Semele and Silenus

Jupiter and Semele, by Dosso Dossi, 1520s

Semele is the mortal mother of the god Dionysus, and the daughter of heroic Theban founder Kadmos (Cadmus) and his wife Harmonia. Her Roman name is Stimula.

Semele was a priestess of Zeus, and Zeus liked what he saw when he watched her slaughtering a bull by his altar and swimming in the river Asopos to clean off the blood. He flew over the river, disguised as an eagle, and fell in instalove yet again. Zeus, being Zeus, couldn’t keep it in his pants, and began an affair with Semele.

Hera, being Hera, was extremely pissed when she discovered the affair and that Semele was pregnant. She took on the guise of an old crone and befriended Semele, who admitted she’d been sleeping with Zeus. Hera pretended she didn’t believe Semele, and planted seeds of doubt in Semele’s mind.

Semele asked Zeus to grant her a boon, and Zeus was only too eager to comply. He promised by the River Styx to grant her whatever she asked for. Semele asked him to reveal himself in all his glory to prove his divinity. This request didn’t go over so well, but Semele persisted, and Zeus had no choice but to do it.

Jupiter and Semele, by Gustave Moreau

He tried to spare her life by only showing her his smallest thunderbolts and thinnest thunderstorm clouds, but it’s impossible for mortals to look upon deities without burning up. Semele was consumed by lightning-created flames.

Zeus rescued the fetal Dionysus by sewing him into his thigh. When Dionysus grew up, he rescued Semele from Hades and made her a goddess on Mount Olympus, with the name Thyone. She presided over her son’s wine-induced frenzies.

Semele may be of Thraco–Phyrigian origin, derived from the Proto–Indo–European root dgem, “earth.” It thus may be borrowed from the Thracian name Zemele, which means “mother earth.” However, this etymology is impossible to definitively establish after so many millennia.

The Train of Silenus, in the style of Peter Paul Rubens

Silenus (Seilenos) is the usually-drunk tutor and companion of Dionysus. He’s usually depicted as older than the other satyrs, sometimes significantly older. Originally, he was cast as a forest man with horse ears, sometimes also a horse tail and legs. Later on, he often began to be depicted as fat, bald, human-legged, thick-lipped, and squat-nosed.

Silenus is often so drunk, he has to be supported by other satyrs or carried by a donkey. Though he’s the drunkest of the satyrs, he’s also the wisest. When drunk, he possesses the gift of prophecy. King Midas of Phrygia took advantage of this, and spiked a fountain Silenus often drank from. When Silenus fell asleep, servants took him to the palace.

Drunken Silenus, by Giulio di Antonio Bonasone, ca. 1547

When Midas asked for some wisdom, Silenus replied, “The best thing for a man is not to be born, and if already born, to die as soon as possible.” This is very similar to the pessimistic musings of King Kohelet in the Book of Ecclesiastes.

In another version, Silenus was found wandering in the forest, rescued by peasants, and taken to Midas. The King showered him with xenia (hospitality), and Silenus told him stories in exchange. Midas loved the stories so much, he kept Silenus as a guest for five days and nights. Dionysus offered Midas a reward for his xenia, and Midas famously asked everything he touched to be turned into gold.

Silenus is of unknown etymology, though it could be related to the Thracian word zilai (wine).

The many forms of Simon

Though Simon was one of the names I gave to my marbles when I was a kid (yes, I actually named my marbles), it wasn’t a name I liked that much until I was about 24. I grew to associate that name with a geek and a wimp, but everything changed when I read Leon Uris’s Mila 18. Simon is the name of the head of the Ghetto Fighters, and hardly a wimp or geek. The famous Nazi-hunter Simon Wiesenthal was also hardly a milksop.

Regular readers of my main blog may remember I sleep with a giant frog named Simon, whom I’ve had for over five years now. He takes up half the bed, and is almost as big as I am. If only he’d turn into a prince as handsome as his namesake circa 1985 when I kiss him!

The spelling Simon is used in English, French, German, Dutch, the Scandinavian languages, Hungarian, Romanian, Slovenian, Macedonian, and Georgian. The variation Simón is Spanish, Símon is Icelandic, and Šimon is Czech and Slovak. Nicknames for the lattermost form include Šimůnek and Šimonek, and Sime is the Macedonian nickname. Hungarian nicknames include Simi, Simike, Simó, Simkó, Simku, and Simonka. Other variations are:

1. Shimon is the original Hebrew form. I think the nickname Shimmy is just so cute!

2. Szymon is Polish, and the spelling Mr. Uris should’ve used for his Mila 18 character. It’s baffling as to how he could do so much intense historical research for his novels, and then not use authentic Polish names for that book!

