Priapus and Polyxena

Warning: If phallic images in art (beyond regular artistic nudity) offend you, this post isn’t for you.

Priapus (Priapos) is a minor fertility god, and protects livestock, fruit, gardens, bees, merchant sailors, and male genitalia. He’s routinely depicted with a permanent, oversized erection. Indeed, his very name is the origin of the English word “priapism,” an erection lasting over four hours in the absence of sexual activities.

Priapus is variantly described as the son of Aphrodite and Dionysus or Dionysus and Chione, as well as the son of Zeus, Hermes, or Pan. Other sources list him as Hermes’s father. Hera cursed him with ugliness, impotence, and foul-mindedness while he was in utero, in revenge for Prince Paris of Troy having judged Aphrodite as more beautiful than Hera.

The other deities refused to let Priapus live on Mount Olympus, and threw him earthside. He landed on a hill, and was raised by the shepherds who found him. Later, he joined Pan and the satyrs.

Priapus once tried to rape the humble, modest goddess Hestia when she was asleep, but a donkey’s braying made Priapus lose his erection, woke Hestia up, and thwarted the assault. This gave him a burning hatred of donkeys, which became his sacrificial animal.

Another time, he tried to rape the nymph Lotis when she too was asleep, but a donkey’s braying thwarted him yet again. Lotis awoke and ran away, leaving the other deities to laugh at Priapus. In some accounts, the deities turned her into a lotus tree to escape Priapus.

Worship of Priapus was more a rural phenomenon outside of his home region of Lampsakos. People in the countryside saw him as a patron of sailors, agriculture, fishers, and others in need of good luck. His presence was believed to avert the evil eye. In Bithynia (now northwestern Asian Turkey), he was viewed as a tutor to the god Ares in infancy.

People in urban areas saw him as a joke, not a serious deity. In later antiquity, his worship was seen as a cult of sophisticated pornography. Into the Middle Ages, he was invoked as a symbol of fertility and health. In the 13th century, a lay Cistercian brother erected a statue of Priapus to stop an outbreak of cattle disease.

In the 1980s, in Montréal, D.F. Cassidy founded the St. Priapus Church, a predominantly gay male community focused on worship of the phallus. During services, everyone but the priest is naked. (Warning: Link NSFW or under 18!)

Priapus is of unknown etymology. It may be pre-Greek.

The Sacrifice of Polyxena, by Nicolas Prévost

Polyxena (Polyxene) was the youngest daughter of King Priam and Queen Hecuba of Troy, and the Trojan version of Iphigenia. An oracle said Troy wouldn’t be defeated if Prince Troilos lived to age twenty. With that in mind, Athena encouraged Achilles to seek him out.

Troilos and Polyxena rode out to get water from a well in the town of Thymbra, and Achilles was overcome with lust for both of them. At this time, Achilles was still in mourning for his dear friend Patroklos, who may or may not have been his lover. Polyxena and Troilos ran away, but Achilles caught Troilos by the hair and dragged him off his horse.

Troilos escaped to a nearby temple of Apollo, but Achilles followed him and beheaded him by the altar, then mutilated Troilos’s body. Achilles continued pursuing Polyxena, and struck up a rapport with her. He found her words comforting in the wake of Patroklos’s death. Achilles trusted her so much, he told her of his only vulnerability, his heel.

Polyxena’s brothers Paris and Delphobos ambushed Achilles and shot him in his heel, with an arrow soaked in poison and guided by Apollo. In some versions, Polyxena kills herself from guilt, while in others, Achilles’s ghost demands the Greeks sacrifice her to appease the wind needed to take them home. Polyxena was eager to die as a sacrifice for such a great hero instead of as a slave. Neoptolemos, Achilles’s son, carried out the sacrifice.

Polyxena means “many foreigners,” “many guests,” or “very hospitable.” It’s derived from polys (many) and xenos (guest, foreigner), or xenia (hospitality to guests). Other forms of the name include Polyxène (French), Polyxeni (modern Greek), Poliksena (Russian and Polish), Polissena (Italian), Políxena (Spanish), Pulisena (Medieval Italian), Polikseni (Albanian), and Poleksija (Serbian). My character Alya (Aleksandra) Minina names her daughter Poliksena, Polya for short, since she’s not exactly the type to use an ordinary name like Natalya or Olga.

