In the early 1800s, nearly 25 per cent of all females in the United Kingdom were called Mary. If you add to these many Marys the crushing numbers of Elizabeths, Sarahs, Janes and variform Anns (Nancys, Nans and Hannahs), you would have the Christian names of something close to 80 per cent of the female population. There was a similar pattern with Johns. About one fifth of all males in the UK between 1800 and 1850 were christened John and the vast majority of the other men and boys around at the time were Joseph, James, Thomas or William.
Around 1850, however, the repertoire of names in regular use began to increase rapidly. As Gothic-looking steeples rose around the country, so medieval-sounding names crowded around the font: Arthur, Walter, Harold and Neville, Ethel, Edith and Dorothy, soon to be supplemented by endless Geoffreys. This remarkable efflorescence has been described as a ‘personalisation’ of names, although since in this period the ‘proper’ name one gave to registrars and census enumerators might very well be supplemented by a highly personalised nickname – Old Tom, Long Tom, Short Tom, or even, according to Rev. Alfred Easther, a 19th-century Yorkshire dialectologist, Wantem, Blackcop and Muddlinpin – it might better be described as an outbreak of name-consumerism, as parents increasingly invested their energies in baptismal choice.
Children were no longer necessarily named after parents, grandparents, aunts and uncles. Indeed, parents began to choose names and forms of names simply because they liked them or because they reminded them of someone they liked, in life, in fiction or in a Shakespeare comedy: Olivia, for example. Parents insisted on children being christened with a particular form of name, not Ellen but Nellie, a name-form that peaked in the 1880s and 1890s. Orthography became important: Geoffrey or Jeffrey, Ann or Anne, Stephen or Steven. Girls’ names were especially given to whim and proliferation. In the 1930s, my mother was christened Doreen because a Russian acquaintance of my grandfather said that was the name of the nicest girl he had ever known. This nice Doreen seems to have made quite an impact given the surge in Doreens between the wars.
Perhaps as a reaction to this spectacular outbreak of fashion in naming, lumbering several generations with names that quickly came to sound modish, old-fashioned or just old-aged, the period after the Second World War saw a retreat to more timeless and ageless seeming names, especially for boys. On my first day at primary school I was surrounded by boys with what I still think of as normal classic names: Simon, Mark, Peter, Andrew, Paul, Martin, Michael, Stephen, Richard, Robert, David. Girls’ names remained more modish: some Sarahs, Anns and Elizabeths and even some residual Marys, but also plenty of Janets, Jackies, Lisas and Debbies, who soared and plummeted through the bestseller lists in the space of a couple of decades, the Nellies and Doreens of my generation.
The personalisation of names has nevertheless continued through the era of neo-classicism. So although James has been in or close to the top ten for well over a quarter of a millennium, since 1850 the percentage of boys so named has steadily declined. Instead of the 20 per cent commanded by Mary and John in the early 19th century, in 2009 just a few per cent of children received the most popular names for girls or boys – Olivia and Jack – and the top ten now includes the names of barely 10 rather than 80 per cent of newborns. In many modern classrooms most children will be identifiable by their first name alone.
Boys’ names remain less susceptible to fashion – Jack has been number one for many years now, while Olivia has had to contend for top spot with Emily, Jessica and Grace – and there remains a tendency towards the classics. But the classics have been redefined more classically. Most of the classics of my generation no longer even figure in the top hundred. Andrew and Robert are barely hanging on. But Joshua, Benjamin, Samuel and Joseph have been restored to the places they held two hundred years ago, after languishing for years in the unfashionable regions of the charts.
It is even possible to trace the rise of particular combinations of sounds. The popularity of J-names for boys in English-speaking countries is very ancient. A more recent trend is for names that end in -an or -en. This may be enough to account for the meteoric rise on both sides of the Atlantic of Jayden, coming soon to a playground near you, a lovely sounding name, without history or significance, which first entered the US top 1000 only in 1994. Or perhaps the -en sound has become a masculinising suffix, so that Jayden is a male form of Jade. An ‘ee’ sound has also become dominant in the top ten of girls’ names, assisting the revival of Ruby, Lily, Chloe and Sophie/Sophia – which currently enjoys remarkable popularity all over the world, from Russia to Argentina and from Germany to New Zealand. A computer might also therefore have been able to predict the spectacular rise of Evie, which has not one but two ee-sounds. Of course, there are not only regional variations but also temporal ones: Holly was top last December.
