Greece Names, Personal
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See, Chapter 9 LEARN ABOUT NAMES for an in depth discussion of naming practices. Much of the following material is taken from this book by Lica Catsakis.
There is only one way of spelling a Greek given name. If it is found with a different spelling it means the person who wrote it made a spelling mistake.
A child receives his/her name during baptism, when still an infant, some times as young as a few days old. The name is given by the godfather (or godmother) who may choose a name of a member of his own family or any other name. If the godfather desires to ask the parent’s preference, then most of the times the parents follow the tradition according which the children in a family are named as follows:
- The first son is named after the father's father.
- The second son is named after the mother's father.
- The first daughter is named after the father's mother
- The second daughter is named after the mother's mother.
- Other children in the family are usually named after uncles or other relatives, saints, friends etc.
- A daughter is never named after the mother unless the mother dies before the daughter is named.
This custom is not necessarily followed in every case but when followed, it can greatly simplify a search for the names of grandparents. If a child dies young, then another child, born later, would most likely be given the same name.
- If a girl named Vasiliki dies and later the parents have a new baby girl, they most likely will name the new baby Vasiliki also. But if the new baby is a
boy they may name him Vasilis which is the male form of that name.
- If a male infant appears to have little chance of surviving, he is named Θεόδωρoς [Theodoros] meaning God’s gift, or Θεoχάρης [Theoharis], meaning God's grace or God's will, or Θεoδόσιoς [God given], is given to him. If it is a girl, she may be called Θεoδώρα (female form of Θεόδωρoς).
Given names indicating place of origin
Place of origin
||Crete or Asia Minor|
||mostly Asia Minor|
Name changes in adulthood
- Priests some times, upon ordination when joining the clergy, would receive a new name. Therefore, if his given name were Σωκράτης [Sokratis], after being ordained he might take the name Παύλoς [Paulos] or some other saint's name. The ordained person is usually called by his given (or new) name with the prefix Papa- [Papa-] indicating his title.
- If his name were Σωκράτης Καvάκης [Sokratis Kanakis ] and his new name were Παύλoς [Paulos] he would be called Παπα-Παύλoς [Papa-Paulos] or Παπα-Κανάκης [Papa-Kanakis]; but never Σωκράτης [Sokratis] nor Παπα-Σωκράτης [Papa-Sokratis].
- A priest’s wife often is not called by her given name but by the name Πρεσβυτέρα [Presvytera] which is actually a title meaning "the wife of an elder" for it derives from Πρεσβύτερoς [Presvyteros] which means elder)
- Wives sometimes are referred to by the name of their husbands on which the ending -αινα [-aina] or -ινα [-ina] is added. Some times the given name of the husband is used and other times his surname. A wife could also be listed by the surname of the husband as if it were a given name. For example, a husband’s surname might be Karalis, and his wife’s given name might be listed as Karalina.
- If the husband's name is Παύλoς [Paulos], the wife is called Παύλαινα [Paulaina]. Or if his surname is Πλατής [Platis] she may be called Πλατίνα [Platina].
Variations of given names
It should also be noted that, for every Greek given name, there may exist several variations or nicknames which may appear quite different. Richard and Dick is an example of how this occurs in English. However on records the official name is recorded, not the altered name.
- Chapter 9 LEARN ABOUT NAMES, Appendix B, p.149 includes a list of common Greek given names showing their variations and the usual English equivalents.
Male given names end in -as, -os, and -is. Female given names end in -a, or -i. Most female names ending in -o are from the mainland. There is no given Greek name that does not indicate the gender of the person who bears it. However there are names that appear in male and female forms.
Μαρία[Maria] Γεώργιoς [Georgios] Γεωργία [Georgia]
- Note that instead of celebrating birth dates Greek people celebrate name days.
