Wednesday, November 09, 2005

Oh my god, it’s Pericles!

After three years in Greece, I am still having a hard time dealing with Greek names. Not because they are unusual or intricately spelled, but because many Greeks share their names with well-known players in ancient Greek history. Epic heroes, tragic characters, gods, goddesses, erudite philosophers, and favorite playwrights all walk the streets of Greece in relative obscurity.

My husband’s uncle is named Socrates*, and after taking a few minutes to get used to that, I found θειος Σωκρατης to completely live up to his name. He is a professor, and he dresses and looks the part. Ok, that I can deal with. I am relatively used to all the Aristotles as well, thanks to Aristotle Onassis. But the Achilles’, Odysseus’, Antigones, and Iphigenias really make me do a double take.

Now I understand it is not due to obnoxiousness on their parents’ part that people have these names. The naming convention is relatively simple in Greece, and most families still seem to utilize it. Basically, the first son is named after the paternal grandfather, the first daughter after the paternal grandmother, second son after the maternal grandfather, second daughter after the maternal grandmother. After that I guess it is pretty much a grab bag, so while it is possible someone might go for an Ajax or Aristophanes without it being a family name, it is doubtful. There are much more traditional names that seem to be well loved for 3rd and 4th children.

While I think the continued passing on of family names is a nice one, I think I’d have to think twice before naming my daughter after a tragic wife (Alcestis), or my son after a heroic cuckold (Agamemnon). While these characters may be great and their deeds valiant, they suffered horrible ends. This is why, I suppose, you don’t ever see a Medea or a Clytemnestra. What would be the shortened version of Clytemnestra? Clyt? That just won’t do. Still, I'd love to meet anyone with either name. Just because.

I hate to say it, but I have a habit of stereotyping people who have “famous” names, it is hard to avoid. Every Dionysus is a drinking, partying, peace-loving hippie and every Cassandra an ignored prophetess due to die tragically at the hands of her captor. Some guy named Pericles won a performance reality show (somewhat like American Idol, I guess) and I thought I wouldn’t stop laughing. He was nothing like the Pericles I’d imagined. To the Greeks I suppose these names aren’t very unusual, and most of them probably give little thought to their namesake aside from family history and childhood stories, but to me, they are cause for amusement.

My husband’s parents have relatively low impact names. My father-in-law has a name I have never heard before, nor can I seem to pronounce it correctly. That might make it difficult should we ever have a son, but I’m sure I’ll wrap my tongue around it eventually. My mother-in-law has a really delightful name, it is the same as one of the Muses, but since we normally think of the Muses as “the Muses” and not by individual names, I had never heard it before. Of course, she hates her name. And by hates I mean loathes. And by loathes I mean she told us she would disown us if we named our daughter after her. Which is too bad, because if we ever do have a daughter, she is getting the name. I guess we’ll just have to be disowned.

I suppose someday I’ll get used to it. Until then, watch out Heracles. I might just have a few labors for you.

*For the record I am using American/English spellings for these names, as the Greeks who frequent here already know what I am talking about, and I don’t want to confuse anyone else


Mike said...

Uh, it's late(ish) and I've partaken of some (very) local wine (it's OK - it was "passed by the management" - no kidding!)

From what I recall, while Medea isn't a popular name in Greece, it is in, um, Georgia, where the tale is slightly different.

As for Agamemnon, I have come across a pair of brothers called Agamemnon and Menelaus. Can't recall where, tho. Mebbe at Mykines.

As for Klytemnestra, well, today she'd be a heroine, championed by womens libbers everywhere (rightly so, IMO).

Interesting tho, the name of her daughter, Ermione, lives on, albeit Hermione.

Just my 2 lepta worth.

AT said...

In the end, Mel, doesn't everybody have a bit of the heroic cuckold in them somewhere?

The SeaWitch said...

I have TONS of strange names in our client database at work and I really wish I could share them with you but I can't because these people really do exist. I'll share with you a funny 'name' anecdote. Because I'm Canadian and have quite the accent in Greek, many people immediately will ask me if I'm Agglida (English) or Amerikanida (American). I always reply, "No, I'm Canadian."

