Monday, August 15, 2016
An interesting example of this distinction between the literal and the "real" meaning of a name, and an illustration of the difficulty of using anthropological evidence to answer papyrological questions, is the case of copronyms, which have been the subject of a considerable body of scholarship. Most recently the long-prevailing theory that names based on the Greek word κόπρος ( = "dung") belong to people of slave origin has been convincingly refuted, but as yet no papyrologist has made a satisfactory explanation of why anyone would be named "Dung." A persuasive answer comes to us from the vast anthropological literature which attests to the common practice of naming; that is, for example, when a woman has had trouble conceiving a child, or has had a number of children die in infancy, she will name a new baby something negative in order to ward off the evil eye and thereby ensure the survival of her child. This phenomenon is copiously documented in various societies around the world, and makes perfect sense of the otherwise inexplicable phenomenon of copronyms. In other words, I am suggesting here that although the literal meaning of the name Κόπρος may be "dung," the true significance of the name in a particular case may be that the mother has had difficulty getting pregnant, or has lost three previous children in infancy, and is therefore choosing an apotropaic name to ward off the evil eye and ensure the survival of this child.I haven't seen Sarah B. Pomeroy, "Copronyms and the Exposure of Infants in Egypt," in Roger S. Bagnall and William V. Harris, edd., Studies in Roman Law in Memory of A. Arthur Schiller (Leiden: E.J. Brill, 1986), pp. 147-162. The word copronym doesn't appear in the Oxford English Dictionary. Copronyms exist today, e.g. Shitavious (Google it).
Labels: noctes scatologicae