Greek Names

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Greek Personal Names

Greek personal names. Edited and updated document on Greek personal names originally produced by the Central Intelligence Agency in 1962. The updated version by Anastasia Parianou has taken into consideration the changes of the 90s in the Greek language. Topics include: the Greek Language (number of speakers, description, writing, pronunciation, and transliteration), Greek Personal Names (carding, structure, surnames, given names, and titles). There are eight Appendixes: Transliteration Tables for Greek, Russian, and English, Pronunciation, Surnames, Given Names, Titles, and Bibliography.

Editorís Introduction: Greek Personal Names

During the Cold War in the 1960s, the United States Central Intelligence Agency prepared documents on onomastic aspects of personal names for over 30 languages. Languages range from those we have heard about such as German, Russian, and Chinese to those that are not familiar such as Gujerati, Hausa, and Telegu. The number of speakers of these languages ranges from Estonian (1.35 million) to Chinese (610 million). The reports range in length from Slovenian (14 pages) to Russian (433 pages). The median number of pages is 46. While the documents vary, they each have much onomastic value. Most have sections dealing with: some background on naming in the language, style of name use, pronunciation, transliteration, given names, family names (where applicable), and the use of titles. Some reports give the meanings of names. Many reports list special features of the language such as laws on naming, patronymics, and rules for women's names. This report is one of the projected series.

The paper on Greek names released by the CIA is a fascinating document for those interested in the Greek language and Greek names. However, as we prepared the CIA document, it became immediately apparent that the Greek language had greatly changed from the time the original report had been prepared in the 1960s. It was very fortunate that Professor Anastasia Parianou came forward to update the original.

Download the paper in PDF format here.

Foreword to the CIA Series

Professor Ladislav Zgusta, historical linguist was a world-famous scholar at the Center for Advanced Study of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. He died in 2007. Here are his comments on the series.

Names in general, and personal names and names of persons in particular never fail to be interesting, and so are their discussions and analyses. Indeed, one of the first coherent, complete texts concerning linguistics is a dialogue by the Greek philosopher Plato, in which he already in the 5th century B.C. discussed many personal names. We must make an important distinction: personal names are names usual in a language or culture that can be used as names or parts of names of persons: Abraham and Lincoln are personal names (of the 'given' and 'family' type), whereas Abraham Lincoln is the name of a well known person. This terminological distinction is not always made, or is expressed by other means, but for the present purpose it is necessary to adhere to it.

In our days, there exist quite a number of professional journals that publish only articles concerning names, and every year brings a rich harvest of new books, written both for the professional linguist and for the layman, about names in English, French, German, Italian, Spanish, and many other languages.

The papers published here are interesting because of their purpose. Names are intimately connected with the culture from which they stem and in which they are used. The connection and the use to which names can be put is twofold. First, famous names refer to important persons in a given society or culture. This is an obvious tautology, but its consequence is that an index of famous names of persons containing also data about those famous persons is a good introduction to, and a rich source of information about, the respective society. However, a comprehensive index, whether in electronic form or on cards, must be organized in such a way that information can be located; hence, if names of persons are an important component or even the backbone of such an index, one must understand their structure. For instance, if a person can have two family names (it would be awkward to speak about 'two last names'), one must know which of the two is the main one, by which the item should be alphabetized (see the Romanian list). It is useful to recognize female names, because there are languages in which the spouses have slightly different forms: in the Serbo-Croatian list we see that Petrovski and Petrovska are not two names, but the same name in masculine and feminine form. Also, it is useful to know whether in the respective society women usually take the family name of their husbands, because that entails the possibility that an identical person could be listed under two different names, the pre marital and the marital one. And the sequence of the elements of names of persons can differ: in some languages, family names are first, given names second again, no way how to apply the American nomenclature 'first name', 'last name'. (See the Estonian and Romanian list.) As we have already mentioned, the lists offered in these papers are lists of (personal) names that frequently occur as parts of names of concrete persons and examples of what structure the name of a person has; there are no data or information concerning any person living or dead.

To the task of alphabetization belongs also the decision which alphabet to use, because even languages that use the Roman script vary as to the sequence of their special signs; for instance, ch is alphabetized as a sign of its own, after h in Czech; Ų is alphabetized as simple o in German but at the end of the alphabet in Swedish. That is probably why all the papers pay much attention to the respective orthographies, diacritics, and digraphs. Multiple transcriptions (such as Estonian > Russian > English) make this task particularly difficult.

