Greek Names in English

Routes:

A good number of English first names that are still familiar come from the Greek, and appear in their original form in LGPN. But since there is no direct historical continuity between Greek and English naming, there is always an intermediate stage, most commonly associated with Christianity: Greek names borne by apostles, martyrs and saints (often in Latinized form) were perpetuated through their cults. Any name used in a positive context in the New Testament was liable to be taken up. Some Greek names, however, entered the European name stock through their use in works of literature. The list below gives a modern name, followed by its Greek original and skeleton information about the frequency and dates of occurrence of the Greek name: for fuller information click on the link, which will take you to a listing of attestations and, via the 'place' tab, to a map. The numbers given include instances from volume V B, not yet available on line. Greek names were extraordinarily popular at Rome from the 1st c BC onwards, as is indicated vividly by the added figures given in the form (plus X at Rome), taken from H. Solin, Die griechischen Personennamen im Rom, 3 vols., ed. 2, 2002.

A later column in the table indicates the probable 'springboard' through which the Greek name entered the later name stock. But different names were adopted at very various dates and by various routes (often via French or another European language, and sometimes a further famous bearer of the name); the Reformation in England, for instance, caused a turning away from saints' names towards those attested in the Old and New Testaments. Where the adoption of a name in England apparently occurred after 1500, that date is noted (precision is hard to achieve earlier). For fuller details see E.G. Withycombe, The Oxford Dictionary of English Christian Names, ed. 3 1977, Adrian Room, The Cassell Dictionary of First Names, ed. 2 2002, or (more popular) http://www.behindthename.com/names/usage/english

Inclusions, exclusions and near misses:

Some 'Greek' names had entered Greek from different sources, most notably the Bible. Maria, John (᾿Ιωάννης ) and Thomas are examples of originally Hebrew names appearing in the New Testament that with the spread of Christianity in the Greek-speaking world became naturalized in late Greek and so are included below; other such names appear so seldom in Greek that they cannot really count as naturalized and are excluded (e.g. Anna,῎Αννα ; Barnaby, Βαρναβᾶς ; Joanna, ᾿Ιώαννα ; Matthew, Ματθαῖος ; Martha, Μάρθα ; Michael, Μιχαήλ ; Joseph, ᾿Ιωσήφ ; Jacob, ᾿Ιακώβ, ᾿Ιάκωβος : note that Μιχαήλ, ᾿Ιωσήφ and ᾿Ιακώβ have not been assimilated in form to ordinary Greek names). But names that were created in late Greek as expressions of Christian values are included (Anastasia, Christopher, Gregory).

Isadore/Isidora and Angela are names that come from Greek, but only indirectly: Angela derives ultimately from ἄγγελος, 'messenger', from which came the man's name ῎Αγγελος, but was not used as a female name in antiquity; Isadore/Isidora is probably a feminine version created in modern times of Isidore, which comes from the common Ἰσίδωρος, 'gift of Isis' via several saints popular in Spain, rather than a direct descendant of the Greek feminine ᾿Ισιδώρα. Cynthia and Delia, barely attested as real names in antiquity, only scrape in below. Many other names with Greek origins (e.g. Alethea, Antigone, Philemon, Theophilus) that have come and gone in English are not included.

English name Greek original Meaning Attestations of the Greek name Date of first appearance in English if after 1500 Springboards Comments
Agatha Ἀγάθη 'good' 52, 4th c. BC to Byz. (plus 53 at Rome)   St. Agatha, martyred at Catania in Sicily during one of the Roman persecutions  
Alexander Ἀλέξανδρος 'warder off of men' 2359, all periods (plus 577 at Rome)   Alexander king of Macedon, via the late antique and mediaeval Alexander romance  
Alexis ῎Αλεξις shortened form of Αλέξανδρος 111, 5th c. BC to 3rd AD (plus 6 at Rome) 20th c a perhaps legendary 5th c. St. Alexis, popular in Russia, whence the name was introduced  
Ambrose Ἀμβρόσιος 'relating to the immortals' 18, 6th c. BC to 4th c. AD (plus 17 at Rome)   St. Ambrose (Ambrosius, the Latin form), 4th c. bishop of Milan  
Anastasia Ἀναστασία from ἀνάστασις, 'resurrection' 17, ? 3rd c. AD to Byz. (plus 41 at Rome)   St. Anastasia, a victim of the great persecution of 303-4 AD  
Andrew Ἀνδρέας 'manly' 212, all periods (plus 22 at Rome)   New Testament an old Greek name applied in the New Testament to Jesus' first disciple St Andrew, but probably there standing in for a Semitic name of similar sound or meaning
Basil Βασίλειος from the root βασιλεύς 'king' 23, 1st c. BC to Byz. (plus 38 at Rome)   St Basil the Great, one of the 4th c. fathers of the church from Cappadocia  
Cassandra Κασσάνδρα the first element is obscure (-andra is from ἀνήρ, 'man') 18, 1st c. BC to 5th/6th c. AD (plus 1 at Rome)   the Trojan prophetess Cassandra, and the popularity of Trojan legends in the Middle Ages.  
Chloe Χλόη 'Young shoot' 21, ? 2nd c. BC to ? 5th c. AD (plus 38 at Rome) 17th c. repeated use by the Roman poet Horace? or New Testament? (1Cor. 1:11)  
Christopher Χριστοφόρος 'bearing Christ (in one's heart)' 7, ?4th -6th c. AD (plus 4 at Rome)   St Christopher, the patron of travellers (in origin perhaps a martyr of the 3rd c.)  
Corinna Κόριννα probably a diminutive from κόρη 'maiden' 3, 5th or 3rd c. BC to 2nd c. AD (plus 6 at Rome). 17th c. name of Ovid's mistress in Amores  
Cosmo Κοσμᾶς a variant of Κόσμος 'Order' 23, 3rd/4th c. AD

