30 June 2014
Listening to tongue-twisters as sports
commentators wrestle with Greek names
I once had a working colleague who was of Greek descent and whose surname was Franceskides. It is a well-known Greek family name in both Greece and Cyprus, but it was interesting to hear her pronounce it in a very English way, like Francisk-eye-days.
I am reminded of this pronunciation every time I hear Dot Cotton trying, but failing, constantly, to name Andonis Papadopolous, the unseen Greek owner of the laundrette in EastEnders.
In a long-running joke, Dot has difficulty pronouncing this ordinary Greek surname, and for much of the soap opera’s history he has been referred to as Mr Oppodopolus, Oppydoppy, or varying other mispronunciations.
But, until Greece was defeated by Costa Rica in the penalty shoot-out last night, television commentators have had equal difficulty in pronouncing the names of the Greek squad in the World Cup.
In particular, midfielder Lazaros Christodoulopoulos (Λάζαρος Χριστοδουλόπουλος) managed to trip them up constantly, although he is well-known in Western Europe and plays for Bologna in italy.
So too with the defender Sokratis Papastathopoulos (Σωκράτης Παπασταθόπουλος), who scored last night’s late equaliser for Greece. But he too should be well known as he plays as a centre back for the German Bundesliga club Borussia Dortmund.
Striker Kostas Mitroglou (Κωνσταντίνος Μήτρογλου) may have found a little more recognition because he plays for Fulham. But I wonder how many commentators also realised that his surname indicates some Turkish ancestry on his father’s side of the family.
And there were constant difficulties in distinguishing the surnames of the Olympiakos and Greek central midfielder Andreas Samaris (Ανδρέας Σάμαρης) and the winger/striker Georgios Samaras (Γεώργιος Σαμαράς), from Iraklion in Crete, who also plays for Celtic in Scotland. Neither player should be confused with the Greek Prime Minister Antonis Samaras (Αντώνης Σαμαράς).
There is no reason for Greek surnames to become tongue twisters for football commentators. They can be broken down into simple parts, and often illustrate the colourful diversity of Greek family stories and backgrounds. How sweet to have a goalkeeper whose surname is Glykós (Γλυκός), meaning “sweet.”
Most Greek surnames are patronymics, indicating descent from an ancestor with a well-known given name. Other surnames are derived from an ancestor’s occupation, or characteristic, and in some cases they indicate a place of origin. So, there is very little difference between the way surnames have been formed in Greece and how they have been formed in England or in Ireland.
Because of their codification in the modern Hellenic state, surnames have formal Greek or Καθαρεύουσα (katharevousa) forms, although katharevousa was abolished as the official standard language in Greece in 1981 by the government of Andreas Papandreou.
For example, the ancient Greek name Eleutherios (Ελευθέριος, the “Liberator”) forms the modern Greek proper name Lefteris (Λευτέρης).
In the past, it was a common practice to prefix the surname to the proper name, so that someone called Manolis Xrysakis was known as Xrysakis Manolis. Modern practice is to call the same person Giannis Eleftheriou (Γιάννης Ελευθερίου).
You can see here that the proper name is vernacular (and not Ioannis, Ιωάννης), but the surname is an archaic genitive.
Some Greek surnames have the prefixed with Papa- (Παπα-), indicating descent from a priest. So in the case of the late Andreas Papandreou (Ανδρέας Παπανδρέου), his surname indicates descent from a priest named Father Andrew. The defender Sokratis Papastathopoulos was one of the tongue-twisters in Brazil these past few weeks.
Prefixes such as Archi- and Mastro- signify “boss” and “tradesman” respectively. Christos Archontidis (Χρήστος Αρχοντίδης) is a well-known Greek player/manager.
Prefixes such as Konto-, Makro- or Chondro-, describe physical features, such as “short,” “tall/long” or “fat” – although no-one playing this year’s World Cup squad seems to have had ancestors with these appearances.
The prefixes Gero- and Palaio- signify “old” or “wise.”