3. Simão is Portuguese.

4. Jimeno is an alternate Spanish form.

5. Ximeno is Medieval Spanish, though it may possibly derive from the Basque word seme, “son,” instead of being a form of Simon.

6. Ximun is Basque.

7. Simeon is Bulgarian and Serbian, and the name of Bulgaria’s last Tsar. His father, the heroic Tsar Boris III, died under suspicious circumstances during WWII. Simeon, who was born in 1937, was too young to ascend the throne in his own right, so his regents were his uncle, Prince Kiril; Prime Minister Bogdan Filov; and General Nikola Mihov. Simeon had to flee his homeland in 1946, and when he returned in 1996, he began a very successful political career which lasted until 2009. He’s never renounced his claim to the Bulgarian throne, and indeed is referred to as King of Bulgaria in all Bulgarian Orthodox services.

8. Shimmel is Yiddish.

9. Šimun is Croatian, with the nicknames Šime and Šimo. Without a háček, Simo is also the Serbian nickname. The variation Símun is Faroese.

10. Simion is an alternate Romanian form.

11. Semyon is Russian, with the nickname Syoma.

12. Simo is Finnish. The alternate form Simó is Catalan.

13. Siemen is Dutch and Frisian, with the nickname Siem.

14. Simen is Norwegian and West Frisian.

15. Simonas is Lithuanian.

16. Sīmanis is Latvian.

17. Simoni is an alternate Georgian form.

18. Seimon is Welsh.

19. Semaan is Aramaic, and very common for Middle Eastern Christians.

20. Sieme is West Frisian.

21. Siimon is Estonian and Finnish.

22. Simone is Italian, and not to be confused with the French feminine form of the same spelling. The variation Sîmóne is Greenlandic.

23. Cimone is Medieval Italian, and the name of the protagonist of one of my least-favorite Decameron stories. He throws his weight around until his crush finally gives in and marries him, and this is presented as a love story that began badly and ended happily. Even allowing for the standards of a much different era, Cimone came across as a total bully who couldn’t take no for an answer.

24. Sijmen is an alternate Dutch form.

25. Siman is Silesian–German.

26. Simit is Sami, a native Siberian language.

27. Simmá is also Sami.

28. Simmon is a third Sami form.

29. Sîmorne is Greenlandic.

30. Simu is Swiss–German.

31. Simuna is Finnish.

32. Sîmûne is Greenlandic.

33. Síomón is a rare Irish form.

34. Sum’an is Arabic.

35. Syman is Sorbian.

36. Szymek is Vilamovian, a Germanic language spoken in Poland.

37. Semen is Ukrainian, and one of those quintessential names I would NOT use in the Anglophone world, for reasons I don’t even have to explain! It’s not pronounced the same way in Ukrainian, but the spelling is still what it is!

Feminine forms:

1. Simone is French, with the nickname Simonette. The variation Simonė is Lithuanian.

2. Simona is Czech, Slovak, Italian, Romanian, Bulgarian, Macedonian, Slovenian, and Lithuanian. The Italian nickname is Simonetta, though this is now frequently given as a legal name.  Another Italian nickname is Simonella.

The slight variation Šimona is Czech and Slovak (albeit lesser-used), with nicknames including Monuška, Monuša, Simonka, Simuša, Simuška, and Simča. The variation Símona is Icelandic.

3. Simä is Swiss–German.

4. Shamoun is Arabic.

5. Jimena is Spanish.

6. Ximena is Medieval Spanish, and one of my favouritest female X names.

7. Símonía is an alternate Icelandic form.

8. Szimóna is Hungarian.

9. Szimonetta is also Hungarian.

The many forms of George

Once a solid Top 5, Top 10, and Top 20 name in the U.S., George gradually began slipping down the popularity charts during the 1950s. Its final year in the Top 100 was 1992, when it was #95. As of 2015, it was #135. In England and Wales, it’s much more popular, at #4, and in New Zealand, it’s #15. The name is #20 in Romania.

I know a lot of people associate this name with a dumb farmer or an old man (plus certain political associations I’m sure we don’t need to be told about!), but I’ve always been fond of it. It was the name of the father of my country, George Washington, one of our greatest presidents ever, as well as George Harrison. It took quite a long time for my head to understand what my heart already did, but I now proudly acknowledge the fact that he’s become my favourite Beatle. It just feels right, even if it was hard to come to terms with the fact that John had stopped being my fave rave. He needed to be my favourite during one long period of my life, but now George feels right as my favourite.