(plus 1 at Rome)

  Saints Kosmas and Damian, healing saints supposedly martyred in Syria  
Cynthia   'of Kynthos' (a hill on Delos) (one at Rome)   pseudonym of the Roman poet Propertius' mistress Κυνθία is an epithet of Athena, not a name, except one instance from Rome
Cyril Κύριλλος diminutive from κύριος, 'master' 17, ? 2nd c. BC to Byz. (plus 20 at Rome)   St. Cyril of Jerusalem (died 386) and St. Cyril of Alexandria (died 444), both doctors of the church  
Damian Δαμιανός one of many names from the root δαμ- 'I tame' 25, 2nd c. AD to Byz.   cf. Cosmo  
Daphne Δάφνη 'laurel' 1st/2nd c. to 3rd c. AD (plus 109 at Rome) early 20th c. the myth of Daphne, a girl pursued by Apollo and transformed into a bay-tree  
Delia Δηλία 'of Delos'   17th c. pseudonym of the Roman poet Tibullus' mistress. Cf. Cynthia a title of Artemis, only once attested as a woman's name
Denis Διονύσιος Theophoric name from the god Dionysos 4762, all periods

(plus 316 at Rome)

  St Dionysius, 3rd c. martyr; as St Denys patron of France  
Doris Δωρίς 'Dorian woman' 57, 5th/4th c. BC to 4th c. AD (plus 56 at Rome) 19th c. from Homer? name of a sea-nymph mentioned by Homer (Iliad 18. 45)
Dorothy Δωροθέα 'gift of god' 21, 3rd c. BC to 4th/5th c. AD (plus 10 at Rome)   St Dorothea, a Cappadocian victim of the great persecution of 303-4  
Ellen           see Helen
Eugene Εὐγένιος 'well born' 40, 3rd c. AD to Byz. (plus 36 at Rome) 18th c. St. Eugenius, a 7th c pope, then further diffused through the fame of Prince Eugene of Savoy (died 1736)  
Eunice Εὐνίκη 'of fair victory' 13, 4th/3rd c. BC to 3rd c. AD

(plus 5 at Rome)

  New Testament (mother of Timothy, 2 Tim. 1: 5)  
Eustace Εὔσταχυς, Εὐστάχιος 'fair ear of corn' Once only, in a fictional letter (plus 1 or 2 at Rome)   St. Eustachius, a perhaps fictional saint and martyr of uncertain date  
Galen Γαληνός 'of calm weather' 13, 2nd c. BC to Byz.

(plus 10 at Rome)

20th c the celebrated doctor Galen of the second century AD  
George Γεώργιος from γεωργός, 'farmer' 100, 3rd c. AD to Byz. (plus 13 at Rome)   St. George, martyred supposedly in the great persecution of 303-304 AD  
Gregory Γρηγόριος 'wakeful' 14, 2nd c. AD to Byz. (plus 54 at Rome)   two 4th c. fathers of the Eastern church, Gregory Nazianzus and Gregory of Nyssa, and numerous popes, beginning with Gregory the Great (died 604)  
Hector ῞Εκτωρ No etymology 12, 6th c. BC to 3rd c. AD (plus 15 at Rome)   Hector of Troy in the Iliad, through the popularity of Trojan legend in the Middle Ages  
Helen ῾Ελένα, ῾Ελένη No etymology 32, 2nd c. BC to Byz. (plus 199 at Rome)   St Helena, pious mother of the emperor Constantine  
Hermione ῾Ερμιόνη probably a theophoric name deriving from Hermes 118, 4th c. BC to Byz. (plus 151 at Rome) 16th c. adopted from the mythological Hermione (daughter of Helen) as an exotic name in literature, most influentially by Shakespeare in A Winter's Tale  
Irene Εἰρήνη 'peace' 178, 4th c. BC to Byz. (plus 353 at Rome) c. 1880 ?  
Iris ῟Ιρις name of the goddess of the rainbow 9, 3rd c. BC to 2nd c. AD (plus 6 at Rome) 19th c. ? from the goddess (or the flower?)  
Jason Ἰάσων no clear etymology 738, 5th c. BC to 6th c. AD

