Ancient Greek Names, for Greek babies, are becoming more and more popular the last decade.
Choosing a name for your child is usually very exciting, but it can be also stressful and cause a lot of family discussions in Greece. Many times the couple disagrees on the name because it is really is a very sensitive family issue.
In Greece, it’s common practice for babies to take the name from their grandmother or grandfather, who in turn had been named after theirs. It is seen as a way to honor the person. It is also one of the reasons why so many Greeks have the same names. In some families, there are often many cousins with the same first name, since they were all named after the same grand-parent(s)!
So now you know why you hear so many times Dimitris, Kostas, Yiannis, Giorgos, Maria, Eleni, Marina, Irini…etc..and why there are so many nicknames in Greece.
Also, if you search for a friend in Facebook with one of those popular Greek names, you will find many similar names (there are around 50 persons with exactly the same first and last name as my husband!) , so hopefully, you will recognize the correct picture 🙂
Ancient Greek Names
In recent years, things started changing a bit.
Now, more and more parents are choosing to be more creative with the names that they choose… As a result, ancient Greek names, whether of real people or from Greek mythology are becoming very popular.
Continue reading to discover some of the beautiful Ancient Greek names and the stories behind them.
Female Greek names
Athena was the Olympian goddess of wisdom, rational thought and war – the female counterpart of the god Ares. At the same time, she was associated with handicraft, especially spinning and weaving. As her name suggests, Athena (also written Athene) was associated with the city of Athens – she was its patron and thus called “Goddess of the City”.
Athena was a child of Zeus and Metis, one of the Titans and daughter of Oceanus (ocean). According to a prophecy, Metis was to have a child with Zeus who would be so powerful that would overthrow him. Zeus, afraid of this, turned Metis into a fly and swallowed her. Trapped inside his head and already pregnant with Athena, Metis started creating a metal helmet for her daughter. Zeus was in so much pain that he asked his son Hephaestus to smack them on the head with his axe to alleviate the feeling. When he did so, Athena jumped out fully grown and in full armour.
Aphrodite was the ancient Greek goddess of love, beauty, sexual pleasure and fertility. Her child was none other than Erotes or Eros (his name stands for “romantic love” in Greek). Aphrodite was born in the waters of Paphos, on the island of Cyprus. Her name comes from the Greek word for foam (aphros – αφρός) so it translates as “the one emerging from the (sea) foam.
According to Greek mythology, Aphrodite’s beauty was so great that many gods believed that the rivalry over her could spark a war between the Olympians. To avoid this, Zeus married her to his son Hephaestus, who was kind and hard-working, but he was also ugly and had a limp. Despite being married, Aphrodite had many lovers including both gods and mortals, the most famous being Ares, the god of war.
In Greek mythology, Terpsixori, the Muse of dance, is one of the nine Muses and patrons of the arts.The creativity, wisdom and insight of all artists and thinkers depended on their mercy. All the Muses were daughters of Zeus and Mnemosyne, another of the Titans, daughter of Uranus (sky) and Gaea (earth).
Terpsixori’s name comes from the Greek verb τέρπω (en. to delight) and χορός (en. dance). She is usually depicted sitting down and holding a lyre, as if accompanying the dancers with her music.
Ariadne means “most holy” and it derives from Cretan Greek άρι (en. most, very) and αγνός (en. holy, sacred). In Greek mythology, she was the daughter of the mythical king of Crete, Minoas. When the Athenian hero Theseus went to Knossos to kill the Minotaur, a mythical creature with the head and tail of a bull and the body of a man, and stop the reign of terror that the Cretans had imposed on Athenians, Ariadne fell in love with him and gave him a red thread to help him find his way out of the labyrinth where the Minotaur lived.
After killing the Minotaur, Theseus took Ariadne with him but deserted her on the island of Naxos, leaving her there to die. She was then rescued by Dionysus, the god of wine, festivities and fertility, whom she also married.
Nafsika is a character in Homer’s Odyssey. Her name means “burner of ships” (ναῦς ‘ship’; κάω ‘to burn’). She is the daughter of King Alcinous and Queen Arete of Phaeacia, the last stop in Odysseus 10-year journey back to his home island, Ithaca. Odysseus, shipwrecked and alone, ends up at the shores of Phaecia. Nafsika and her maids have gone there to wash clothes. When they see him naked and in a terrible state, the handmaidens flee away, but Odysseus begs Nafsika for help. She gives him some of her laundry as well as advice on how to get accepted in her father’s court. In the end, Alcinous and Arete not only host him but also give him a ship and help in order to return to his family and kingdom.