George is used in English and Romanian. Other forms include:

1. Gheorghe is another Romanian form, and currently extremely popular. Nicknames are Ghiță and Gigi.

2. Gjergj is Albanian.

3. Giorgi is Georgian, with the nickname Goga.

4. Gorka is Basque.

5. Georg is German, Scandinavian, Icelandic, and Estonian. German nicknames are Jockel and Jörg.

6. Giorgio is Italian. I’ve always adored this name!

7. Jorge is Spanish and Portuguese.

8. Georges is French.

9. Georgiy is Russian, with the nicknames Gosha and Zhora.

10. Georgi is Bulgarian.

11. Jürgen is Low German. Without diacritical marks, Jurgen is Dutch.

12. Jørgen is Norwegian and Danish. Nicknames are Jørn and Jørg. The alternate Swedish form is Jörgen.

13. Georgo is Esperanto.

14. Jurgis is Lithuanian.

15. Georgijs is Latvian.

16. Georgs is also Latvian.

17. Juris is an alternate Latvian form.

18. Iuri is an alternate Georgian form.

19. Jiří is Czech. Nicknames are Jura, Jirka, Jíra, Jiřík, Jiříček, Jiránek, Jiroušek, and Jiřin.

20. Juraj is Slovak and Croatian. Nicknames are Juro, Jurica, and Jure.

21. Jurij is Slovenian and Sorbian. Nicknames are Jurica and Jure.

22. Jurriaan is Dutch.

23. Joeri is an alternate Dutch form.

24. Joris is Frisian and Dutch.

25. Sjors is an alternate Dutch form.

26. György is Hungarian, with the nickname Gyuri. The Hungarian GY sound is kind of like the dg in “edge.”

27. Đorđe is Serbian.

28. Đuro is Serbian and Croatian.

29. Đurađ is another Serbian variation.

30. Georgios is Greek.

31. Giorgos is a modern Greek variant.

32. Yiorgos is another Greek form.

33. Yorgos is yet another Greek form.

34. Kevork is Western Armenian.

35. Gevorg is Eastern Armenian.

36. Jory is Cornish.

37. Jordi is Catalan. The Gascon form is Jòrdi.

38. Jyri is Finnish.

39. Jyrki is also Finnish.

40. Yrjänä is another Finnish form. The nickname is Yrjö.

41. Gjorgji is Macedonian.

42. Geevarghese is Malayalam, a language spoken in India. The nickname is Varghese.

43. Jerzy is Polish, with the nickname Jurek.

44. Yuriy is Russian and Ukrainian, with nicknames including Yura, Yurik, and Yuryechka.

45. Yegor is Russian. This isn’t to be confused with the similar name Igor.

46. Seoirse is Irish.

47. Deòrsa is Scottish. Nicknames are Dod, Dode, and Doddie.

48. Seòras is an alternate Scottish form.

49. Siôr is Welsh.

50. Siors is also Welsh.

51. Siorus is a third Welsh form.

52. Chorche is Aragonese.

53. Đura is Serbian and Croatian.

54. Georgije is an alternate Serbian form.

55. Ġorġ is Maltese.

56. Hori is Maori.

57. Jore is Norman, a language spoken in northern France.

58. Jori is yet another Finnish form.

59. Jüri is Estonian.

60. Jurjen is West Frisian.

61. Siaosi is Tongan.

62. Xurde is Asturian, a language spoken in Spain.

63. Yagur is Kalmyk, a Mongolic language spoken in Russia, Kazakhstan, and China.

The many forms of Joseph

Once considered “too Jewish” for most Christians to use, the name Joseph has been a popular mainstay since the late Middle Ages, when Saint Joseph’s star rose. It first caught on among a wider audience in Spain and Italy, and it became more popular in England after the Protestant Reformation. In the Jewish world, it calls to mind the Biblical Yosef, favourite son of Jakob, and in the Christian world, it calls to mind the father of Jesus.

Joseph was on the Top 10 in the U.S. from 1880–1934, and then dropped into the Top 20. It rose and fell slightly over the ensuing decades, with its lowest rank being #22 in 2011. In 2015, it was #21. The name has also enjoyed much popularity in Great Britain, Canada, Australia, Ireland and Northern Ireland, and New Zealand. The spelling Josef was once quite popular in Switzerland, and is currently enjoying a #26 rank in the Czech Republic and #48 in Sweden.