This fluidity is enabled by a traditional freedom in naming. The Rev. Easther noted – merely as a curiosity – that already in early 19th-century Yorkshire, children were being baptised with diminutives: Fred, Ben, Willie, Joe, Tom. Everywhere, some names could be given to both girls and boys – Hilary, Evelyn, Lesley, Happy, Providence – and the practice of using surnames as forenames was well established. Particular groups have periodically used this customary licence to bestow unusual names. Thus the sloganeering names of Nonconformists: Freewill Shepherd, Praisegod Silkes, Feargod Hodge, River Jordan and, reputedly, Unless-Jesus-Christ-Had-Died-For-Thee-Thou-Hadst-Been-Damned Barbon, whose father, Praise-God Barebone, lent his surname to the Barebones Parliament of the mid-17th century. An American dialectologist noted that in the southern Appalachians in the early 20th century,
One girl was named Vest for no other reason than that her father wrapped her in his vest when she was only a week old and carried her proudly across the hollow to display his first-born before admiring neighbours … Three brothers in the little settlement of Shawnee bear the names Meek, Bent and Wild. Lem and Lum are the names of twins. One young man carried the substantial name of Anvil, and another that of Whetstone. A small mountain boy has Speed as his Christian name.
In this context the names that regularly provoke newspaper articles – Moon Unit Zappa, Zowie Bowie (a.k.a. Duncan Jones), Trig and Track Palin, Rocket, Racer, Rebel and Rogue Rodriguez, Number 16 Bus Shelter and Talula Does the Hula from Hawaii (known to her friends as ‘K’) – may seem a little less provocative. Michael Jackson did not, after all, actually register his second son as Blanket: that is just a nickname for Prince Michael Jackson II.
On the other hand, inasmuch as names carry powerful connotations of class and culture, they can have serious consequences. Several experiments have demonstrated that teachers mark children’s work differently depending on whether given names appear on test papers, and forenames can increase or decrease the chances of an applicant for a job making it to the interview room. When the parents of Adolf Hitler Campbell ordered a personalised birthday cake for his third birthday and the cake shop refused, the authorities were alerted; he was subsequently taken into care, along with his sister, JoyceLynn Aryan Nation Campbell. But the consequences of a name are not always negative. Henry Fielding Dickens did not live up to the literary aspirations intended by his father, but Michelangelo Caravaggio seems to have viewed the accident of his Christian name (bestowed simply because he was born on 29 September, the day of St Michael) as a challenge to emulate his namesake Mr Buonarroti (who had in fact been born in March). Names produce affinity (oikeiot-es) Socrates says of his namesake Young Socrates in Plato’s Statesman, or as Lévi-Strauss put it: ‘Un Jean est un membre de la classe des Jeans.’
Until very recently, most European countries fiercely resisted such typically English laissez-faire. You could not use surnames as forenames; you could not register diminutives; names must be taken from the calendar of saints or the otherwise illustrious of the nation’s past; names must be either masculine or feminine, but not both; names had to be given in the correct form of an official language. So, while Friday has occasionally been used as a forename in England and America for several centuries, when, in 2006, an Italian couple wanted to name their child Venerdì, a judge refused and took it on himself to rename the boy Gregorio; the name Friday carried negative, potentially damaging, connotations, he argued, citing Robinson Crusoe, Friday the 13th and the Crucifixion. Some countries, notably Germany, Sweden and Denmark, maintain approved lists, cared for in the last case by academic specialists at the University of Copenhagen, and parents must go through a special and sometimes expensive appeals procedure if they wish to name their child something off-piste.
However, licence is spreading rapidly. The number of appeals against the name-lists has increased rapidly in recent years and threatens to overwhelm the system, causing even Hans, Jens and Jørgen to wonder if this might not be a waste of government time and taxpayers’ money. Recently, the Danes have allowed Christophpher and Swedish courts have allowed Google, Metallica and Q, though not Albin spelled Brfxxccxxmnpcccclllmmnprxvclmnckssql-bb11116 in a vain attempt to test the law; even the laid-back English registrars insist a name must be readable and contain no numbers; it should also contain no titles, which leads one to wonder how Princess Tiaamii passed.
