There are some instances when barbarian names were romanized in order to be similar to already existing Roman or Greek names. Just some examples that come to mind:

  • Hebrew Martha -> Marta ("of Mars")

  • Hebrew Mariam -> Maria (feminine of Marius)

  • Germanic Hiermann (banner holder) -> Germanicus (brotherly, uterine)

  • Slavic Kuzma (blacksmith) -> Cosmas (Greek "of cosmos")

I wonder to what extent this practice was widespread and when it appeared? I also wonder how the spread of Christianity affected this.

  • 3
    Are you talking about an individual with a Barbarian name taking a "romanic" version of the name (similar to how a "Jin" from China calls himself "John" when settling in USA), or about someone of importance (say, translator of New Testament into Greek) making a decision to fuse the name as a "rule"?
    – DVK
    Feb 22, 2012 at 15:57
  • @DVK: or maybe about simply giving these new translated names to newly born children?
    – o0'.
    Feb 23, 2012 at 9:30
  • 1
    @Lohoris - for some reason I have strong doubts that Greeks would give their kids names in honor of Slavic Kuzma ...
    – DVK
    Feb 23, 2012 at 12:34
  • 5
    Germanicus is not a Romanized name. It was originally given to Nero Claudius Drusus (commonly known as just Drusus, the younger brother of Tiberius), who was a Roman general who conquered parts of Germania. This was a common Roman custom - cf. Scipio Africanus. The name became hereditary and, rather confusingly, it is actually his son, (also a famous general) who is usually referred to as Germanicus. In any case, this was not Romanization of a barbarian given name. Dunno about the other examples. Dec 11, 2012 at 16:01

1 Answer 1


Different languages have different sounds that flow easily in that language. Names from another language are bound to be slightly mis-pronounced, especially if the new language doesn't have the original sounds easily available.

A great example of this is Chinese (Mandarin), which has its set of syllables, and isn't built to handle new ones. When I was in China, my name was rendered as Kaimei. Most native Chinese speakers simply couldn't get their head round an R after the ka sound. This in addition to the troubles with Rs and Ls. In this case, you could say that the Chinese version of Carmi is Kaimei, but I wouldn't say that I took on a Chinese name.

In a similar fashion, if an ancient Hebrew man called Yokhanan had to do business with the Greeks or Romans, they would end up calling him Yohan, which is a set of sounds more familiar to their ears. In the same way, a Roman called Yohan (probably Iohan in latin) were to try doing business in England, he'd end up a Jon. This is exactly we we have John the Baptist, whose Hebrew name is originally Yokhanan.

My point is that people didn't necessarily convert their names, they just ended up being called something that sounded familiar to the speakers of the host language.

  • Barring a few instances where immigrants took new names to mix in with the natives. This happens even today.
    – Apoorv
    May 23, 2012 at 12:24
  • Along this line many Chinese come to America and take English names as the Chinese names are not pronounced phonetically correct, so to make it easier they change their name to something "local"
    – MichaelF
    Oct 24, 2012 at 9:51
  • Just a small comment - Jesus (Christ) was actually Yeshua in Aramaic, which I believe to be a version of Joshua. And "Jesus" as a Christian (sic!) name is pronounced completely differently in English-speaking countries than, say, among Latino Americans. Tower of Babbel this way!
    – TheHonRose
    Oct 17, 2015 at 20:53

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