I recently attended a talk given by my very distinguished and erudite friend, Mr. SententiaeAntiquae himself, when a young student stumped both of us by asking what the name Nausikaa meant. The connection with ships was clear enough, but the final element -kaa was not readily analyzed by either of us. Dr. S.A. suggested a possible derivation from καίω (for which, see below), but I felt less than convinced, not because I found the formation linguistically implausible, but rather because I found the notion of Nausikaa as “Ship-burner” to be a wildly inappropriate name for her character.
Because perplexity is the beginning of all wisdom, I was motivated by my ignorance to seek out an answer among the Greek authorities, which I present here. Of course, I also post this in the hope that some reader has an authoritative answer!
Pseudo-Zonaras, in his Lexicon, writes:
“Nausikaa. Excelling in ships.”
Ναυσικάα. ταῖς ναυσὶ κεκασμένη.
Eustathius (TLG1.241.31)(Vers. 101.)
“Nausikaa is a particularly interesting name, because of its singularity. Homer usually uses eta in the word “ships” (neusi, not nausi). But these are put together with an alpha: Nausikaa, Nausithoos, Nausiklutos, and similar names.
Τὸ δὲ Ναυσικάα, σημειῶδες, ἐπεὶ τὸ μὲν ἁπλοῦν, νηυσὶ διὰ τοῦ η παρὰ τῷ ποιητῇ. τὰ δὲ σύνθετα, διὰ τοῦ α. Ναυσικάα. Ναυσίθοος. Ναυσίκλυτος. καὶ τὰ ὅμοια.
Nausikaa: “Excelling (that is, honored [or, an ornament to?]).
Ναυσικάα: Κεκασμένη (ὅ ἐστι κεκοσμημένη)
In the Suda, we find an interesting description fitting Dr. S.A.’s conjecture:
“Nausikaa: A proper name. Homer says that she is the Phaiacian princess fit for that land, because the Phaiacians – being the excellent mariners that they are – burn pitch upon their ships for stability.”
Ναυσικάα: ὄνομα κύριον. μέμνηται ῞Ομηρος Ναυσικάας Φαιακικῆς
βασιλικῆς παιδὸς προσφυῶς τῇ χώρᾳ· ἐπεὶ ναυτικώτατοι ὄντες ἐπέκαιον ταῖς ναυσὶ
πίσσαν πρὸς ἀσφάλειαν.