Saturday, May 17, 2008

Changing of Place-names in Greek Macedonia

The renaming or, more precisely, the Hellenization, of the majority of toponyms is indicative of the process of homogenization attempted by the Greek state in the context of the modernization of the region and more generally the country. This process was not limited to ethnological homogenization but embraced all spheres of life in the northern provinces(not only in Macedonia but also in Epirus and Thrace).

The geographical area of the Greek nation-state had been inhabited for centuries by populations of different ethnic origins and for centuries had been dominated by different foreign rulers. Political events, ethnic rivalries, dislocation of populations, and resettlement processes over such a long period had, as a consequence, left an indelible imprint on the geographical nomenclature of the region. The great array of Greek, Turkish, Slavic, and Albanian toponyrns bore irrefutable witness to the ethnic multiplicity of the Balkan peninsula under Ottoman rule.

In the light of the instability of the times and the confusion inherent in the mass resettling of populations, this was the cause of considerable concern to the Greek state and led to the foundation, in 1909, of the 'Committee of Place-names' (Epitropi Toponymion), in accordance with the Royal Act of 31 May, 1909.

A policy of Hellenizing toponyrns had actually been set up soon after the establishment of the Greek nation-state in the nineteenth century. Scholars undertook to locate sites of antiquity, place-names that came up in classical geographical texts, and helped in the renaming of villages and cities. No little research was undertaken and the Committee did much delving into antiquity in the quest for historically substantiated, original Hellenic names.

The Committee consisted of academics of renown—among whom Nikolaos Politis and Georgios Chatzidakis played a prominent role, other scholars coming from various disciplines, and state officials. Their primary con*cern was to study all dubious toponyrns, to substantiate their incon*gruity, and subsequently to present their proposals for change to the Ministry of the Interior.

After the Balkan Wars, a more efficient policy for the re-establishment of Greek names in the entire country, and particularly in the recently annexed northern provinces, was required. In response to the need, the Greek government issued the law of 14 February 1914 on the constitution of municipalities and communes, in accordance with which the local councils could decide on the change of name of the municipality or the commune. There arose instances, however, where the names proposed by the local authorities proved to be both inapt and inept. In such cases, and having discussed the issue with the community leaders, the Committee would again undertake to make its proposals to the Ministry. Paradoxically, some of the names proposed for Hellenization may well have been Greek in origin, though long corrupted by Turkish, Slavic, or Albanian influence.

The policy of Hellenizing toponyms was fundamental to the more comprehensive process of establishing a collective ethnic consciousness and a sense of national identity rooted deeply in the profundity of time and history. Affinity with classical antiquity was looked upon as the ultimate proof of ethnic purity, historical continuity, and perpetuation. Characteristic of this attitude is Nikolaos Politis, according to whose view the use of foreign names, or for that matter even cacophonous Greek names, was a sad phenomenon. He found them detrimental to the Greek language itself and believed that they undermined the conviction of local inhabitants. He argued that, because a foreign name may indicate foreign origin, much could be misconstrued as to the ethnic make-up of a region.

The vast majority of the new toponyms are descriptive of the landscape, either natural or cultural aspects of it. The description is often attached to common suffixes such as -chori (village), -komi (large village), -polis (town), -topos (place) -lofos (hill), -vouni (mountain), or prefixes such as kalo-(good), palaio- (old), para- (near), meso- (between), mono- (only). Other village names are indicative of their topographic location.

Renaming was also prompted by a variety of factors of immediate concern to the new inhab*itants and ranged from cultural characteristics of the inhabitants to environ*mental features of the surrounding land. They often indicated either the favourable or even the inhospitable nature of the area, the predominant vegetation, the type or quality of the soil or of the local water supply.

[Population Exchange in Greek Macedonia, Elisabeth Kontogiorgi, Oxford University, abstracts from the pages 293-295]


  1. Hello!
    Congratulate!It is a pleasure,for me ,about,Macedonia,to read.My family,come from Kendrona-Makedonia.

    Best wishes!

  2. I found this article interesting but very one-sided as to making this renaming program sound well executed and well received.

    In particular, you didn't mention how the people of the ethnically diverse Makedonia received the new names...

    How did they feel about having their surname changed, or the name of their hometown, or that they could no longer legally speak or learn their native language?

    Perhaps a better question is, how would you feel?

  3. Chris since you asking can you be more specific please ?
    Which ethnotical group you mean ?

  4. I was referring to the dopyi, the local non-ethnic Greeks living in Makedonia at the time of this renaming program.

    What is the justification or right of a nation to forcefully rename human beings and outlaw the public use of their native language?

    Isn't this a violation of basic human rights?

  5. So we speaking for the slavmacedonians.....


    Chris there is not any violation of the basic human rights as regarding the renaming or the re-posting of the Macedonian place-names since we speaking for Greek Macedonia, according the present International Laws or even these from 20s.

    Every State in that period is worth noting that at that time there was a fervent pursuit of this goal. When a new territory was annexed, the procedure for the renaming of the settlements was immediately set up.

    Greek State has changed the place-names ones in order to Hellenize the area as Kontogiorgi mention. Yugoslavia (Serbs) and FYROM after have made the same think in order to Slavized theirs territories. Why accusing only the Greek State and not the others one ?

  6. Are you saying it was legal because others were doing it, too, or can you provide facts that show it was
    legal in terms of international human rights laws?

    I'm only discussing Greek Macedonia because that's what this post is about.

    I didn't accuse Greece of anything. I simply ask questions. There's a BIG difference.

    I assume that since you're disseminating this information you would be able to answer questions with facts.

    You've posted information about an important part of Macedonian history, but have completely ignored or downplayed the biggest part, the human element.

  7. Chris how can you say that I ignore the human factor?

    not only me but also the writer of the specific book or the Committee.

    As the Governorship-General of Macedonia referring to the population of the region as it was in the first quarter of 1925 80% were Greeks and the Committee just following what the humans wanted……

    Greek names in Macedonian villages and cities were established via the human factors mainly and secondly because of the State policy.


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