A Note on Transliteration and Nomenclature

Since many Greek letters have no exact Roman equivalents, the art of trans­literation will always be controversial. Some favor an orthographic approach, which dutifully traces the evolution of each Greek letter through the ages and uses its English descendant, despite the fact that the value of the letter has changed completely. Then there is the quasi-phonetic school, which vainly substitutes the nearest “international” equivalent (such as ch for letter ‘X’ the hard aytch sound). Spellings used in this book are hopefully those most likely to ensure a comprehen­sible pronunciation—do not be alarmed if you see other transliteration.

A further source of confusion is the existence of one or more alternate names for many places. Names given on maps are likely to be in katharevousa (formal, written language) spelling, with word endings modified from dhimotiki (literary, spoken Greek): e.g., Karyai in place of Karyes. Many locales have an alias of Italian, Turkish, Vlach or Slavic origin. My policy has been to cite first the name best understood in the area and to list important alternatives immediately following in parentheses: e.g., Helmos (Aroania). In recent decades the Greek government vigorously pursued a Hellenization campaign, promoting classical place names over medieval ones. During the 1930s particularly, the Metaxas dictatorship attempted (unsuccessfully) to suppress the majority of foreign place names north of the Gulf of Korinthos. It seems that in Greece a rose by any other name is not as sweet and might even provoke sedition.

After having spent some time in Greece, you’ll begin to recognize a list, as it were, of ecclesiastically as well as bureaucratically “approved” place names, which is not terribly long. When villages aren’t named for saints they’re apt to be called by certain common geographical or botanical features. Livadhia (meadows), Dhafni (laurel) and Ayios loannis (St. John), of which there must collectively be 300 in Greece, are flagrant examples. Qualify the name of the village you’re looking for with the province name if there seems to be any confusion! It took awhile for me to find Poliana (Lakonia), the trailhead for Mt. Taiyettos, because there is a Poliana in Messinia 4(T kilometers distant.

 

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