"I have heard the mermaids singing, each to each."
As You Know
, like all fictional creatures
, can vary in their portrayal from work to work.
However, despite all the differences in mermaid portrayals, they seem to have one thing in common. For some reason, mermaids tend to be called sirens
, and are given the ability to sing phenomenally well, to the point of leading unsuspecting people to their doom.
This trope is an old one; the siren as mermaid was well-established in the medieval bestiary. In Thomas Hoccleve's early fifteenth century text, La Male Regle
, lines 233 ff. speak of mermaids singing men to their deaths, "as old books tell us." The issue is not helped by the fact that in many Romance languages, the two words are synonymous. In more traditional definitions of mythology, the Siren is often depicted as a winged bird-woman hybrid, but somehow along the line they got confused with each other.
Compare Our Mermaids Are Different
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Anime and Manga
- Mermaid Melody Pichi Pichi Pitch, being loosely based on "The Little Mermaid", revolves around the idea of mermaids being good singers.
- Hayame in Hell Teacher Nube is yet another mermaid with the ability to create Magic Music.
- The Merrow from Berserk. It is their best weapon.
- Akira Okouchi from Mahou Sensei Negima! pactio name is Siren Valida while the outfit is more clearly mermaid themed than harpie.
- Sailor Moon: Sailor Aluminum Seiren is named for a Siren but is clearly filled with mermaid influences, and comes from Planet Mermaid. An overall blue color scheme, a seashell charm on her choker, her attack, Galactia Tsunami, is water based. In the anime it is just her throwing juice boxes and water bottles. Her anime civilian name, Reiko Aya, even contains a pun on Mermaid.
- The witch Oktavia von Seckendorff from Puella Magi Madoka Magica is a music-themed mermaid. May be an accidental example, as there's entirely seperate symbolic reasons for the music and the mermaid-ness.
- Averted in Rosario + Vampire where Mermaids and Sirens are completely different monsters. The mermaids also never sings (they instead suck the life energy of people), while the Sirens do and from what we see can see from their true form, they are birdlike, resembling angels.
- Sirenoid from Bakugan is quite clearly based off of a mermaid.
- Magic: The Gathering goes back and forth with this trope. On the one hand, there's the merfolk card Seasinger, which is modeled after the siren legends. On the other, they have a separate "siren" creature type as seen on Alluring Siren
- The Sirens of Theros Avert the trope entirely, as they are a hybrid of Greek Sirens and Harpies, meaning vulture-like wings, talons, and such beautiful singing voices that shipwreck victims don't care.
- Cardfight!! Vanguard has the clan Bermuda Triangle - a clan of Mermaid Idol Singers. Their similar counterpart are the Battle Sirens from the Aqua Force clan, which are mermaids and uses their voices for various effects, from attacking to boosting their soldiers.
Films — Animation
- In Disney's The Little Mermaid, Ariel has a beautiful singing voice. Most Disney heroines do, but here it's actually a plot point, since the Big Bad's price for changing her into a human is her beautiful voice. However, this is taken from the original story. Used in a more direct fashion when Ursula transforms herself into a human woman and uses Ariel's voice to cast a spell on Eric, hypnotizing him.
- In the animated film Coraline, The Other Spink sings the line "I'm known as the siren of all seven seas," while dressed as a mermaid.
- In Ice Age 4: Continental Drift, sirens appear as amphibious lungfish, the prehistoric equivalent of mermaids.
- In My Little Pony Equestria Girls: Rainbow Rocks, the Dazzlings' original Siren forms resemble hippocampi or merhorses.
Films — Live-Action
- In Pirates of the Caribbean 4, mermaids also have beautiful singing voice and lure men to death. And one of the mermaids is named Syrena. Justified because it's a mostly-ignorant human who names her that; her actual name is impronouncable.
- In the Made-For-TV-Movie Mermaids one of the mermaid sisters Venus is a Siren and is able to hypnotise men though with dancing and her eyes instead of singing. Her powers don't work if someone knows that she is a Siren.
- The heroine of Donna Jo Napoli's Star-Crossed Lovers novel Sirena is one of the actual Greek sirens... and a mermaid. Of course, even the humans of her time have gotten a lot of the facts wrong about her and her fellow myths.
- In T. S. Eliot's "The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock".
