I saw my first Gatekeeper of the year on Saturday and was curious about its name. The consensus seems to be that the common name comes from this butterfly’s tendency to frequent those areas of rough grassland adjacent to hedgerows and field edges, like, for example, the areas around farm gates. Makes sense.
Its scientific name, Pyronia tithonus, is a little less obvious. Pyronia is derived from the Greek πυρ (pyr) meaning fire, presumably a reference to the bright blazing orange on the butterfly’s wings, but the epithet is odd. Tithonus was a figure in Greek mythology, a member of the Trojan royal family who was kidnapped and loved by Eos, the goddess of the dawn. Wanting to keep her lover with her always, Eos asked Zeus to grant him immortality but forgot to ask for eternal youth, so Tithonus was doomed to grow old and remain old forever. Perhaps this tale held some special meaning for Hubner, the man who classified this genus, but I haven’t been able to discover what that was.