How 1899’s steamship Kerberos got its name: Meaning explored

Bruno Cooke November 21, 2022
How 1899’s steamship Kerberos got its name: Meaning explored
Photo By DEA / G. DAGLI ORTI/De Agostini via Getty Images

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Set in (you guessed it) 1899, Jantje Friese and Baran bo Odar’s TV series premiered on Netflix on November 17, 2022, featuring a steamship with a curious name – Kerberos – the implicit meaning of which is likely not a coincidence.

1899 stars Emily Beecham, Aneurin Barnard, Andreas Pietschmann and Miguel Bernardeau, among others.

It has a total of eight episodes, and thus far runs for one season. Digital Spy has already predicted a 2024 or 2025 release for a second season – if a second season is to exist at all.

But let’s return to the name. Kerberos. Where does it come from? What does it mean? Here’s what we know.

1899 | Official Teaser | Netflix

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1899 | Official Teaser | Netflix
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What is the meaning of the ship’s name Kerberos in new Netflix series 1899?

One thing is for sure. The name Kerberos looks and sounds a lot like Cerberus

HMVS Cerberus (the V stands for Victorian, as in Her Majesty’s Victorian Ship) was a warship built in the late 1860s. Work finished in 1870.

The ship had a pretty unremarkable life, as far as warships go. It served in the Victoria Naval Forces, the Commonwealth Naval Forces and the Royal Australian Navy from 1871 to 1924, but spent the entirety of its life in Port Phillip.

When Australia federated, its name changed to HMAS Cerberus. By World War I, it was mostly defunct, and operated as a guardship and munitions store. Its name changed in 1921 to HMAS Platypus II. 

Three years later, however, the Melbourne Salvage Company bought it for scrap for a price of £409. Sandringham council scuttled it – sank it deliberately – in 1926 to serve as a breakwater for a local yacht club.

Photo by Fairfax Media via Getty Images via Getty Images

There is also a bulk carrier called Kerveros, a very similar name

According to Marine Traffic’s live voyage tracker, there is a currently operational bulk carrier with the name Kerveros. 

It is 19 years old, built in 2003. It sails under the Panamanian flag, and is almost 225m (738ft) long.

Bulk carriers, also called “bulkers,” are merchant ships. As the name suggests, they transport bulk cargo, often unpackaged. 

They’ve been around since about 1850, tend to be very big and very sturdy, and are fundamental to the regular flow of goods around the world. 

Bulk carriers, of which Kerveros is an example, have all sorts of names. Sometimes their namesakes are people; sometimes they’re mountains. 

But does the name Kerveros provide any clue as to what 1899’s ship Kerberos’ name is supposed to mean?

Does 1899’s ship Kerberos have a Greek name, and if so what is its meaning?

Betacism is a sound change phenomenon in which B and V are confused. Sometimes it results in Bs becoming Vs, other times it’s Vs becoming Bs.

In Classical Greek, the letter beta <β> denoted the sound B makes. But as a result of betacism, it has come to denote the sound V makes.

Understanding this, and reading the names of real life ships Cerberus and Kerveros, suggests that the name of the ship in 1899 – Kerberos (a combination of the two) – has some link to Greek.

But betacism happens, or happened, in several other languages too. Examples include Latin, Hebrew and Japanese. So, what’s the answer?

Photo By DEA / G. DAGLI ORTI/De Agostini via Getty Images

Who was Kerberos, or Cerberus, in Greek mythology? Meaning explained

In Greek mythology, Kerberos (or Cerberus) was a gigantic, three-headed dog. He belonged to Hades, the god of the underworld.

Kerberos had a serpent’s tail, a mane of snakes, and a lion’s claws. Some accounts also describe him as having 50 heads, but three is the more widely accepted figure. 

According to Theoi Project, the meaning of Kerberos’ name could be “Death-Daemon of the Dark,” from the Ancient Greek words ‘kêr’ and ‘erebos.’

Kerberos’ other name, in Ancient Greek is ‘Kuna Tou Aidou’ (transliterated to use the Latin alphabet). That translates to the Latin ‘Cyna Hadum’, or the English “Hound Of Hades.”

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Bruno is a novelist, amateur screenwriter and journalist with interests in digital media, storytelling, film and politics. He’s lived in France, China, Sri Lanka and the Philippines, but returned to the UK for a degree (and because of the pandemic) in 2020. His articles have appeared in Groundviews, Forge Press and The Friday Poem, and most are readable on Medium or onurbicycle.com.