BMCR 2024.07.13

Lexonyme: dictionnaire etymologique et semantique des anthroponymes grecs antiques, vol. 1 (A-E)

, , , , , Lexonyme: dictionnaire etymologique et semantique des anthroponymes grecs antiques, vol. 1 (A-E). Hautes etudes du monde gréco-romain, 63. Genève: Librairie Droz, 2023. Pp. 496. ISBN 9782600057547.

This volume is a very welcome and necessary update, after more than a hundred years, of Friedrich Bechtel’s Die historische Personennamen des Griechischen. Since then, our knowledge of ancient Greek anthroponymy has been enriched by a number of studies, but above all by the large number of inscriptions published during this period. In fact, the editors have so far dealt with ca. 40,000 names dating from the Archaic to the Byzantine period—as a frame of reference, Bechtel collected ca. 15,000 names from the Archaic to the Imperial period. The amount of material is so vast that this is the first of a series of three volumes, the second of which, corresponding to letters Ζ-Ξ, is expected to be published in the next years. Another important innovation is the fact that the printed volumes have been converted to an online format as part of the Lexicon of Greek Personal Names (LGPN) project. The linguistic information provided has been uploaded at LGPN-Ling . Therefore, they are a complement to the LGPN, and the names analysed are those collected there. As a matter of fact, one advantage of the printed dictionary over the online version is that the editors have incorporated the names comprised in Volume 5c (Inland Asia Minor) of the LGPN, which has yet to be uploaded to the project database.

The title Lexonyme gives us a clear idea of the focus of the analysis. Personal names are arranged according to the original term from which they derive. This is the principle Bechtel followed. However, there is an important difference to note: Bechtel divided his study into two main parts, the first being devoted to compound names and the short names derived from them (“Vollnamen und Kosenamen”), the second to the names with a single lexeme or corresponding to compound common nouns and epithets (“Die übrige Namen”). In Lexonyme, this division is no longer taken into account, so all the names are analysed indistinctly by identifying the lexeme(s) that serve(s) as the head of the dictionary entries. Obviously, this means that compound names appear under two or even three heads—in the rare cases where this occurs. For instance, a compound name such as Ἀρχίδημος appears under ἄρχω and δῆμος, while Θευδαγόρας, a compound of ἀγορά and a first part that can be related to Θεόδωρος vel sim. or Θουδῆς (< θεός + δείδω), appears under ἀγορά, δίδωμι / δ(ϝ)είδω, and θεός. However, Βούτας (cf. βούτης ‘herdsman’, an agent noun) and Βούκολος (cf. βουκόλος ‘idem’, a compound noun) only appear under βοῦς together with compound names such as Βουγένεια, Βουθήρας, or Πασίβοιος.

Entries are organised according to the base that is present in all the names listed under them. Each entry is further divided into subheadings corresponding to different derivatives of the same basic lexeme identified by word class. A good case is that of ἄρχω, whose entry is further subdivided under the subheadings ἀρχή, ἀρχός, ἀρχεύω / ‑αρχέω, ἀρχαῖος, ἀρχεῖος, ἀρχίδιον, ἄρχων, and ἀρχοντικός. At the next level, the phrasal head is a very important criterion for the analysis of compound names, i.e., the lexeme that determines the compound’s meaning, cf. Δημοκλῆς and Κλεοδῆμος, both meaning ‘glory of the people’ (= κλέος τοῦ δήμου). There are also lexicalisations, i.e., compound common nouns and epithets used as proper names such as Αὔτανδρος (adjective meaning ‘together with the men’, ‘men and all’ found in Polybius), Ἑκήβολος (one of Apollo’s epithets), or Ἐπιχάρης (= ἐπιχαρής ‘pleasing, welcome’). Finally, personal names are arranged under each heading according to their morphology. For instance, under Δίδυμος, which is considered a short form of the compounds in Δίδυμ(ο/α)-, there are Διδυμᾶς, Διδύμμει, Διδυμίας, Δίδυμις, and Διδύμων. At the last level, we find truncations, i.e., compounds in which one of the bases is reduced to a consonant such as Θṓγα, Θεωγᾶς, and Θεογῆς, cf. Θεογένης.