French names were officially liberated in 1993, and in Spain, in 2007, the principle, at least, of freedom in naming was recognised; a century and a half after the rise of the Nellies in America and Britain, a Spanish couple can now register a child under the name Concha or Pepe. The Spanish example reminds us that names can be straightforwardly political, a way for governments to count and control citizens and even to impose an artificial national identity. Under Franco (Francisco Paulino Hermenegildo Teódulo), Spanish names were strictly managed, and even a quintessentially Basque name like Xabier had to be registered in its Castilian form, Javier.
But the customary licence with which names are bestowed in English-speaking countries is also ideological, a sometimes quite self-conscious expression of an assumed freedom to name children whatever parents want, another of those ‘ancient liberties’ that would in earlier centuries have been confidently ascribed to the Anglo-Saxons. Which is ironic, since one of the most dramatic upheavals in English naming occurred after the Norman Conquest, when parents chose to replace the wonderful and varied names of their grandparents’ generation – Aethelwulf, Aethelflaed, Frithuswith, Ealdred – with less personalised Toms, Dicks and Harrys. It is rather as if an orchestra had been replaced by a recorder ensemble. It is little consolation for this enormous loss to know that the most recent data for the UK places Alfie at number three. The demise of Anglo-Saxon names represented more than just a change of repertoire. All names signify something but most post-Conquest names were semantically opaque to all but the most learned: label-names. Anglo-Saxon names by contrast were mostly transparent: King Aelfraed sounded like ‘King Elf-Counsel’, Lady Aethelflaed ‘Lady Noble Beauty’, King Aethelraed ‘King Noble Counsel’.
Ancient Greek names were much closer to those of pre-Conquest than post-Conquest England. Just as we translate Native American names such as Tashunka Witko (‘Crazy Horse’), Tatanka Iyotake (‘Sitting Bull’), Woqini (‘Hook Nose’) and Tashunka Kokipapi (‘Young Man Afraid of His Horses’), and even those of the ancient Maya (King ‘Jaguar Paw II’, ‘Smoking Frog’, now renamed ‘Fire Is Born’), so we could refer to famous Greeks as ‘He Who Loves Horses’ (Philip), ‘Masters (with) Horses’ (Hippocrates), ‘Flat-Nose’ (Simon), ‘Stocky’ (Plato), ‘Famed as Wise’ (Sophocles).
Like Anglo-Saxon names, Greek names are either dithematic, composed of two elements: aristo (‘best’) and boulos (‘counsel’), Hera (the goddess) and kles (‘fame’), cleo (‘fame’) and patra (‘father’), Hera and dotos (‘given’); or monothematic: Apollonius, Ariston, Cleon, Aischros (‘Shameful/Ugly’). Indeed, there may be a genetic link between the way Greek and Anglo-Saxon names are formed, since a similar naming pattern and sometimes the same names have been found in a range of other Indo-European cultures: Celtic, Indian and Iranian.
There is plenty of evidence not only that ancient Greek names could be meaningful but that they were meant. It is no accident that an Athenian potter named his potter-to-be son ‘Good with His Hands’ (Eucheir), or that ‘He Who Loves Horses’ named a daughter ‘Thessalian Victory’ (Thessalonike), and there is some evidence for political sloganeering in the use of demos names under the Athenian democracy: Democrates, Demosthenes – (over-)glossed by Thomas de Quincey as ‘The People’s Fulminating Might’ – or just Demos, i.e. ‘The People’, the name given to Stocky’s step-brother, a son of Fire-Bright (Pyrilampes).
Generally speaking, and as Burckhardt noted in his Griechische Kulturgeschichte, the Greeks seem to have been peculiarly fond of names. Epic poetry is full of names, a fair number of which must have been made up by the poet, and both Homer and Hesiod occasionally turned their talents to the construction of lines composed of next to nothing but names, of sea-nymphs for example, beautifully fitted to the noble metre. In Theogony Hesiod names 50 nereids in a virtuoso performance of nearly abstract prosody: Sandy, and charming Salty, and lovely Promontoria, Goodmooringia, Welcome-Wave, Current-Carried etc. Others handed down the names of all the dogs who ripped Actaeon apart and of the snakes who strangled Laocoön and his sons. The painter who collaborated with Eucheir’s father on the François Vase carefully wrote out the names of centaurs in the Centauromachy – Woody, Rocky and Savage – and of the dogs involved in the Calydonian boarhunt: Rouser, At ’em, Latecomer. Other painters liked to give appropriate names to satyrs: Revel, Flat-Nose, With-Foreskin-Retracted (Psolos). A sculptor in Greek Antibes even named a phallic stone: ‘I am Delight, servant of dread Aphrodite.’ This exuberant invention of names for objects and other made-up entities provides the background noise of Greek nomenclature and maintains the assumption of meaningfulness.
