Is that your real name?

This is a question I hear in almost every tour.

Yes it is my real name.

No, it is not an alias, put on for the sake of the job (unlike tourist agencies with names like Poseidon or taverns named Socrates).

Why is it so strange that I should bear that name? After all, Alexander is a very common name, and is equally old. Why should one be accepted as perfectly natural and not the other?

There are many ancient Greek names in use among modern Greeks. For the men, warriors and thinkers are the most prevalent; there are many a Leonidas, Ulysses, Socrates, or Plato, for example. Gods are less common, with the exception of Phoebus (another name of Apollo) and Dionysus. Among women, one finds many a Helen (of Troy), Aphrodite (Venus) or Artemis (Diana), to name but a few.

Many names were perpetuated by saints who bore Greek names such as Alexander or Helen, to name but two of the most common.

Others owe their prevalence to the wave of Greek revival which swept the Greek speaking world a century or so before the country won its independence. The Enlightenment with its various declarations of human rights and the rights of nations to independence struck a chord with the Greeks (who lived under occupation by the Ottoman Turks at the time). Their struggle to strengthen their sense of national identity led to an avid study of ancient Greek literature and history. This in turn produced a wave of boys and girls named after historic or mythological figures, alongside those bearing more common Christian names, such as Nick, George and Peter (which are also Greek names). Today both traditions coexist happily, although fashion always plays a role with some names being more popular than others.

The thing I still cannot understand is this: even non-Greeks have been familiar with the name Aristotle since school. Most can pronounce it reasonably well, yet even those will eventually ask “May I call you Ari?”

And that is something I still haven’t gotten used to, despite all those years on the job.

Before I finish this post, I couldn’t resist posting a photo of my famous namesake and one of myself. I had to look hard for one where I’d look pensive enough, and found this, snapped on a cold winter day (alas, my frown is not due to deep philosophical thoughts, but to waiting too long for the bus).

So what do think? Find any similarities between us?


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