The prefix Hadji- indicates an honorific imitating the Turkish hadj or pilgrimage, and so tells us this family is descended from someone who made a pilgrimage, but in the case of Greeks this is a pilgrimage to Jerusalem and not to Mecca.
The prefix Kara- is attributed to the Turkish word for “black” and dates back to the Ottoman era. An example of this type of surname is provided by the Greek captain, Giorgos Karagounis (Γιώργος Καραγκούνης).
Many Greeks also have surnames that indicate descendent from the Arvanite people in northern Greece, who originally spoke a language close to Albanian dialects. For example, çanavar is the word in Arvanitika for “brave” or παλληκάρη (pallikári) in Greek. The original Turkish word canavar means “monster”). In its shortened form çavar it was pronounced tzanavar or tzavar, giving rise to Greek family names such as Tzanavaras and Tzavaras. This may explain the origin of the surname of Georgios Tzavellas (Γεώργιος Τζαβέλλας), who plays at left back or centre back for PAOK and the Greek national team.
The tags at the end of Greek surnames, or suffixes, are usually diminutives and they vary by region, so they often give clues to a person’s regional ancestry. These Greek suffixes include:
-akis (-άκης): associated primarily with Crete and the Aegean Islands. The writer Nikos Kazantzakis (Νίκος Καζαντζάκης), the former New Democracy Prime Minister Constantine Mitsotakis (Κωνσταντίνος Μητσοτάκης) and the composer Mikis Theodorakis (Μίκης Θεοδωράκης) are all from Crete.
-as (-ᾶς): from Macedonia and the Epirus. Examples may include defender Kostas Manolas (Κώστας Μανωλάς), ho also plays for Olympiakos; defender Vangelis Moras ( Βαγγέλης Μόρας), who plays in Italy as a centre back for the Serie A club Hellas Verona; and the unusually-named German-born José Lloyd Cholebas (Χοσέ Λόυντ Χολέβας), who was born in Germany and plays for Olympiakos and Greece.
-atos (-ᾶτος): often indicates a family with origins in Kephalonia. The suffix is of Italian derivation, and is traced to the Veneto region, where it is found as -ato. Kephalonia, the island featured in Captain Corelli’s Mandolin, was a Venetian possession for almost 500 years.
-elis (-έλης) and -ilis (-ιλής) are probably suffixes from Anatolia, and they were found throughout western Anatolia and on the islands of Mytilini, Lemnos and Imbros. The winger and striker Nikolaos Karelis (Νικόλαος Καρέλης), who plays for Panathinaikos, is from Iraklion in Crete.
-allis (-άλλης) and -ellis (-έλλης) are both suffixes deriving especially from the Dodecanese, mainly the island of Rhodes.
-idis, -ides, -iadis and -iades (-ίδης, -ιάδης): are parts of very ancient last names and clan forms used in the Pontic Alps region and among Pontic Greeks from other parts of north-east Anatolia. These suffixes are also found among including Caucasus Greeks from Georgia, and other parts of former southern Russia.
Vasilis Torosidis (Βασίλης Τοροσίδης) plays for Greece and the Italian Serie A club Roma. The Greek winger Giannis Fetfatzidis (Ιωάννης Φετφατζίδης) also plays for Genoa. Midfielder Panagiotis Tachtsidis (Παναγιώτης Ταχτσίδης) plays for Greece and for the Italian Serie A club Torino. Winger/striker Dimitris Salpingidis (Δημήτρης Σαλπιγγίδης) plays for PAOK in Thessaloniki and for the Greek team.
-opoulos (-όπουλος) is a suffix that means “descendant of.” It is first used in the Peloponnese in the 10th century, but has since become widespread throughout Greece. I know someone who once mused about opening a small shop in a resort town in Crete and calling it “Shoptilyoudropoulos.” As well as Dot Cotton’s mispronounced boss Andonis Papadopolous, examples in this year’s World Cup squad include Sokratis Papastathopoulos and Lazaros Christodoulopoulos.