Nafsika is described by Homer as an extraordinarily beautiful young woman and thus a potential love interest for Odysseus. She tells her friend that she would like her husband to be like him, whereas her father, Alcinous, tells Odysseus that he would let him marry her if he wished. However, the two never engage in a romantic relationship.
Male Greek names
Ares (also written out Aris) was the god of war. However, unlike Athena, he represented its destructive capacity, violence and brutality. As a result, he was disliked by both gods and mortals – all but for Aphrodite. They were lovers for a long time and she gave birth to many of his children. In art, he is always seen clad in full armour, wearing a helmet and holding a shield and a sword or spear. Ares was also a child of Zeus and Hera, just like Hephaestus (Aphrodite’s husband) which goes to show how… complicated family relationships between Olympians were.
According to Greek mythology, Iason (or Jason) was the leader of the Argonauts, a group of heroes, who accompanied him to Colchis (the coast of modern-day Black Sea) in the quest to retrieve the Golden Fleece. Iason was the son of Aeson and thus the rightful King of Iolcos, an ancient city in contemporary Magnesia, Thessaly. His power-hungry uncle, Pelias, overthrew Aeson and killed all his offspring, but for newborn Iason. His mother, Alcimede, managed to trick Pelias into thinking that he was a stillborn, and thus saved him.
When Iason grew up, he went back to Iolcos and demanded his throne. To get rid of him, Pelias requested that he complete an impossible task that was likely to cost him his life, i.e. to get back the Golden Fleece, the fleece of a golden-wooled ram which was held in Colchis. Despite all odds, Iason made it back alive.
Dimosthenis is the name of an Athenian general of the 5th century BC as well as an Athenian statesman and orator of the 4th century BC. His name translates as “vigour of the people” from the Greek word δήμος (en. the people, the public) and σθένος. The orations of the latter provide us with significant insight into the politics, culture and society of his time. He learned rhetoric by studying the speeches of previous great orators, and made a living by writing speeches for others and a lawyer.
Orestis (Orestes) was the son of Clytemnestra and Agamemnon, the famous king of Mycenae and brother of Menelaus. When Menelaus’ wife, Helen, was taken to Troy by prince Paris, Agamennon commanded the united Greek army and led them to war against the Trojans. Orestes is the subject of several ancient Greek plays, including Oresteia of Aeschylus, Electra of Sophocles and of the Electra, Iphigeneia in Tauris, Iphigenia at Aulis and Orestes, all of Euripides.
Orestes infamously murdered his mother to take revenge for her killing his father and his lover, Cassandra, after he returned from the Trojan War. The majority of the plays detail how Orestes goes mad after this and is pursued by the Erinyes, minor Greek deities of vengeance in Greek mythology, but each poet suggests a different ending to his story.
If you are in the mood to explore more names or choose one for your baby, then, of course, there are many more names, as well as several books you can buy with all the Ancient Greek Names available.
Greek Podcast Story
If you would like to improve your listening skills in Greek, then listen to the Greek Podcast Story, related to the tradition of giving Greek Names.
Click here to watch the video, with the narrator, including Greek Subtitles
You can order also your Notebook, and read the text, including English translations, grammar exercises, vocab list, and extra info about Greek traditions
One more note: Greek Orthodox , Ancient Greek Names, and Namedays
in Greece, it is a tradition to celebrate name-days. According to the Greek Orthodox tradition, nearly every day of the year is dedicated to a Christian saint or Martyr. If you are named after one, then their feast day is your name day. We could say that a name day is a kind of birthday, but it has to do with your given name rather than your date of birth.
Certain names were used in both the ancient world and when Christianity came over. So, a person named Iason (Jason) wasn’t necessarily named after the famous hero and leader of the Argonauts. He may have been named after the Saint Iasonas (and name day on 29/4). Other popular names that are ancient Greek names but also have a name day, are Eleni (name day on 21/5) and Dimitra (name day on 26/10).
Since in “Ancient Greece”, the Greek Orthodox church was non-existing, many ancient Greek names are not “saint names”, so there is no name day. The Church provided for a specific name day for all those “not having a name-day”, but the truth is, that nobody actually remembers that day!
So my advice; keep it simple, and if there is no name day, just celebrate your birthday!
If you want to learn which Greek wished you can use for birthdays and name days, then you will find everything you need in Greek, Greeklish, and English, in the eBook below.
Greek Wishes For Social Occasions And Celebrations (eBook + Audio Link)