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English Names from Greek Sources
Or, the influence of Greek on English naming patterns
Many typically English names derive from the Greek language. Some come from the religious tradition of saints, martyrs, and the New Testament. Others are taken from Greek mythology, and the legends that were rediscovered during the Renaissance. And others still were imported later, as ethnic names, by immigrants.
Many English names can be traced to the days of early Christianity (when many early Christians spoke Greek) and such names include the monikers of early saints and popes.
And although they had died out by the Middle Ages, many other Greek names can be found in the New Testament, and as such, were revived by 17th century English Puritans (and other Protestant denominations).
Such names include:
Damian (also Damon)
Dennis (from Dionysius)
Eugene (also Eugenia)
Helen (also Ellen, Elaine, etc.)
Isidore, Isidora, Isadora
Lazarus (Latin form of Lazaros)
Linus (Latin form of the Greek name Linos)
Nicodemus (Latin form of the Greek name)
Silvius (Latin form of a Greek name)
Stephen (also Steven)
The Reformation also made Old Testament highly popular, and although most Old Testament names derive from Hebrew, a few bear Grecian origins, such as:
Cyrus (from a Persian name)
Darius (from a Persian name)
In addition the Greek forms of Hebrew names like Matthias (from Matthew) and Tobias (from Tobiah) became more common as well.
Mythology, Renaissance, and Reformation
Other Greek names (those not belonging to popes, saints, or New Testament personages) were considered pagan and avoided.
However, one legend in particular was well known to medieval people: the legend of Troy.
The names Cassandra and Hector can be found in the Middle Ages.
But about the 14th century, beginning in Italy, there was a rediscovery of the Ancient world. Italian scholars discovered and studied the art and learning of old Greek and Roman scholars and artists.
Many Greek names were rediscovered during this time, Many of these names include the various gods and goddesses and heroes of the ancient Greek pantheon as well as those from its rich mythology and history. Poets of this time were enormously fond of reviving these names in their poems, often as nom de plumes for their mistresses. Many wealthy, educated parents (especially those in Italy), inspired by their learning or their literature, bestowed on their sons and daughters Greek-inspired names, such as:
Ulysses (Latin form of the Greek Odysseus)
In addition, many educated poets coined creations of their own, especially for the girls in their poems, using Greek elements and words as names.
Meaning honey bee, this Greek word was used by 16th century Italian poets.
17th century Puritans enjoyed giving quality names to their daughters (and sometimes sons). Thus we get names like Mercy, Faith, Hope, Charity... and Truth. More educated Puritan parents, instead of naming their daughter Truth, would call her Verity, the latin word for truth. Or, they might call her Alethea, the Greek word for truth.
The Greek word for Grace. Like Alethea, this is a Puritan-quality name.
An english word meaning music, that derives from Greek was first used as a name in the 18th century.
A flower name that derives from Paeon, a character in Greek mythology, Peony was first used by 19th century Victorians, who enjoyed naming their daughters after flowers.
Before the Renaissance, in addition to the favorite religious names, a few Greek names were also popular, such as...
Alexander, the name of the famous general, which was a favorite Scottish name.
And the name Sybil, which can be found in England in the Middle Ages.
Both of these were also royal names, popular in the Royal families of England and/or Scotland.
Of course, as the centuries marched on, Greek names continued to be used in Greece. Occasionally, these were absorbed by neighboring cultures (such as Russia). And less occasionally, these Greek (or Russian forms of Greek) names were imported to England.
Theodore and Theodosia spread to England in the 17th century, although a feminine version, Dorothy (or n) had been created a bit earlier.
And In the 19th century we get Zoe, Cora (invented by James Fenimore Cooper) and Irene, while in the 20th Alexis, Kira, Daria, and Xenia check in.
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