Review of "English Equivalents to Foreign Given
Names" Posted by US GenWeb Project

by Mary Papoutsy

New England Historic Genealogical Society (NEHGS) recently posted a review of a project of US GenWeb: the "English Equivalents to Foreign Given Names" (
. Appearing in the organization's online newsletter [eNews, Vol. 13, No. 14, Whole #473, April 7, 2010] reviewer Michael J. Leclerc reported that the data of the project was a "valuable research tool" for genealogists.

The project consists of a 114-page-long list of given names, arranged alphabetically by their root names. Leclerc elaborated on details of the list and how to use it: "Diminutives are included, but each name does not necessarily include all diminutives. The pages are PDF files. You can view the entire file or smaller batches of pages grouped alphabetically. Each page is presented in columns.
The first column contains the Root name. Next you will find common versions of the name, subdivided into male and female versions. The third column indicates whether you are viewing the male or female version. Then there are eleven columns which show the following versions of names: English, Czech, French, German, Hungarian, Italian, Lithuanian, Polish, Slovak,
Russian, and Yiddish/Jewish."

Leclerc qualified his brief positive review by indicating that the list was not complete, and also cited one drawback, that diacritical marks were not used. He believed that this omission was "unfortunate, . . .[since] diacriticals not only give an indication of pronunciation, but [also] indicate other spellings as they are used in place of letters."

HHGA undertook to assess the specific utility of the project for Greek-American subjects. European counterparts of names of Greek origin can assist researchers when pouring over passenger ship entries of the online Ellis Island Foundation database, especially when the subjects departed from ports outside of Greece. For instance, if a young Greek by the name of Mihalis departed for the U.S. from a French (or French-speaking port), his name might appear as "Michel." Petros, leaving from Naples in Italy might have his given name recorded as "Pietro." Ioannis might appear as "Giovanni," "Jean," "Johannes," or even "John," depending on the port of departure. But in order for the names of this US GenWeb project to offer meaningful assistance in researching Greek family history, there must be a column dedicated to representations of Greek given names. And, of course, the project doesn't have one.

What the project does offer, however, are a few names of Greek origin appearing in the Root name column among many others of different sources, like Aurelius, Archibald, Baruch, and Benedictus.

The omission of a Greek column is unsurprising in the world of genealogy, even if it is a glaring oversight. Few online resources are actually helpful for Greek-American genealogical research, despite claims otherwise, mirroring the dearth of printed or published materials. Cyndi's List, which Leclerc cites, has been of little assistance in the past for Hellenic subjects, and has even shown insensitivity to Greek topics and issues. The absence of a Greek column might even be excusable, particularly since there were other major languages omitted from the project, except that some of the root names of Greek derivation were listed incorrectly, suggesting another origin. For example, "Eustace," listed in the Root column, is actually from "Eustathios," a Greek name, so the root should have been listed as "Eustathios," not "Eustace. "Athanasius" is listed as the Root name of "Athanasios," "Constantinus" of "Constantine," and "Cyprianus" of "Cyprian," entirely untenable. These so-called Roots are Latinized versions of their Greek forbears. The Lithuanian "Krizostamas" is recorded as a variant of the Roots "Christphoros" and "Christos," again incorrect. How did the authors miss that "Krizostamas" is derived from the Greek "Chrysostomos"? Obviously, they did not check all Root names in etymological dictionaries before posting them to the Internet.

All 114 pages were perused for names of Greek origin. The following were found in the A-C section of the list, pages 1-27: Achilleus, Agathos, Aglaia, Agnes, Alexandros, Alexius, Alexander, Amarantos, Anacletus, Anastasius, Anatolius, Andreas, Angelus, Anna, Apollinaris, Ariadne, Aristides, Arkadios, Arsenius, Athanasius, Barbaros, Basileus, Berenice, Veronica, Charis, Chloe, Christophoros, Christos, Constantinus, Cornelius, Cynthia, Cyprianus, and Cyrus. Section D-F yielded: Damianos, Daphne, Dareios, Delphinus, Demetrios, Diana, Dionysius, and Dorotheus. Section G-I: Gennadius, Georgios, Gregorius, Hector, Helena, Herakles, Hippolytus, Hyacinthus, Irene, Ireneus, Iris. Section J-L: Jucund, Johannes, (Ioannis), Jerome (Hieronymus), Kalliope, Katherine, Kleopatra, Kosmas, Kyrillos, Larisa, Leander, Leo/Leonidas, Linda, Loukas, Lydia. Section M-O: Margaret, Melanie, Melissa, Methodius, Michael, Narcissus, Nestor, Nikephorus, Nicholas, Nicodemus, Olympia. Section P-R: Pamphila, Pancratios, Paraskeve, Pelagius, Penelope, Philip, Philomena, Phoebe, Phyllis, Plato, Polycarp, Praxedes, Prokopios, Protasius. Section S-T: Selene, Seraphinus, Sibyl, Sidonius, Sophia, Sophronius, Stephanos, Telesphore, Theodoros, Thekla, Theodosius, Theophanes, Theophilus, Timon,
Timothy. Section U-Z: Ursinus, Verginius, Victor, Xenia, Zechariah (Zacharias), Zenobia, Zeus, Zita. And if we had consulted an etymological dictionary, we probably would have attributed additional names to Greek origins.

How useful are these names of Greek origin in the database? For Greek-Americans, the answer must be that they are not very helpful at all.
Why? Because the immigrant ancestors of most Greek-Americans traveled directly from Greece to the U.S. So, it's unlikely that we would be searching for a European counterpart of our ancestor's given name. That's not to say that the project's database would never be useful, but it simply cannot offer much assistance in its present form.

How could the US GenWeb authors improve upon their database to assist investigations on Greek subjects? Well, for starters, they could add a column for Greek names, a column separate and distinct from the Root names section. This column would use the U.N.-approved method for the transliteration of Greek names into English, also listing common spelling variants, diminutives (often considered "nicknames"), and English translations where appropriate. Such a column might list, for example, the Greek diminutive for "Kosmas"--"(Kos)maki"--and an English "Mike" as an acceptable nickname. Under the Root name "Johannes," we might expect to see "Ioannis," along with more familiar forms such as "Yiannis" or "Yannis."

In short, although the NEHGS researcher found this database helpful, HHGA found it difficult to share in the enthusiasm. . . .

(Posted 15 April 2010)

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