Greek nomenclature conformed in many important respects to the Indo-European pattern; its main features can be seen already in the Mycenaean texts and in Homer.

One name only was the norm for men and women. Secondary names given in the Classical and Hellenistic periods to public figures such as politicians, courtesans, and kings, usually linked by "o"/"n", "o"/"n" "epikaloumevos/n", etc., did not break this rule, since they were nicknames and were not handed down in the family.

While the single name was sufficient in private life, in public contexts, such as decrees, dedications, and tombstones, it was normally followed by the name of the father, the patronymic (very rarely that of the mother, the metronymic), or by the name of the husband (for women). It became standard practice to express the patronymic in the form of the father's name in the genitive: thus, "Ale3avdros Filippou", 'Alexander [son] of Philip'.

An early type of patronymic, detectable in Mycenaean texts and evident in Homer, an adjectival form with the suffix "-ios" ("Aias Telamwvios", 'Ajax son of Telamon'), survived in the historical period only in regions of Aeolic dialect, Boeotia, Thessaly, and Lesbos, where the parent's name took the suffix "-ios", or "-eios", and variants, according to the stem and the dialect (e.g. "Aga8wv 8raswvios", 'Agathon son of Thrason''; "Nikiaios", 'son of Nikias'; "Filivva Aristarxeia", 'Philinna daughter of Aristarchos').

A second patronymic form in Homer, with the suffix "-idns", and variants ("Ektwr Priamidns", 'Hektor son of Priam') formed independent names with no active patronymic force ("Aga8wvidns", "8raswv 8raswvidou").

The name and patronymic could in certain circumstances be further qualified by an indication of location (deme, tribe, or phratry). In cities with a deme structure, for example, the demotic was regularly given after the patronymic when at home, but seldom used abroad; city or regional ethnics (indicators of origin or political affiliation) would not be used except when abroad.


The name-giving is associated in our sources with the ceremony of the Amphidromia, and is assigned variously to the fifth, seventh, or tenth day after birth.

It was common practice to name the first son after his paternal grandfather, the second after his maternal grandfather, paternal uncle, etc. Naming a son after his father was much less common. Daughters were also often named after family members, but the evidence is less plentiful than for men.


Greek names could be simple or compound. In the first case a name could be identical to any noun or adjective (except for the compulsory retraction of the accent in some instances), but it could also be a derivative of any word, formed by means of various suffixes (masc. "-wv", "-iwv", etc., fem. "-w", "-is", etc.) including various suffixes ("-ulos" "-iskos", "-illa", "-ulla", etc.). Thus from the adjective "8rasus" 'bold', "8rasus", "8rasiwv", "8rasulla", etc.

Compound names such as "3av8ippos", which were probably felt to have higher status (cf.Ar.Nub., 60ff), were often replaced by shortened forms (hypocoristics) according to rules of formation which are not entirely predictable. Normally a large part of the second element of the compound is replaced by a suffix with or without gemination of the previous consonant: "Patroklos" from "Patroklns" (originally "Patroklens"), "Epiktas" from "Epiktntos", "Kleommas" from "Kleomevns", etc.

Names of men were masculine and declined according to the normal rules for words belonging to their declension; names of women normally were feminine but cold also be neuter (e.g. "Hdistiov") and again declined in the predictable manner. It is notable, however, that names allow types of formation which common adjectives or nouns avoid; an epitheton like "agestratos" is both masculine and feminine but the name "Timostratos" can only be used for a man, and a new form "Timostratn" is created for a woman. Similarly "akratns" is both masculine and feminine but "3evokratns" can only be a man and the woman's name is "3evokrateia", etc.


It is not possible to do more than hint at the enormous range of concepts drawn on to form names.

Among the substantives forming simple names (and combining in compound names) were the names of

Abstract nouns, including neuter nouns, were used particularly for women's names ("Aretn", "Euta3ia", "Dwrnma").