- In the Anita Blake series, sirens are described as super-powerful mermaids, able to control even their own kind with the power of their voices.
- Piers Anthony's Xanth novel "The Source of Magic". The Siren is a mermaid with a voice that lures all men who hear it to her.
- In Edgar Eagar's Magic by the Lake, the children go on an adventure with a mermaid who "sings down a ship." Martha chastises her for luring men to their deaths.
- A Harry Potter tie-in book describes three subspecies of merpeople, one of which is the sirens. They live in the warmer waters of Greece and are the more beautiful kind that human art tends to depict; the other kinds are, from a human perspective, ugly. All merpeople apparently have a love of music, though.
- There's also a variant: Scottish merpeople (as seen in Goblet of Fire) are called "selkies," which are likewise a different creature in actual mythology.
- In The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, mermen and mermaids sing at the Pevensies coronation and the singing is described as haunting and enchanting.
- In Siren by Tricia Rayburn, the sirens don't have fins, but they need salt water to survive and can stay under water for long periods of time.
- In Lost Voices by Sarah Porter, the main characters are basically humans turned into mermaids, but are given magical voices like the sirens, which they use to lure humans to their deaths. These mermaids/sirens are all formerly human girls who were abused or neglected, and take vengeance on humanity for the mistreatment in their previous lives by sinking ships and drowning people.
- The Syren in Septimus Heap is described as a mermaid, and she uses her song for malicious purposes.
- In Voyage Of The Basset, the mermaids can sing with haunting beauty. In a variation on the usual presentation, they're actually friendly and sing to get their pet sea serpent to save boats from being dashed on the rocks.
- The mermaid Áine from J. Conway Jameson's Dream Girl seduces rapists and murderers by sneaking into their rooms at night and singing to them (basically hypnotizing them), then "accidentally" bumping into them on the street and causing them to fall in love with her and her "quirky" ways. Then she kills them and drinks their blood.
- Amanda Hocking's Watersong sirens (descendants of the Muses who were cursed by Demeter) are a combination of the classical versions of mermaids and sirens. They have three different forms: On land, they're human. In seawater, they're half-human, half-fish. When they need to fly or (more importantly) feed on the mortal men they lure with their songs, they're bird-women. They have beautiful voices and appearances only in their first two forms; the third form is a case of One-Winged Angel.
- In H2O: Just Add Water Cleo has a reaction to the full moon's reflection and gains a singing voice that is able to hypnotise all the boys in town. Lewis explains that "she's a Siren, just like the mermaids in mythology whose singing lured sailors to their deaths". Funnily enough that's the only episode of the show that doesn't feature the girls transforming into their mermaid forms.
- Charmed has a notable subversion. The fifth season featured two episodes pretty close together, one dealing with a mermaid and the other dealing with a Siren. Though in this case the Siren doesn't really match mythology, either—she still has hypnotic singing, but looks fully human and is actually a vengeful dead woman who comes back as a demon.
- The pilot for the Aquaman TV show introduced what probably would have been recurring enemies - Sirens that were basically really ugly mermaids.
- Averted in Once Upon a Time. The mermaids are separate creatures from sirens. A siren shows up in the episode What Happened to Frederick, appearing as a beautiful shapeshifting lady in a lake. Mermaids (including Ariel) show up in Neverland.
- The Faerie Tale Theatre adaptation of "The Little Mermaid" has a scene where the mermaids discuss how humans can't seem to tell mermaids from sirens, though they are completely separate species.
- In Irish folklore, merrow were beautiful mermaids who fell in love with mortal men and bewitched them into following them beneath the sea...where they used their magic to keep their husbands alive under the sea so they could live Happily Ever After. Male merrow were ugly and more sinister; they killed their victims and trapped their souls under the sea, although even then, some stories implied they thought their victims were happy about the whole deal.
- The fact that male merrow were so ugly and repulsive was precisely WHY female merrow were so keen on keeping their mortal husbands alive. According to some stories, they could take on human form and live on land for a while, but eventually they would want to return to the sea, and so would ultimately move the family back home.
- The mermaids of Fathom don't do any singing, but they definitely take sadistic glee in leading divers to their watery doom.
- In Shakespeare's A Midsummer Night's Dream, Oberon's story of the magic flower for the love potion includes a mermaid's beautiful singing, though she calms the sea rather than allures anyone to death.
