Other ‘Nike’ Words in English
Why cometh the Nicene Creed under our verbal microscope at Eastertide? Well, Easter is the oldest festival of the Christian Church, commemorating the resurrection of Christ and observed annually on the Sunday which follows the first full moon after the vernal equinox. The time of year chosen for Easter was very early conflated with the dates of pagan spring fertility holidays in order to attract pagans to Christianity. The first pegging-down of an Easter date occurred during the deliberations that began in 325 CE at the years-long Council of Nicea, whereat Easter was decreed to be the first Sunday after the vernal equinox.
The bearded worthies who held conclave at this first ecumenical convention of the Christian church, afterward called The Council of Nicea, also gave the church its first draft of the Nicene Creed, the first comprehensive discussion of the nature of Jesus and His relationship to God, and they set forth rules of early canon law.
The council was convened at a small Greek town named Νίκαια Nikaea or Nicea, with one English adjective pertaining to that place being Nicene. Its neuter-plural name in Greek meant ‘place of victories.’ Which victories? The sea fog of history has shrouded those triumphs in the forgetful billows of Lethe, river of memory forever lost. Today the site is a dumpy little Turkish shithole named Izmir, where the local Muslim population has naturally downplayed its Christian importance by posting one, almost illegible sign. Thank you so much, effendi!
Where was Nicea? In northwest Asia Minor, in Bithynia, an ancient region, later a Roman province, on the shores of the Sea of Marmara, an inland sea called the Propontis in ancient Greek, Προποντίς. It is shown unnamed on the map above directly below the word Thrace. The Sea of Marmora connects the Black Sea to the Aegean Sea.
Next are the first few lines of the Nicene Creed in a very fancy neo-iconic Greek alphabet, expressed simply however in Koine or Hellenistic Greek, the dialect of the Greek language spoken throughout postclassical antiquity, approximately from 300 BCE to 300 CE. It was chiefly Attic Greek with a few gems of Ionic (Island) Greek tossed into the yeasty, circum-mediterranean mix.
Now here is the above Greek in an easier-to-read font, followed by a translation into English, then below it, into Latin.
Πιστεύω εἰς ἕνα Θεόν, Πατέρα, Παντοκράτορα, ποιητὴν οὐρανοῦ καὶ γῆς, ὁρατῶν τε πάντων καὶ ἀοράτων.
Καὶ εἰς ἕνα Κύριον Ἰησοῦν Χριστόν, τὸν Υἱὸν τοῦ Θεοῦ τὸν μονογενῆ, τὸν ἐκ τοῦ Πατρὸς γεννηθέντα πρὸ πάντων τῶν αἰώνων·
φῶς ἐκ φωτός, Θεὸν ἀληθινὸν ἐκ Θεοῦ ἀληθινοῦ, γεννηθέντα οὐ ποιηθέντα, ὁμοούσιον τῷ Πατρί, δι' οὗ τὰ πάντα ἐγένετο.
I believe in one God, the Father, the Almighty, maker of heaven and earth, of all that is, seen and unseen.
And I believe in one Lord, Jesus Christ, the only Son of God, eternally begotten of the Father, God from God, Light from Light, true God from true God, begotten, not made, of one Being with the Father; through him all things were made.
Latin Liturgical Version
Credo in unum Deum, Patrem omnipoténtem, Factórem cæli et terræ,
Visibílium ómnium et invisibílium.
Et in unum Dóminum Iesum Christum, Fílium Dei Unigénitum, Et ex Patre natum ante ómnia sæcula. Deum de Deo, lumen de lúmine, Deum verum de Deo vero, Génitum, non factum, consubstantiálem Patri: Per quem ómnia facta sunt.
Other Nike Words in English
ΝΊΚΗ or νίκη
The most widespread use of the Greek word nike occurs in the many forms of Nicholas, one of the most popular male given names in the West. Nicholas began as an ancient Greek warrior name compounded of two parts.
Νικόλαος Nikolas = Greek νίκη nike ‘victory’ + λαός laos ‘people,’ hence ‘victory of the people.’
The *lao- root is found in our English words laity, layman, and lay person. Lay, meaning ‘of the people and not of the clergy,’ comes from older French lai < ecclesiastical Latin lāicus < Greek adjective λᾱϊκός laikos ‘civilian, common, unofficial,’ but literally laikos meant ‘of the men, of the soldiers, of the people ruled by a prince.’ Cognate words appear in Dutch leek and modern German Laie ‘layman.’
Here is a short multilingual sampler of Nicholas names, both male and female:
English Female: Nicole/Nichole/Nicolle/Nikole/Nikkole, Nicola/Nichola, Nicolette, Colette, Nicky/Nikki/Nicci
French Female: Colette, Coline, Nicole, Nicolette, Nicoline
Modern Greek: Νικόλαος (Niklolaos), Νικόλας (Nikolas), Νίκος (Nikos), Νίκο (Niko), Νικολής (Nikolis) and Νικήτας (Niketas)
Hungarian: Miklós, Nikola, Nyikoláj
Italian: Niccolò, Nico, Nicola, Nicolò, Nicolas
Russian: Николай (Nikolai) and its affectionate diminutive Коля (Kolya)
A Few of the Hundreds of Surnames based on Nicholas
Nichols, Nicklas, Nickless, Nicholds, McNicol, McNickle, Nichol, Nicholls, Nicholass, Nicklas, Niccols, Nickels, Nicolls, Nikkel, Nikocevic, Nikodem, Nikolaivitch, Nikolic, Nikula, etc.
