Obscene, but Obscure: Yea or Nay?

While working on the Phaedra post from earlier this week, I came across the fact that Greek playwright Euripides had two wives: Melite and Choerine.

The name Melite I recognized as coming from the Melissa/Melitta/Melita family. All these names can be traced back to the Greek word meli, meaning “honey.”

But the name Choerine didn’t ring a bell, so I went off in search of a definition.

Before tracking it down, I happened to find this enticing little snippet:

“Choerine” is an attested Athenian name, but it could easily be used for obscene puns.

Obscene puns?!

After more digging, I discovered that Choerine (and the male equivalent Choerus) were based on the Greek word choiros, meaning “pig.” And that the equivalent word in Latin, porcus, had given rise to the names Porcius and Porcia/Portia.

But “pig” isn’t he obscene part:

In classical Latin the word porcus was occasionally used as an informal term for the vulva (Greek choiros, ‘young pig,’ was employed similarly).

Here’s more:

Porcus (pig) was apparently a Roman nursery word for the external pudenda of girls […] Perhaps the allusion is to a perceived resemblance between the part in question and the end of a pig’s snout.

In fact, this obscene sense of porcus is precisely how porcelain came to be named. The word porcelain can be traced back to the Italian word for the cowrie shell, porcellana (“young sow”), which was named in reference to its vulva-like shape.

Now for the question of the day: Would information like this (i.e., obscene-but-obscure associations) ever dissuade you from choosing a particular baby name?

Sources:

  • Laqueur, Thomas Walter. Making Sex: Body and Gender from the Greeks to Freud, Harvard University Press, 1990, p. 270.
  • Porcelain – Online Etymology Dictionary
  • “Pork.” Merriam-Webster New Book of Word Histories, Merriam-Webster, 1991, p. 371.
  • Scodel, Ruth. “The Euripidean Biography.” A Companion to Euripides, ed. by Laura K. McClure, John Wiley & Sons, 2017, pp. 27-41.

6 thoughts on “Obscene, but Obscure: Yea or Nay?

  1. Just, wow.

    I was following along alright until pudenda, I was thinking along the lines of puddy then pussy. I had to Bing it just in case I was wrong (I could have just kept reading, but, eh, that’s me lol) but I was kind of right. And here I thought I knew every term after torturing myself in Urban Dictionary!
    I write steamy romance and anatomically correct words are a bit squicky; why I don’t really know, but there it is.
    I’m wondering if I put that in a story what would happen LOL
    But as to your question; I threw away so many names I considered perfect…until I looked up the meaning. I was scared the kid would be tormented.
    Bronwynn- is a name I had loved a long time. When I looked it up-GASP! Nope, not gonna strap that to a girl.
    Dierdra- way too sad for a girl.
    I am not really a superstitious person. But far far too many time has it happend that a name meaning is something a kid lives up to, even if it is sad, or means like thief.
    Although I may not have ended up a religious person and my name wouldn’t have fit . LOL I just ended up being a “Follower of Christ”

  2. I for suree struggle with name meanings ruining a name. And not only obscene, it’s the boring ones too that I have to say no thanks. Also omg leave it to dudes to see a vulva in anyything. Trace any word back or forward lol

  3. Well. That is certainly a bit of information I never knew, and now will likely not forget.

    I definitely think that an obscene and/or a somewhat negative obscure meaning would most likely dissuade me.

    I recently took Claudette/Claudine off the list of possible names for my puppy because it comes from Claudius which means lame or crippled. I love the name, but just couldn’t get past the origin.

    On the other hand ignorance can sometimes be bliss. Several years ago I had a dog come to me with the name of Bronwyn and I ended up changing it to Portia. I’m very glad I never bothered to look into the meaning of either.

  4. Om my gosh Claire, I’m laughing (and i snorted) at your last comment! It all boils down to that, right?! Even the guys who WANT one.

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