-oglou (-όγλου): this suffix has roots in Turkish, in which -oğlu indicates “son of.” This ending is found in the surnames of people whose ancestors were immigrants from Asia Minor or Turkish speakers in the Dodecanese or northern Greece. Examples include striker Kostas Mitroglou (Κωνσταντίνος Μήτρογλου), who came on as a sub last night and who plays for Fulham.
-ou (-ου): this genitive, when it is used in a male surname, is found mainly in Cyprus. Surnames in the present Cypriot cabinet include Emilianidou, Nicolaou, Panayiotou and Lambrianidou. Before the World Cup, Christos Mastrou, Panos Constantinou, Giorgos Loizou, Charis Kyriakou, Marios Stylianou, Nicholas Ioannou, Marios Nicolaou, Giorgos Vasiliou, Pieros Sotiriou and Andreas Papathanasiou were all called up for the friendly match Cyprus played against Japan last month [27 May 2014].
-akos (-ᾶκος): this is mainly from Laconia, and particularly the Laconian area in the Mani peninsula. The winger Dimitris Saravakos (Δημήτρης Σαραβάκος), known as O Μικρός (“The Kid”), is one of the best Greek players of all time. He played for Panionios, Panathinaikos FC, and AEK Athens in the 1980s and 1990s, and captained Greece in the 1994 World Cup. He is now a strategic adviser for Panathinaikos.
-eas (-εας): like -akos, this suffix is also associated with the Mani peninsula, and mainly with the Messenian area. Anelos Charisteas (Άγγελος Χαριστέας) played a crucial role when Greece won the UEFA Euro 2004, scoring three vital goals – including the winning goal against Portugal in the final.
-tis and -otis (-της, -ώτης) mean “of” a place, indicated where someone’s ancestors come from. Defender Giannis Maniatis (Γιάννης Μανιάτης), who plays for Olympiakos, may have ancestors from the Mani peninsula.
-tzis, -tsis (-τζής, -τσής) and the feminine -tzi, -tsi (-τζή, -τσή) are of Turkish origin and signify an occupation, trade or profession. It could be compared to the ending -er in English occupational surnames such as Butcher, Baker and Thatcher.
-lis (-λής) is another suffix of Turkish origin, found among Greek people whose families were forced to leave Anatolia. Alexandros Tziolis (Αλέξανδρος Τζιόλης) in the Greek squad is from Katerini in Macedonia, northern Greece, and plays for PAOK.
Greek surnames may also indicate distant ethnic origins. For example, Frangopoulos (Φραγκόπουλος) means “Son of a Frank” – in this case and in the case of Franceskides, Frank means a Crusader, or even a Roman Catholic. Persopoulos (Περσόπουλος) means “Son of a Persian,” Servopoulos (Σερβόπουλος) means “Son of a Serb,” and Voulgaropoulos (Βουλγαρόπουλος) means “Son of a Bulgar.”
What happens with women’s surnames? Generally they are found in the katharevousa genitive case of a male name. The feminine version of Greek surnames is generally the genitive of the woman’s father’s name or her husband’s name – for example Mr Yannatos and Mrs Yannatou – which can cause confusion and difficulties when it comes to some popular Cypriot surnames.
This is an innovation in modern Greece. However, the Byzantine practice was to form a feminine counterpart of the male surname. For example, we find the Byzantine male Palaiológos (Παλαιολόγος), the Byzantine feminine Palaiologína (Παλαιολογίνα), but the modern feminine Palaiológou (Παλαιολόγου).
In the past, women would change their surname when they married to their husbands’ surname, but using the genitive case. This signified the transfer of “dependence” from the father to the husband. Today however, most Greek women do not change their surname when they get married, although some women sometimes use their husbands’ surname socially.
And just to cause confusion, as Greece exits gracefully from Brazil 2014, there is a Greek sports player called Costas Rigas (Κώστας Ρήγας) – he is a retired Greek professional basketball player, and a former professional basketball referee who turned 70 this year.