As I’m sure you’re aware, it’s Saint Nicholas’s day tomorrow. It’s a day not much kept in the English-speaking world, except, perhaps, as a bit of a curio (we do the shoe-and-sweet thing, for instance), but elsewhere, such as in the Netherlands, it’s a very important festival.
Saint Nicholas was a real man, though how much truth lies in the stories surrounding him is a matter of conjecture. He’s a popular saint in the Catholic and Orthodox churches, particularly the latter, and while his name is attested in the Pagan period, most use has been by Christians over the centuries in honor of the saint.
Therefore, I’ll leave Nicholas and the saint to others; instead I’ll take the name back to Pagan times — and to pieces.
One of the most important things to bear in mind when looking at Greek names, especially in the classical period, is that they usually meant something very immediate to the bearers and those around them. In that respect, they were the like Native American names such as Sitting Bull, Red Cloud and Black Hawk.
Many names were what are dubbed “compound names”, combining two separate elements.
In Nicholas’s case, these are nikê “victory” and laos “people.”
And while Nicholas was in only modest use in Pagan times, there are plenty of other names containing both these elements which were very popular indeed in Pagan Greece.
Probably chief among them is Nicias, combining nikê with the suffix -ias (which may, in many instances, have originated as a short form of a compound name), and Nicon (also Latinized as Nico), which took nikê and slapped the common name-suffix -ôn on the end.
Nikê is also combined with many other elements to make literally hundreds of other names, male and female. Among them (in their standard Latinized forms) are:
Nicagoras ♂– “victory of the assembly”
Nicandra ♀ — feminine form of NICANDER
Nicander ♂– “victory of men”
Nicarete ♀– “excellence of victory”
Nicarchus ♂ — “victory-leader”
Nicippa ♀ — feminine form of NICIPPUS
Nicippus ♂ — “victory-horse”
Nicodemus ♂ — “victory of the people”
Nicodromus ♂ — “victory of the race”
Nicocleia ♀ — feminine form of NICOCLES
Nicocles ♂– “glory of victory”
Nicocrate ♀ — feminine form of NICOCRATES
Nicocrates ♂ — “strength of victory”
Nicomachus ♂ — “victory of battle”
Nicomedes ♂ — “victory schemes”
Nicostratus ♂ — “victory of the army”
Nicotimus ♂ — “honor of victory”
And lets not forget Nice (pronounced “NIGH-see”), the personification of victory, worshipped as a Goddess, and often joined with Athena.
As for the second half of Nicholas’s name, laos (frequently found Latinized as -laus) it features in many other names too:
Arcesilaus — “help of the people”
Archelaus — “leader of the people”
Aristolaus — “best of the people”
Charilaus — “grace of the people”
Chrysilaus — “gold of the people”
Critolaus — “chosen/judge of the people”
Hermolaus — “support of the people”
Menelaus — traditionally translated as “abiding men” (the name of Helen of Troy’s husband)
Philolaus — “friend of the people”
Stratolaus — “army of the people”
Timolaus — “honor of the people”
If you’re interested in exploring the great diversity of Ancient Greek names, Oxford University has a very useful website: the Lexicon of Greek Personal Names.