It’s All Greek To Me

A client recently asked me to do some work in Greek.

I’m pretty good with languages. I taught myself to read Polish vital records entirely on my own, Russian records with just a little help at the FHL. And since becoming a professional genealogist, I have been asked for Hungarian, French, Spanish, Italian, and German. After Polish and Russian, I found all of those to be pretty easy. Except for the German, that is. That Gothic script is like learning a new alphabet and I’ve just never put in the effort.

But Greek has its own alphabet too and new ways of writing cursive letters. It’s got a lot of overlap with Latin and Cyrillic, so I only needed to learn a few brand new letters. It’s the handwriting that gets tricky. Thankfully — and the main reason I accepted the challenge — the records I’m searching through are indexed and the index is written pretty neatly.

Here’s one of the names I’m looking for.

Can you figure that one out? It’s a very common Jewish surname (with many spelling variations) and the first two letters are the same in Greek as in Latin and Cyrillic. You can guess the third letter correctly. Only the last one is tricky.

The names that tripped me up were the ones I’m wasn’t even sure how to spell in Greek. There is no B in Greek, so I resorted to V, like you do in Russian. I finally found a book at the FHL about Greek names, published by the CIA (no kidding), which had some interesting information in it. Instead of B, they use MP. Who would have seen that coming? Several other sounds I needed were missing too. I did eventually find all the names I needed, but some of them were spelled in such convoluted ways that I had them for a while and didn’t realize they were actually correct.

At a Greek restaurant some years ago, the names of the dishes were written in Greek letters. I found those easier to pronounce than their English counterparts, because they only used Latin and Cyrllic crossed-over letters.

But if you ask me to research in Armenian or Ottoman Turkish (I was asked once), well, I’ll say that’s all Chinese to me.

And the answer to the earlier question: the image says Koen, or Kohn, or Cohen, etc.

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