There was an interesting question on Lit regarding a proposed meaning of Nausicaa as "burner of ships". Although I don't have an issue with the ναῦς/κάω hypothesis, I suspect κάω is more likely used in the sense of "passion" as opposed to literal fire.

The Wikipedia page references Shipley as the source, and you can find the entry in The Origins of English Words: A Discursive Dictionary of Indo-European Roots on page 160, and it appears Shipley may have lifted this derivation and interpretation from Graves.

But I'm a little befuddled that Shipley doesn't mention the Pindar usage, “ἐν φρασὶ καιομένα” [Pi.P.4.219], especially in the context of Nausicaa in the Odyssey, and instead chooses the literal meaning.

Wondering if anyone here has thoughts on the subject, and if I would be incorrect in updating Wikipedia to comment that the "burner of ships" is an hypothesis, either of the interpretation or the etymology itself.

If anyone knows of alternate sources for "burner of ships", or scholarly corroboration of the Graves/Shipley, that would also be helpful.

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    FYI, Shipley is extremely unreliable as an etymological source (despite its title).
    – TKR
    Commented Jul 11, 2017 at 2:56
  • @TKR thus my frustration. "Burner of Ships" seems to have taken root in the popular imagination, but I can't find corroboration or alternate sources. It seems that short of writing an essay on the subject, and submitting for peer review, I can't insert my proposed interpretation in Wiki. Nevertheless, it might be useful to cast some doubt on Shipley's interpretation by noting it is an hypothesis as opposed to a hard fact.
    – DukeZhou
    Commented Jul 11, 2017 at 3:20
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    I'll write a longer answer if I have time, but Wiki is certainly overstating the case in confidently giving "burner of ships" as the etymology -- especially citing Shipley which is not a scholarly source at all. You'd be justified in editing the page to reflect that.
    – TKR
    Commented Jul 11, 2017 at 16:37
  • @TKR that would be great. I'm definitely interested in what scholars think of the κάω derivation, other potentially supportable roots, and the name in general.
    – DukeZhou
    Commented Jul 11, 2017 at 19:02

2 Answers 2


Chantraîne suggests (tentatively, but with references) that it might be a hypocoristic of Ναυσικάστη.

Robert Graves’s “Greek myths” is a work of imaginative literature. The etymologies proposed there need to be taken with a very large pinch of salt.

  • The Graves commentaries are definitely imaginative, but he's part of a strong literary tradition, and his ideas tend to catch on, an indicator of "poetic truth." I like the Ναυσικάστη ("excelling in ships"), especially per her mother's name Ἀρήτη, but is καίνυμαι a better guess than κάω? It makes sense for the Phaeacian nation, but doesn't really apply to Nausicaa's story per se.
    – DukeZhou
    Commented Jul 11, 2017 at 19:11
  • PS do you have a reference for the Chantraîne? (I'm trying to run it down, but with a citation, I could add his hypothesis to the Wiki.)
    – DukeZhou
    Commented Jul 11, 2017 at 19:26
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    @DukeZhou archive.org/stream/Dictionnaire-Etymologique-Grec/…
    – cmw
    Commented Jul 12, 2017 at 19:20
  • @cmw Thanks, as always. (Although my French is quite poor;)
    – DukeZhou
    Commented Jul 12, 2017 at 19:24

Another possibility (more likely to my mind) is that the name means "excelling in/with ships". There is a verb κέκασμαι "excel", and we may be dealing with the same root: Ναυσι-κά(σ)α with regular loss of the intervocalic sigma. (The name Cassandra may also be related, meaning "excelling men", as well as Castor.) This is quite conjectural, especially since the etymology of κέκασμαι is unclear, but in meaning it strikes me as a much more likely name for a Phaeacian princess, since the Phaeacians are a peaceful people who excel in arts and crafts, not a society of Viking-like raiders. Note that Nausicaa's brother is named Clytoneos, "ship-renowned."

ETA: Even if the second member does mean "burn", the name can't mean "burner of ships", but only "burner with ships", since we have Ναυσι- rather than just Ναυ-. Ναυσι is a dative plural and has to be translated as such.

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    Not just Nausikaa's brother, but many of the Phaeacians. In book 8 they list the many competitors with names like Acroneus (Shipedge), Ocyalus (Seaswift), Prymneus (Steersman), Angkialos (Nearthesea), Amphialos (Doublesea), etc.
    – cmw
    Commented Mar 6, 2021 at 16:32
  • I'm not sure if nausi must be interpreted as dative, if ναυσιβάτης is said to be the equivalent of ναυβάτης.
    – Eugene
    Commented Aug 3, 2021 at 0:32
  • @杨Eugene Seems like it would be a dative there too, "one who goes by ship". Anyway it's hard to see what else the -si- would come from.
    – TKR
    Commented Aug 3, 2021 at 2:07

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