Pronouncing Generated Greek Names

In my quest for working more with the Greek alphabet in my practice, there’s one thing that Greek doesn’t do too well that Hebrew does excellently, and that’s the pronunciation of generated names.  Not names generated from the point of stoicheia, but rather names generated from other processes where it may not be a “legal” Greek name following rules of Greek orthography or phonology.  If you plan to use generated names for spirits in your work, Greek is not the most convenient option in some respects, but it is in others,

Consider the generation of the name of the Natal Genius (which you can generate easily thanks to Quaero Lux’s excellent Daimon Name Calculator), where you input the degrees of the five hylegical places (Sun, Moon, Ascendant, Part of Fortune, Prenatal Syzygy) and you get a five-letter sequence back based on these degree locations that forms the name of your Natal Genius, the spirit who watches over you in this life and is the Idea of all the things you do and are meant to do.  Chris Warnock and Fr. Rufus Opus tell you more about how to develop this name, both of which are based on Agrippa’s methods (book III, chapter 26).  Basically, every degree of the Zodiac has a letter attributed to it; the Hebrew method starts with Aleph at the first degree of Aries, Bet at the second degree of Aries, and so forth all the way through the end of the Zodiac, looping back on the alphabet in the 23rd degree of Aries at Aleph, Bet at the 24th, and so forth.  By finding the degrees of these five hylegical places in the order given above, you get the name of the Natal Genius.  It’s a little complicated, but the overall process is simple.

Thing is, Hebrew has 22 letters (not counting the final forms of Kaph, Nun, etc.), which is not a divisor of 360, the number of degrees in a circle.  Thus, the final letter of the final degree of the Zodiac is not Tav, as might be expected, but Chet, which then immediately goes back to Aleph in the next degree, the first of Aries.  Greek, on the other hand, has 24 letters, which is a factor of 360 (24 × 15 = 360), so the letter corresponding to the final degree of Pisces is Ōmega, which flips back to the letter Alpha in the next degree, which is the first of Aries.  In this sense, the Greek system works a bit nicer.

However, Hebrew is more amenable to pronouncing random strings of consonants (which is all the Hebrew script really is) than Greek is, since Greek has a mixture of vowels and consonants that need to be pronounced together.  With Hebrew, you just need to throw in an extra “eh” or “uh” here or there, maybe “ah” or “i” if the letter is Heh or Yod, and you’re good to go.  You can get more complicated than that if you want, but I haven’t really noticed a big difference.  Greek, however, is more complicated; how does one pronounce ΔΩΚΓΦ?  Dohkgph?  Doh-kegph?  What happens when you have two of the same vowels in a row?  Where exactly do you throw in vowels to make the word pronounceable?

To that end, I’m going to take a page out of some famous Jewish kabbalists who were famed for working with letters and institute a system of “natural vowels”, the vowel that can be most readily used with a given letter.  For vowels, you just use the vowel, but the consonants oftentimes need an extra vowel thrown in.  Simply put, this vowel is the first vowel from the name of the letter itself:

Letter Name Natural Vowel
Α Alpha a
Β Bēta ē
Γ Gamma a
Δ Delta e
Ε Epsilon e
Ζ Zēta ē
Η Ēta ē
Θ Thēta ē
Ι Iōta i
Κ Kappa a
Λ Lambda a
Μ Mu u/y
Ν Nu u/y
Ξ Xei or Xi ei, i
Ο Omicron o
Π Pei or Pi ei, i
Ρ Rhō ō
Σ Sigma i
Τ Tau au
Υ Upsilon u, y
Φ Phei or Phi ei/i
Χ Khei or Khi ei/i
Ψ Psei or Psi ei/i
Ω Ōmega ō

Okay, so we have those.  But there are a few notes with this:

  • A vowel is its own natural vowel; there’s no change or transformation involved here.
  • The letters Π, Φ, Χ, and Ψ have two spellings and, therefore, two possible natural vowels.  The first spelling with “ei” is the classical Attic spelling of the letters, and the second spelling with just “i” is the modern Greek spelling; which you use is up to you, though I prefer classical spellings whenever possible.
  • The letters Μ, Ν, and Υ all have upsilon as their natural vowel.  These can be written as “u” or “y”, but are pronounced the same, like a French u or a German ü.
  • The letter Τ has the vowel combination “au”, but more on this later.

