Did you know that Greeks celebrate a Name Day as well as their birthday? In this insight into Greek culture, we explain all about Name Days in Greece, which ones are the most popular, and more!
What exactly is a name day in Greece?
Here’s the simple version: The best way to describe a name day in Greece is a day when Greeks celebrate their name.
But, because it’s Greece, of course it’s slightly more complicated than that!
We could say that a Name Day is kind of like a birthday, but it has to do with your given name rather than your date of birth.
For example, if your name is Eleni you will celebrate your name on a different day than a Vassiliki.
My Own Name Day
Talking of which, although I write on this blog as Vanessa (which is how everyone, even my parents call me), my actual first name is Vassiliki.
This in some ways is quite unfortunate, because my Name Day falls on New Year. As a result, there’s already one celebration going on, so it sometimes doesn’t feel as special. Oh well!
Name Day Customs in Greece
There are also customs associated with a Name Day, so traditionally, people would arrive uninvited at your house and you would have to treat them when it was your name day.
Nowadays, when many people work in offices, your colleagues would expect you to bring a treat to the office instead.
Note: It’s considered quite rather insulting to forget someone’s name day, particularly for the older generations. It’s not unusual for the phone to ever stop ringing on a name day, with people calling up to say hi and have a quick chat. You’ll also find that people’s Facebook walls are filled with greetings!
How are you given your name day in Greece?
According to Greek tradition, children are often named after their grandparents, who in turn had been named after theirs. This was a way to honour the ancestors, and it’s something that is common in many cultures.
It isn’t certain how far back this tradition goes here in Greece. What is certain, however, is that in some families there are often many cousins with the same first name. These were all named after the same grandparent.
In large families, this can be quite confusing. So now you know why you can meet many Kostas, Dimitris, Giorgos, Giannis, Elenis and Marias in Greece!
These days, things are a little different. While many couples like to follow the tradition, others choose to give different names to their children. Therefore, the popularity of certain names has risen in recent years. There definitely aren’t as many young children named “Konstantinos” and “Eleni” as there were two generations ago. Instead, you may meet more children named “Marios”, “Zoe” and “Natalia”.
Surprisingly (or maybe not), the choice of the child’s name can cause a lot of trouble. It could be that the couple prefers a new name, but the grandparents insist that their name is passed on. Or even worse, it could be that the couple disagrees on the name.
This is an ultra sensitive issue, and it can end up in several arguments. It can get even worse if the child is given a somewhat embarrassing name, of which there are a few.
What do Greece name days have to do with the Orthodox religion?
For many Greek people, chances are that their name originally belonged to a certain orthodox saint. There are plenty of names where an equivalent exists in other languages. As an example, Giorgos is George, Giannis is John, and Eleni is Helen.
The majority of Greeks living in Greece have been baptized and christened. These are two major orthodox rituals that happen on the same day, very early in a child’s life. The toddler is dipped into a special basin reserved for this purpose. The whole ceremony lasts for about an hour, and afterwards the child officially has a name. Now comes the hard part, and everyone needs to stop calling them “baby”!
In cases of popular names, it is likely that the person was named after a well-known saint. Thinking about it though, there are literally hundreds of names that are extremely rare. I still meet people with names I’ve never heard of before. Furthermore, there are plenty of saints for whom there is a name day, but I’ve never met anyone with this name. Just a few examples – Iakinthos, Floros, Fylakas, Rodanthi, Ersi, Gerakina.
Are all Greeks named after Orthodox saints?
The answer here is no. When you are in Greece, you will meet people who have ancient Greek names. As an example, we’ll take some famous people from the Iliad, like Agamemnon and Aias. Though they are not the most common names, you will occasionally meet someone who was named after an ancient Greek hero. Somewhat common ancient Greek names for women are Alkmene and Electra.
As a side note here, Greeks at the time of Homer had names relevant to their actions or their qualities. For instance, the name “Odysseus” can be translated as “the persecuted”.
Certain names were used in both the ancient world and when Christianity came over. So, a person named Socrates wasn’t necessarily named after the famous Greek philosopher. He may have been named after the St Martyr Socrates, who was beheaded in Ankara in the 3rd century AD. Other popular names that have survived over the centuries are Heracles, Achilles and Plato, but also the more common Eleni and Dimitra.