The second type of useful information that one can derive from names consists in, for instance, the fact that one can recognize from the name whether its bearer belongs to Muslim, Catholic, Orthodox, or other cultural sphere. Also, there are languages in which a person can have several given names; in some of them, the first of them is the most important one by which the person is intimately called, but in some other languages, the last given name is the most important one. But in some languages and cultures, the name that stands between the given and the family name is a derivation from, or a reflection of, the father's name (see the Balkan lists).

In Germany and to the East of it, the titles a person is entitled to use tend to be indicated together with the name much more frequently than in other areas of the world. The rule in Germany is "Der Titel ist mit dem Namen verwachsen" ('the title grows with the name into one'). Hence a person not sufficiently versed in the respective language could take a prefixed title for a given name: not everybody will know that Estonian Kindral means (and is borrowed from) 'General' (in the German form), or that stavbenik is the title equivalent to 'architect' in Slovene, an academic title protected by law. Consequently it is useful that the papers have sections containing this information.

The lists of names themselves are of various degrees of usefulness. Naturally, one will find more on Romanian names in, say, Iorgu Iordan, Dic?ionar al numelor de familie rom?ne?ti, Bucure?ti 1983, or Ioan Patru?, Nume de persone si nume de locuri rom?ne?ti, Bucure?ti 1984. For Serbo Croatian M. Grkovi?, Re?nik li?nih imena Srba, Beograd 1977 or T. Maretic, O narodnim imenima i prezimenima u Hrvata i Srba (Rad Jugoslavenske Akademije znanosti i umjetnosti 81, 82), Beograd 1886/1887; I. Ismailovi?, Muslimanska imena orientalnog porijekla, Sarajevo 1977; or for the derivation I. M. ?eleznjak, O?erk serbochorvatskogo antroponimi?eskogo slovoobrazovanija, Kiev 1969. For Slovenian, France Bezlaj, Za?asni slovar slovenskih priimkov, Ljubljana 1974. But for Estonian, the best thing one can find probably are articles in various volumes of the journal Eesti Kirjandus, all of them in Estonian.

Apart from all that has been already mentioned, one finds other interesting information interspersed in the papers. So the section on the Italianization of Croatian names in Italy between the two wars (at which time the state line was located much more to the east, with even some Dalmatian cities and islands being Italian) and on the Estonization in Estonia in the same epoch. Hypocoristics are usefully listed In some papers, particularly in the Serbo Croatian and Slovene ones.

The information offered is generally solid; the authors knew which sources to choose (and in some cases quote them). The only real mistake in this respect was to rely on Junus Desheriev for some information on Moldavian (Rumanian, p.18). The author probably did not realize that Desheriev is a specialist in Mongolian linguistics, who must use second-hand sources himself when writing about other areas; but it stands to reason that when the list was being published (1961), one was hard put to locate some solid information on Moldavian. Naturally, some circumstances have changed. So, for instance, the unity of the Serbo Croatian language was much less stressed already a few years after the compilation of the list. It started in the late sixties by a high sensitivity as to the sequence of the name's elements. At that point of time it was normal to read sentences like (in translation) "this is a dictionary of Serbo Croatian. The Croato Serbian language is . . ." ; and so on, S C, C S, S C, C S. I have always had the impression that the next step was the sequence C S, S C etc. In any case, in the last years of the existence of old Yugoslavia, 'Croatian' was the name of the Western variety of the language, at least in Croatia. What developments will follow the events of the last years is hard to predict; the angel of Unity, however, seems not to be the dominant spirit of the area. Be this as it may, apart from the name, what the paper offers on the language itself is still good and solid.

Kosmet (used twice in the text) is an obsolete abbreviation of the equally obsolete name Kosovo i Metohia; in our days, the only name of the same autonomous region time is Kosovo.

Misprints are few, mostly concerning diacritics that can be easily restored from the context; the only difficult one occurs on p. 19 of Rumanian, where in the table of the pronunciations of i, in is printed twice instead of iu.

On the whole, these are quite interesting documents which will provide any student of names or simply a name buff much useful reading.

University of Illinois

We wish to acknowledge the fine contribution of Christopher C. Taverna for his work in preparing this website.

Comments can be directed to or

For further information on names of all kinds, go to the American Name Society site at:

Last Modified 12/09/2009

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