The spelling Joseph is English and French. Other versions include:

1. Josef is German, Czech, and Scandinavian. German nicknames include Sepp and Seppel, and Czech nicknames include Pepa, Pepík, Pepíček, Jožka, Joska, and Jožánek.

2. Józef is Polish. The nickname is Józek. The alternate version Jožef is Slovenian, with the nickname Jože. Another alternate version, Jozef without any diacritical marks, is Slovak and Dutch. The Dutch nicknames include Sjef, Zef, Jos, Jef, Joep, Joop, Joos, and Joost.

3. József is Hungarian. Nicknames include Jóska and Józsi.

4. Josif is Serbian and Macedonian.

5. Joosep is Estonian.

6. Juozapas is Lithuanian. The nickname is Juozas.

7. Jāzeps is Latvian.

8. Jozefo is Esperanto. The nickname is Joĉjo.

9. Josèp is Occitan. Josep, without any diacritical marks, is Catalan.

10. Josip is Slovenian and Croatian. The Croatian nicknames are Joško, Joso, and Jozo, and the Slovenian nickname is once again Jože.

11. Jooseppi is Finnish. The nickname is Juuso.

12. Iosif is Russian, Romanian, and Greek. One of the Russian nicknames is Osya.

13. Ioseb is Georgian, with the nickname Soso. This was Stalin’s real name.

14. José is Spanish and Portuguese. Spanish nicknames are Pepe, Pepo, and Pepito, and Portuguese nicknames are  and Zezé.

15. Xosé is Galician.

16. Joseba is Basque.

17. Josepe is an alternate Basque form.

18. Giuseppe is Italian, with the nicknames Beppe, Peppe, Peppi, Pino, and Peppino.

19. Yosef is Hebrew.

20. Osip is an alternate Russian form, also with the nickname Osya.

21. Yusuf is Arabic and Turkish.

22. Yusef is another Arabic form.

23. Yousef is another way to transliterate the Arabic form of Joseph.

24. Hovsep is Armenian.

25. Yusif is Azeri.

26. Yosif is Bulgarian.

27. Hohepa is Maori.

28. Yusup is Uyghur, a Turkic language spoken in China.

29. Yosyp is Ukrainian.

30. Yussel is Yiddish.

31. Seòsaidh is Scottish.

32. Seosamh is Irish.

33. Ghjaseppu is Corsican.

34. Ġużeppi is Maltese.

35. Iokepa is Hawaiian.

36. Iosefo is Samoan.

37. Ipe is Malayalam, a language spoken in India.

38. Jisepu is Sardinian.

39. Jósepr is Old Norse.

40. Joskin is a Medieval English nickname.

41. Juza is Vilamovian, a Germanic language spoken in Poland.

42. Osi is Nenets, a native Siberian language.

43. Outha is an alternate Malayalam form.

44. Ouseph is also Malayalam.

45. Seppi is Alsatian.

46. Sifa is Tongan.

47. Sifis is a variation found on Crete.

48. Simprofié is Romani.

49. Yisap is Chuvash, a native Siberian language.

50. Yosip is Assyrian.

51. Yosop is Bashkir, a Turkic language spoken in Russia.

52. Yosyf is Tatar.

53. Yusup is Turkmeni.

54. Yusupha is Sanskrit and Hindi.

55. Yuusuf is Somali.

56. Jâosé is Jèrriais. The nickname is Jâoséphin.

57. Yazep is Belarusian.

These names are going to the birds!

We’re probably all familiar with bird names like Robin and Lark, but what about some of the lesser-used bird names?

Unisex:

Agpa means “thick-billed Murre” (a type of bird) in Greenlandic.

Alaryn means “bird” in Welsh. This was more commonly used than Aderyn in the mid-20th century, during heavy immigration in the U.K.

Chim means “bird” in Vietnamese.

Jiguur means “bird” in Mongolian.

Manu means “bird” in Maori and Hawaiian.

Palila is the name of a bird in Hawaiian, Tahitian, and Polynesian.

Tairo means “little bird” in Arabic.

Tori means “bird” in Japanese.

Tui is a type of Maori bird.

Tziquin means “bird” in Tzeltal and Quiche-Kaqchikel.

Vireo is a type of U.S. bird.

Yonah means “dove” in Hebrew.

Female:

Aderyn means “bird” in Welsh. This is contemporary, not traditional.

Aëdon may mean “nightingale” in Greek.

Aerope may derive from an Ancient Greek word for the bee-eater bird.

Aghavni means “dove” in Armenian. I love this name.

Ainara means “swallow (bird)” in Basque.