Happy names

Happy and Happiness are the kind of old-fashioned Virtue names most contemporary Anglophones would consider unusable, though there are a number of names with the same meaning in other languages. Here are some of them. (For the sake of brevity, I’m not including all the Slavic names starting with Rad. All these Slavic names formed from the same roots merit their own future posts.)

Unisex:

Dilshad means “happy heart” and “cheerful” in Persian.

Huan means “pleased, happy” in Chinese.

Jyrgal is Kyrgyz.

Makena means “happy one” in Kikuyu, a Bantu language spoken in Kenya, Uganda, and Tanzania.

Phúc is Vietnamese, though I’d obviously caution against using this in an Anglophone country!

Simcha is Hebrew.

Xinyi means “joyous, happy, delighted” in Chinese, and may also be composed of characters meaning “heart, soul, mind” and “harmony, joy.”

Yuki is Japanese, though it may also mean “snow.” The meanings of East Asian names can be so complicated!

Zorion is Basque.

Male:

Anand is Sanskrit.

Asher is Hebrew. Osher is a Yiddish variation, though the spelling makes me cringe. There’s a reason Sephardic and not Ashkenazic pronunciation was chosen for the resurrection of the Hebrew language in the modern era!

Charalampos means “to shine from happiness” in Greek.

Fortunato means “fortunate, happy, blessed” in Spanish, Italian, and Portuguese.

Gil is Hebrew.

Hani is Arabic.

HarshaHarshad, and Harshal are Sanskrit.

Kouki is a Japanese name which may be derived from Kanji meaning “happiness” and “hope.”

Macario is a Spanish name derived from the Latin Macarius, which is in turn derived from the Greek Makarios. It ultimately comes from the Greek root makar (happy).

Meriwether means “happy weather” in Middle English.

Milorad is a Serbian and Croatian name composed of the elements milu (dear, gracious) and rad (happy, willing).

Na’im means “happy, tranquil, at ease” in Arabic.

Nobuyuki is a Japanese name which may be derived from the elements “trust” and “happiness.”

Obrad is a Serbian name possibly meaning “to make happy.”

Olukayode means “God brings happiness” in Yoruba.

Onni is Finnish.

Parviz means “happy, fortunate” in Persian.

Sa’id means “lucky, happy” in Arabic.

Selig, or Zelig, means “happy, blessed” in Yiddish.

Shad is Arabic.

Szczȩsny means “successful, happy, lucky” in Polish, and is a vernacular form of Feliks. It’s not very common as a forename in modern Poland, but it is used sometimes.

Taalay means “happy, lucky” in Kyrgyz.

Female:

Alaia means “happy, joyful” in Basque.

Bahija is Arabic.

Fariha is Arabic.

Gioconda is an Italian name derived from the Latin Lucunda, which means “happy, delightful, pleasant.”

Heilwig means “happy war” or “healthy war” in Germanic, though it’s not a name I could see working in the modern era. It’s also rather interesting to note how many Germanic names contain elements like “war,” “battle,” and “helmet,” while so many Slavic names contain the elements “peace,” “love,” and “happy.”

Mehetabel, or Mehetavel, means “God makes happy” in Hebrew.

Nandita is Sanskrit.

Radana is Czech and Slovenian.

My favorite forms of Theodore

Theodore is probably my third-favoritest male name of all time, after only Samuel and Peter. If I ever have children, and I have at least three boys, I’ll name the third Theodore, in honor of President Theodore Roosevelt. I’ve just always adored the name, and the nickname Teddy. It also has a lot of awesome foreign variants. My favorites include:

1. Fyodor. This is the Russian form, which some people erroneously transliterate as Fedor or Feodor. The Russian letter Ë transliterates as YO, not E or EO. The modern transliteration Fyodor makes the pronunciation so obvious and immediately clear, whereas Fedor and Feodor suggest much different pronunciations to me. I also love the nickname Fedya, which has cute superdiminutives including Fedyushka, Fedyushenka, and Fedyushechka.

2. Teodor. This is the spelling used in much of Central, Eastern, Southern, and Northern Europe. I’m particularly fond of the Polish nickname Dorek.

