Popular English Names with Greek Origins and their Meanings June 16, 2014 00:00

Toula Portokalos burst into the scene with My Big Fat Greek Wedding. Her relatable character and zany family made for a very entertaining insight into the Greek culture which surprisingly resonates with others who are, according to her father Gus, non-Greeks. After all, most of the English words are borrowed from Greek, and most modern names you may come across likely have Greek roots. Gus even managed to connect the very Japanese 'kimono' to Greek.

True to his character, he toasted his daughter's wedding with, "The root of the word Miller is a Greek word. Miller come from the Greek word Milo, which is mean apple...our name Portokalos is come from the Greek word Portokali, which means orange."

Beyond apples and oranges, here is a short list of popular names in English usage with Greek origins and their meanings.

  • Alexander. Comes from the word 'alexandros' meaning 'defending men.' The root word of the name is 'alexo' meaning 'to defend, help.' Not surprisingly, the name has been adopted by various leaders throughout the ages to signify power.

  • Cynthia. Latinized form of the Greek 'woman from Kynthos' which referred to the Greek moon goddess Artemis who, along with twin Apollo, was born in the mountain of Kynthos.

  • Evangeline. Stems from 'ev' meaning 'good' and 'angelma' meaning 'news, message.' So Evangeline means 'good news.'

  • Gregory. One of the most widely used names for the Catholic pontiff,  Gregory comes from the Latinized from of Late Greek word 'gregoros' meaning 'watchful,' a quality that is perhaps required to ensure the faithful does not go astray.

  • Helen. From 'Helene' meaning 'torch.' Possibly derived from 'Selene,' the goddess of the moon. In Greek mythology, Helen was the daughter of Zeus who, in swan form, fathered her with the beautiful Leda. She was the same Helen of Troy (previously Helen of Sparta) whose "face launched a thousand ships" in the Trojan War.

  • Irene. Derived from the goddess Eirene who personified peace.

  • Jason. Derived from 'iasthai' meaning 'to heal.' The name also appears in New Testament, suggesting that 'Jason' maybe a Hellenized form of a Hebrew name.

  • Margaret. Comes from 'margarites' meaning 'pearl' which could have been borrowed from the Sanskrit 'manyari.'

  • Nicholas. Derived from 'Nikolaos' meaning 'people's victory.' Popularized in the Western world by a 4th century bishop, the name St. Nicholas was the basis of the beloved Christmas character Santa Claus.

  • Peter. Coming from the Greek 'petros' meaning 'stone,' the name Peter has come to be widely used by heads of church and monarchs, perhaps to impart the message that their leadership is built upon an unshakeable foundation.

  • Rhea. Latinized form of Greek 'Rheia' with an unknown meaning but perhaps related to 'rheo' meaning 'to flow' and 'era' meaning 'ground.' In Greek mythology, Rhea was the wife of Cronus, king of heaven and god of time, and the mother of gods and goddesses such as Zeus, Hades, Demeter, Poseidon and Hestia.

  • Sophia. Greek for 'wisdom,' the name Sophia lends itself to various uses: Hagia Sophia (Istanbul's basilica dedicated to 'Holy Wisdom,' philosophy (love of wisdowm), sophistication (quality of refinement displaying good taste and wisdom).

  • Stephen. Stems from 'stephanos' meaning 'crown.' Perhaps because of its origins, the name Stephen has long been used by the kings of Europe and the popes of the Catholic church.

  • Theodore. Derived from the word 'theo' meaning 'god' and 'doron' signifying 'gift,' Theodore has come to be widely used as names of saints in the Middle Ages who are indeed 'gifts of god.'