Tuesday, August 16, 2005


Redende Namen

Gotthold Ephraim Lessing, Hamburg Dramaturgy 90 (March 11, 1768, tr. Helen Zimmern):
Comedy gave names to its personages, names which by means of the grammatical derivation and composition or by some other meaning expressed the characteristic of these personages, in a word they gave them speaking names, since it was only needful to hear in order to know at once of what nature those would be who bore those names....Whoever wishes to be convinced of this by more examples let him study the names in Plautus and Terence. Since their plays are all derived from the Greek, so the names come from the same source, and in their etymology have always a reference to the social condition, the mode of thought, and so forth that these personages had in common with others, even if we cannot now clearly amd certainly trace this etymology.

Die Komödie gab ihren Personen Namen, welche, vermöge ihrer grammatischen Ableitung und Zusammensetzung oder auch sonstigen Bedeutung die Beschaffenheit dieser Personen ausdrückten: mit einem Worte, sie gab ihnen redende Namen; Namen, die man nur hören durfte, um sogleich zu wissen, von welcher Art die sein würden, die sie führen....Wer er sich durch noch mehr Beispiele hiervon überzeugen will, der darf nur die Namen bei dem Plautus und Terenz untersuchen. Da ihre Stücke alle aus dem Griechischen genommen sind: so sind auch die Namen ihrer Personen griechischen Ursprungs und haben, der Etymologie nach, immer eine Beziehung auf den Stand, auf die Denkungsart oder auf sonst etwas, was diese Personen mit mehrern gemein haben können; wenn wir schon solche Etymologie nicht immer klar und sicher angeben können.
George E. Duckworth, The Nature of Roman Comedy (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1952; rpt. 1971), pp. 347-350, gives many examples of redende Namen (tell-tale names) from Plautus and Terence, from which I select just a few:But we see significant names in the earliest examples of classical literature, for example at Homer, Iliad 5.59-61 (tr. A.T. Murray):
And Meriones slew Phereclus, son of Tecton, Harmon's son, whose hands were skilled to fashion all manner of curious work.
A tékton is a carpenter, and a hármon is a joiner.

I've adopted Michael Hendry's ingenious suggestion for transliterating Greek characters:
Greek can be transliterated precisely, if inelegantly, in plain HTML by underlining eta and omega as above, except when the circumflex makes it superfluous. In effect, I put the long mark under the vowel instead of over it. Using w for omega and h for eta may be clearer in some ways, but HTML doesn't allow accents on (English) consonants.

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