Monday, 15 December 2008


As in many countries, on December 6 Greece celebrated St. Nicholas. However this 6th December was marked by a historically low point in modern Greek history, because a 15-year-old teenager was killed by a bullet from the police (which has now been proved, was not aimed at him) where after massive demonstrations against the police and against the government took place, riots broke out and they still continue. The damage caused by the hooligans is enormous.

So last week there was little to celebrate in the big cities of Greece. And Saint Nicholas is here not a celebration for children (see also: Santa Claus), but it is the name-day of all people called Nicos, and there are many of them in Greece. Saint Nicholas is also the patron saint of all seamen and many churches along the coast are built in his honour. These small churches, some of which are built on impossible places and far from villages, most of the year look very desolate, but on the day of Saint Nicholas they get plenty of visitors.

If you look through the calendar of saints and Greek name-days, you will find the most beautiful names. But only a small number of them are regularly used. Greece has a rather particular way of giving names. The eldest daughter and son are called after their grandmother or grandfather, so that the same names always continue to circulate in the family and many nieces and cousins have the same name. Few parents dare to break with this tradition.

In the eyes of foreigners, it is funny that most Greeks are called all the same names. Like here on Lesvos names like Dimitris, Yorgos, Nikos, Jannis, Stratos, Panayiottis, Mary, Ismini, Elpiniki, Eleni and Dimitra you will hear quite often. Just call 'Yannis!' in a full taverna and I guarantee that at least ten men will stand up. For me it's still a mystery how the Greeks can separate all these people with the same name. Many are known by their family name or have a nickname. It's also little use to identify a person by his partner; we know at least three couples named Yorgos and Maria.

Some names are derivatives: Tula comes from Efstratoela, Babis is derived from Charalambos, Akis from Argirios, Zina from Zinovios. Tasos comes from Anastasios, which is derived from Anastasi (the resurrected), and this name-day is always at Easter.

Some names are bound to a region. Like here on Lesvos there are not so many people called Pavlos as elsewhere in Greece, but you find many of them in the southwest of Crete, where St. Paul was almost shipwrecked about 2000 years ago. There are also people named after a Greek such as Dionysos, the god of wine and partying. But then he is named after a saint that is named after a Greek god.

Newborn babies come off even worse. These shouldn't be named before they are baptized, and baptism happens one year after the birth, so officialy all Greek children live their first year of life under the name of baby!

There are a few names that are not derived from the name of a saint. Those people can celebrate their name-day on All Saints Day, which is 8 weeks after Easter, a variable date because (Greek Orthodox) Easter is always on a different date.

Birthdays are not much celebrated in Greece. Therefore name-days even more. If you keep an eye on the calendar, you will know exactly where all the parties will be. The day that many Greeks celebrate their name-day will probably be the 15th of August, the Assumption day of Maria, when all Marias and Panyottis celebrate as well.

Since the riots have broken out there have been the name-days of Ambrosius, Anna, Spiros, Stratos (Efstratios) and Lukas. Yesterday was quite a busy day: David, Adam, Debora, Danai, Abraham, Aaron, Arrianos, Eva, Esther, Liki, Isaac, Job, Noa, Rachel, Rebecca, Roemini and Sara. Today, December 15, there are only a few celebrators: Lefteris, Anthi, Sylvia and Suzanna. Chronia Pola! Here are the most important name days:

January 1: Vassilis
January 6: Fotis
January 7: Jannis
January 17: Adonis

February 10: Charalambos
February 17: Theodoros

March 25: Vangelis

April 23: Jorgos (as on this day Easter falls 2 days, the name-opposition)

May 5: Irini
May 9: Christos
May 21: Kostas, Eleni

June 29: Petros, Pavlos, Apostolis

July 8: Theofilos
July 20: Elias

August 15: Mary, Panaiotti
August 30: Alexandros

September 14: Stavros

October 26: Dimitris

November 8: Michalis, Angeliki
November 26: Stelios
November 30: Andreas

December 5: Savvas
December 6: Nikos
December 9: Anna
December 12: Spiros
December 25: Manolis
December 27: Stefanos

Copyright © Smitaki 2008

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