Now, how do we go about using these letters?  If we have a string of consonants, where exactly do we put in vowels?  One natural vowel per consonant?  While simple, it’s a little too naïve, and I have a more complicated but elegant system in place that produces, as close as possible, a “natural”-sounding Greek name.  First, though, let’s take a short break into Greek phonology and orthography.

First, let’s break down the Greek consonants into a phonetic categories (which is a little different than how we normally break them down for stoicheic purposes):

  • Bilabial plosives: Π, Β, Φ
  • Dental plosives: Τ, Δ, Θ
  • Velar plosives: Κ, Γ, Χ
  • Nasals: Μ, Ν
  • Liquids: Λ, Ρ
  • Fricatives: Σ
  • Affricates: Ζ, Ξ, Ψ

While Greek spelling tends to be straightforward, we need to watch out for digraphs, or clusters of two letters that produce a distinct sound that would not be immediately noted.  There are two types of digraphs, those with vowels and those with consonants.

Vowel digraphs, which are pronounced together as a unit:

  • αι (pronounced “ai” as in “eye“)
  • αυ (pronounced “au” as in “how“)
  • ει (pronounced “ei” as in “skate”)
  • ευ (pronounced “eu” as in “ew“)
  • ηυ (pronounced “eu” as in “eww“)
  • οι (pronounced “oi” as in “coy“)
  • ου (pronounced “oo” as in “food”)
  • υι (pronounced “ui/yi” as in “yield”)

Consonant digraphs:

  • γγ (pronounced “ng”)
  • γξ (pronounced “nks”)
  • γκ (pronounced “nk”)
  • γχ (pronounced “nkh”)
  • μπ (pronounced “b” at the beginning of a word and “mb” elsewhere)
  • ντ (pronounced “d” at the beginning of a word and “nd” elsewhere)

Plus there are special consonant digraphs that are considered doubled or germinate sounds but not at the beginning or end of a word:

  • τθ (pronounced “tth” as in “that thing”)
  • κχ (pronounced “kkh” as in “mark king”)
  • πφ (pronounced “pph” as in “sap pins”)
  • κγ (pronounced “gg” as in “sag gasket”)

So, with that, let’s get onto the rules, first for consonants:

  1. A consonant that precedes a vowel does not use its natural vowel of the consonant, but the vowel itself.  Thus, ΒΑ is “ba”, not “bēa”.
  2. A consonant that follows a short vowel does not use its natural vowel, but forms part of a syllable with the previous consonant-vowel pair.  Thus, ΒΑΓ is “bag”, not “ba-ga”.
  3. A consonant that follows a long vowel or a consonant with its own long natural vowel or a vowel dipthong (two vowels pronounced as a unit) uses its natural vowel, starting its own syllable.  Thus, ΒΗΓΤ is “bē-gat” and not “bēg-ta”; ΒΗΘΓΤ is “bē-thē-gat”; ΒΕΙΓΤ is “bei-gat”.
  4. A consonant may or may not use its natural vowel if it forms part of a consonant combination; if not, it is followed by the natural vowel of the second letter of the combination.  Thus, ΒΑΓΓ can be”ban-ga” or “ba-gag”; ΒΑΝΤ can be “ban-dau” or “ba-nyt”.
  5. A combination of a plosive plus a liquid or nasal is to be treated as a consonant cluster.  Thus, ΤΡΟΦA is “troph-a”, ΜΒΛΧΙ is “myb-lakh-i”, and ΣΚΠΛΓ is “skap-lag”.
  6. A doubled consonant is broken up across syllables unless the preceding syllable has a long vowel.  Thus, ΒΑΤΤΑ is “bat-ta” and ΒΑΚΚΑ is “bak-kha”, but ΒΤΤΑ is “bē-tau-ta” and ΒΠΠΟ is “bē-pei-po”.
  7. A consonant cluster of the form τθ, κχ, κγ, or πφ is broken up across syllables unless the preceding syllable has a long vowel, but is treated as separate consonants at the beginning or end of a word.  Thus, ΒΑΚΧΟ is “bak-kho”, but ΤΘΟΞΕ is “tauth-ox-e” and ΗΠΦΓΛ is “ē-piph-gal”.
  8. A doubled consonant or a consonant cluster of the form τθ, κχ, κγ, or πφ cannot occur at the beginning or end of a word.  Thus, ΤΘΓΗΑ is “tauth-gē-ha” and not “tthē-gē-ha”, and ΞΗΟΓΡ is “xē-hog-rō” and not “xē-hogr”.