As you would expect, the church has provided for people who weren’t named after a saint. They celebrate on Agion Panton day, which literally translates as “the All Saints Day”. Bring up your calendars – this is the 8th Sunday after Easter Sunday, so it’s not a standard date! For 2021, it will be celebrated on the 21th of June.
If the parents are not religious, it’s more likely that a child won’t be named after a saint. There are even examples of children who have names of popular communist leaders.
Why do so many Greeks have nicknames?
Now that’s a whole different story. As many of us were given very long names, our parents often came up with a shorter version. This version was often influenced by a famous actor of the times, or some popular foreign person. In fact, it could be the idea of a parent who disliked their mother in law… but we won’t touch upon this extremely delicate matter.
Some common nicknames for male names include Kostas > Konstantinos, Panos > Panagiotis, Spyros > Spyridon and the incredible Babis > Charalambos.
It gets a lot more complicated with women though. Vassiliki, which is quite common, is often transformed to Vasso, Vassia, Vickey, and my very own nickname Vanessa. But don’t get me wrong here – my mom adored my grandma, who was nicknamed Vasso!
To be fair, some Greek names are very difficult for foreign visitors to remember, let alone pronounce. So it’s probably for the best, especially for people working in tourism.
And why do you actually celebrate name days in Greece?
To answer this question, we would need to follow the official ecclesiastical tradition. Man is created in the image of God, and he is destined to celebrate and honour God. Man celebrates because Jesus Christ celebrates .
In this sense, honouring your christian name can only be understood through religion and prayer. The joy of celebrating equals the joy of salvation. Hence, observing name days throughout the year is meant to reinforce the celebration of life. And the saint who you are named after, is your protector saint for life.
For a few more things about religion in Greece, you can read our article here.
When are the most popular name days in Greece?
Here’s a list of some of the most important Greek name days.
- 1 January – Vassilis, Vassiliki, Vasso, Vickey, Vanessa (yes that’s me!)
- 6 January – Fotis, Fotini, Fani
- 7 January – Ioannis, Giannis, Ioanna, Gianna (St John)
- 17 January – Antonis, Antonia (St Anthony)
- 18 January – Athanassios, Thanassis, Athanassia
- 20 January – Efthimis, Efthimia
- 25 January – Grigoris
- 10 February – Charalampos, Babis, Charalampia, Chariklia
- 17 February – Theodoros, Thodoris, Theodora, Dora
- 19 March – Chrissanthi, Chrissanthos
- 25 March – Evangelos, Vangelis, Evangelia – this is the Annunciation Day
- Easter Sunday – Anastassis, Anestis
- 23 April – Giorgos, Georgia (St George). Note – on years when Easter is after the 23rd April, we celebrate St George’s day on Easter Monday.
- 5 May – Irini
- 21 May – Konstantinos, Konstantina, Kostas, Ntinos, Ntina, Nantia, Eleni, Elena. Like we say over here, this is a day when “half of Greece has a nameday”!
- 29 June – Petros, Pavlos (St Peter and St Paul)
- 17 July – Marina
- 26 July – Paraskevi, Vivian, Vivi
- 27 July – Pantelis
- 6 August – Sotiris, Sotiria
- 15 August – Maria, Despina and Panagiota (all for married women), Panagiotis
- 30 August – Alexandros
- 14 September – Stavros
- 17 September – Sofia
- 26 October – Dimitris, Dimitra
- 8 November – Michalis, Michaela, Aggelos, Aggeliki
- 21 November – Maria, Despina and Panagiota (all for single women)
- 25 November – Katerina
- 30 November – Andreas
- 6 December – Nikolaos, Nikos, Nikoletta, Niki
- 12 December – Spyridon, Spyros
- 15 December – Eleftherios, Lefteris, Eleftheria
- 22 December – Anastasia
- 25 December – Christos, Christina, Chryssoula
- 26 December – Manolis, Emmanouil
- 27 December – Stefanos
Name days in Greece
We hope this article has shed some light on the confusing subject of name days in Greece. Do you know someone Greek whose name isn’t mentioned in the list above? Feel free to ask us about their name day in the comments!
Check out these other insights into Greek culture and traditions: