If you ask a New Orleanian where his favorite krewe got its name, he’ll probably say, “the Greeks,” “the Romans” or maybe even “mythology.” Bacchus, Proteus, Momus, Okeanos and Endymion all fit that bill. On the other hand, one would be hard-pressed to find Mid-City, NOMTOC, Little Rascals and Phunny Phorty Phellows in Homer, Virgil or the tales of Mount Olympus.
Owing at least in part to the mid-19th century’s renewed public fascination with ancient mythology, New Orleans’ first parading organization named itself Comus, after the son of Bacchus and Circe, made famous in John Milton’s “The Masque of Comus.” Of the next four organizations to launch — Twelfth Night Revelers, Rex (Latin for “king”), Momus and Proteus — only the Revelers adopted a nonclassical name, and even the name Twelfth Night, with origins in early Christian tradition, could hardly claim to connote modernity.
Greek and Roman mythology gives us the names Adonis, Argus, Atlas, Bacchus, Dionysus, Endymion, Hermes, Iris, Morpheus, Muses, Nemesis, Okeanos, Olympia, Orpheus, Perseus, Proteus, Pygmalion, Selene, Titans and Zeus, as well as the names of a number of early gay clubs, including Armeinius, Ganymede, Ishtar, Petronius and Phoenix.
Caesar, Centurions, Cleopatra, Druids, Napoleon and Pontchartrain are all named for actual historical figures, despite the legendary deeds associated with some of them. Though often attached to myth, Babylon and Sparta were actual places.
Mid-City, Carrollton, Alla (Algiers), Grela (Gretna) and Freret take their names from local neighborhoods or streets.
In all, more than 250 clubs have presented balls and parades in the metro New Orleans area. A review of the 2014 parading krewes shows that the names of more than half had their origins outside Greek and Roman mythology.
Eve comes from the Bible, Choctaw from Native America, Isis and Thoth from Egypt, and D’Etat from France. King Arthur and Excalibur draw from British tradition, Oshun and Zulu from Africa.
A broad, crowd-pleasing name has not, to date, correlated strongly with longevity. Among the departed are the Krewe of America, which rolled Uptown; the Krewe of Mardi Gras, which rolled through Metairie; the Krewes of Carnival and Oz in Chalmette; and the Krewe of Love in Kenner.
The “Arabian Nights”-themed krewes of Sinbad and Aladdin suffered similar fates.
Foreign cultures inspired some of the krewe names of the past: Alhambra (Spain), Nippon and Yami (Japan), Thor and Vikings (Norway) and Shangri-La (imaginary Tibet).
Named after a bar (Friar Tucks) that was named after a literary figure, Tucks holds the title for toughest name to classify among active krewes.
A kiddie club that paraded in New Orleans from 1934 to 1949 perhaps had the loveliest krewe name of all: NOR, for New Orleans Romance.