Sunday, January 25, 2015

What's in the name Vasiliki? Bessie OR Bella, for starters!

Working on family trees has been both exhilarating and totally frustrating. Tracking down who was related to whom can be torture if you don't know both the original given name AND the Americanized version, which may or may not make sense.

"Thea Vasilo" (aka Bella)
Bessie Pappas, for example, was a Vasiliki. On the otherhand, Vasiliki ("Thea Vasilo") Sarris Xepoleas -- who lived in Stockton circa 1920-1925 -- took the name Bella, according to phone directories. When I asked Angela Gibson what her aunt Bella Mitchell/Metaxas' given name was, she answered Vasiliki. So there you have it!

I have mentioned that my Papou George Sarris had a candy store in Crockett, CA, that he bought from his brother Louis. Who? He did not -- according to my list from his village Kyparissi, Lakonias -- have a brother (or half-brother, as has recently been suggested) named Louis. I did locate a Louis who lived in Crockett, but still the name was perplexing. Then it hit me!

Papou Sarris (right)
w/brother Ilias/Louis?
I lived in Greece for 10 years and knew NOT a single soul named Louis! Indeed there seems to be no such given Greek name. If you know a Louis or a Louie -- liked my Nouno's brother Louie Lekos (Lekaki) -- it is someone with a given a name that might have sounded a bit like Ilias. My Papou did have a brother named Ilias, and my Googling has found a couple of Iliases that became Louis in this country. Aha!

A common MYTH is that names were changed at Ellis Island. NOT TRUE, according to "Who do you think you are?" (A companion to the NBC series). Ellis Island was staffed by people who spoke many languages and "were mostly checking names against lists generated at the port of departure" (p. 14). Immigrants changed or shortened their names later to fit in. And according to The Guinness Book of Names (7th Edition), Louis was the 15th most popular name for boys in 1900 (p. 70).  

Louis Sarris mystery solved? We'll least we are getting a lot closer!

NOTE: That Name Game somewhat explains why we grew up thinking that our other papou's name was Xenophon Xanttopoulos, when his name on ALL paperwork-- including immigration papers and death certificate -- is Xanthoulis Xanthopoulos. This may have been a Yiayia Pauline effort to substitute/perpetuate a more classic, familiar Greek name beginning with X, even though my Papou himself (whom I never met) seemingly never used it. Even the 1932 San Francisco phone book listed him as Xanthoulis (spelled "Xantholes"), a name I actually found on Facebook recently belonging to someone in England. I had heard that Xanthoulis Xanthopoulos (father Efstathios) was most likely born around 1890 in Saranta Ekklisies.  I have now discovered that this town is actually in Eastern Thrace not far from the Black Sea (Asia Minor) and was inhabited by many Greeks from ancient times to the Ottoman Empire, until the exchange of populations in 1923. It is now Kirklareli, Turkey. Stay tuned!

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