Today, the word “Nike” is inextricably linked with the iconic sporting goods brand and its ubiquitous “swoosh” logo adorning sneakers and apparel around the world. But the name actually has much deeper and more ancient roots stemming from Greek mythology.

In ancient Greece, Nike was the winged goddess of victory. One of the most venerated deities, Nike embodied the concept of triumphing over adversity and emerging victorious. Her name is derived from the Greek term “nikÄ“” meaning victory, conquering, or triumph.

Depictions of Nike in ancient Greek pottery, sculpture, and coinage frequently show her as a beautiful young woman with wings and draped clothing. Often she is represented bestowing a wreath or prize upon a victor, or leading warriors and chariots into battle. Her wings symbolized her role as the divine spirit personifying victory itself, swooping down to reward success and accomplishment.

To the ancient Greeks, Nike represented much more than just victory in war and athletics. She embodied the ideals of hard work, determination, and skill leading to achievement in any form. Merchants would pray to Nike for business success, farmers for bountiful harvests, and orators for rhetorical victories. Over time, the spirit of Nike came to represent the universal human aspiration to endure, overcome obstacles, and ultimately prevail.

The concepts of agon (competition) and arete (virtue) were central to ancient Greek culture and society. Nike as the goddess of victory represented the ultimate achievement of these ideals through effort and excellence. In this sense, her legacy aligned perfectly with the modern mission of Nike, Inc. to “bring inspiration and innovation to every athlete in the world.”

So while today’s Nike brand conjures up images of sneakers, Michael Jordan, and the famous “Just Do It” slogan, its namesake reaches back millennia to the powerful goddess of inspiration and victory for ancient Greeks. Each time Nike’s iconic “swoosh” logo adorns a jersey or shoe today, it pays homage to that long-standing spirit of accomplishment through perspiration. A fitting connection for a company striving to ignite the athlete in all of us.