Living in Crete | Is it Hania or Chania or Xania for Χανια

Hania or Chania or Xania for Χανια ?
by Gerald Brown of BritsinCrete Portal

Is it Hania or Chania or Xania for Χανια ? Many times it is asked by Brits in Crete and other expats why there is not a single anglicised translation from Greek to English for proper names and for place names?

Before we get into this complex area, something of a quick backgrounder: Greek along with Chinese are the two longest surviving languages in the world today. Perhaps Chinese can be traced back 5,000 years while Greece, lesser so, may be 3,500 years. English by comparison is much younger, according to the online Encyclopaedia, Wikipedia and only goes back to Roman times, helped by German, Scandinavian (Norse, Danish), French and later Latin influences. If we Brits reflect our language origins, no wonder we are such an eccentric lot.

Anyway back to Greece and Crete.

When you have such a long linguistic history, politics inevitably plays its part. What survives political periods becomes the standard. Thankfully due to the longevity of Greek, the legal system in the country has case law studies going back centuries. That longevity can lead to confusion too. Often dictionaries or reference books are not consistent either.

One of the greatest living students of the Greek language is a Briton, Sir Geoffrey Horrocks, who has written what many regard as the definitive tome on the subject. Greek: A History of the Language and Its Speakers (Longman Linguistics Library). Addison Wesley Publishing Company, 1997. ISBN 0-582-30709-0 . For a quiet Crete reading moment perhaps?

For the purposes of this article though, let us keep it simple.

This is Crete, with its own multitude of dialects to start with. But that is another story for another day in its own right, but it does explain in part one of the most obvious examples of variations in place names is the subject of this article: Χανια or ΧΑΝΙΩΝ, the old capital of Crete.

In English the place name is written thus Xania, Chania or Hania.

The 'X" sound is a hard 'H' in Greek as though you are attempting to clear the back of the throat, hence the transliteration in Hania.

That leads us to "Chania" another favourite written form. Perhaps it has survived because the Crete locals pronounce the "X" as a "SHHH" (as in 'show') or the fact that Xania for several centuries was a trading city under Venetian rule. (Venetian or 'Venet' is to this day a regional dialect belonging to the famous port city).

The Venetians named Xania "La Chanea" and in Venet, was pronounced as La "Chania". This for me is odds-on favourite as to how we got to "Chania" used most frequently among Brits in Crete today. Just for good measure, in present day Italian, Chania is Candia!

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So far so good.

Now Chania is not to be confused with Candia, the old name for the present day capital of Crete - Heraklion (Ηράκλειο). The old Greek: Χάνδαξ or Χάνδακας, was taken from the Ottoman Empire days of Turkish rule and language when it was known as "Kandiye".

A similar Arab work taken from even earlier times was "khandak"
meaning moat (خندق, خندق مائي) was the name of the city back then. Anyway, Heraklio, Iraklio, Heraklion, Herakleion, Iraklion are all used today in English. Heraklion is the usual one.

Also, the Greek "H" is pronouced as "eee". Hence the variation between Heraklio or Iraklio in English.

Often, local Crete officials cannot make up their minds on whether to use one 'S' or two 'SS', in names. The Eastern Crete prefecture of Lasithi, (Νομός Λασιθίου or Λασίθι) is spelt in English either as Lasithi or Lassithi. Take your pick.

The same for Sisi or Sissi (Σίσσι) the beautiful little port on the north coast in the Vrahasi (Βραχάσι) Municipality... oops there I go again ... Vrahasi, or Vrahassi ... Postal deliveries reach the village using either version, just make sure the post code is correct, GR-72054 or GR-72400. It depends on the Greek postal authorities (Ελληνικά Ταχυδρομεία - Hellenic Post) whether there is a delay or not.

By-the-by, as of January 1, 2007, Vrahasi has its town hall back and local administration (το δημοτικό συμβούλιο). Vrahassi won the right against all odds for Athens to return to self governance to Vrahassi citizens instead of being subjugated to arch rivals in Neapolis. A David and goliath story if ever there was one.

Greek is what I call a literal language. The reason for the variations in spelling governs the way Greek transliterates into English, and can be seen in this example: Malia (Greek = Μάλια, Μαλίων = Malia Malion), the popular resort with British and Irish youth today. The first spelling is the place name as a noun and the second is the Greek way of saying 'of a place'. Thankfully the first part of the word, its root, stays the same, just the ending changes.

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Incidentally, Malia is one of the oldest inhabited areas of Greece and has a wonderful history dating back to the Neolithic period (6000-3000 B.C.). It has a fascinating archaeological site right on the coast and easily accessed.

Artifacts from the site are housed also in the museums of Heraklion and Agios Nikolaos.

Malia makes a great day outing either by KTEL bus or car. So you can see the archaeological site then take a swim next door at an E.U. Blue Flag beach in a sand dune covered area.

The museums should be considered on windy (red flag for swimming) days or less bright days.

Writing of language. In case you are adventurous linguistically, here is CRETE as written in a number of other languages. Take your pick from Arabic to Chinese.

ar:كريت, bs:Kreta, bg:Крит, ca:Creta, cs:Kréta, da:Kreta, de:Kreta, et:Kreeta, el:Κρήτη, es:Creta, eo:Kreto, eu:Kreta, fr:Crète, ko:크리티 지역, hr:Kreta, id:Kreta, is:Krít, it:Creta, he:כרתים, la:Creta, lv:Krēta, lb:Kreta, lt:Kreta, hu:Kréta, nl:Kreta, ja:クレタ島, no:Kreta, pl:Kreta, pt:Creta, ro:Creta, ru:Крит, sk:Kréta, sl:Kreta, sr:Крит, fi:Kreeta, sv:Kreta, tr:Girit, vec:Creta, zh: 克里特Crete.

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Living in Crete for the Brits in Crete in never dull if this little written diversion is anything to go by.

Gerald Brown of the Brits in Crete web portal is a long time British Expatriate resident, writer, and broadcaster.

February 2007

Copyright © Gerald Brown and BritsinCrete 2007

This article may be re-produced for use on other web sites in whole with all of the hyperlinks intact and copyright attributions, however permission must be requested and granted first from the author, Gerald Brown .

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