Just as the epithet unraed – ‘ill-advised’ – brings out the connotations of Aethelraed’s name, so Platonists told just-so stories about ‘Platon’. Platus means ‘broad’, so either the great dialogist was given the name by his wrestling teacher for his stockiness, or because his forehead was broad, or because of the breadth of his interpretations. In fact, Plato is a normal Greek name and there is no hint in any contemporary document that it was anything other than the name the philosopher’s parents ignorantly gave him. Perhaps, at the end of the fifth century, the elite in democratic Athens had turned to simpler names, just as the middle classes in England at the end of the 20th century turned to Jack, Harry, Max and Ben. Whatever his real name, the fact that scholars in the Hellenistic period found it unbelievable that the great philosopher could be a ‘Plato’ – they preferred that his real name be Aristocles, ‘Famed for Excellence’, after his grandfather – may indicate that by this time plain monothematic names like Simon or Platon were considered low-class.
The most famous account of intentionality in Greek naming comes from Aristophanes’ Clouds; Strepsiades explains how he wanted to call his son Pheidonides (‘Of the Line of Thrift’) but his posh wife wanted a Hippos-name to evoke upper-class horsemanship and chariots. So they ended up with Pheidippides. That name (‘Of the line of Thrifty with Horses’?), shared with the famous long-distance runner of Marathon, shows that although the elements of a name might be transparent they might not necessarily make sense when combined. Such ‘irrational names’ – Andrippos (‘Man-horse’), Xenophon (‘Strange[r]-Voice’) – would also have to include the name of Plato’s great-uncle, Kallaischros, a name possessed by a number of distinguished Athenians of the classical period, which sounded exactly like ‘Beautugly’. Doubtless even the most transparent-seeming names quickly turned into nothing more than phonetic labels. There is some evidence for a fondness for particular sounds and syllables rather than for any particular lexical elements: Socrates, son of Sophroniscus.
My Spanish friends are quickly bored when I excitedly point out that their names Milagros, Mercedes, Pilar and Perfecto mean ‘Miracles’, ‘Mercies’, ‘Column’ and ‘Perfect’ (after San Perfecto, an asking-for-it martyr in Muslim Córdoba); and I expect any number of British and American Willies and Dicks have quickly got over their own semantics. But Spain and Britain are cultures where most names are meaningless labels. Ancient Greece was a culture where names were assumed to mean something. So perhaps the comparison is not appropriate.
An interesting case is the name Alexander. It looks very much as if it is a typically Greek dithematic compound of alex (‘defend’) and andr (‘man’). In the Iliad it is an alternative name for Paris, prince of Troy. There was therefore some excitement in the 1920s when a long Hittite document was found to be a treaty between a Hittite king and one Alaksandu lord of Wilusa – now almost universally accepted as the Hittite name for Ilion/Troy. Alexander could therefore be an example of a foreign Anatolian name being Hellenised into Greek-sounding syllables or, just as intriguingly and rather more probably, a 13th-century BC Greek (or Greek-named) ‘Alexander’, Hitticised as Alaksandu, a name that would be the 17th most popular in the far distant British Isles in 2010, approximately 3300 years later.
By far the largest proportion of Greek names, however, were theophoric or ‘god-names’: not just Apollonius, Dionysius, Zeno and Demetrius, Diodorus (‘Gift of Zeus’), Theodorus (‘Gift of God’), and Athenodotus (‘Athena-Given’), but also Origen (‘Born of Horus’), Hypatia after Zeus (‘Of Highest’), Phoebe after Phoebus Apollo and Hecataeus (‘Of Hecate’). One important set of names is those derived from river-gods – Neilos, Maeandrius, M[ae]androdorus, Anaximander, Nilomander – for rivers seem to have played an important role in rites of passage, particularly birth and marriage. It is not always straightforward to interpret such names. Is Hermogenes a reference to Hermes or the river Hermos? The popularity of the name Callias (‘Beautias’) in Athens may have something to do with a fountain by the same name near the monastery of Kaisariani on Mount Hymettus, whose waters were believed to aid pregnancy and delivery even into modern times.
