Nick Nicholas, an Australian who describes himself as a business analyst and linguist, commented on a recent post, and I made the mistake of clicking on the URL his name linked to, which turned out to be opɯdʒɯlɯklɑr (“opoudjis his blog / τὸ τοῦ ὁπουτζοῦ ἱστολόγιον”), and I’ve spent the entire morning investigating his writings rather than working. The latest post, on the computer used to compile the Thesaurus Linguae Graecae, was interesting, but when I scrolled down to “Nick Nicholas”, I was really hooked. He starts out talking about surnames (“Crete switched to a new patronymic suffix en masse, –akis, in the mid-19th century…. But there’s not many –akis‘s before 1800. The Who’s Who of Cretan Renaissance Literature … reads: Sachlikis, Della Porta, Choumnos, Falier, Picatorio, Bregadin, Sklavos, Achelis, Cornaro, Chortatzis, Troglio, Foscolo, Bugnali“), then focuses in on Cyprus, where his family is from:
The dominant pattern in Cyprus is for surnames to be archaic genitives of proper names—making them straight patronymics. And people would switch their patronymics to surnames… my grandfather went by ο Νικολής του Πούτρου in the village. “Boutros’s Nick”… But Boutros’s Nick was not written down as Boutros’s Nick. He was written down as Nicholas of Mark-the-Pilgrim, Νικόλαος Χατζημάρκου (or Χ″μάρκου, because Χατζη- was a damnably frequent surname prefix, and people would save themselves the penstrokes when they could). And when he was Englished, he was Englished as Nicolaos Hadjimarcou.
As an Englishing, “Hadjimarcou” tells you stuff, which is why I took the <dj> across in opoudjis. It tells you that he was a Cypriot, so he pronounced the prefix as /xadʒi/, the way it came across from Arabic hajji via Turkish haci, and not as the alveolar Hatzi- of the mainland.
From there he moves on to the next generation’s switch to “Nicholas” on arrival in Australia (a translation of the patronymic Nikolaou), and the way Greeks in Greece have dealt with it. And the post before that was on the “reminiscences from 1964 of an Egyptian colleague of Cavafy at his desk job in the Irrigation Dept, Alexandria, who was his underling and succeeded him when Cavafy retired”: apparently the great poet would “sneak in late, pretend to be massively busy by strategic placement of papers, occasionally shut the door and gesticulate writing poetry” and “only knew enough Arabic to tell his servant to buy him chickens for dinner”: “The commenters to the blog post are floored, not that Cavafy barely spoke Arabic mid-colonialism, but that neither did the Greeks of Alexandria in 1964. (It was only the second time the interviewer had ever set foot in an Egyptian’s house.)” And his post Death of the Library as I knew it linked to Pape-Benseler, Wörterbuch der griechischen Eigennamen, 3rd ed. 1911 (warning: 96 MB download from the linked page, but if you’re into Greek proper names, how can you resist?).
And then I discovered his language blog! The most recent posts constitute a fascinating discussion of the validity of using monotonic type for Early Modern Greek texts (he acknowledges that the arguments against it are more emotional/traditional than rational, but he still doesn’t like it; from one of the posts, I learned about Ioannis Kakridis, who in 1941 “was denounced by the faculty of the University of Athens for republishing a lecture in the monotonic system, which led to the so-called ‘Trial of Accents’ and his suspension and later dismissal from the university”); before that there’s a post Placenames of Kievan Rus’ that caught my attention for obvious reasons. It starts off with this bravura paragraph:
A culture confident in itself (or arrogant, same thing) will assimilate foreign place names and personal names, bending them to its language. Thus did Kshayarsha become Xerxes, and Shoshenq, Sesonchosis. Thus did Svyatoslav become Sphentísthlavos, and Dagobert Takoúpertos, and Saint-Gilles Isangéles. Thus did Hujr become Ógaros, and Ma’di Karib Badichárimos, and Kormisosh Kormésios. Thus, in late reassertion of confidence, did the clerks call Newton Néfton, and Darwin Dharvínos and Descartes (via Latin) Kartésios (and France Ghallía instead of Frántza, and England Anglía instead of Ingiltéra); while Makriyannis, no less confident on behalf of the people, call Armansberg Armaspéris, de Rigny Dernýs, and Washington Vásikhton.
A discussion of Byzantine versions of foreign names leads to “my fun and games decoding Russian placenames last night”:
I was hoovering up by inspection the proper names of the registry of documents of the Patriarchate of Constantinople, an edition of various legal texts held by the patriarchate. Lots of these documents involve property and jurisdiction issues close to home; but a few documents involve setting up shop for the Orthodox Church in Russia in the 14th century….
What complicates things even further is that many of the old bishoprics are in the borderlands of modern Poland and the former Soviet Union, regions with a complicated history. The history of the towns once covered by the Grand Duchy of Lithuania has been written in Lithuanian, and Polish, and German, and Russian, and Ukrainian, and Byelorussian, and Yiddish. … And those cities have changed names many a time—including 1945, and 1990. As if it wasn’t bad enough that the words are Grecified Russian to start with, their current names are Byelorussian or Polish that look different again.
I think I’ve worked out the lot, but some of them took some chasing, a lot of blank staring at the Wikipedia map of Kievan Rus’, and some inventive Googling…
The most mysterious one was Novogradopoulion, and no, it’s not any of the various Novgorods; read his post for the exciting answer. And in the comment thread, Νίκος Σαραντάκος provides this great anecdote:
Another bit of toponymic mess in the same book. Somewhere, Rhoides mentions the extra-thin (αραχνοΰφαντα) garments of Ceos. When Kalokyris translated the book in modern Greek, he rendered this as Cos, which is not the same island, obviously. But there’s a twist: Rhoides had copied Gibbon, and it seems that Gibbon (according to the footnotes in my edition) had misread Cos for Ceos, so two wrongs made one right after all!
In short, this sucker’s going on the sidebar.