(plus 50 at Rome)

17th c. New Testament (Acts 17:5; Romans 16:21) adopted by diaspora Jews because of its phonetic similarity to Iesus/Iesous (Aramaic form of Joshua) or to theophoric names beginning in Yah-, and thence appearing in the New Testament
John Ἰωάννης   319, 1st c. AD to Byz.   New Testament Greek rendering of the Hebrew Johanan, 'Jehovah has favoured', initially borne by Jews, then by Christians
Luke Λουκᾶς ? 21, 2nd c. AD to Byz.   New Testament  
Lydia Λυδία 'woman of Lydia' 6, 1st c. AD to ? 5th c. AD

(plus 1 at Rome)

17th c ? New Testament (Acts 16: 14) or from its use in Horace?  
Margaret Μαργαρίτα 'pearl' 2, 1st/2nd c. AD (plus ? 4 at Rome)   St. Margaret of Antioch  
Melissa Μέλισσα 'bee' 47, 7th/6th c. BC to 2nd/3rd c. AD (plus 26 at Rome) 18th c perhaps from Ariosto's use as name of a fairy in Orlando Furioso also name of a nymph who fed the baby Zeus on honey
Nicholas Νικόλαος 'victory for the folk' 327, all periods (plus 15 at Rome)   St Nikolaos, bishop of Myra in Lycia c. 300 (the original Santa Claus)  
Penelope Πηνελόπεια no clear etymology   16th c. presumably from Homer name of Odysseus' faithful wife but surprisingly not used as a woman's name in antiquity
Peter Πέτρος 'rock' 71, ?3rd c. AD to Byz. (plus 168 at Rome)   New Testament according to John 1: 42 the translation of the (Aramaic) second name Κηφας (KYP'), rock, given to Simon by Jesus; thence taken up by Christians
Philip Φίλιππος 'lover of horses' 1178, all periods (plus 119 at Rome)   New Testament (the apostle Philip)  
Phoebe Φοίβη femininine of Φοῖβος (originally a title of Apollo and then a man's name) 40, ?1st c. BC to 4th c. AD (plus 72 at Rome) 1568 ? New Testament ('Phoibe our sister', in Rom. 16:1)  
Phyllis Φυλλίς 'leaf' 17, ? 3rd c. BC to 3rd c. AD (plus 50 at Rome) 16th c. use in Greek and Latin pastoral poetry (e.g. Virgil Eclogues 3. 76)  
Simon Σίμων 'snub nosed' 221, all periods (plus 9 at Rome)   New Testament (Simon Peter) adopted in the New Testament to represent the Hebrew 'Shimeon'
Sophia/Sophy Σοφία 'wisdom' 26, ? 4th c. BC - Byz.

(plus 11 at Rome)

17th c. ?  
Stephen Στέφανος 'crown' 458, all periods (plus 259 at Rome)   New Testament (St Stephen, the first Christian martyr, Acts 7:59)  
Sibyl Σίβυλλα   4, 5th c. -2nd c. BC (plus 2 at Rome)   the mythological Sibyl, accepted by Christians as a vehicle of true prophecy  
Theodore Θεόδωρος 'gift of god' 1356, all periods (plus 77 at Rome) 17th c. ? name of several saints, and popular in the eastern church
Theodora Θεοδώρα 'gift of god' 126, 4th c. BC to Byz. (plus 63 at Rome) 17th c. ?  
Thomas Θωμᾶς 'twin' 39, 4th/5th c. AD to Byz.   New Testament (Apostle Thomas 'called the twin [Δίδυμος]', John 11:16) Greek rendering of Aramaic,T'WM, 'twin', later adopted as Greek name
Timothy Τιμόθεος 'honour god' 435, all periods (plus 60 at Rome) 16th c. St. Timothy, follower of Paul (Acts 16:1-3)  
Zoe Ζώη

 

'life' 38, ? 1st c. AD to Byz. (plus 58 at Rome) 19th c. ?  

 

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