Myths and legends about mermaids followed the course of human history from the birth of ancient civilizations to the modern times when they have become part of popular culture and fantasy tales. Their modern name comes from the French words mer (sea) and maid (girl or young woman), symbolizing their beauty and life at the sea. However, stories from the past do not describe them as passive and vulnerable as the modern tales do. Often, they were portrayed as powerful vengeful water spirits who brought storms, misfortune and death to ones who traveled across the oceans, rivers and lakes.
Origin of mermaids can be found in the beliefs of early civilizations, who believed that live came out from the sea. Because of that ancient Babylon religion incorporated half female half fish goddess Atargatis as a symbol of fertility and life. Greeks philosophers further more refined the thought of origin of life that came from the sea with the creation of two female goddesses Aphrodite (meaning "born from the sea foam") and Venus. They represented the creation, fertility and love, but were also very vengeful, cruel, jealous and proud. Because of that, Greeks viewed mermaids as the creatures that preyed on the men. They named them Sirens and the tales of their seductive deadly song spread across entire Europe, fueling the creation of many legends and acceptance into popular culture as real beings (countless of mermaid sightings across the centuries kept this myth alive, even Christopher Columbus reported seeing what is most likely par of manatee or dugong and mistaking them for "very ugly looking mermaids").
Folk depictions of mermaids and sirens as aggressors slowly started to fade with when the human civilization finally conquered the art of traveling across the sea. With less and less tragedies happening to sailors and ships, popular culture slowly evolved them to be less deadly. Romantic view of the mermaids was introduced during 18th century with the Hans Christian Andersen's popular fairytale "The Little Mermaid". Ever since then, mermaids started being accepted as secretive and good natured creatures that are very curious about life above the sea.