Friday, April 15, 2016


Athenian Names

Sterling Dow (1903-1995), "The Egyptian Cults in Athens," Harvard Theological Review 30.4 (October, 1937) 183-232 (at 217-218):
The considerations which determined Athenian parents in their choice of names appear to have been various. Traditionally the name of a boy's grandfather, or of his father, or a cognate form of one of those names, was the natural choice. During the second century B.C., this tradition was breaking down, as Ferguson observed,125 and the name might reflect a cult preference,126 or admiration for a famous man,127 or even the interests of travel, trade, or politics.128 Desire for a grandiose or merely unusual129 name was sometimes present; but the opposite tendency, namely to pick a name which was currently stylish, was more prevalent.

Not all deities were equally eligible. To seek in cult the favors of Asklepios was one thing; to name a child Ἀσκληπιόδωρος may have been quite a different thing. A new cult especially might in theory need many years before its deity was established in the minds of the citizens sufficiently for them to feel that their children should receive the name of that deity. Again, deities who were ugly in form or unpleasant in function might perhaps never provide names; such a god might be widely respected, but his name would be of evil omen.130 Names common among slaves might be avoided by others;131 doubtless too the slaves themselves would like names common among freemen.

In short, the figures on theophoric names should be examined with three principles in mind.132 (1) The absence of names from a given deity may not imply that the cult was absent or unpopular, but merely that the deity had associations such as made a theophoric name unsuitable.133 (2) A single instance of a given theophoric name, or a very few instances, appearing long before other instances of that name, indicate strong interest on the part of the families involved, but probably should not be taken as evidence that the cult was established. (3) Many instances of a given theophoric name in one limited period strongly suggest that the cult of the deity in question was then popular; but the continued use of that name in succeeding generations is increasingly less significant.

125 Hellenistic Athens, 423-424.
126 For stemmata which show this intrusion of foreign theophoric names, see NPA, 21, 28, 40, 85, 151. The intrusion in all of these cases occurs in the second century B.C.
127 Hellenistic Athens, 423-424.
128 Three daughters of Themistocles were Ἰταλία, Συβαρίς, and Ἀσία (Plut., Themis., 32).
129 Names from Poseidon, few and late, possibly were attractive because unusual, not because of a cult preference.
In general, there seems to have been a constant tendency in all periods to find new names. The total number of Athenian names is considerable, and almost every new inscription with a list of any extent reveals new names (cf. Prytaneis, passim).
130 The desire for an unusual name might overcome this feeling, e.g. Ῥαδάμανθυς Ἀττινοῦ (Ἀντιοχίδος), (N[achträge zur] P[rosopographia] A[ttica], late second century B.C.), in one of the few families which could name a son for Attis.
131 Names from Apollo: [Ernst] Sittig, [De Graecorum nominibus theophoris (Diss. Philol. Halenses, Vol. XX, pars I, 1911),] 11.
132 Thus it seems that Sittig, using his statistics mostly to try to determine the country of origin of the various deities (e.g., p. 85, Dionysos), fastened upon a question which, since the names are mostly late, his data do not positively answer.
133 Among 1500 theophoric names from Phrygia, 233 of which derive from Men, there is none from Isis. The proper inference here is doubtless, as Sittig remarked (p. 160), that the cult of Isis was weak or absent.
William Scott Ferguson (1875-1954), Hellenistic Athens: An Historical Essay (London: Macmillan and Co., Limited, 1911), pp. 423-424 (reference to Tacitus added by me):
At the same time changes were made in a matter so markedly conservative as national nomenclature; and, abandoning the traditional practice of giving their children family names, many citizens now used new formations, of which the name of Isis or Serapis1 or some other foreign deity was one component — a clear sign both of religious interest or conviction and of social disintegration. This weakening of old traditions is also betrayed to us by the custom frequently adopted in this age of conferring upon children the names of Romans or of famous Hellenistic kings and generals. An Alexander, Attalus, Seleucus, Pyrrhus now appears in many families which were high in Athenian society, and a Byttacus, Ptolemy, Parmenion, Ariarathes, Archelaus, Cleopatra, and the like were by no means of uncommon occurrence.2 Athens in this way came soon to have the appearance of being a conluvies nationum [Tacitus, Annals 2.55], without being such in fact.

1 Rusch, op. cit. 16.
1 BCH. 1908, p. 349, Nos. 886 and 887; 351, No. 407.

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