3. Théodore. This is the French version. I’m a sucker for names with accent marks.

4. Todor. This is the Macedonian, Serbian, and Bulgarian form.

5. Theodor. This is the German form.

6. Teodoro. This is the Spanish, Italian, and Portuguese form.

7. Tivadar. This is the Hungarian form. An alternate version is Tódor.

8. Fedir. This is the Ukrainian form.

9. Teodoras. This is the Lithuanian form.

10. Tudor. This is the Romanian form, and apparently quite popular at the moment.

My favorite forms of Alexander

The name Alexander was the eighth-most-popular male name in the U.S. in 2015, and its popularity has been steadily rising since 1981, after it jumped from #92 to #70. It’s been somewhere on the Top 10 since 2008, with its highest popularity so far being #4 in 2009. It’s a strong, classic name which has been used regularly since Alexander the Great (who popularized the name) and is found in all the major Indo–European languages. Even some non-Indo–European languages use a form of it. These are some of my favorite forms.

1. Aleksandr. This is the Russian form, and as readers of my main blog should know, the name of my favoritest writer, Aleksandr Isayevich Solzhenitsyn. The base nickname forms are Sanya, Sasha, and Shura, with Alek also sometimes used.

2. Aleksander. This is the Polish, Norwegian, Estonian, Danish, Slovenian, and Albanian form. The base Polish nickname form is Olek. I really miss skarbczyk.com, which is now only viewable through archive.org. It had a plethora of awesome Polish names and their nickname forms. Most of the individual name pages weren’t archived, sadly.

3. Sándor (pronounced SHAHN-dor). This is the Hungarian form, which I, for the longest time, erroneously believed was pronounced SAHN-dor. It’s embarrassing to admit to having been a Magyarphile for 21 years this April and only recently realized the Hungarian S is pronounced SH when it’s by itself.

4. Skender. This is one of two Albanian nickname forms (the other being Sandër), though it sounds substantial enough to work as a name in its own right (outside of Albania, of course!). The persistently negative commenter I was having problems with tried to tell me I wasn’t being very consistent in my post about nicknames, but if she hadn’t cherry-picked my post to try to find a reason to criticize me yet again, she would’ve understood I have no problem with nicknames as full names if they sound substantial and have a fair bit of history of being used as such (e.g., Ella, Jack, Jenny. Jessie, Natasha, Henry).

5. Iskandar. This is the Arabic and Indonesian form.

6. Alessandro. This is the Italian form, and sounds so soft, pretty, and romantic.

7. Alejandro. This is the Spanish form, and sounds so strong and masculine.

8. Aleksandar. This is the Bulgarian, Croatian, Serbian, and Macedonian form. The Bulgarian and Macedonian base nickname is Sasho; Aca and Aco (C pronounced like the TS in Tsar) are Serbian and Macedonian forms; Saša is Croatian and Serbian; and Ace is Macedonian.

9. Aleksandro. This is the Esperanto form.

10. Eskandar. This is the Persian form.

My favorite forms of Katherine

Katherine probably ties with Elizabeth as having the most documented nicknames. It’s also a steadily popular, established classic that ages well, doesn’t date the bearer, sounds mature and professional, and never goes out of style. If you want to use the name but are off-put by its popularity, there are a lot of great foreign forms of the name to consider. Here are some of my favorites:

1. Yekaterina. This is the familiar Russian form, with the base nickname Katya. It branches off into all sorts of superdiminutives like Katyusha, Katyenka, Katyushka, Katyushenka, Katyushechka, and Katyulya.

2. Katerina. This is the Macedonian and Greek form, as well as a simplified Russian and Bulgarian form.

3. Caitríona. This is the Irish form, pronounced like Katrina. Catriona is a variant spelling, and pronounced the same way. Both spelling variations are also Scottish, except that the longer version has an accent grave (facing the other way) over the second I.

4. Katariina. This is the Estonian and Finnish form, with nicknames such as Katrin, Kadri, and Kati. I love the double vowels in Estonian names.

5. Katarina. This is the Scandinavian, Serbian, Slovenian, and Croatian form, as well as a German variant. The Slovakian and Icelandic variation is Katarína, and the Czech variation is Kateřina (pronounced Kah-tehr-zheen-ah).

6. Caterina. This is the Italian and Catalan form.

7. Catarina. This is the Portuguese, Occitan, and Galician form, as well as an Italian variant.

8. Catalina. This is the Spanish form. The Romanian variation is Cătălina.

9. Kateryna. Surprisingly, this is the Ukrainian form, not the Polish form. I’m used to seeing a Y in place of an I in Polish names, like Krystyna and Izydor. The Polish form is Katarzyna.

10. Katrijn. This is one of the Dutch forms. I just love Dutch names, with all the Js and neat diminutives.