Spotlight on: Rhea

A baby named Rhea in 1978

One fun discovery from Baby Names for the Nesting Mother was Rhea from the Greater Rhea Ostrich. The historical usage of Rhea makes it a prime spotlight name candidate, ready for début.

Peaking at 360 in 1893, Rhea was more popular in the late 19th/ early 20th century than today and has never been really popular, spending most of the past 50 years outside the top 1000. What’s remarkable is that Rhea sounds so current, pronounced like Mia with an R. In fact, Ria is an alternative spelling. This type of name is especially compelling, an old name that sounds new.

Rhea is not just a bird. This name, used in English, Greek and Spanish, has Greek and Roman mythological roots, is one of Saturn’s moons, and is a surname.

In Greek mythology, Rhea was a Titan, the sister and wife of Saturn, and mother to Zeus, Hera, Poseidon, Demeter and Hestia. In Roman mythology, Rhea Silva was the mother of Romulus and Remus, the founders of Rome. The meaning is possibly “Flowing” in Greek.

Rhea Perlman, an actress best known for her role on Cheers, and wife of Danny DeVito bears the name, as well as Rhea Bailey, the younger sister of singer Corinne Bailey Rae, and an English actress. A notable person with the surname is comedian Caroline Rhea.

Children named Ash & Rhea in 2011

Rhea declined through the first half of the 20th century, leaving the top 1000 in 1959. The name briefly revisited the top 1000 three times, in 1963, 1968, and 2004. Surprisingly the phonetically spelled Ria has never been in the top 1000 (1880 is the earliest year data is available). Ria may be more commonly used as a short form for Maria.

In 2010, there were 210 girls named Rhea, and 111 girls named Ria. Considering the following, Rhea seems like it should be more popular:

  • Similar Mia was the 10th most popular girl name in 2010, given to 10,541 girls.
  • Similar Leah was the 24th most popular girl name the same year, given to 6,474 girls and has been in or near the top 100 for about 30 years.

Rhea has a popular sound, yet remains somewhat obscure. Why is this?

One possibility is that “rrhea” is a suffix for two notably awkward diseases. In fact the origin of the word diarrhea is coined by Hippocrates and means “a flowing through.” In this case, the possible meaning of Rhea, “flowing” could be a drawback among those concerned with meaning.

However, Addison being a disease hasn’t prevented that name from almost reaching the top 10, given to 10,253 girls in 2010, ranking just below Mia. There could be a more subtle reason Rhea has yet to catch on.

Let’s take this opportunity to acknowledge that changing a letter can make a big difference. The M in Mia seems softer than the R in Rhea, and R is not a fashionable initial like A.

Bride-to-be Rhea in 2011

A quick skim of the top 100 for 2010 shows only two names begin with R, Riley, and Rachel, which ranked at 100 and is trending down. Yet there are 20 names in the top 100 beginning with A.

Disease association aside, Rhea has much going for it. Names with mythological roots were hot commodities at one time, inspiring Cynthia, Diana, and Helene, among others. Like Biblical names, mythical names will always have a history behind them, making them susceptible to rediscovery eventually. And surname-names don’t seem to be going away anytime soon.

I would classify Rhea as a name I wouldn’t use for my baby, but wouldn’t mind seeing on a few babies. Seeing the young people named Rhea in these photos makes the name seem plausible on a cute baby in my mind.

Readers: What do you think of Rhea?

Photo credits: 1978 baby Rhea / Ash & Rhea / Bride-t0-be Rhea


  1. Weird! I just mentioned Rhea Silvia as well, but I did her back half. 🙂

    Rhea is quite regal, but Rhea Silvia makes her seem woodsy, and (to me anyway) sound slightly hippyish. Can definitely see Rhea in a sibset with a nature name sibling.

    (Oh … I just bothered to read the photo captions, and there IS a Rhea with a nature name sibling!!!!)

    Gosh what a great idea, showing real people with the name.

  2. My daughter is half Japanese half Caucasian and her name is Ria. In Japanese characters it reads ” reason” and “love”

    I think it suits her well!

  3. Rhea watkins says:

    Mmmmm lol my name is rhea. So I like it. Named after my great grandmother. Rhea Elizabeth. All my life people tell me how cool my name is. Cheers


  1. […] form of Silvius, derived from the Latin “silva” meaning “wood forest.” Rhea Silva was the mother of Romulus and Remus (one of the us-enders) the founders of Rome. The Italian […]

  2. […] Cindy dates Cynthia, then Thea can bring the name up-to-date. Like its twin Rhea, Thea is outside the top 1000 and has a fashionable […]

  3. […] Eartha Effie Elihu Emma Etta Ferdinand George Geraldine Golda Huey Martha Perry Petula Rhea Ross Susanna […]

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