This is more or less the way in which Bechtel arranged his material, except for the distinction between compound and non-compound names. Bechtel did not include, however, any semantic information on the lexemes from which the names analysed were derived. The German scholar limited the information on the personal names comprised in his lists to their geographical origin, publication reference, and date. In this volume, the information on the personal names is profuse: aside from the meaning of the lexeme, thoroughly supported by an apparatus where necessary, references to Bechtel’s and other relevant sources are added whenever the name is encountered there. Also included are phonetic and/or morphological remarks, including references to specific studies on the subjects mentioned, or even literary parallels to the collocation that would have given rise to a compound name. For the sake of illustration, the information on one of the names used for the same purpose in the introduction is reproduced here: Ἁπλαροῦς {Απλαρους}, f. Κοτασις, m. Ἁγνία (1) Gr.-Anat. KP §76. Cf. Dubois, Onomatologos 412 (suffix -αρ-οῦς). All this means that Ἁπλαροῦς is a woman’s name (she is the daughter of Κοτασις and the mother of Ἁγνία) which is only attested once (1), that the form in which the name is printed in LGPN (Απλαρους) is amendable, and that it is an Hellenised Anatolian name (Gr.-Anat.) included in Zgusta’s study (KP) and analysed by Dubois in respect of its suffix.

Of course, this information is quite useful. Nevertheless, it is sometimes superfluous, as in the case of some literary quotes that show little relation to the phraseology behind the corresponding compound names. For instance, γνῶ γὰρ Διὸς ἱρὰ τάλαντα (Hom. Il. 16.658) as a literary parallel for the Argivan name Γνωhίαρος ‘knowing-sacred’—see Murray’s translation of the Homeric passage: “for he knew the turning of the sacred scales of Zeus”. Regarding the specific literature mentioned in the dictionary, it is generally sufficient, although some references are missing. In the case of Mycenaean names, for example, Landenius-Enegren’s and Nakassis’ studies are worth including, as they give a clear picture of the individuals behind the attested names.

Although the amount of information on the names is remarkable, this is not exactly an etymological dictionary, despite the subtitle (dictionnaire étymologique et sémantique des anthroponymes grecs antiques). The etymology of the lexemes as part of the personal names collected is rarely explored unless we understand the identification of these lexemes as an etymological exercise. To illustrate this, consider how one of the entries is presented: (ϝ)άναξ, -άνακτος, (ϝ)άνασσα m. f. « seigneur, souverain(e) » (Hom.+). Ἄνασσ(α). Ἀνακ(τ)ο. (Ϝ)αναξ(ι)- XY ← YX -άναξ, -ανακτ- (par transfert de ‑άναξ en B1, cf. Ἀνθο-, Ἀνθεσι- vs -άνθης); d’où (Ϝ)αναξ(ι)- VN XY ← (ϝ)ανάσσω v. « être souverain, régner », aor. (ϝ)ανάξασθαι (Hom.+), cf. Tribulato, VIC 367-368[1]. However, nothing is said about the etymological possibilities set forth for this noun, which could be either pre-Hellenic or an IE compound, cf. Willms (2010). Only in the case of foreign lexemes is etymological information provided in a somewhat systematic way, as in the case of Ἁ/Ἀβροκόμας, a compound of ἁβρός ‘delicate’ and κόμη ‘hair of the head’ which represents the adaptation to Greek of an Iranian compound name, cf. OPers. *abra– ‘cloud, rain’ and *kāma– ‘wish’. This leads us to two important questions concerning Greek anthroponymy: firstly, exonyms, i.e. names whose lexeme(s) does / do not belong to the Greek language, are not considered unless this lexeme exhibits a complete Hellenisation or is involved in compounds whose other lexeme is Greek. See, for instance, Βενδιδώρα (Bendis is the name of the Thracian Artemis), Βησαπόλλων (Bes is an Egyptian divinity), Γύγης (= Hit. ḫuḫḫaš, Lyc. χuga– ‘grandfather’), and Ἐσηνικός (related to Heb. ḥōšen, a breast-piece worn by Jewish priests). Exonyms adapted to the Greek language are also considered, particularly Iranian, Italic, or Semitic names such as Ἀστυάγης (= OPers. Aršti-vaiga– ‘swinging the spear, lance-hurler’), Βαλσάμων (= Phoen. b‘lšm‘ ‘Baal hear’), or Γάιος (= Lat. Gaius, see also Γάις, Γέις in Asia Minor). Exonyms, however, are present in the LGPN. It is true that their lexemes have no place in a dictionary such as this, but it is desirable that they be published in a similar volume to complete the representation of Greek anthroponymy.