Compound names, could with certain exceptions, take their elements in either order. They commonly carried notions of

These and many other words combined to create thousands of different name-forms, some occurring in more than 50 different forms.

While there was a natural tendency for desirable attributes to be chosen, it was not always the case, and it remains a matter of psychological curiosity why some forms where chosen, and even handed down within families: thus, "aisxros" 'ugly' forming "Aisxros", "Aisxra", "Aisxriwv", "Aisxrw"; "kopros" 'dung' forming "Kopriwv", "Kopria, "Kopris"; "simos" 'snub-nosed' forming "Simos", "Simulos", "Simiskos".


Many studies have focused on particular categories of names.


Theophoric names were a recognized category in antiquity ("2ovomata 8eofora" and "a8ea", Ath.10.448e). They were based not only on gods' names, but also on their cult titles, and on months named after them. Adjectival derivatives of a deity's name, "Apollwvios"/"a", "Diovusios"/"a", "Dnmntrios"/"a", were among the most common Greek names.

Compound forms were likely to carry notions of

Thus based on the name of Zeus, with the root Dio-: "Diodwros", "Diodotos", "Diogevns", "Dioklns", "Diofavns", "Dioxarns", "Diogvntos", etc.

Some theophoric names reflect a local cult, for example "Karveadns", "Karvis", etc. common at Cyrene, a centre of cult of Apollo Carneius.

Non-Greek deities were also absorbed into nomenclature, as is shown by the spread from the late 3rd century BC, of names "Serapiwv", "Serapias", "Serapis", etc., derived from the Egyptian god Sarapis. With time, however, these and other names became neutralized, as the survival into the Christian period of names deriving from pagan shows.


The justification for believing in a category of distinctively 'slave' names has been undermined by the epigraphical evidence of manumission documents. It is true that certain types of name were common among slaves, notably derived from

Many of these names, however, were also borne by fee people, and many slaves had 'good' names indistinguishable from those of free people. The naming and renaming of slaves, on enslavement or at birth into slavery in the household, or at manumission, and the passing of manumitted slaves into the local population, are all factors tending to loosen the concept of a 'slave-name'. Servile status can never be deduced from the name alone without supporting circumstantial evidence.


In the Roman, and especially the imperial, period significant changes in nomenclature took place.

The practice developed, particularly in Asia Minor, of having two or more names, often linked by the formula such as "o"/"n" "kai", "epiklnv", "o xrnmatizwv" ("Ieroklns Lewv o kai 8raswv").

This can be seen as a development of earlier practice; with the spread of Roman citizenship, however the fundamental pattern of Greek nomenclature was broken. A Greek with Roman citizenship would usually record the praenomen and nomen (abbreviated and spelt in various ways, "T.", "Ti.", "Titos", "Fl.", "Flabios", "Flaouios"), and retain the Greek name in the cognomen ("T.Fl.Alkibiadns", "Aurnlia Filokrateia"). Under the impact of the tria nomina the patronymic was adapted in various ways, sometimes recorded in the Roman fashion before the cognomen, with or without "uios", sometimes retained after the cognomen ("Aur.Nikostratos Nikwvos", "Aur.Agnsas o priv Aga8ia"), approximating to Greek practice, and sometimes conveyed in a patronymic adjective formed in "-iavos"/"-iavn" ("Hrwdiavos", "Eutuxiavn").

Practice was very varied. In absorbing Roman citizenship into the nomenclature Greeks showed as much ingenuity and license as they had forming their own names.


In the Christian period, the single name became once more the norm, usually without the patronymic. By that time names had undergone a fundamental change under the influence of the new religion, though it was still possible to come across monks called Alcibiades and bishops called Serapion.


Reflecting as they do the full range of language, landscape, cults, and institutions, names offer an important means of understanding Greek society. Since J.-A.Letronne pointed out their potential in a pioneering article (Annali dell'Istituto 1845, 251ff.), they have been enormous advances in both the evidence for name and the study of them.



"Oxford Classical Dictionary," 3rd ed. (1996), pp.1022,1023