In forming names, the Ancient Greeks combined words that were taken from the world around them. Inspiration came from the landscape, religion, abstract cultural ideas and even politics.
Most Ancient Greeks had only one name. However, they could also have a patronymic, which was usually the father’s name in the genitive case. For example, ‘Alexandros Philippou’, which means, ‘Alexander, son of Philip’.
Sometimes their names were clarified by adding where they were from geographically. If they were from a large city then this could be their deme (land was subdivided into areas called demes), or if they were foreign, then their country or town of origin. An example of this would be the famous mathematician, Pythagorus of Samos.
Names were sometimes a single verb, noun or adjective, or sometimes a compound of two words. Here is a list of some famous names and their meanings:
AESCHYLUS: the Latin form of the Ancient Greek name Aischylos, derived from ‘aischos’ which means shame, odd as this is to modern ideas of what makes a good name.
ALEXANDER: or Alexandros, derived from ‘alexo’ which means ‘defend’ or ‘help’ and the genitive of ‘aner’, ‘andros’, which means ‘of man’.
ARISTOPHANES: derived from ‘aristos’ which means ‘best’ and ‘phanes’ which means ‘appearing’.
EURIPEDES: from ‘’eu’ meaning good and ‘rhipe’ meaning throw or swing
HIPPOCRATES: from ‘hippos’ meaning ‘horse’ and ‘kratos’ meaning ‘hold sway over’ or ‘power’.
PERICLES: from ‘peri’ meaning ‘around’ and ‘kleos’ meaning glory.
Even Modern Greek names can use a similar formula. Take the singer Yannis Philippakis. His surname is from ‘philo’ meaning ‘love’ or ‘like’ and ‘hippos’ meaning horse. The ‘akis’ part of the name means a pet name or a diminutive. A diminutive horse is a foal. Hence the name of Yannis’ band, Foals.