- The Comedy of Errors alludes to this trope with the line "I'll stop mine ears against the mermaid's song."
- Gloucester in Henry VI Part 3: "I'll drown more sailors than the mermaid shall."
- Elulu from Luminous Arc 3 whose job class is Siren but also bears a lot of traits similar to mermaids.
- The Sirens of Mabinogi fit this to a tee. If you need an image, you don't need to look for one, they're almost the same as the above picture from Luminous Arc (however, they are NOT a rip-off). And they're bad guys.
- A little bit of Fridge Brilliance: The Zora (read: merfolk-like fish people) from The Legend of Zelda evolve over time into the Rito (mythological siren-like bird folk). Medli, one of the main Rito in The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker even plays a harp, though not to coerce anyone to their doom, luckily.
- Subverted Trope in Castlevania as well; the Siren is (Though not a common enemy) a Palette Swap of the Harpy enemy, making them birdlike.
- Averted in God of War, where sirens are land-dwelling (levitating) demons.
- Defense of the Ancients: All-Stars includes a Siren hero whose ultimate spell is to sing the opposition to sleep and whose character model is a mermaid.
- Averted but acknowledged in Legend of Mana. Mermaids and Sirens are different species, mermaids being fish-tailed humanoids who can teleport via bubbles and sirens being beautiful harpy-like creatures that look like a cross between birds of paradise and women. The two species are friendly with each other, however, and implied to be distantly related in some way.
- The Final Fantasy series averts this, with Siren being an uncommonly recurring character (often a summon) that usually just resembles a beautiful woman. Final Fantasy VIII actually has more of a bird-like appearance with feathery details including long hair styled like wings — though its summoning sequence does feature it appearing on a rock jutting out of the sea.
- Referenced in Mega Man 9. Splash Woman is basically a robot mermaid and one of her attacks involves singing to summon fish to attack Mega Man.
- In Kate Beaton's Hark! A Vagrant, a mermaid aims to drown a sailor with her frilly singin'. Mermaids matching this trope make a few other appearances, including one longer story arc (where no mermaid singing is heard, but is referred to, along with their tendency to drown people).
- In MYth, Amphitrite is a subvertion. Amphitrite is pretty much a mermaid (and in side art, she's drawed with a fish tail, to boot) but she's actually deaf tone and a horrible singer. Even the Muses' instructor, Apollo, couldn't help her and he had to made up the whole "you sing better underwater" to avoid her singing disturb land and Olympus. But now, the underwater realm have to suffer her.
- In The Dragon Wars Saga, the chief songstress of the merfolk clan encountered early on is named Sirin and the mermaids have command of some kind of vocal music.
- In the webseries "Mermaid Miracles", the sirens are mermaids bent on the destruction of the human race.
- Coincidence or not, the mermaid queen from The Marvelous Misadventures of Flapjack reincarnates into a flying version called "skymaid", becoming more like a siren. This could also have been a reference to the original ending of "The Little Mermaid".
- Averted in American Dragon Jake Long, both mermaids and sirens are present and are quite different from one another.
- One of the King Features Popeye cartoons has him mesmerized by a siren who's basically a wily mermaid with a harp; it takes Olive to snap him out of it.
- In an episode of Family Guy, Peter remembers how he lured sailors to their death with his siren song... dressed as a mermaid.
- The original My Little Pony cartoon gave us the Seaponies, who are a rather strange subversion. They've got the beautiful singing voices down alright and some impressive choreography to go with it, at least if you happen to like Busby Berkeley, but instead of luring unwary sailors to their doom they're actually running a sort of Bedouin Rescue Service. Their sole canon appearance was something of a Big Lipped Alligator Moment even by G1's standards, so naturally the bronies picked it up and ran with it.
- This trope is so widespread that in in Spanish, French, Italian, Polish, Latin, Romanian and Portuguese the word for mermaid is respectively Sirena, Sirène, Sirena, Syrena, Syreni, Sirenă, and Sereia.
- It's popularly held that manatees (Order Sirenia) are often mistaken for mermaids.
- December Diamonds, a company that makes mermaid ornaments, has one mermaid ornament whose female half dresses like a cop. They call her "Siren".