One time a client came in to rent a movie. As is customary, I asked him his name so I could find his client number. He replied "Amerikanos". Since I'm so used to hearing "Amerikanida", I assumed he was asking me my nationality so I told him "No, Canadian." Then I asked him twice more for his name and got the same reply. I became really frustrated and said "I KNOW I have an accent but is it THAT difficult to understand that I'm Canadian???" He calmly replied, "No, I was just giving you MY name...Americanos." LOL I felt like crap and apologized 100 times. Now, he's one of the few customers I never have to ask for his name. It's the least I can do.

Here are some of the odd surnames that make me smile:
Sexopoulos-self explanatory LOL
Malatesta-bad head...person with a bad character in Italian

My own husband's surname is so bad that if you change one letter in it becomes an intimate sexual act.

sappho said...

I guess I'm keeping it goin' with Sappho! Being Greek though, i may have some right in using a tragic greek poets name! Ever since I was little I always said that I would name my girl (if I had one) Persephone. Here in the U.S. the poor girl would have a hard time with that one though! :) When I visited Greece all I had to do was tell them my last name and I instantly recieved love & respect! As well as 101 questions regarding my family! Ahhh the Greeks, such inquisitve folk!

Ethnocentrist said...

What would be the shortened version of Clytemnestra? Clyt?


Now that was quite funny.

How about "Crapopoulos"? No kidding and no, not mine. It is customary for some Greeks in the US to shorten their names, however in this case it is out of the frying pan and into the fire with Mr. "Crap". I'd go with "Opoulos" and maintain the Greek flair.

Or "Parthena" for virgin. If you see her, you'd know her parents had to have been "psychics".

Eff said...

I wonder if any bloggers call themselves Hypatia?

Cynthia Rae said...

If I followed the greek tradition of naming children, I would have two sons named Raymond and daughters Irene and Edna (not fond of any).

Just remember, while you are having lunch with famous Greek philosophers, rulers and heros, I am surrounded by the Mario brothers (Lugi and Marco). hehehehe


The Missus Complains said...

Ha Ha! This is a hilarious post since I just saw Troy again last week. I only see it for Brad Pitt's one syllable lines. I can't imagine naming my kid a 4-5 syllable name. I think 2-3 is the max I would be willing to go.

Imagine my kid(s) on the playground. "Zeus, it's my turn on the swing" "No it's not Theseus, it's my turn." "Atlas, wait your turn." Ha Ha Ha I am laughing all the way to the bank!

Anonymous said...

Dionysus a peace-loving hippie? You must reread your "Bacchae."

melusina said...

Well Mike, Medea was royally screwed over by Jason but she is still a crazy horrid bitch. I can't imagine how someone can rewrite that tale to make her better. I have seen a couple of Agamemnons on the news and such, but no Menelaus'. As for Clytemnestra, I don't see her even being a favorite with the feminist bunch. She was just so wrong. I'm not terribly fond of Agamemnon, but she did a number on him. And she got what she deserved. I don't remember her having a daughter named Ermione in the Oresteia, but maybe in another account I haven't read.

SeaWitch, lol. I'm sure you get the gamut of names. I can't believe Sexopolous though. It is like when the announcer at Eurovision called Helena Papa"ritsou".

Sappho works for you! "Inquisitive" is a nice word for what Greeks are. =p

Ethno, Crapopolous? That would be just too much. I think I'd invent a whole new name. I think calling daughters Parthena is kinda weird, sort of like you are condemning them to sacrifice, or something.

I'm sure there is an Hypatia out there somewhere.

Cyn, but everybody loves Raymond! Haha. The Mario brothers. Too funny.

You may think it is funny missus, but you hear that all over Greece. Parents calling Achilles into supper. So weird.

I think Bacchae is the only true "evil" incantation of Dionysus. He likes having fun, mischief making. He isn't very "warlike" and peace-loving hippie is what came to me for a third adjective. Although I do plan on rereading Bacchae.

wandering-woman said...

lol, mel
great post