Arianna is the Italian form of the Greek Ariadne (the mythological daughter of the mortal King Minos of Crete and the goddess Pasiphaë, herself the daughter of Helios the Sun god). According to mythological legend, King Minos attacked Athens and in an ancient form of a “peace pact” the Athenians were required to sacrifice seven young men and maidens to the hideous half human half bull monster known as the Minotaur. A young Athenian man Theseus was one of the victims sent into the Minotaur’s maze for sacrifice, but Ariadne saw him and fell instantly in love. She gave Theseus a magical sword to kill the Minotaur and a red ball of wool to guide him out of the labyrinth. Afterwards, Theseus took Ariadne to be his wife as the two fled by sea, but as the young lovers took refuge on the island of Naxos, Theseus abandoned Ariadne while she slept. Dionysus, the god of wine and ecstasy, took pity on the girl and married her himself. We guess Ariadne was destined to marry a god instead of a mere mortal! The name Ariadne has been popular since medieval times in the east, but it was the legend of St. Ariadne who helped propel the popularity of the name rather than the mythological damsel in distress. St. Ariadne was a 2nd century slave in a Phrygian royal household (modern day Turkey). She ran away after refusing to take part in pagan rites, ending up at a hillside which opened miraculously for her, presenting her with her own tomb. Her feast day is September 17. Etymologists believe that Ariadne comes from an ancient Cretan dialect from the elements “ari” (which is an intensive prefix) coupled with “adnos” meaning “holy” giving the name’s full meaning: “very holy”. Not just a little holy, but VERY holy. The Romans got the name Ariadne from the Greeks and Latinized it to Arianna. Today Arianna is quite popular in Italy (a top 25 favorite) but she’s also a Top 50 in the United States and Canada.
Both Arianna and Ariana are Top 100 favorites in the United States right now, but Arianna with two “n”s is the preferred spelling. Despite the name being around for centuries, Arianna only first appeared on the American female naming charts in 1982. By 2003, she claimed Top 100 status and today she’s a Top 50. That’s some pretty impressive growth in a mere 30 years. We have seen a trend since the 1990s concerning these light and airy “-rianna” names: Brianna, Adrianna, Audrianna, Aubrianna, Rihanna and Marianna, for example. Arianna, however, is the most popular out of all of these. It’s ultra feminine and utterly delicate. So girly-girl.