The Nature of Nicholas the Name
A Modest Digression on
Compound Warrior Names of the West
The two-part nature of Proto-Indo-European male warrior names is widespread in languages from Sanskrit to the earliest German and includes some Greek given names for males like Thrasyboulos ‘he who is bold in planning.’ Many Greek given male names did make sense, like Astuanax ‘prince of the town.’ Sometimes the two morphemes which made up the word created a compound name compelling to reason, as here where Nicolas can mean ‘victory of the people.’ But more often compound PIE warrior names were simply macho braggadocio, being simply boastful glory words strung together to provide a studly sound. One thinks of the literal meaning of Teutonic trumpet-blast names like Gerhart (Germanic gar ‘spear’ + Germanic hardt ‘hard’ or my given name William from Wilhelm ‘helmet of strong will.’
In the given male name Oscar, the root is hidden. Its Old English original was Osgar made up of OE os ‘any god’ + OE gar ‘spear.’ Before the Norman conquest of England in 1066 CE, even the Viking version of the name was in use, that is, the Old Norse form Asgeirr.
There are a number of Portuguese, Spanish and Italian surnames like Berengár and Beranger derived from the Teutonic name Beringar ‘bear-spear.’
King Hrothgar is a character in the poem “Beowulf.” His name is composed of the Anglo-Saxon elements hroth ‘fame’ + gar ‘spear. By means of a French form introduced into England after the Norman Conquest in 1066, this evolved into our familiar modern given name, Roger and its derived surname, Rogers.
The Germanic adjective –hart or –hard was an extremely frequent component of two-part Teutonic warrior names like Richard. Remember that the two name-making roots merely had to be taken from an agreed-upon list of “name” roots:
Everett or Everard = Ebur Germanic ‘wild boar’ + -hardt.
Leonard means ‘brave as a lion’ from German Leonhard = leo, leonis Latin ‘lion’ + -hard.
Randolph , from Anglo-Saxon rand ‘shield’ + Anglo-Saxon wulf ‘wolf.’
Reinhart can be construed as rein + hart, the German word for pure ‘rein’ + the German word for hard or tough ‘hart.’
Richard = Reich Germanic ‘kingdom’ + -hardt Germanic ‘enduring, tough, hardy’
Wolfgang originally meant swift-of-foot or literally ‘ran like a wolf,’ Gang being part of the German verb gehen ‘to go.’ Another way to interpret Wolfgang is ‘wolf path,’ habitual track through the woods taken by wolves.
Other Nike Words
Nike, the Greek word for victory, was also deified as a goddess of victory. That’s why the running-shoe company named their booties after Nike, she who brought victory in footraces. The Romans copied the Greeks, as usual, and made Victoria a goddess and an enduring popular given name for females throughout the remainder of European history.
For martial reasons, the Untied States Department of Defense chose Nike as the name of their first guided missile system in 1954.
Obscure Nike Words
An Olympionic was a Greek or Latin ode written by a poet to honour one of the athletes in ancient Olympic Games. Pindar was such a poet in Greece, and still today Pindaric victory odes (epinikia in ancient Greek) are written in tongues no Attic orator would ever recognize.
Ὀλυμπιονίκης ὕμνος olympionikes hymnos ‘Olympic victory ode’ is probably the source.
Ὀλυμπιονίκης = Greek Ὀλυμπία Olympia + Greek νίκης nikes, combining form of νίκη nike ‘victory’
Here’s the content of a short Pindaric Ode. Remember these are lyrics to be sung by a chorus of boys in honour of a lad named Asopichos from the city of Orchomenos who won a footrace more than 2,500 years ago, in 476 CE. It is likely this ode was chanted in the Temple of Three Graces, Aglaia, Euphrosyne and Thalia. This is the last portion of Pindar’s Olympian Ode #14, a somewhat flowery 1874 translation into English prose by an Oxford don named Ernest Myers.
“O lady Aglaia, and thou Euphrosyne, lover of song, children of the mightiest of the gods, listen and hear, and thou Thalia delighting in sweet sounds, and look down upon this triumphal company, moving with light step under happy fate. In Lydian mood of melody, concerning Asopichos, am I come hither to sing, for that through thee, Aglaia, in the Olympic games the Minyai’s home is winner. Fly, Echo, to Persephone’s dark-walled home, and to his father bear the noble tidings, that seeing him thou mayest speak to him of his son, saying that for his father’s honour in Pisa’s famous valley he hath crowned his boyish hair with garlands from the glorious games.”
Three Participants in a Footrace at the Panathenaic Games. 6th century BCE, from a black-figured amphora in the Musée Vivenel, Compiegne, France
This is a rare word, denoting a good-luck piece, a charm on a wrist or necklace worn to bring victory. The talisman itself might even bear a depiction of Nike, goddess who bestowed the winner’s wreath, the στέϕανος stephanos ‘crown’ of laurel branches, upon the moist brow of the victor. Note here the origin of other widespread names in the West: Stephen, Stephanie, and Stevenson — popularized throughout Europe by Saint Stephen.
Niceterion was the Latin version of an ancient Greek phrase for victory contest, νικητήριον ἆθλον niketerion athlon. Note the nike root in the word and notice too the origin of our English word athlete. It meant ‘contestant’ in ancient Greek, from their word for contest, athlon. Five sports contests held together was a pentathlon, with the Greek word for five, penta, prominent in the compound.
May Nike — O winged or unwinged, winning divinity — speed our memory and let us recall those ancient and modern terms whose names contain her name.
Copyright 2012 © William Gordon Casselman
Further Reading of My Columns
1. The Germanic word Easter may have very pagan roots indeed. To discover them, click the link below.
Origin of the Word Easter
2. At Stool: A Fecal Word Study
3. Swag, Pelf, Lucre: Ill-Gotten Gain Words
4. L’Anse aux Meadows, Newfoundland