Geographical name changes in Greece

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Map of Greece

The geographical name change in Greece was an initiative by the Greek government to replace non-Greek geographical and topographic names within the Greek Republic with Greek names as part of a policy and ideology of Hellenization.[1][2] The main objective of the initiative has been to assimilate or hide geographical or topographical names that were deemed foreign and divisive against Greek unity or considered to be "bad Greek".[2] The names that were considered foreign were usually of Turkish, Albanian, and Slavic origin.[2] Most of the name changes occurred in the ethnically heterogeneous northern Greece and the Arvanite settlements in central Greece. Place names of Greek origin were also renamed after names in Classical Greece.[2]

The policy commenced after the independence of Greece from the Ottoman Empire in the early 1830s, after the territorial expanses of Greece and continued into the Greek Republic.[2] To this day use of the old Turkish, Albanian, or Slavic placenames by authorities, organisations, and individuals is penalized under Greek law.[3]


The area that is today modern Greece was inhabited by various people throughout history which is reflected in its geographical names of diverse origin. Before 1830, a large part of the population consisted of Orthodox Christians. When modern Greece emerged from the Ottoman Empire in 1830, it based its ideology on nationalism and Hellenism.[2]

n 1909, the existence of large numbers of non Greek place names were a nuisance to the government. In 1909 the government-appointed commission on toponyms report that every one village in three in Greece (30% of the total) should have its name changed (of the 5,069 Greek villages, 1,500 were considered as “speaking a barbaric language”.[2]

During the Balkan wars, Greece doubled its territory and population, but brought various large non-Greek populations into its border, especially in Macedonia and Epirus. Notably were the Slavic speaking Orthodox, the mostly Turkish-speaking Muslims from Macedonia, the Albanians and Aromanians in Epirus. After the war against Bulgaria in 1912 the majority of Slavic speaking Christians were also expelled from the country. After 1922, all Muslims except Western Thrace, were exchanged for all Orthodox in Turkey except Istanbul.

After World War II the remaining Muslim Albanians were expelled, the remaining Christian Albanian and Wallachians today proclaim themselves as Greeks.

By 1928 the demography of Greece had drastically changed from the position in 1830, the country had turned into a nation-state, where non-Greeks had been removed, most of the population spoke Greek and considered themselves to be by free will or pressure as "Greeks", this is the case for the majority of the remaining Arvanites, Aromanians and the Orthodox Albanians in Epirus, who mostly portray themselves as Greeks today.

Notable geographical name changes[edit]

Central Greece[edit]

Central Greece is home to the Arvanites, an Albanian speaking people who migrated to the area in the 14th century. Till the 19th century most of Attica and Boeotia was populated by Arvanites, many of the placenames were also Arvanite, after the establishment of Greece in 1830 most of the names have been changed, especially to unused names since antiquity, from Classical Greece.

Old name Named changed to: Notes
Liopesi Paiania Old name was Arvanitic. Liopesi: 'Place of cows' or 'of the cow'. From the Albanian word lopë or cow and the suffix ës indicating belonging to a place, or quantity of something.
Menidi Acharnes Old name was Arvanite.
Kriekouki Erythres Old name was Arvanite. Kriekouki: 'Red Head'. From the Albanian word Krye/Krie(in some dialects) meaning 'head' and Kuq or red.
Dervenosalesi Pyli, Boeotia Old name was Arvanite . Dervenosalesi: 'The thigh mountain pass'. From the word Derven meaning 'mountain pass'(itself a local borrowing of the Turkish word 'Dervend' meaning the same thing) and Shalës or 'thigh', due to the narrowness of the area resembling the length or shape of a thigh.