All ‘X-given’ names imply that the birth of a child is a gift of a particular divinity X, perhaps in answer to a prayer or even as predicted by an oracle. But god-names were so common that by the late Roman period they had ceased to have any connotations of pagan worship, and were used even by Christian families, for example that of Origen; in the same way, perhaps, the christening of Prince Aelfraed need not imply a belief in fairies on his parents’ part.
That ancient Greek names might be a useful and productive object of study did not escape the notice of the great German philologists of the 19th century. The result was the Lexicon of Greek Personal Names of Pape (Wilhelm) and Benseler (Gustav Eduard), published 1862-70. Substantial though this was, the database has been massively increased by the discovery of graffiti and inscriptions, and by 1949 Pape-Benseler was being denounced by the late great French epigraphist Louis Robert as a ‘ruine dangereuse’. So when, in 1972, P.M. (Peter Marshall) Fraser proposed that the British Academy subsidise the production of a substitute they happily agreed.
Neither the British Academy nor even Fraser, who died in 2007, may have appreciated quite what they were letting themselves in for. Under the guidance of Fraser and, until her retirement in 2009 after 35 years on the project, Elaine Matthews, and with the support of innumerable scholars, the project has made consistent progress, region by region, and is now more than two-thirds done, but it seems unlikely that the remaining three volumes will be completed before 2022, 50 years after the proposal was accepted; and then there is Part II: the Greek names of Egypt and the Near East.
Together with a rough and ready online database, the project now provides the opportunity for producing statistics. So far there are a total of 126 Platos, 28 Euripideses and 178 Cleopatras in the database. For some unknown reason, the most popular name in almost every region was Dennis i.e. Dionysius – ‘Of Dionysus’. Other common god-names, Apollonius, Apollodorus, Demetrius – ‘Of Demeter’ – were usually in the top ten. For centuries after their deaths the names Philip and Alexander were also very popular, but especially in the region that includes Macedon, where Alexander was the second most popular. The city of Athena on the other hand provides the most examples of Athenodorus and Athenodotus. Achilles-names, including Achillodorus, are popular in the Black Sea region, where the hero had important cults. Generally speaking, god-names were less common than you might expect for women – because a baby girl was not considered the answer to a prayer? – and more common than you might expect for slaves, the naming of whom was a prerogative of the owner: perhaps the equivalent, therefore, of naming a slave Tom, Dick or Harry.
As yet the database does not allow one to search within regions or by date or status (free or slave). For that one must still refer to the printed volumes, the latest of which – V.A – covers the north-western coast of Asia Minor from Trabzon on the Black Sea to the mouth of the river Maeander, by way of Sinope, Chalcedon, Troy, Pergamum, Ephesus, Sardis and Smyrna, and from the eighth century BC to the seventh century AD, a period of nearly 1500 years. The volume has about 8000 names for about 50,000 individuals. Nearly seven times more men than women are represented, but only three and a half times as many men’s names; i.e., as in the 20th century, women’s names were more various (capricious or personalised?), men’s more standardised.
In this region, somewhat unusually, the most popular name, by far, was Apollonius, pushing Dionysius into second place; Demetrius is in third place and Artemidorus fourth. Alexander is in fifth place, with two examples from little Ilium, seat of prehistoric Alaksandu. The region seems even more fond of god-names than elsewhere, and some of them throw interesting light on local cults. The popularity of Apollonius and Artemidorus shows the importance of Apollo to the Ionians and of the great shrine of Artemis in Ephesus. The importance of Cybele, the local Mountain Mother, and the Phrygian moon-god M¯eēn is reflected in the frequency of the names Metrodorus (sixth most popular) and Menodorus. Greeks generally avoided names associated with underworld divinities such as Hades and Persephone, so the popularity of Hecate-names, including ‘Gift of Hecate’ Hecatodorus, confirms other evidence that the goddess of witchcraft had a more benign aspect in this part of the Greek world.
Even the most popular name, Apollonius, was shared by barely 2.5 per cent of the population, while the top ten male names accounted for about 15 per cent, the top ten female names for about 12 per cent; most of the top ten female names are Lallnamen (‘baby-babble’): Ammia, Tatia, Apphia. But there are also virtue-names such as Virtue (Arete), Justice and Peace (Irene). Well over half the names are attested only once in the region. These include a Sappho, an Ophelia, a Stephane, a Priam (from Pergamum), a Boar, a Quail, a Sparrow, a Foam, a Pebble (or Vote) and an Amazon, an Encolpius (whose father may or may not have read Petronius’ Satyricon), a Wonderful (or Miraculous: Thaumasios) and a Shitty (Copreus) of Teos, an Old Woman (Graus), who is male, and a man named Named (Onomastos) from Smyrna, a Ioseph, a Samouel, a Nigella, an Aemilia, a Martin, a Loukipher and a Christopher.
