Did Greek Gods Have Last Names?


Scholars, stories, and even movies often depict the Greek gods with just a single name. That’s because Greek gods have only one name, as was common in Greek culture at that time.

Greek gods didn’t have last names. Just as with ancient Greek people, they used only one word. Patronyms, which sometimes acted like surnames, were used to identify the lineage of a god or a person. Patronyms were usually based on the name of the father or a more distant male ancestor.

The question of whether or not Greek gods have last names may seem like a ridiculous one, but there’s much more to that than most people realize. This article will detail why Greeks only had one name and how they managed to do without last names.

Also see Why Are Greek Gods Depicted As White? to learn more.

Greek god Zeus
Were Last Names Important in Ancient Greece? See below (Image: Zeus)

Did Greek Gods Have Surnames or Titles?

Greek gods had titles, often called epithets. Epithets were related to the gods’ status and feats. They didn’t have surnames. However, their parentage was often identified with patronyms.

Greek gods may not have had family names, but they definitely worried about whose parents were whom.

As is detailed in the next section, ancient Greeks gave a lot of importance to patronyms, which sometimes worked similarly to how modern last names work. They didn’t identify a family, but they made the gods a part of a lineage.

Keeping track of genealogy is difficult, but keeping track of the Greek gods’ genealogy is almost impossible. That’s mainly because a single god can have many contradicting stories surrounding their conceptions.

Patronyms, the closest thing to a last name that Greek gods had, helped people identify their ancestry and gave them respect and authority among gods, demi-gods, and humans.

When it comes to titles, Greek gods had a lot of them. In ancient Greece, these titles were known as epithets.

Some of these titles were almost as well known as their names. For that reason, authors would use only the epithet of god instead of naming him, either to make the verse fit the rhythm or to amuse their audience.

Epithets were usually related to a god’s status or were given because of a specific feat. These are two of the many dozens of Zeus’ epithets:

  • Aegis-bearing: Zeus often carried a huge shield, or aegis, in his depictions
  • Loud-thundering. This one is simple. Zeus is the god of thunder, among other things. Sometimes, the cult of a specific god would refer to them with an exclusive, secretive epithet.

Also see Did Greek Gods Come Before Christianity? to learn more.

Greek goddess Athena
Who named the Greek gods? See below (Image: Athena)

Were Last Names, Surnames, or Titles Important in Ancient Greece?

Greek people didn’t have last names. However, they gave importance to lineage and titles. Besides their name, they had three more ways of identifying themselves: patronyms, ethnicity, and epithets.

We have access to many Greek names thanks to literature and all kinds of manuscripts, some of them as old as the 13th century BC. Through all of that text, we see that Greeks had the custom of using only one name. [1]

However, ancestry was still extremely important for ancient Greeks. There wasn’t really a word to identify a family, so they used something called patronyms. You could say that patronyms worked as last names on many occasions.

Patronyms

Patronyms are based on the parents of one of the bearers. In the case of the Greeks, it was usually the father. Patronyms were formed by combining the father’s name with the suffix “ides.” It didn’t always have to be the father. Sometimes, a patronym refers to a grandparent or even a person from many generations ago.

For example, Chronos was the father of Zeus. With his patronym, he’d be called “Zeus Chronides,” which literally means Zeus, son of Chronos.

Many English translators don’t add a suffix and opt instead of saying the entire phrase, or, if the meter needs it, skip it completely.

Wealthy and powerful people would boast their patronyms whenever they had the chance. That’s one of the reasons Homer is so thorough when it comes to mentioning people, even if they’re never mentioned again. That character might be the far ancestor of someone in the group that’s listening to the bard.

Epic poems like The Iliad and The Odyssey sought to incorporate the audience into the experience, and mentioning their lineage was a great way of catching their attention. Plus, it was a way for the bards to honor the host and gain their favor.

Of course, much of these supposed lineages weren’t real, or at least not completely. Especially when there was a god involved at some point. What mattered was the authority patronyms had.

As Homer’s epic poems became ingrained in the minds of the Greeks, patronyms that dated back to heroic times gave Greek aristocrats and their followers an identity.

Also see Why Do Greek Gods Have Small Genitals? to learn more.

Mount Olympus Greek mythology
Mount Olympus in Greece

Who Named the Greek Gods?

Even scholars wouldn’t be able to give a straight answer to this question. The main reason is that there isn’t a single author for Greek mythology. 

No single person named the Greek gods, at least not as far as scholars can tell. Greek mythology began as an oral accumulation of stories without cohesion that slowly became stable throughout the centuries. Hesiod is credited with first writing down the gods’ genealogy, though.

The earliest records of Greek myths date back to 2,700 years ago, but they might be even older.

Greek mythology is, partly, a mix of other mythologies. At the beginning of their civilization, Greeks took a lot of inspiration from the Creta (a neighboring island), Egyptians, and other civilizations.

Because of how messy and slow this process was, there were several names for the same gods, and there wasn’t an official version.

That is until Hesiod came and wrote down the most thorough register of the genealogy of Greek gods that we have. [2] Hesiod wrote his Theogony (literally “Origin of the Gods”) sometime in the 700 BC era, and his book became a standard.

Hesiod was responsible for giving a single, standard version of god names and parentages to the ancient Greek world. However, when it comes to educating people about it, the credit also goes to Homer.

Conclusion

Just like ancient Greek people, Greek gods didn’t have last names. However, that doesn’t mean they didn’t care about their parentage.

Also see Did Greek or Roman Gods Come First? to learn more.

References:
[1] Source
[2] Source

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