Tuesday, September 14, 2010

"What the hell is my name Pop?

When my father came to the States in the early nineteen hundreds, he like so many had his name shortened or even changed by the immigration guys. I am sure he would have accepted any name, Smith, Jones, Ramirez, or Shapiro, anything, just to get in.

He ended up with a shortened version of his Greek name, Birbil, but what was the original? When I was a kid I was not that interested, I just added an - os when I wanted to give my Greek name, Birbilos. In Greece I used Birbilis, it was common and I was able to use it easily.

When I was a kid, my father told me that we were originally from Crete and had been moved to Asia Minor in the late seventeen hundreds. The village in Asia Minor was Mixaniona, on the Sea of Marmara. It supposedly meant not Chania, but I have been unable to get much information about that.

Back to the name, when I wanted to get my Greek nationality, I had to prove that my father was Greek; his papers in the States had him down originally as a Turk.
No amount of reassurance from the Greek Church in Brooklyn was enough for the Greek government. I had to have a copy of their wedding certificate, they married in Paris in 1928, how do I do that?

I have cousins in Paris, they said, “no problem”, I thought it is never going to happen. They went to the church in Paris, Agios Stephanos, and in five days I had the copy of their wedding certificate.

Low and behold, Pop’s name was down as Birbilakis, Cretan as all get out.

So my Greek name is Birbilakis, Grigorios Polichronis Birbilakis. Some moniker. I did some more checking and many of the refugees from Mixaniona have - akis at the end of their names. Pop as usual was right, we were originally from Crete.

The Turks are responsible for Greek last names, they gave us last names so they could tell where we were from. The -aki at the end of names in Crete were an insult, it meant little, it was Birbilaki, little Birbil, (the word Birbil is the name of a bird, a Nightingale or the sound it makes). The Greeks added the s to diminish and even eliminate the insult of -aki. No more little captains, little birds, or little anything.

The Greeks from various parts of Greece have specific last names, if you were from Constantinople your ending would be -oglou (son of), if from the Black sea area it had an ending -des, this went on all over Greece. You can identify pretty accurately where Greeks originated from by the ending of their names

I am in the process of getting in touch with the town council of Chania, in Crete to see what information I can get about when the move happened. I am not too optimistic, maybe I should check the churches there, they seem to function a lot better than the government.

If I make any progress on this I will let you know. Any ideas will be greatly appreciated.


  1. Hi Greg.

    I read your post and it came to my mind the time we were in Salonica (for Opel) and we went to Nea Mixaniona to locate any relatives of yours! Nice things to remember!!!

    Wishing you all the best with your research.


  2. Greg,

    I love what you are doing. Once you start it's hard to stop. You're lucky you have so much information to begin with. I didn't and the lack of information can get you stuck. Churches are the best source for information if you know where to start.

    Catholics are baptised but I don't know about Greeks. Catholic Churches have Diocese which keep records of things like Baptisms and confirmations and stuff. If you have similar structure in the Greek church you may have good luck. I did.

    It's easy to get frustrated and give up. Don't. Persevere and you will be rewarded. It's a great journey. I find different things every day.

    Also remember that as you find things, the spelling of the names can keep changing so try all the different variations.

    Good luck and don't give up. I think patience is not you're strong suit but be patient. GOOD LUCK.

    Greg, that is the greatest photo. Love it. What a face.