s)is a Slavic god who is the protector of many nature-related things—forests, animals, pastures, water, etc. Like many of the other tricksters discussed above, Veles is a shapeshifting god, and he typically transforms into animals to carry out his mischief. Veles is most well-known for his battle with Perun, another Slavic god. Veles is sometimes also known as Volos (pronounced Voh-low-s). Possible nicknames for Veles / Volos, include Vae, Vay, Ayla, Lace, Voa, Olo, Ohlo, Olli, Ollie, or Loce.