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The Name Game, Part II

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Written by Basil on 10/25/2004 4:35 PM. Filed under:

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<— See Part I

On rare occasions, I reveal my affinity for those unorthodox Orthodox monastics, the Monks of New Skete, because I believe that they have gotten some things right. Their philosophy on name translation is one. If we look at the patristic and Orthodox names that have currency in English, there is a clear trend — with one or two notable exceptions.

Almost all of these names are originally Greek names (or perhaps Aramaic names in a Greek form — we’ll save the more difficult issue of the translation of Biblical names for another essay). Some, however, are originally Latin names. English Christianity is formed from two sources — Latin Roman Catholicism and French Norman nobility. (Unfortunately, much of the Celtic influence was effectively eradicated by the Latin Church, especially in terms of names, though its presence is still felt in the Anglican aesthetic sensibility.)

From the Franco-Norman influence we get the most recognizable English Christian names that come from Greek and Latin by way of French. In this group are Mary, Basil, John, Peter, Simon, Paul, Gregory, Anne, Augustine, Jerome, Anthony, Joseph. It is from French that we get the tendency to strip names of their Greco-Latin -us/-a endings.

Many other patristic and Orthodox names that already have currency in English are Latinized Greek names where the pronunciation has been Anglicized. Names that fall into this list are copius and too many to list, but a few are Ignatius, Photius (pronounced like Ignatius, mind you — FOE-shus), Macarius, Athanasius, Maximus, Anastasia, and the most recognizable from this category of names, Jesus.

So, in review, there seem to be two categories of Christian names in English: Those which have been filtered through Greek, Latin, and French and then Anglicized, and those which have been filtered through Latin and Anglicized only in pronunciation.

Based on this natural evolution of names, our path is clear: When there is a clear and common English equivalent, use it. When there is not, there is an equally clear path: Find a Latin equivalent and Anglicize the pronunciation. When there is not a Latin equivalent — a rare case indeed — Latinize the Greek spelling and Anglicize the pronunciation.

In the next installment, we will look at some very typical names as well as some odd cases that arise from applying the above guidelines.

See Part III —>

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2 Responses to “The Name Game, Part II”

  1. matt Says:

    I remember the first time I heard an OT reading about Elias and Elysius (spelling). It took me several minutes to figure out that I was hearing about Elijah and Elisha. For Biblical names, can’t we make a concession to English history and use KJV names?

    I like your solution for non-Biblical names.

  2. basil Says:

    That’s exactly why Biblical names are being saved for later. Personally, I wish we could just be consistent and use those Graeco-Latin names, but realistically, I recognize the more practical path is to use the Authorized Version names.