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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.


Early Christians
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:

Agatha
Agnes
Ambrose
Anthony
Andrew
Barbara
Barnaby
Basil
Bernice
Christopher
Chloe
Cornelia
/Cornelius
Cyril
Damaris
Damian
(also Damon)
Dennis (from Dionysius)
Dorcas
Eubule
Eugene
(also Eugenia)
Eulalia
Eunice
Euphemia
Eustace/Eustacia
George
Gregory
Helen
(also Ellen, Elaine, etc.)
Hyacinth
Isidore
, Isidora, Isadora
Jerome
Katherine
Lazarus
(Latin form of Lazaros)
Leon
Linus
(Latin form of the Greek name Linos)
Lois
Luke
Lydia
Margaret
Melanie
Monica
Myron
Nestor
Nicholas
Nicodemus
(Latin form of the Greek name)
Olympia
Olympias
Pancras
Peter
Petrona
Philip
Philomena
Priscilla
Rhoda
Sebastian
Silas
Silvius
(Latin form of a Greek name)
Sophia
Stephen
(also Steven)
Sylvia
Theophila/Theophilus
Theresa
Thomas
Timothy
Zenobia


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)
Silas

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:

Achilles
Aeneas
Aglaia
Althea
Anthea
Antigone
Apollo
Ariadne
Athena
Charmian
Chrysogon
Cloris
Cynthia
Daphne
Doris
Endymion
Evadne
Hebe
Hercules
Hermione
Homer
Ianthe
Jason
Penelope
Phoebe
Phyllis
Selena/Selene
Ulysses
(Latin form of the Greek Odysseus)
Urania

In addition, many educated poets coined creations of their own, especially for the girls in their poems, using Greek elements and words as names.
For example,

Melissa
Meaning “honey bee,” this Greek word was used by 16th century Italian poets.

Alethea
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.”

Charis
The Greek word for “Grace.” Like Alethea, this is a Puritan-quality name.

Melody
An english word meaning “music,” that derives from Greek was first used as a name in the 18th century.

Peony
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.

Later Imports
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.




Copyright © 2003-2004 Edgar’s Name Pages

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