When it comes to vowels, there are a few more rules:

  1. Any two of the same vowels in succession have an “h” inserted if they do not form part of a vowel digraph.  Thus, ΑΑ is “aha” and ΕΕ is “ehe”.  This also applies to long vowels and short vowels, such that ΕΗ is “e-hē”, ΗΕ is “ē-he”, ΟΩ is “o-hō“, and ΩΟ is “ō-ho”.
  2. An extra “h” may be inserted between any two vowels if it makes the distinction between them clearer.  This is up to the personal preference of the reader.
  3. Any two vowels that form part of a diagraph are read as a digraph.  Thus, ΕΙ is “ei” and ΑΥ is “au”.
  4. A vowel following a vowel digraph has an “h” inserted before it, preserving the vowel digraph that comes first.  Thus, ΑΥΑ is “au-ha”.

Essentially, these rules try to ensure a specific type of syllable structure, where a syllable can (but does not have to) start with a consonant, and ends with a long vowel (ēta, ōmega, or any vowel digraph) or a short vowel (any single vowel except ēta or omega) plus a consonant.  So, with that, let’s try some randomized examples, with syllables clearly marked by hyphens:

  1. ΚΥΚΛΥ is “Kyk-lu”.
  2. ΞΩΘΑΧ is “Xō-thax”.
  3. ΒΥΧΙΩ is “Bykh-iō“.
  4. ΒΝΑΗΔ is “Bē-na-hē-de”.  Why not “Bēn-a-hēd”?  Because ēta (natural vowel of bēta) is a long vowel, so the syllable cannot end with a consonant.  Nu, the following letter, then starts its own syllable with the following alpha instead of forming a syllable with bēta.  Likewise, the ēta on the end of the word cannot be followed by a consonant, so the delta forms its own syllable with its own natural vowel.  Because alpha and ēta don’t form a vowel digraph, an “h” is inserted between the two sounds.
  5. ΞΩΛΒΘ is “Xō-lab-thē”.  Why not “Xōl-bath”?  Because the lambda starts its own syllable, since the preceding vowel is long (ōmega and not omicron).
  6. ΝΤΔΞΣ is “Daud-xeis” or “Daud-xis”.  Note the consonant cluster at the start which still uses the natural vowel of tau, and how the different natural vowels of xi can affect the pronunciation here.
  7. ΙΦΑΘΓ is “Iph-ath-ga”.  Note how the first letter is a vowel, which forms its own syllable with the subsequent phi.  Because gamma at the end isn’t connected to the preceding syllable, it forms its own.
  8. ΗΑΙΩΞ is “Ē-ai-ō-xei” or “Ē-hai-hō-xi”.  Because the first letter is a vowel, it doesn’t connect at all to the next syllable, which is also a vowel, and a vowel digraph at that!  Because the ōmega is long, it doesn’t connect to the next consonant, leaving xi to form its own syllable.  Plus, given the string of vowels that may be complicated to pronounce, extra “h” sounds may be inserted if it makes it any easier.
  9. ΞΣΛΩΩ is “Xei-sil-ō-hō” or “Xis-lō-hō“.  Note here how the different possible natural vowels of xi can change the name!  If we use “ei” as the natural vowel of xi, then it’s a vowel digraph and treated as a long vowel, so the next letter sigma starts its own syllable.  If we use “i”, then we treat it as a short vowel, so it forms a closed syllable with sigma.
  10. ΦΣΣΓΓ is “Phei-sis-gag” or “Phis-sing-ga”.  In the first case, we treat the vowel of phi as long, which pairs the sigmas and gammas together into their own closed syllables.  However, if we treat the natural vowel of phi as short, then we break up the double sigma across syllables as a consonant cluster broken up across the first two syllables, and the double gamma as an “ng” consonant cluster also broken up across the last two syllables, ending in the natural vowel of the final gamma.
  11. ΓΖΦΞΠ is “Gaz-phei-xei-pei”, “Gaz-phix-pi”, or “Gaz-phei-xip”.  This is what happens when you have multiple letters with multiple natural vowel choices; you get multiple choices of how to pronounce it and divide up the syllables!

