Common or Eurasian shrew (Sorex araneus)
Image copyright Andy Sands
Parents often wish to give their children unusual names, to endow them with some individuality. Xanthippe trips off the tongue quite neatly but should be avoided, for fear that the characteristics of Socrates’ wife are imparted with the name.
Xanthippe was a shrew – not literally, of course, heaven forefend. Why would anyone marry a small furry beast? If the small bright eyes and long pointed snout didn’t put off a potential suitor, then the red-tipped teeth might prove less than attractive. Add to that the potential for a female to raise four litters of seven babies each year – that’s fifty-six babies in two years (they only live for just under two years) and you can see that a shrew is not a desirable mate for anyone earning an average wage, whatever that is these days.
No, Socrates married a scold, a nagging, vexatious woman and so such women are sometimes referred to as Xanthippe. Some scholars believe that Socrates’ delight in outdoor discussions was a direct result of his wife’s irritability. Others assume that because he was unconventional he was difficult to live with and tried Xanthippe’s patience so that she became exasperated.
Anyway, don’t choose Xanthippe for your sweet new-born daughter. Xanthe could be a good choice, so long as she isn’t jaundiced – that might not be thought very diplomatic.