The latter are all late and reveal the way that Greek names changed over time, with the introduction of Roman names, Jewish names and Christian names. Romans had three names, an extremely limited repertoire of forenames (praenomina) such as Gaius, Lucius, Marcus; then a family name, Julius, Aemilius, Tullius; and finally a cognomen, Caesar, Paullus, Cicero. With Roman citizenship Greeks acquired Roman names, often using a form of the name of the reigning emperor, sponsor or benefactor while retaining their Greek name as a cognomen. Apart from Lollia Nigella and Aurelius Marteinos (‘Named from Mars’), there are thus 168 Marks in this volume – not, apparently, including the freed slave Marcus Mollicius Lucifer, whose satanic cognomen may be no more than a Latinised version of a not uncommon Greek name, Phosphorus, ‘Morning Star’ – plus 72 Julias, 66 Pauls, 44 Paulas, 100 Maximoses and three Ouiktorias or Biktorias.
Over the many years of the project there have of course been arguments about what should and should not be included in a dictionary of Greek personal names, and a series of evolving answers or messy compromises: any name attested in Greek letters is fair game – unless it is a Roman nomen i.e. ‘surname’, or its owner is identified as non-Greek – plus any clearly Greek name in Latin letters. So Loukipher appears as a Greek name but not Mollicius. Nigella is not counted amongst the Lollias. And, sadly, our friend ‘Foam’ Aphros turns out to be nothing of the sort, but rather the thoroughly Roman and confusingly Hellenised Titus Oppius Afer Pollius Tertullus, an officer of the 15th Legion. There are also problems with the question of whether variant spellings represent variant names. Apphia and Aphphia are listed as separate, as are Athenodorus and Athanodorus. So the Lexicon almost certainly exaggerates the variety of names. Biktoria, on the other hand, is listed only under Ouiktoria, although the beta-form is the more usual spelling.
Reviewers of each volume have tried to spot omissions and/or ghost names that are the result of nothing more than variant readings or reconstructions; they have found a few. Some dates could be more precise. As scholars have become more sensitive to issues of identity and ethnicity so the assumptions of ethnocentricity have been called into question. Can it be right and proper for instance to add Greek pitch accents to non-Greek names simply because they are written in Greek letters? Couldn’t the online search be refined to reflect more of the data in the database? But it isn’t easy to catch the editors out and they are fully aware of the compromises such a project involves and open to suggestions as to how to improve. Students of other peoples in other places must be green with envy.
Of other names with which we are familiar today, Andrew (Andreas, 23 examples here) and Stephen (Stephanos, 45 examples) are normal Greek names with no necessarily Christian connotation. There are several Jameses, including Eiakob, father of ‘Peacemaker’ of Smyrna c.400 AD, three Marys, two Dauids, two Marthas, two Annas, but some of these are certainly, and most of them probably, Jewish. Early Christians did not adopt specifically ‘Christian’ names on baptism as a matter of course, even if their given names had clear pagan connotations. There is, for instance, the famous Phoebe, deaconess in Corinth, mentioned in Paul’s letter to the Romans. But there is evidence that Christians began to worry a bit about names, that they were beginning to be problematised, a premonition of the heavy-handed regulation of Franco and the Scandinavians.
Jesus reportedly renamed Shimon as Peter, and Shaul adopted the Roman-seeming name Paul in the course of his mission to the Gentiles. In the early third century, Dionysius of Alexandria imagined that early Christians used to favour these two founder-names in particular and wondered if a similar kind of apostolic emulation might also account for the confusing number of scriptural Johns. Indeed, there are 47 Johns (Ioannes, Eoanes) in this volume compared with just seven Peters. Such a distinctively Jewish name might even be used by a notorious hater of all things Jewish, like Golden-Mouthed John Chrysostom, baptised around 370 AD.
