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Serial: What's in a name?

Under the Sea

Upon reflection of my favorite villains and villainesses, it has occurred to me that their names are particularly interesting.

For example, taking my big three, we have Ursula, Maleficent, and Jafar (it is a rather close race between Jafar and Hook, so my favorite captain might make an appearance).

To begin, looking at the most devilish sea witch in the world, Ursula should be a bear.

Yes, I know, that’s a rather odd leap to make. But here it is, in Latin the word Ursa means bear. You probably figured that out from the sentence above, but I find it interesting to note here. “Little Female Bear” does not sound all that fearsome, though from the natural history channel we know that mother bears are fiercely protective of their cubs. If you played “rather this or that” with “this” being a female bear looking for her babies or “that” being a grizzly, I might take my chances with a grizzly. Ah heck, I’d run from both of them and pray a dinosaur came out of somewhere to eat them before they ate me. But that’s beside the point, a little. Back to the name. Yes, bear cubs are adorable, but they have teeth and claws and know how to strike. I suppose from that standpoint, naming a villainess after a bear makes sense, especially one that does shack up in a cave filled with bones and such to hibernate in. Ignoring, of course, that the bear lives aboveground, and the sea witch is, well, under the sea.

So why did “they” (i.e. Disney), name her Ursula?

The original animated film came out in 1989. The popularity of the name Ursula had already waned by that time.

Theologically, Saint Ursula’s history says she was a princess who convinced a pope to follow her. Okay, that’s the very abbreviated version, and I failed to mention that her and her 10,000 plus virginal handmaidens were then killed by the Huns on her pilgrimage. But that’s irrelevant. On one site, those named Ursula consider the name to be that of a heroic, strong woman who was a leader and as such a role model for other young women of the same. She is considered to be the patron saint of students. I suppose we could make a case that Arielle was simply a misguided school girl led astray by a poor teacher, but again bear vs. octopus, and I don’t mean the SyFy movie (and if it’s not one, it should be).

The final interpretation of the name comes from the stars, and there are so many different stories, origins, and variables to the constellations Ursa Major and Ursa Minor that I don’t know where to begin. Greek myth has three, then there is Roman, Chinese, Native American, etc. In all of these that name the constellation for a bear, the theme is that she is hunted through the skies. Whether by Hera who was spurned by Zeus, or by Native Americans chasing her down, Ursa runs. She chases her son, Ursa Minor in some myths, or runs from him in others as he chases her.

But the Ursula of our story wasn’t hunted. She challenged and she lost to Triton, to Arielle, to the prince. She was spurned and cast aside, but no one was trying to kill her until she tried to kill them. The sea witch wasn’t named for the constellation, and human vanity only accounts for so much when choosing pretty over practical names.

It is interesting to think on the fact that in Greek myth, Hera cursed Ursa Major never to drink from the sea so that she could never reach her son (Ursa Minor) set below the horizon. That is literally the only way the bear crosses the ocean though.

The moral of this story is simple: Ursula, undoubtedly a beautiful, strong name, was probably not the best choice for one of the most vicious, villainous, evil villains of all time.

Yes, Maleficent cursed a baby.

I’m pretty sure Ursula ate them though.

Perhaps if Disney had given her a snout and four paws, the name would have rang more true, but as an adult, having a keen interest in names and meanings, this one doesn’t fit. It’s just like Rumpelstiltskin. It has to be a pseudonym, right?

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