Secondly, the personal names attested in Linear B are also excluded from the dictionary, as its main sources are texts dating from the Archaic to the Byzantine period. This exclusion is not particularly sound, although one can understand that the peculiarities of Mycenaean documentation make this decision wise, given that a name such as Myc. a-ko-ro-da-mo is open to several interpretations such as Ἀκρόδᾱμος, Ἀγορόδᾱμος, Ἀγρόδᾱμος, or even Ἀργρόδᾱμος. It is to be noted that Mycenaean personal names are also excluded from the LGPN. Nevertheless, Mycenaean personal names appear here and there in Lexonyme, albeit in a rather flawed manner. For instance, it is striking that the names a-da-ra-te-ja and a-da-ra-ti-jo (cf. Ἄδραστος) are mentioned, while another name such as the woman’s name a-qi-ti-ta (cf. Ἀφθίτης) is not; some names are mentioned as they are written in the original Linear B documents giving rise to possible misinterpretations, for example, a-re-ko-to-re (dat.) is presented alongside Ἀλέκτωρ without any indication about its case (the corresponding nominative would be *a-re-ko-to); e-u-wa-ko-ro / e-wa-ko-ro is mentioned under the heads ἀγορά and ἐΰς, but not under ἀγρός, another possibility given the indeterminacy of Linear B script in rendering Greek, cf. Εὔαγρος. In any case, the equivalent of Bechtel’s Die historische Personennamen des Griechischen for Mycenaean personal names, Oscar Landau’s Mykenische Personennamen, urgently needs an update similar to that undertaken by the authors of Lexonyme.

A word about the potential use of the dictionary is also in order: according to the editors, its main purpose is to provide a tool for better understanding the meaning of personal names, particularly the ideological and cultural associations revealed by them, as well as their transmission within the Hellenic and later Greco-Roman world, and even within the family—note that the names of the father, mother, daughter, or son of the name bearer are sometimes given when relevant for the analysis. This is quite true, but the linguistic information potentially obtainable from Lexonyme should be emphasised in terms of dialectal variations, chronological evolution, suffixation, or the continuation of naming practices that may go back to the inherited Indo-European stock of Greek.

Lexonyme is therefore a long-awaited undertaking that will become a landmark for the study of Greek personal names in all their dimensions. In such a vast work it is rather easy to find points that can give rise to criticism on the part of the reader. However, rather than focusing on a list of possible errors concerning different aspects of the analysis of specific names, this reviewer prefers to express his difficulties in dealing with the plethora of abbreviations used in every entry. This may be the only way to make the book manageable—this first volume has 496 pages in Din A4 format. In any event, my impression is that a bigger exegetic effort should have been made in the introduction, where the dictionary’s structure is explained in a somewhat unfriendly way. We shall have to wait for the dictionary’s indices to ease some of these difficulties.



Bechtel, Friedrich (1917). Die historische Personennamen des Griechischen bis zur Kaiserzeit. Halle: Max Niemeyer.

Dubois, Laurent (2010). “Des anthropyms en -οῦς”, in R.W.V. Cartling et alii (eds.), Onomatologos. Studies in Greek Personal Names presented to Elaine Matthews. Oxford: OUP, pp. 398-421.

Landau, Oscar (1958). Mykenisch-griechische Personennamen. Göteborg: Almquist & Wiksells.

Landenius-Enegren, Hedvig (2008). The People of Knossos: Prosopographical Studies in the Knossos Linear B Archives. Uppsala: Acta Universitatis Upsaliensis.

Nakassis, Dimitri (2013). Individuals and Society in Mycenaean Pylos. Leiden – Boston: Brill.

Willms, Lothar (2010). “On the Etymology of Greek (w)anax”, in Glotta 86, pp. 232-271.

Zgusta, Ladislav (1964). Kleinasiatische Personennamen. Prag: Der Tschechoslowakischen Akademie der Wissenschaften.



[1] Note that X stands for governing compound member, Y for governed compound member, B1 for first compound member, V for verbal lexeme, and N for nominal lexeme.