As mentioned in another question, the three witches are very significant in The Sandman. While that other question asks for their significance in general, I have a much more specific question to ask.
In issue #2 ("Imperfect Hosts"), Dream returns to his home after escaping captivity on Earth. Finding things greatly changed from how he left them, he realizes that he must recover his tools and fix things. He summons the Hecateae, and calls one of them by name. This kicks off a discussion about how the witches prefer to be called.
Dream: "Lady Atropos, you have found me out. I DO want something."
Crone: "Atropos? No. Not now. You might as well call me the Morrigan!"
Allmother: "She's right, my ducks. Might as well call us Tisiphone, Alecto, and Magaera -- and that takes us back, eh?"
Maiden: "Might as well call us Diana, Mary, Florence and Candy. Ha ha! Uh, sorry."
Dream: "For me, you will always be the three graces, ladies."
Voice off-panel 1: "Flatterer!"
Voice off-panel 2: "Ooh, he's the clever one!"
Dream: "So what should I call you?"
Maiden: "I'm Cynthia."
Crone: "She's Mildred. I'm Mordred. Stupid name. I ought to be Morgaine."
Allmother: "It wasn't my fault. I just got them confused, was all!"
The Sandman #2 "Imperfect Hosts," page 19
(Note: another version of this panel, provided by Gallifreyan, records only three names, leaving out Candy)
When Dream finally asks them for help, he addresses them by other names:
Dream (to the young witch): "MAIDEN, there was a POUCH of SAND. It was stolen from me."
Dream (to the kindly older witch): "I SEE. Then your question, ALL MOTHER. My HELM -- what happened to it?"
Dream (to the oldest witch): "CRONE. A final question, for you. My STONE, my DREAMSTONE, my RUBY MOONSTONE. Who has THAT now?"
The Sandman #2 "Imperfect Hosts," page 21
So I have, essentially, two questions about this exchange.
1. What is the significance of the name change?
As I understood it, Dream called them by names that he was likely using for millennia. Did they change names because of the general weirdness that happened during Dream's 70 year absence? I infer from the Crone's statement ("Atropos? No. Not now.") that the names were changed from what they were before ("not now" as in "not anymore").
Does this name change have a deeper meaning?
2. What do the different names represent?
I am not very well versed in mythology; these names don't mean much to me. I was able to find some things during my preliminary research for this question:
- I found that Alecto, Megaera, and Tisiphone are the names of the Erinyes. (Found that by searching Wikipedia for "three witches comics," and finding a mention of the Erinyes on a page about a volume of The Sandman that I haven't yet read)
- I found that the Morrigan is a figure from Irish mythology, a "phantom queen" who represents fate.
- The most relevant result that I found by searching the web for the "Diana, Mary, Florence and Candy" was this page, which is very light on the background for these names. I'm also confused about how the Maiden gave four names for three persons.
In summary: Why did the three change their names now, and what do those different names mean?