BMCR 2020.10.19

Changing names: tradition and innovation in ancient Greek onomastics

, Changing names: tradition and innovation in ancient Greek onomastics. Proceedings of the British Academy, 222. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2019. xv, 300 p. ISBN 9780197266540. $105.00.

[Authors and titles are listed at the end of the review.]

Naming practices and preferences are subject to fashion, prestige, and cultural gravity that are the product of the historical circumstances of the time. These practices change extensively when one culture comes into contact with another, or when centres of power shift. For these reasons, anthroponymy is a constant interest in the study of antiquity. Changes in naming practices may appear at either an individual or a societal level, but in both cases ‘naming is one of the areas of silent change that make up most of the history of time’ (p. 20). This last quotation encapsulates the scope of the chapters in this collective volume. They coherently and successfully contribute to an understanding of the significance of naming choices in the ancient world. The book that results greatly facilitates research in both ancient Greek onomastics and in ancient onomastics in general.

The book opens with an insightful introduction (Chapter 1), which, in addition to setting out the purpose, scope and main topics of the volume, can serve as an independent chapter in its own right. It is by the editor of the volume, who engages with the most recent and important scholarship and bibliography to offer an excellent account of recent developments and trends in Greek onomastics. With a lengthy research record in the field, he offers the reader an account of the methodology of the best research on Greek names and draws upon a wide range of sources, from Mycenaean to early Byzantine times to do so, thus giving the reader an excellent methodological tool of great help in the study of ancient onomastics. Thereafter the chapters are arranged in basically chronological order, which allows patterns and developments over time to become visible. The chapters, however, are not chronologically tightly grouped within clearly demarcated time periods and so offer a clearer understanding of naming changes and onomastic developments over time.

Meißner’s chapter, which follows on the Introduction, examines personal names attested in the Mycenaean Linear B tablets. The chapter contributes to the understanding ofMycenaean onomastic practices and their survival, or indeed complete abandonment, in later Greek language and society. Besides a study in historical and comparative onomastics, the chapter also offers an important linguistic analysis. The next chapter, by Hatzopoulos, examines the onomastic landscape of two cities in Macedonia, Aigeai and Pella, which makes for an interesting case study of the role of local particularities in onomastic developments within a region. The chapter also makes a valuable contribution to approaches for dealing with ancient onomastics in that it contains an appendix containing a) a classification of onomastic patterns and tastes, and b) a valuable classified catalogue of the names attested. In the next chapter, Knoepfler offers a theoretical model applicable to onomastic studies beyond Greek onomastics. Focussing on the onomastic corpus of Boeotia from the Hellenistic period to the Third Century AD, he proposes a ‘seasonal’ model for the examination of local developments in onomastic preferences. The issues of change and continuity in onomastic practices are thus dealt with in a sophisticated, but still practical manner.

‘An Essay on Satyr Names’ (Chapter 5) stresses how personal names arise from folk material. The writer (Curbera) examines the names used or coined for satyrs beyond their mere linguistic importance, as reflections of various onomastic strategies and their connotations. Together with discussion of practices and choices, there is a catalogue and commentary on 37 satyr names. Corsten’s chapter presents a much-needed overview of naming-change practices with evidence drawn, most innovatively, from literary sources in addition to the epigraphic and papyrological evidence. With a focus on the semantics of ‘democracy,’ Chapter 7 (Lambert) examines the use of ‘Δημοκράτης’ with regard to its semantic connotation, shedding light on the creation and use of speaking names and their interaction with the political circumstances.

