Naming Ethics: A Boy Named Hades

A couple in France really, really wants to name their baby “Hades” because they think the name sounds good. France, however, can legally prohibit a child’s name if bureaucrats determine that the name is not in the child’s best interest, and “Hades” has been dinged. The future Hades’s folks have hired lawyers to challenge the ruling.

That’s Hades above in the Disney animated film “Hercules.” The character was voiced by James Woods, so you know he was a bad guy. The film was a bit unfair: in the Greek myth universe, Hades just ruled over the Underworld, and was no worse (or better) than his brothers Zeus and Poseidon; he wasn’t like the devil. When you died, you went to Hades whether you were good, bad, or average. Nevertheless, it’s a strange name to use in 2023, and one with inevitable negative connotations (the name “James Woods” wouldn’t be great either).

That doesn’t mean France presuming to tell parents what they can name their kid isn’t an abuse of power, a slippery slope, and an incursion on personal liberty. It is all of those, and the parents of little Hades are properly standing up for a principle that is worth fighting for.

If only they weren’t using their innocent child as a prop for their ideals. This is a bright-line violation of Kant’s Categorical Imperative, which directs us never to use a human being to achieve our ends, however worthy they might be.  Using a child is particularly unethical…but so is giving your kid a bizarre name.In 2019, I wrote about a girl named Marijuana Pepsi Vandyck. She kept her birth name of Marijuana Pepsi, she said,  to prove to herself and others that one can overcome any obstacles in life and achieve success. This is obviously the “A Boy Named Sue” theory. I wrote in part,

It’s nice that she has done well despite the burden of a ridiculous name, but the fact that she has is just moral luck. Her parents didn’t know how much ability she would have or in what ways her name would handicap her and interfere with her goals. Marijuana likes to credit her mother for making her the strong, balanced, entrepreneurial woman she is today by making her a perpetual target for mockery and abuse while growing up. It’s a good story for getting Marijuana Pepsi publicity, but spreading it is irresponsible. Research shows that bizarre and gag names are far more likely to harm children than help them, and Pepsi is just increasing the number of victims who will be stuck with silly names for life.

That applies to naming one’s child Hades as well.

13 thoughts on “Naming Ethics: A Boy Named Hades

  1. How does one pronounce Hades in French?

    Aren’t the H and S silent?
    Resulting in a sound more like ‘ahdae’?

  2. That’s a new one. I’m trying to think of major classical deities’ names used for mere mortals. I’ve heard of women named Venus, Athena, and one named Artemis, but that’s about it. Lesser goddess names like Maia, Thalia, Clio, and so on are more common. The only common male major name is Dionysius, later shortened to Denis, and popularized because St. Denis (a bishop of Paris who was martyred by beheading) was big in France. Most of us nowadays mortals use the names of Christian saints or Biblical figures. My father was James Samuel, and I’m Steven Francis, both of us with middle names that honor our respective grandfathers. Named after a pagan deity, though? Forget it, not in this Catholic family.

    • Don’t forget Apollo Creed! And Fred Astaire’s choreographer Hermes Pan….The name Ares is rising in popularity in the US, and is now the 382nd most popular boys name, with about 440 per i million kids.

    • You forgot two major names, Catholic Saints even, that come from Greek/Roman mythology.

      Helen and Victoria

      That being said, there are many Catholic saints named after the Greek and Roman mythology.

      Diogenes (born of Zeus)
      Diomedes (plan/cunning of Zeus)
      Hermagoras (Hermes)
      Hermogenes (Hermes)
      Hermolaus (Hermes)
      Zeno (Zeus)

      Also on the Saint list:
      Onuphirius (Osiris)

      Judas and Lucifer are names of Saints too.

      I swore there was one based on Pluto, but I got rid of my Catholic baby name book and had to go for a much shorter list, so couldn’t find it.

      Then you have names like Sarah and Todd, names that are common among Catholics but are not names of recognized saints. Catholics have plenty of reasons to name their kids all kinds of crazy things.

      • At one time, I think Catholic kids were to be named after the saint whose saint’s day they were born on. For a while I thought that St. William (of whom I know nothing) had his feast day on my birthday, but it’s about half a year away. My mother later admitted I was named William because my dad (Bob) like the name “Bill.” My brother was John. Whatever happened to plain old first names? There are so few Toms, Dicks and Harrys.

  3. A propos of next to nothing, I work with a lot of native Spanish speakers.

    When it comes up, I explain that my favorite Spanish words are Miércoles (Wednesday) and Lechuga (Lettuce). I suppose Wednesday, Miércoles, could be a legitimate name. At the same time, you would have to presume that anyone wanting to name a child, “Lechuga,” has no ulterior motive; Hades, on the other hand, must raise some eyebrows.


  4. Decades ago when my husband and I went through foster parent training, one of the red flags mentioned when CPS was investigating a case was naming children unusual or derogatory names. I don’t know if that is still one of the clues that something might be wrong in that family since it has been a long time and there have been a lot of celebrities naming their offspring in strange ways.

    • Remind me to relate the tales of the grief I went through being named “Jack” in a mostly Catholic community where the name was not recognized as a “real” name but as a nickname only. And if you read this blog, you probably can guess that even as a child I was not accommodating to people who insisted on calling me “John.”

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