Chrysostom had a lot to say about naming. Dilating misguidedly on a passage in Genesis about the naming of Adam’s grandson – ‘and he called his name Enosh’ – he complained that nowadays Christians called their children after grandparents and great-grandparents or illustrious men. Sometimes they chose names randomly, by attaching names to lamps and seeing which one burned longest. Instead, they should choose names of the virtuous or of martyrs, whose names will burn bright for eternity, like the people of his native Antioch, who had apparently named children after the local saint Meletius. The Christians of Smyrna do not seem to have been similarly impressed by their own local martyr, St ‘Much-Harvest’ (Polycarp); according to the record, only one further Smyrnaean was (just possibly) named after him. A little later, Theodoret suggested that martyrs might actually offer some protection to those whose names they shared. But since saints and martyrs often had heathen theophoric names – St Hermes, St Denys, St Hyacinthus, St Isidore, St Apollinaris, St Lucifer – this served only to preserve and to institutionalise the names of pagan divinities.
Because of this and the generally insidious nature of the Christian revolution, the name changes of the Christian era were rather subtle and much less dramatic than those provoked by the Muslim or the Norman Conquest. Some traditional but generalised theophorics – Theodore, Dorothy, Theodosius – needed no amendment, others reflected a rather different religious emphasis: Theodoulos (‘Slave of God’), Cyril and Cyriac (‘Of the Lord’), Eusebios (‘Pious’), Anastasia (‘Resurrection’). Christophoros, however, is the only name in this volume with a Christ element, and Iesous (Jesus/Joshua) also seems to have been carefully avoided in this, as in almost all, regions. Stavros – ‘Cross’ – has not yet become a name. On the other hand, there are lots of names in Chrestos – an old name meaning ‘useful’, ‘good’ – which sounded like Christos and seems to have been used as an alternative, so we have a Chrestos son of Theodoulos, and Chrestos father of Logos, as well as a Chrestinianos and a Chrestina.
As should by now be apparent, one reason a mere lexicon of names used by ancient Greeks has turned out to be such a massive enterprise is that it was long ago decided to include not only every attested ‘Greek’ name but every ‘Greek’ with that name. So hidden behind these curt lemmata are some great celebrities and some amazing biographies. One of only two Soranuses in this volume is the famous gynaecologist of Ephesus, son of Menander and Phoebe. Number 252 out of 262 Diogeneses turns out to be Diogenes the Cynic, son of ‘Suppliant’ (Hikesios) of Sinope. Dion no. 13 turns out to be another golden-mouthed sophist, Dio Chrysostom, of Prusa. Formerly called Cius, the city was refounded and renamed by Prusias the Lame, king of Bithynia, whose portraits survive on a beautiful coinage and who offered sanctuary to Hannibal following his defeat by the Romans. Prusias is also in this volume, along with other members of his dynasty. Also here are the Attaluses of Pergamum, who built the great Altar of Zeus with its notably unwitch-like Hecate, currently in Berlin, and who also commissioned the Dying Gaul and invited the Romans into Asia. Here too is the long-lived, poison-immune Mithradates of Pontus who, around 100 BC, attempted to revive the memory of the long-lost Persian Empire by naming his sons Xerxes, Darius and Cyrus, but who managed nevertheless to present himself as a last rallying point for Greek freedom against the tide of Roman imperialism – until he met his match in Pompey.
But behind almost every attestation of a name lurks more information. The man named Named was reportedly the winner of the first ever Olympic boxing competition in 688 BC; Pebble was the name given by his master to the child of one of his slaves. Ophelia was probably only a little girl when she was buried by her father. Anastasia of Prusias was the wife of Luke; she died in the month of May aged 22. Quail (Ortyx) describes himself as a ‘self-taught sage’. You would never suspect from his brief mention in the lexicon that Zotion no. 2 of Ephesus was a writer of tragedies and satyr-plays who so pleased the citizens of miles-away mainland Coronea with his ‘entertainments’ and his general decorum that they awarded him a present of 70 drachmas. Nor would you expect that Old Woman (or Milk-Scum, i.e. Wrinkleskin) was a highly successful long-distance runner with victories at the Olympics and ‘all the other competitions’.
So the humble-sounding not quite perfect and not always consistent Lexicon of Greek Personal Names will end up as something little short of a register of all ancient ‘Greeks’ whose names were permanently recorded on paper or stone, from the age of Homer to early Byzantium. In retrospect, this was a mind-bogglingly ambitious project to begin to undertake, but one that is now nevertheless well on its way to completion. By no means a proper prosopography – only a handful of statuses are included: bishop, slave, hetaira, freedman, gladiator – but rather more than a lexicon, something like an index to a catalogue of very ancient ghosts.
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