Okay, so now we’re able to pronounce randomized sequences of Greek letters, which is pretty cool.  I’ve never encountered a good set of rules based on linguistics that indicates how to pronounce these types of names, and the rules here for Greek aren’t that complicated once you get the hang of it.

What about isopsephy, though?  If we’re analyzing the numerical value of a generated Greek word, do we just use the five letters given to us through the generation method or do we fill in the word with the extra vowels we need to make it pronounceable?  For the last example above, do we use ΓΖΦΞΠ (without extra vowels) or do we use ΓΑΖΦΙΞΠΙ (with extra vowels)?  Honestly, try both.  You can treat the form without extra vowels (if any are needed) as a purer, more divine or ideal form of the spirit, and the form with vowels as a more manifest or material form, though they’re pronounced the same either way.  In some cases, like with ΞΩΘΑΧ, no extra vowels are needed, so the isopsephic value wouldn’t change anyway.  If you had to choose, I’d go with the version without extra vowels, but try both and see what comes up.

Ah, and now I can hear a reader in the distance saying “but these are to be used for angel names, aren’t they?”  Yes, you can use this method to generate angelic names with Greek letters and pronunciations, but chances are you’re wondering about the theophoric suffix “-(i)el” or “-iah” we see so often at the end of angelic names.  In Greek, these would be written as -(Ι)ΗΛ and -ΙΑ, respectively, and can be used to mark a name as explicitly angelic or divine.  In practice, either can be used, though I read that the “-(i)el” form of the name is used to denote the spirit working down towards the physical and away from the spiritual while the “-iah” form is used to work from the physical up to the spiritual.  I haven’t noticed a big difference either way, personally, having experimented with both, but other people might think it important.  When using these endings, I suggest you take the extra letters into account for isopsephy, and spell out the name in full with all the extra vowels.

Since I hadn’t seen a guide like this to pronouncing randomized or generated strings of Greek letters, I thought I’d share my method.  I hope it comes in help for you guys; I know I’ll certainly be using it as I work with spirits more to find new names.  The above rules can be bent and twisted as needed, of course; they’re meant to suggest pronunciations, not to dictate them, since the spirits themselves have the final word on the matter.  I can think of a few exceptions to the rules above, but I’ll leave those to the adventurous phonologist and linguist to solve out.  I mean, consider some of the words in the PGM, like ΑΒΡΑΩΘ, which is “ab-ra-ōth” and not, according to our rules, “ab-ra-ō-thē”.  Then again, the words of power in the PGM tend to be, you know, pronounceable.  Random letter combinations are not always so, which is what my rules help with.

Who knows, it might even come in use to read those weird barbarous words of power from older texts or (heavens forbid!) some kind of Greek Enochiana to be developed.


About polyphanes
I'm a software developer and Hermetic occultist living near Washington, DC, USA. I claim that I'm youthful, dashing, daring, and other things. I make things and chant stuff, and periodically write about them.

2 Responses to Pronouncing Generated Greek Names

  1. Elias Bjerstedt says:

    Thank you! Just what I needed!

  2. Pingback: Greek Onomancy: Linking Isopsephy with Stoicheia | The Digital Ambler

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