Epirus had a Greek majority population prior to annexation to Greece (1913),[4][5] with minorities of Aromanians and Albanians, while the majority of the toponyms in the region are ancient Greek.[6] A part of the Albanian minority, known as Cham Albanians, resided in the coastal area and were expelled from the area after World War II by the EDES resistance group. An unknown number of Aromanians and Orthodox Albanians, in some sources called Arvanites, still live in the area, who today identify mostly as Greek. Since the early 20th-century Albanian place names of Epirus have been systematically changed to Greek, thereby erasing the former Albanian presence in the landscape.[7]

Old name Named changed to: Notes
Densko, Denicko Aetomilitsa Old name was in Aromanian
Briaza Distrato Old name was in Aromanian

Greek region of Macedonia[edit]

Till 1912, the area had a very heterogeneous population consisting of Slavic, Turkish, Greek, Jews and Wallachian people. Most of the geographical names were of non Greek origin, the Greek government planned to change this. Between 1913 and 1928 the Slavic names of hundreds of villages and towns were Hellenized by a Committee for the Changing of Names, which was charged by the Greek government with "the elimination of all the names which pollute and disfigure the beautiful appearance of our fatherland"[8] Between 1912 (Balkan Wars) and 1928 (after the Population exchange between Greece and Turkey), the non Greek inhabitants were largely gone and instead of them Greek refugees from the Ottoman Empire settled in the area thereby changing its demography.

Western Thrace[edit]

Since 1977 all Turkish village names of Western Thrace have been changed to Greek names.[9] Western Thrace is home to a large Turkish minority.

Old name Named changed to: Notes
Gümülcine Komotini Gümülcine was the Ottoman version which derives from the older original Byzantine name, Koumoutzina
Dedeagach Alexandroupoli Turkish name of Dedeagach remained the official name of the city until 1920 when it was renamed Alexandroupoli in honor of King Alexander of Greece.
Sari Saban Chrysoupoli During the Ottoman era, population was mostly Turkish, the old name was Sari-Saban in Turkish, it was renamed from 1913 till 1929 as Sapaioi, later renamed again.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Tsitselikis, Konstantinos (2012). Old and New Islam in Greece: From Historical Minorities to Immigrant Newcomers. Martinus Nijhoff Publishers. p. 49. ISBN 9789004221529. 
  2. ^ a b c d e f g Zacharia, Katerina (2012). Hellenisms: culture, idenitity, and ethnicity from antiquity to modernity. Martinus Nijhoff Publishers. pp. 230–233. ISBN 9789004221529. 
  3. ^ Tsitselikis, Konstantinos (2012). Old and New Islam in Greece: From Historical Minorities to Immigrant Newcomers. Martinus Nijhoff Publishers. p. 50. ISBN 9789004221529. 
  4. ^ Seymour Forster, Edward (1957). A Short History of Modern Greece, 1821-1956. Taylor & Francis. p. 68. Retrieved 28 June 2013. the district has remained predominantly Greek 
  5. ^ Cohen, Getzel M.; editors, Martha Sharp Joukowsky, (2006). Breaking ground : pioneering women archaeologists (1st pbk. ed. ed.). Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press. p. 202. ISBN 9780472031740. Macedonia and Epirus on the mainland, and Crete, where the population was predominantly Greek, deeply resented Turkish rule, and the desire for union with Greece was strong. 
  6. ^ Geoffrey Lemprière Hammond, Nicholas (1973). Studies in Greek history. Clarendon Press. p. 32. Retrieved 28 June 2013. The toponyms of Epirus are predominantly Greek — for instance the river-names 
  7. ^ Silverman, Helaine (1990). Contested Cultural Heritage: Religion, Nationalism, Erasure, and Exclusion in a Global World. Springer. p. 114. ISBN 9781441973054. 
  8. ^ M. Danforth, Loring (1997). The Macedonian Conflict: Ethnic Nationalism in a Transnational World. Princeton University Press. p. 69. ISBN 9780691043562. 
  9. ^ Whitman, Lois (1990). Destroying Ethnic Identity: The Turks of Greece. Human Rights Watch. p. 1. ISBN 9780929692708. 

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