Keeping a family name running through your children isn’t a specific Greek tradition, but it’s one that we try and uphold as Greeks of the diaspora. It’s a tradition that binds us to our heritage, a tradition that connects us to our roots and a tradition that unites us to our family… even the ones we haven’t met yet.
Originally, the custom of naming the child was the responsibility of the godfather (nouno). In Greece, you would find that the nouno would name the baby after his family or a name he had selected.
The tradition was that the baby would get christened after 40 days of being born. The nouno and the father of the baby, including villagers, would take the baby to church for the christening. The mother of the child would be at home waiting for the outcome to discover what name her son or daughter will get. Then when the baby’s name was revealed, children of the village would run out of the church to the mother’s house shouting the baby’s new name.
The tradition since, is that the children take the name of their grandparents.
Traditionally the name gets selected this way: the first born son is named after the paternal grandfather, the second born son is named after the maternal grandfather, the first born daughter is named after the paternal grandfather and the second born daughter is named after the maternal grandmother. This tradition does change from region to region in Greece.
What does this all mean? It means that you potentially end up with the same name as all your cousins. I have seen cousins with the same name bond over having this uniting connection. I have also seen the other side of the competitive nature it brings out to uphold the grandfathers or grandmothers name even more so than the other cousin.
Nowadays the tradition has changed to suit the next generation. In a bid to make it fair, the second born child is always named after the mother’s side, instead of the paternal grandparents getting both the names. This way, it gives both families a chance to celebrate their names early on in the piece. And it makes for happier relations to.
Things can get tense when it comes to naming a baby. Numerous tears have been shed out of name selection; angry grandparents have stormed out of hospitals after seeing their grandchild named after someone else, mothers have anguished over their child having to get the name of their mother-in-law. But the beauty of Greek’s of the diaspora is you can take a difficult Greek name and Anglicise it to suit your needs.
The naming of a child has polarised the Greek community. Neos Kosmos recently asked their readers via a facebook poll (on the Neos Kosmos facebook page), whether or not they name their children after their parents and the results were split right down the middle. Whereas some people choose to hang on to the tradition, other’s fob it off as antiquated and too regimented.
Some members of the Greek community have chosen to rid themselves of this age old custom and make their own decision to call their children a name unrelated to the family, a name that means something to them and a name they have chosen to start this new tradition with. And with people marrying or having children with people from other ethnic backgrounds, keeping a tradition that is firmly embedded in the Greek culture may be even more difficult.
Naming your child really comes down to what it means to you.
I was named after my maternal grandfather Panagioti. As the third born child to my parents, it was my mother’s turn to name her daughter. My brother and sister before me were named after my father’s side of the family.
Having my grandfathers’ name has definitely moulded who I am as an individual, making this tradition stand out even more in its significance. There’s a certain element of my being that wants to make him proud.
Having said that, my middle name, Margarita, came from my father’s side.; my grandmother had a daughter who died when she was a toddler and her name was Margarita. So in a sense, this has subconsciously given me an extra fire in my belly to live my life to the fullest, for a great-aunt I’d never met. And even though it was a given that I would inherit my father’s surname Pappas, that in itself has given me an air of pride.
I love the name my parent’s chose for me. I love it for everything it stands for. I love the connection it gives me to my family and my heritage. From the connection it gives me to my two grandfathers, who I didn’t get a chance to meet as they both passed away before I was born. The connection I feel for them through stories told and the name in itself sets me in good stead. The ties with your heritage are felt even stronger when you go back to Greece and realise there are so many people, who share the name of your family. And seeing where this name started – and the fact that is alive – stronger than ever (all the way in Australia), well… nothing truly compares to that.