- Also, for every Greek given name, there may exist several variations or nicknames which may appear quite different. For example, the Greek equivalent to Catherine, Aikaterini may have the following possible variations: Kaiti, Katina, Katerina, Katilo, Katinio. Likewise, the Greek equivalent to John, Ioannis, has at least the following variations: Giannis, Giagkos, Giannakos, and Giannelos.
- For a list of given names, their variations, their English equivalents, and the dates those names are celebrated see Chapter 9 LEARN ABOUT NAMES, Appendix B, p.149.
Greeks do not have middle names. What appears between the given name and the surname is not a middle name; it is the given name of the person’s father. Grammatically this is the possessive form of the father's name, similar to the -'s used in English.
- Georgios, the son of Nikolaos Kanakis is: Georgios Nikolaou Kanakis.
- Ioanna, the daughter of Nikolaos Kanakis is: Ioanna Nikolaou Kanaki.
For a married woman the name between her given name and her new surname is the given name of her husband. Today some women in Greece maintain their maiden name after marriage. Upon divorce she receives back her father’s given name and last name. This is mandatory without any exceptions.
The order in which the names are written is not always the same. The surname may be written first or last, and the father’s (or the husband’s) given name may be in the middle or at the end. A child may be given two “given names.” In some records the one given name will be written first, and in another record the other given name will be written first.
- The baptism record may state:
Νικόλαoς Ανδρέας Γεωργίoυ Κανάκης
- The recruting record may state:
Γεωργίoυ Κανάκης Andreas Nikolaos Georgiou Kanakis
The name Andreas was placed first because in the Greek alphabet the letter “A” is before the letter “N” ).
Understanding surnames and given names can help you find and identify your ancestors in the records. Because names sometimes changed for many families throughout time, it is important to know some of the customs concerning naming practices in Greece.
Before record keeping began, most people had only one name, such as John. As the population increased, it became necessary distinguish among individuals with the same name. The problem was usually solved by adding descriptive information. John became John the smith, John the son of Matthew, John the short, or John the Athenian. At first, surnames applied only to one person and not to the whole family. After a few generations, these names became hereditary. Surnames developed from the following major sources:
- Patronymic, based on a parent’s given name and an added suffix meaning “son of” or “little.” The ending -opoulos is most common in the Peleponnese area. Thus John the son of Nicholas would be Ioannis Nikolopoulos. The possessive case (-ou) was also often used as a patronymic resulting in names such as Grigoriou from Grigorios. Other patronymic endings include: -akis (from Crete); -akos, -ias, -eas (from the Mani region of south Peloponnesus); -atos (from Kefallinia); -elis (from Lesvos); -ikis, -ikas, -akas (from Thessalia); -oudis (from northern Greece); and -idis (from Asia Minor).
- Occupational, based on the person’s trade, include the following: Raptis (tailor), Papoutsis (shoemaker), Mylonas (miller), Mylonatos or Mylonopoulous (son of the miller), Karvounis (coal man), Kapetanidis (son of ship captain), Anagnostopoulos (son of the acolyte, assistant priest), Sakellariou (son of the Sakellarios, a Byzantine ecclesiastical title), Kaffetzis (coffee house owner), Kaltsis (stockings, probably one who sold stockings), and Ktenas (comb, probably one who sold or made combs). The name Karampinopoulos (son of a gun) probably referred to the son of one who bore arms. Priests of the Orthodox Church married and had families. Their children’s surnames often begin with Papa- (Priest) and are among the most common in Greece.
- Descriptive or nickname, based on a unique quality of the person, such as Mauros (black) for a person with black hair, dark complexion, or perhaps one who wore black clothing. Other such Greek names include Kontos (short), Spanos (beardless), Spanidis or Spanopoulos (son of the beardless one), Xanthakos (blond), Kokkinis (red), Karapaulakis (son of darkhaired Paul), Galanis (blue-eyed), Katsaros (curly), Makris (long), and Koutsogiorgos (lame George). Other names reflect personality traits such as: Leventis (brave, honorable), Onassis (useful), Katsoufis (never cheerful), Markogiannis (clever John), and Leontidis (lion’s son).
