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What's in a Name?

13 October 14 -- jsuess

Tracing Greek History through Names and Naming

Just as today’s parents name their children after celebrities or other idols, Ancient Greek parents named their sons and daughters after gods or military leaders. By tracing the popularity of different first names, Oxford’s Lexicon of Greek Personal Names helps historians to learn which gods were most highly esteemed at a given time, which political ideals were most popular, and offers other intriguing insights which help to reveal where people came from and who they were. The Lexicon project traces every bearer of every name, drawing on a huge variety of evidence, from personal tombstones, dedications, works of art, to civic decrees, treaties, citizen-lists, to artefacts, and even graffiti.

Oxford’s Lexicon of Greek Personal Names is not just a kind of telephone directory of the ancient Greek world but also a unique resource for the study of naming in a particular culture, and also above all for the whole cultural history of the ancient world. Since the early 1980s, a research project based in Oxford has been collecting the names of ancient Greeks (‘ancient’ here covers the period from about 700 BC to about 600 AD) wherever they are to be found, and is recording not just the names themselves but also every bearer of every name who can be assigned to a place of origin.  Something like 400,000 bearers of something like 40,000 different names are searchable online (for free) at

Robert Parker, Wykeham Professor of Ancient History, University of Oxford, and Director of the Lexicon project, is available to give public talks on names and naming in Ancient Greece. He can meet his own expenses and can vary his talk to cover anything between twenty and fifty minutes. He is an experienced public speaker who is able to talk to specialists and non-specialists alike, including schools and the general public.

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