The formation of names


Our knowledge of the formation of Greek names is derived both from ancient sources and, increasingly, from our own observations of the thousands of names which documentary sources have revealed to us.

In formation, Greek names were either ‘simple’ or ‘compound’.

‘Simple’ names consisted of a noun or adjective, alone or with a suffix. For example:
from the adjective αριστος ’best’, ‘excellent’
Aristos, Arist-ion, Arist-ullos etc., fem. Ariste, Aristo, Arist-ulla etc.
from the noun θωραξ ‘breastplate’:
Thorax, Thorakides, fem. Thorakis

‘Compound’ names were formed by combining nouns, adjectives, verbs or adverbs. For example:
again from the adjective αριστος
Aristo-teles, Arist-ippos, Aristo-kles, Aristo-boulos, Aristo-demos.
From the noun νικη ‘victory’
Niko-machos, Niko-stratos, Niko-laos, Niko-krates etc.

With certain exceptions, compound names could take their elements in either order: Aristo-nikos or Nik-aristos.
Compounds were often turned into so-called ‘hypocoristic’ (‘endearment’) forms, often with a doubling of the consonant (for example, Kleommas from Kleomenes).

Names generally followed regular rules of declension; and women's names, which could take neuter as well as feminine terminations, covered broadly the same range of meanings as men's, including those with strongly military and political connotations, such as Alexandra, Stratippe, Demostrate. Abstract nouns such as Arete (‘virtue’) and Harmonia (‘harmony’) did feature among women’s names, but seem to have been originally slave names.