Alondra means “lark” in Spanish.

Andlib, or Andleeb, means “nightingale” in Persian.

Asuka is a Japanese name which is composed of the elements asu (“to fly” or “tomorrow”) and ka (bird). Many other meanings are also possible.

Aquila means “eagle” in Latin. The Russian form is Akilina.

Balbala means “nightingale” in Pashto.

Chipeta means “white singing bird” in Ute.

Cholena means “bird” in Lenape.

Columba means “dove” in Latin.

Deryn possibly comes from Aderyn, with the same meaning.

Durna means “crane (bird)” in Azeri.

Elaia means “swallow (bird)” in Basque.

Enara means “swallow (bird)” in Basque.

Faigel means “bird” in Yiddish. Other forms include Faiga and Faigie. Beyond my frequent dislike of many Yiddish names, I’m not fond of this one because it looks too much like a certain homophobic slur. As a matter of fact, the diminutive form Faigeleh is indeed slang for a gay man!

Homa is a phoenix-like bird in Persian mythology. An alternate form is Huma.

Inyoni means “bird” in Zulu.

‘Iwalani means “heavenly frigate bird” or “heavenly man-of-war bird” in Hawaiian.

Karawek means “bird” in Thai.

Karlygash means “swallow (bird)” in Kazakh.

Kasika means “bird” in Thai.

Kayäkki means “bird” in Chuvash, a native Siberian language.

Kiya means “cooing of a bird” in Sanskrit.

Kría is a type of Icelandic bird.

Lóa means “golden plover” in Icelandic and Faroese.

Lushanya may mean “songbird” in Chickasaw.

Oanh means “oriole” in Vietnamese.

Paloma means “dove, pigeon” in Spanish.

Parastou means “swallow (bird)” in Persian.

Pëllumb means “dove” in Albanian.

Prinia is the Javanese word for a type of bird.

Sacagawea may mean “bird woman” in Hidatsa.

Sarika means “myna bird” in Sanskrit.

Seelasat means “oriole” in Vainakhish, an extinct language of North Transcaucasia.

Shakuntala means “bird” in Sanskrit.

Simurg means “eagle bird” in Pahlavi. This was a monstrous bird in Persian mythology.

Svala means “swallow (bird)” in the Scandinavian languages.

Toiba means “dove” in Yiddish.

Tsubame can mean “swallow (bird)” in Japanese.

Tzipporah means “bird” in Hebrew. Other spellings include Zipporah, Tziporah, Tzipora, Tsippora, Tsipora, Cipora, and Cippóra.

Tzufit means “hummingbird” in Hebrew.

Ulara means “snowcock” in Kyrgyz.

Usoa means “dove” in Basque. The name Uxue is etymologically related.

Yemima means “dove” in Hebrew. The popular Anglicization is Jemima.

Zarka means “crane (bird)” in Pashto.

Zitkala means “bird” in Sioux.

Male:

Andor means “Thor’s eagle” in Norwegian.

Anzu was a Mesopotamian demon depicted in the form of a lion-headed eagle or a huge bird breathing water and fire.

Arnkætill means “bird helmet” in Old Norse.

Colum means “dove” in Old Irish.

Dalbar means “chick (baby bird)” in Yakut, a native Siberian language.

Dalbaray means “white bird” in Yakut.

Énna possibly means “bird-like” in Irish.

Jonah is the English form of Yonah, and a male-only name. Other forms include Jonas (Dutch, German, and Scandinavian, and the name of the heroic Dr. Jonas Salk), Giona (Italian), Yunus (Arabic and Turkish), Jonáš (Czech and Slovak), Iona (Russian and Georgian), Jónas (Icelandic), Joona and Joonas (Finnish), Jona (Serbian and Croatian), Jónás (Hungarian), Jonás (Spanish), Jonass (Latvian), and Jonasz (Polish).

Kaur means “loon (bird)” in Estonian.

Mochni means “talking bird” in Hopi.

Nenaa’angebi means “beautifying bird” in Ojibwe.

Örn means “eagle” in Icelandic, Swedish, and Old Norse.

Orneus may mean “bird, chicken” in Greek.

Ornytos may be etymologically related to the Greek word ornis (bird, chicken).

Pungat means “bird” in Nivkh, an indigenous language in Russia and Japan.

Quetzun is a Guatemalan name referring to a type of bird.

Sibaguchu means “birdman” in Mongolian.

Stari means “starling (bird)” in Old Norse.

Tayfur may mean “bird” in Bashkir.

Þrǫstr means “thrush (bird)” in Old Norse.