Giannis? Gianni? Is there a difference?
March 20, 2017 5:09 PM   Subscribe

Is there any rhyme or reason as to why the "s" at the end of some Greek first names is sounded by some people but not others? Or am I completely imagining things?

I can't believe I couldn't Google my way out of this, but here goes. I have two examples. First is the NBA player Giannis Antetokounmpo. HE pronounces his own name with the "s" sound at the end (and so everyone else does too) except there's a Greek guy on NBA TV who deliberately pronounces it "Gianni". Second is a guy on a reality show named "Demetres". He introduced himself to the camera as "Dumb Eat Trees" (and wears a T-shirt to that effect) but introduced himself to other people pronouncing it "Dumb Eat Tree". Is there a reason for this?
posted by acidic to Society & Culture (6 answers total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
I don't fully know the answer to this question, but I suspect it has to do with the case system of modern Greek, as explained on this blog:

In case you are really interested. Unlike English names, the Greek ones are subject to grammatical cases. In practice this means that the ending of a Greek name changes depending on the way it is used in the sentence. For example the correct way to address me is "Vassili". The version with the "s" at the end is just the nominative case. (Perhaps the main reason that "Vassilis" sounds to Greeks so far away from "Vassilios" is because they differ not just in the nominative case but in fact in every grammatical case.) And yes, your good friends "Giannis", "Dimitris" and "Andreas" should be addressed "Gianni", "Dimitri" and "Andrea". Although every Greek addresses me the correct way I am not expecting that everyone that I meet is aware of Greek grammar. So calling me "Vassilis" is fine with me. Some people do mind though. I know cases where people introduce themselves using the vocative case (which is grammatically wrong) just to make sure that they will be addressed the correct way.
posted by crazy with stars at 5:29 PM on March 20 [10 favorites]

Yep, crazy with stars has it. Things are further complicated by the fact that there's similar sounding names without the final s in other countries, e.g. Russian Dmitry, Italian Andrea or Gianni. No big deal if you get it wrong.
posted by Dr Dracator at 10:20 PM on March 20

FYI crazy with stars is correct, but it might be helpful to know for future reference that this only applies to male names. The s/sigma is masculine, similar to o in Spanish. Since female or neutral names don't have an s there is nothing to drop. Of course I'm only speaking about first names here, there is another rule for last names. Greek is insane.
posted by Concordia at 12:27 AM on March 21 [1 favorite]

The s/sigma is masculine, similar to o in Spanish. Since female or neutral names don't have an s there is nothing to drop.

Almost but not quite, there are female names ending in s (e.g Iris) but their handling is a little more complicated than just dropping the s - language is weird in general.
posted by Dr Dracator at 1:29 AM on March 21 [3 favorites]

I'm not the OP but I've made this mistake and am really glad to know how to address properly in future:

Can anyone clarify whether there are contexts where the nominative makes sense in normal Greek usage? My vocative usage might be a bit rusty.

"Hi Gianni", "Let me introduce you to Gianni"
"Giannis will complete the document"
name badge: Giannis Antetokounmpo

Would that be correct?
posted by carbide at 9:23 AM on March 21

> Would that be correct?

Yes, but it's a lot easier just to use Gianni everywhere; you're not speaking Greek, after all, so there's no particular reason to maintain the cases.
posted by languagehat at 12:44 PM on March 21 [1 favorite]

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