Living in Greece

A practical guide to moving, living, working & traveling in Greece, plus musing and misadventures from an American in Athens

It’s time to play, “Name that Dimitri”


Since childhood, I’ve always had friends named something different — Christina, Patty, Mike, Denise, Aaron, Felicia, Rafik, Jeri, René, Martin, Debbie, Doug, etc. It’s even more diverse now with friends worldwide. If there’s anyone with the same name, I’m usually part of that guilty party and often wish my name was something more unique like Kira or Cory.

To remedy two girls calling out, “here” when school attendance was taken by the teacher, the first initial of our last name was usually attached.

That method would not work here.

A rose by any other name

Adding to the fact my life is dominated by 15 Nikos, 14 Yannis, 10 Katerinas, 10 Kostas, 10 Christos, 10 Giorgos, 5 Angelas and 5 Vangelis, the first initial of their family names are the same in nearly 70 percent of cases if they don’t already have identical family names (surnames).

Specifying their profession used to be a good way of narrowing the field, but now the majority of Nikos I’ve collected over time are programmers and half of the Kostas work in clubs. In the case of women, naming their husband is usually not helpful because many of couples we know have the same name pairings.

My fiancé knows about 15 Dimitris, so unless he specifies which one it is from the start, I’ve got to guess. It’s like “Name that Tune,” a TV gameshow that ran in America between 1953-1985 where contestants had to guess the name of a song in a few notes. Except for me, it’s “Name that Dimitri” and there is no $100,000 prize — the one who works at the airport? the one who rides the scooter? the one who got married in June? the one who owns the store in Vari? the loud one? the one with the guitar shop? The faster I guess correctly, the faster the conversation can continue.



I realize we could simply refer to these men by their family names, but since we accumulated these Dimitris over years and months, we’ve never used their family names and in some cases don’t even know what they are. And it’s not foolproof since their surnames are sometimes identical (e.g. Cousins from the same family).

Also, some people wrongly assume that because I’m foreign, I am unable to say names like Christodoulopoulou so my friends and I only know each other by our first names. But pronouncing Greek family names has been less challenging since Patty became my best friend at the age of 5. Her family name was Apostolopoulos, a name seldom pronounced correctly by professors and one that fit on none of the SAT or scantron tests we took.

No matter, playing the game is kind of fun.

Related posts

Chronic pollo: A name day in Greece
Conversations from a day in my life
Do job candidates with Greek surnames have an advantage?

Photos from and wikipedia


  rositta wrote @ August 10th, 2007 at 18:21

I don’t see a single Stelio in your list. We thought we had problems, we know four Peters…ciao

  dealsend wrote @ August 10th, 2007 at 20:57

First, it seems you know a lot of people and that is the origin of your problem :-)

Now about the solution? Nah it;s not my style giving solutions…after all you have everything figured out!!

Have a nice WK Kat

  Kat wrote @ August 10th, 2007 at 21:18

Rositta – I know 3 Stelios, 3 Petros and 4 Panagiotis, but this seems like a small amount considering the others ;)

Dealsend – Actually, I’ve stated very clearly and often that I absolutely DON’T know everything! Would your solution entail cutting some people from my life or using nicknames? I’m definitely open to suggestions, even though the game is amusing.

  Dimitris wrote @ August 11th, 2007 at 04:05

It depends on who you are talking to, for example, I might know 3 dimitris, but not all of my friends know all of them, so….

Also, I do not believe this is a greek-names problem, I think this situation can be in any country, language, it mainly depends on how many people you know! I’ve lived for quite a bit of time in UK and I knew many Pauls! or in US I knew (still know!) quite many Margarets!

In Greece the best way to resolve this problem is to use surnames (in English this could also be a problem! I know 3 Paul Smith!)

  Kat wrote @ August 11th, 2007 at 10:19

First of all, you still live in the UK, so please don’t pretend that you live in Greece and the UK is part of your past.

My fiance and I obviously know all the same people.

It’s a fact of my life. I never said it was a problem, you called it that.

Your suggestion to use surnames does not work, as I already said in my post.

Since I live in and write about Greece, this post is about Greece. If I were in the UK, I might be writing about 3 Paul Smiths.

(Readers should be aware that the person leaving comments as “John, George and Dimitris” is the same person; it’s the same IP address originating in the United Kingdom)

  melusina wrote @ August 12th, 2007 at 00:50

What my husband does for me to remember people, especially when he has multiple friends with the same name, is to pick out character/personality traits of each person that I pick up on and use that when talking about them (ie., Yiannis, drums-his-fingers-when-he-talks). Or when I think someone looks like a U.S. friend of mine (ah, Elias, the Mark guy). I’m big on giving people funny nicknames (ie. Mr. Wears-Pants-Too-Small) so that helps too (don’t worry, I give myself equally funny nicknames, I don’t do it to be cruel, really). My husband just knows better than to say someone only by name.

As far as difficulty pronouncing surnames, I LOVE these long Greek surnames. They are so much fun and I love saying them properly. And sure, maybe Papadopoulos is like Smith to Greeks, but it sounds so much more glamorous.

But I do think it is more common for people (especially in families) to have the same names in Greece than it is in the U.S., even though popular names go through cycles in America. It is simply because of the Greek naming tradition, which I think is kinda nice, albeit confusing to outsiders. Still, it makes for lots of naming fun!

  Kat wrote @ August 12th, 2007 at 14:27

I appreciate your comment because it perhaps clarified things for people who misunderstood the post.

Because of the naming tradition in Greece where grandchildren are named after the grandparents, many people from the same family of the same generation have the same name. I realize other countries may follow the same tradition, but I’m in Greece so I’m talking about Greece in comparison to America (where I’m from) or Sweden or other countries in which citizens do not follow the same path.

So I could be with my fiance’s family, and there are 5 Kostas with the same surname (last name); I am also good friends with Nikos and some of his cousins, so they all have the same name too. I try to narrow it by profession, but this is not a foolproof method. I try to avoid nicknames unless they’re endearing to the person in question because some are easily offended, even though these same people use slightly offensive nicknames for me.

And that’s the ironic thing. Even though my name and surname are unique, I’m still given nicknames or designated by qualities. “The girl from California,” “the foreign one,” “the pineapple cutting woman.”

I agree with you, Mel. I always loved the fact saying, “Alexandropoulos” immediately identified someone’s family as originating from Pyrgos and first names such as Athanasios originate from saints and mean something. It’s wonderful to just say your name and have history, familiarity and significance instantly associated.

My first name was given to me for no special reason and my surname actually isn’t ours, but belonged to a family who let my great great grandfather purchase their dead brother’s immigration papers to America. It’s half unextraordinary and half interesting, but only if someone is willing to hear a story.

  melusina wrote @ August 13th, 2007 at 20:59

Hey, you know – my surname isn’t really ours either! But the story isn’t quite so innocent as yours.

Hmm, you know how to cut a pineapple?

  Kat wrote @ August 14th, 2007 at 23:50

Indeed I do! I learned after our trip to Hawaii as a teenager. Someone had to cut up that damn case of pineapples we had shipped to our house! ;) At Pascha, people have a pineapple on hand and gather around me to watch. I’ve become a spectacle of sorts, it’s kind of embarrassing.

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