Interactions between languages as well as cultures are also reflected in naming strategies and in the choices of individuals and communities alike. Thus changes in the relationship between naming practices and developments in the choice of names over time are indicative of the way the interactions are perceived. With this in mind, Dana (Chapter 8) discusses the interactions between Greek and Thracian onomastic practices. In a similar vein, in Chapter 9 Schuler examines the onomastic landscape of Lycia as a case study in regional onomastics, where language and cultural contacts, social change and shifts in power result in various onomastic repertoires and practices. The chapter analyses these developments over time, thus contributing, in addition to knowledge of changes in onomastics alone, also to knowledge of linguistic developments in the region. The issue of Greek-Latin language contacts that has been introduced in the previous chapters is thoroughly examined by Balzat in ch. 10. Although the presence and use of Greek names in the Latin-speaking world has attracted much interest in the past, the use of Latin names in Greek poleis has only recently been discussed and Balzat’s chapter is a valuable contribution to the ongoing conversation. Onomastic practices and patterns are discussed collectively, offering a theoretical framework within which ample examples are presented. The issue is discussed further by Rizakis, an expert on Roman onomastics in the Greek world. His chapter points to shifts in identity and to new concepts of status that arise from the use of Roman names. In the last chapter of the volume, Destephen discusses changes in onomastic repertoires that arise from the spread of Christianity, thus contributing to the question of how far contact is reflected in onomastic practice. In the view of the author, who makes a case study of Asia Minor, the Hellenization and subsequent Romanization of the area enhanced the onomastic pool of the area, before the introduction of Christian names offered a greater variety in changing one’s name or naming one’s children with an inclination towards Christian names.

The book is conspicuous for its impeccable editing. It is, however, its usefulness and importance for scholarship that makes it an important addition to any serious library. The individual case studies are particularly interesting for historians and linguists specializing in particular regions. However, all chapters are notably coherent in themselves and offer an overall view of onomastic developments in the Greek world that makes the publication an invaluable addition to the study of ancient names. It is also essential for any historian or linguist who is interested in the significance of onomastic evidence and requires an up-to-date account of the historical and linguistic developments attested in personal names. Finally, the title of the book (Changing Names) nods towards another matter that all the chapters in the book are aware of, namely, onomastic change that does not result from intergenerational transmission, but occurs during the life of an individual, a matter rarely explored.

The book is also important for establishing methods and valid approaches to the study of personal names that are applicable to both ancient and modern onomastics. This does not mean, however, that the reader has to deal with generalised discussion. The writers all examine their cases within a specific context, which leads to fruitful results. In addition to appealing to students of the Greek world, it will also attract anybody interested in Latin onomastics and naming practices in the Roman world. In particular, Chapters 3, 6, 8, 9, 10, 11, and 12 make direct reference to Roman sources and evidence, which often includes Latin inscriptions and names, while Chapter 4 provides a useful tool that can be applied to regional onomastics in a Latin-speaking (or other) area. In this regard, the book is a useful introduction to the effects of contact between Greeks and Romans upon onomastics and naming practices in the eastern Mediterranean. The book also contributes to the study of literary onomastics. In the introduction itself, the editor includes many examples and treatments of names in Greek literature, with examples that are filled out and fully discussed especially in Chapters 5, 6, and 7. Specific chapters will also be useful in the teaching of (ancient) history, classics, and linguistics at an undergraduate level, as they often use onomastic evidence as their starting point for the interpretation of historical and/or linguistic developments.

Authors and titles

1. Introduction: Robert Parker
2. Greek or Minoan? Names and Naming Habits in the Aegean Bronze Age: Torsten Meißner
3. Aigeai and Pella: A Tale of Two Cities in Macedonia: Miltiades Hatzopoulos
4. The Four Seasons of Boeotian, and Particularly Thespian, Onomastics: Denis Knoepfler
5. An Essay on Satyr Names: Jaime Curbera
6. Name Changes of Individuals: Thomas Corsten
7. Δημοκράτης the Democrat?: Stephen Lambert
8. Onomastics Interactions: Greek and Thracian Names: Dan Dana
9. Lycian, Persian, Greek, Roman: Chronological Layers and Structural Developments in the Onomastics of Lycia: Christof Schuler
10. The Diffusion of Roman Names and Naming Practices in Greek Poleis (2nd c. BC–3rd c. AD): Jean-Sébastien Balzat
11. New Identities in the Greco-Roman East: Cultural and Legal Implications of the Use of Roman Names: Athanasios Rizakis
12. Christianisation and Local Names in Asia Minor: Fall and Rise in Late Antiquity: Sylvain Destephen