The name Marpessa was a mere one-hit wonder in the U.S. baby name data, back in 1960:
- 1962: unlisted
- 1961: unlisted
- 1960: 8 baby girls named Marpessa [debut]
- 1959: unlisted
- 1958: unlisted
Where did it come from?
The inspiration was a half-black, half-Filipino actress named Marpessa Dawn. She was American, but spent most of her adult life in Europe.
It was her starring role in the 1959 Portuguese-language film Orfeu Negro (Black Orpheus) that brought her to the attention of American audiences. The film was based on the ancient Greek legend of Orpheus and Eurydice, but set in Rio de Janeiro during Carnival. The film won the Palme d’Or at the Cannes Film Festival in mid-1959, the Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film in 1960, and the Golden Globe Award for Best Foreign-Language Foreign Film in 1960.
But Marpessa wasn’t able to capitalize on this brief period of fame, so she (and her name) soon fell out of the spotlight.
Marpessa’s name, like her most memorable film, has ancient Greek roots. The mythical Marpessa in Homer’s Iliad was an Aetolian princess who had been seized from her mortal lover Idas by the sun god Apollo. The name, accordingly, is based on an ancient Greek verb meaning “to seize.”
Do you like the name Marpessa? Would you use it?
- “America’s Dawn Comes Up in France.” Life 14 Mar. 1960: 57-59.
- Nelson, Eric. The Greek Tradition in Republican Thought. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2004.
Image: © 1959 Ebony