Sunday, July 31, 2005

How Geevarghese became Jorge

Speaking of the dragon and St.George, whenever I tell people that Varghese is the malayalam equivalent of George I feel like they don't really believe me. It's not surprising because those two names sound so different.

It's easier to believe if you realize that St.George --- the person after whom christians all over the world named their children, was likely a speaker of Aramaic, and was probably known to his friends as Giwargis. He is believed to have lived in the 3rd-century in Asia-Minor (born in Lydda --- in modern Israel, and died in Nicomedia --- in modern Turkey), left the Roman Army, and was tortured and killed for his faith. He was so popular that he's been named patron saint of several things including :

...England,... Georgia, Moscow, Catalonia, Malta, Lithuania, the scout movement, soldiers and skin diseases.

It's instructive to examine the geographical pattern in the variations of his name. Going from west to east, roughly, the list is :

  • Jorge (Spain : pronounced 'Hor-Hay')
  • George (England : pronounced 'Jorj' :) )
  • Georges (France : pronounced 'zhorzh')
  • Giorgio (Italy)
  • Giorgiy (Slavic countries: the 'G' is as in 'gun', not as in 'George')
  • Yiorgos (Greece)
  • Girgis (Egypt and the Arab world)
  • Giorgis (Ethiopia)
  • Gewargis/Giwargis/Givargis (Syriac-speaking communities of the middle east: Assyrians of Iraq for example)
  • Geevarghese/Varghese/Varkki (Kerala)


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