Meaning “great mare.”
Pronunciation French (AY-po-NEEN); English (EP-eh-NEEN)
The name is derived from the name of the Ancient Gaulic goddess, Epona.
A goddess associated with fertility, Epona was known as the patroness of horses, donkeys, and mules. She was the only Celtic diety whose worship became popular among Romans, who delegated her as protectress and controller of calvary and chariots. Remnants of her devotion are found all throughout central Europe. One famous artifact is an inscription written by a Syrian, which goes as follows
“Eponina ‘dear little Epona’: she is Atanta, horse-goddess Potia ‘powerful Mistress’, Dibonia, Catona ‘of battle’, noble and good Vovesia.” (1st-Century BC). Rom, Dieux-Sievres, France.
Along with the inscription were found remnants of a cauldron and a sacrificed horse.
Though a popular minor divinity among the Romans, it is now believed that the Celts revered her as a powerful, central figure to their religion. Her story as told by the Celts, is lost to history, but Plutach came up with an interesting allegory regarding the goddess’ beginnings:
reports out of Agesilaus, his third book of Italian matters, that Fulvius Stella loathing the company of a woman, coupled himself with a mare, of whom he begot a very beautiful maiden-child, and she was called by a fit name, Epona…
The name Epona is derived from the Gaulic elements of ekwos, meaning “horse.” Equus is thought to be derived from this, and the term pony is said to be derived from the goddess’ name.
Eponina was an endearing latinized form used to invoke the goddess by devotees.
The horse was a central figure to ancient Celtic religions. There are carvings and paintings of horses found throughout France and the British Isles, thought to have been made by the Celts.
The famed chalk horse of Uffington, England has been associated with an Epona-like diety by scholars and archeologists. It is believed that Epona is related to the Welsh horse goddess, Rhiannon.
In more recent history, Éponine was used by Victor Hugo for his 1862 novel Les Miserables.
Variations of this name include the more pure and ancient form of Epona, the more latinate form of Eponina, and the sweetly feminine and romantic French form of Éponine.
The most popular French nickname for this is Ponette which also happens to be a French term used for a young, female pony.
Ponette was the name of the title character of the 1996 French film by Jacques Doillon.
Other nicknames include, Eppie, Pony, Poe, Nina, & Ninette.