What's in a Name? Greek Name Traditions

Posted on June 22, 2014

Population mapping builds an accurate picture of cultural density based on location.  This tool works hand in glove with name analysis to show how immersed people are in their community.  Naming traditions, such as those popular with Greek Australians, provide this insight.

Greek naming tradition has ancient cultural origins.  Some location and occupation-based names occur, but most family names have been derived paternally. Some Greek family names offer a glimpse of the past.  For instance, names that begin Papa (such as Papadopoulos) indicate ancestry from a priest. Similarly, name suffixes like “akis” or “otis” indicate region of origin.

However, it is first name tradition for which Greeks are perhaps best known.  Since the time of Homer, a tradition of naming children after a grandparent has been upheld.  Not surprisingly, this is a great source of pride to grandparents, and a strong indication of cultural connection.

This tradition has created some interesting cultural hallmarks.  For instance, ancient names have fallen by the wayside in other regions but are carried forward in Greek families today.  Names like Daphne, Nikolaus, Penelope and Theano are just a few examples to be found in modern Greek Australian families.

Over time Greek spirituality changed and first name traditions transformed also.  Soon Orthodox Greeks were almost exclusively named after saints (Alex, Christina, Damien and Sophia are just a few popular examples).  This has created distinctive name clusters in locations where many children were named after a particular saint.

Because Greek migrants to Australia have carried on naming tradition, similar grouping patterns can be observed using population mapping.  This is a useful way to examine multicultural populations, such as occur in many areas of Australia.

How immersed a person is in their community is a strong indicator of the effectiveness of culturally appropriate communication.  Some hallmarks of cultural engagement include:

  • Population density of a given cultural grouping
  • Food retailers and cuisine restaurants
  • Places of worship distinctive to cultural origin
  • Culturally exclusive education facilities (eg. Greek school)

As can be seen, Greek tradition means name analysis may effectively point out the history and local of origin for a particular family name.  But that’s just part of the picture.  Population mapping helps us understand how culturally engaged individuals are with their community.  Plus, with the right approach, how engaged or responsive those people are likely to be.

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