- Geographical, based on a person’s place of origin, such as Kritikos (Cretan), Thessalonikios (of Thessalonika), Souliotis (of Souli, a region in the Epirus mountains), Arvanitis (Albanian), and Nisiotis (from the islands). From a name such as Kypros (Cyprus) can be formed several names: Kypraios, Kypraiou, Kypriadis, Kypriotis, Kypriotakis, and Kyprizoglou. A name such as Vlahos could refer to the Vlach people (minority ethnic group from the Pindus mountains) or from the occupation of a shepherd, which was the traditional occupation of this people.
- Foreign terms, from Turkish, Spanish, Italian, Albanian, and Slavic, could have been modified into a Greek surname: Karas (Turkish: black), Paras (Turkish: money), Lekes (Turkish: mark, stain), Katsakis (Turkish: fugitive, escapee), Delapatridis (Italian: of the homeland), and Kolias (Albanian for Nikolaos).
Surnames were first used by the nobility and wealthy land owners. Later the custom was followed by merchants and townspeople and eventually by the rural population. This process took two or three centuries. In the Balkan peninsula, the practice of adopting fixed family surnames developed earlier (Byzantine times) than in Western Europe. Family ties are very important in Greece and extend beyond the immediate family. Family surnames came to be applied to these extended families or clans. This practice developed gradually from the time of the Byzantine empire. Even after surnames began to be used, a single given name was often all that was ever needed or used in everyday village life. On the other hand, the Greek custom of naming children after their grandparents soon led to many individuals in the same community with the same names. Nicknames were used to distinguish among persons with the same name.
These nicknames developed just as the other surnames had started—from fathers’ names, occupations, or descriptions. For example, if there were several individuals named Paulos in the Doukas family, one could be called Paulos Kontos (Paulos the short), another might be called Karapaulos (black-haired Paulos), and another might be called Paulos Raptidis (Paulos the tailor’s son). The children of these individuals might take the original Doukas surname or might take the nickname. In the next few generations there may be so many individuals in the Karapaulos family with the name Ioannis that the process starts over again.
Changing names was not uncommon, especially in villages, until the mid-nineteenth century when Greece won its independence from Turkey. Surnames became much more firmly fixed after that time; however, nicknames became such a part of Greek social life that they sometimes appear in official records. Nevertheless, the adoption of new surnames still occasionally occurred as late as the early 1900s.
Most surnames have different endings when the bearer is male or female. For example, a man has the name Papaioannis. His wife or daughter would be: Papaioannou.
Some of the most common male and female endings include:
Grammatical endings can affect all Greek words, including the names of people and places.
Some books are available that discuss names in Greece. A description of Greek naming practices and given names is:
- Greek Personal Names. Washington, D.C.: Central Intelligence Agency, 1961. (FHL book 949.5 D4u; film 1344072).
Name Changes and Immigration
For descendants of a Greek immigrant to the United States, it may be a problem to determine the actual name of an immigrant ancestor. Some immigrants were so eager to be assimilated into American life, that they dropped their Greek names and adopted American names. Given names were generally translated to their closest equivalents: Ioannis to John, Paulos to Paul, Euaggelia to Angela. Sometimes where there was not an equivalent English name, the new name does not represent the original name at all: Athanasios might have become Bill or Joe.
Surnames were likewise anglicized. Many were simply shortened, as in cases where Papageorgiou or Papanikolaou became Papas, or Hristopoulos or Nikolopoulos became Poulos, or Anagnostopoulos became Agnew (as in the family of a former vice-president of the United States). Sometimes only the spelling changed, as in Karydids to Caridis. The name may have been translated, as in Raptis to Taylor or Ioannatos to Johnson. The spelling may have also been changed so the name was easier to pronounce, as in Grigoriou to Gregory.