The Meeting of Orestes and Hermione
Will Hermione forever be linked to the Harry Potter character? Will anyone search for her history before the wild success of Ms. Granger & Co.? Will people think you're crazy?
Let's start with how often Hermione is used. 55 girls were given the name in 2011, but the all time high was 74 in 2006. The name was used between 1898 and 1975, no more than 17 times in a year. So, very rare, but not unheard of. As the female variant of Hermes, Hermione means "messenger," and is pronounced her-MY-oh-nee.
Long before Hermione Granger was born, Hermione was a figure in Greek mythology. Her mother was "fairest of them all" Helen, who launched a thousand ships and ran off with/was abducted by Paris, the prince of Troy. Paris was promised the most beautiful woman in the world if he would name Aphrodite the most beautiful goddess. Hermione was nine when her mother left. Hermione's father was Menelaus, king of Mycenaean Sparta, who led the Spartans during the Trojan War. He was enraged when he discovered his wife was missing, and made all her previous suitors go after her. Since both of Hermione's parents were gone during the war, she lived with her aunt Clytemnestra.
Hermione was promised to marry two different men. First, her grandfather promised her to her cousin Orestes. Then, during the war, her father promised her to Neoptolemus (aka Pyrrhus) the son of Achilles. Neoptolemus married Hermione first, but conflict came about when his concubine won during the war, Andromache, could not bear children. Andromache was the widow of Hector, first prince of Troy, who Helen was very fond of. Now, I'm not too familiar with Greek customs regarding concubines, but the fact that Hermione wanted her dead seems rational to me. Except, the reason she wanted her dead was because Andromache could not have Hermione's husband's children, or that she was the reason Hermione could not bear children. So Hermione asked her dad to kill this concubine, but he couldn't go through with it (or Hermione failed to kill Andromache). Hermione decided to leave with her cousin Orestes (who was concubine free), who she was promised to first, and they finally got married and had a son.
So, if the name Hermione is eternally tied to Ms. Granger from now on, is it really such a bad thing? The Greek Hermione has a kind of disturbing tale (not anything that could compete with the tragedy of other mythological figures, but still) and Hermione Granger's story is much more pleasant. The Harry Potter character is also a much better role model for young girls. However, there's an age gap that needs to be noted -- only people of a certain age will know about Harry Potter. In general, no one above, say, 30, will think the parents of a Hermione were huge Harry Potter fans, and any of those over 30 people will likely recall the mythological character instead, but just barely, if at all. She isn't one of the major characters, like Helen is, and not many people know her story. Pretty much only Harry Potter fans (or siblings of Harry Potter fans) will point it out. Years from now the next generation of baby name addicts will be enlightening their contemporaries as to why people our age named kids Hermione (like we're finding out how people named Wendy came about). Our kids will have no idea (unless told) that they were named after Hermione Granger, or the myth, or just because. In fifteen years, Harry Potter might not be a household name anymore, especially now that the series has ended and the hype has died down.
But wait! There's more. Hermione was also a character in A Winter's Tale by Shakespeare, where she is a queen falsely accused of infidelity with the king of Bohemia. When her baby is born, her husband, King Leontes, doesn't believe it's his and orders a servant to take it away and abandon it. The king's heir dies and Hermione goes missing. The baby is named Perdita, and she is raised by a shepherd. When she grows up, the king of Bohemia's son, Prince Florizel (the same name used in the fairy tale of Melisande) falls in love with Perdita. The prince's father is not happy and goes on a rampage, forcing them to flee to Leontes's kingdom, where he recognizes his daughter and makes right of everything. As a conclusion to the happy ending, Hermione comes back to life from a statue of herself.
Saint Hermione of Ephesus was martyred in the 2nd century, and in the Acts of the Apostles, this Hermione is listed as a prophetess.
Hermione has been used in a number of other works as well, from the novel Atonement to David Bowie's song "Letter to Hermione." There is also a short list of real life Hermione's -- five British actresses and the Baroness Hermione Cobbold, who died in 2004 at 99 years old.