Word & Song by Anthony Esolen
Word Audio
What's In a Name?

Here it is, dear readers, the first variation on our Word of the Week: What’s In a Name? And our first name to find out “what’s in it” is — ANDREW. By the way, if your name is Anderson, Atkins, Addison, or Landry, you’re an Andrew, too!

Picture the thick-lipped, curly-headed, flabby, cowardly, cruel and degenerate Emperor Nero, playing upon the lute while Rome was burning, and glad of it too, because he wanted an epic subject to write poetry about and to sing with his weak and tremulous voice. Now see the amiable Saint Andrew, when the crowds had followed Jesus out into the open country, and night was falling and they had nothing to eat. “Lord,” he says to Jesus, leading a boy by the shoulder, “here’s a young chap with some barley loaves and a couple of fish, but that’s nothing for a crowd as big as this one.” But Jesus accepted that small gift and with it he fed the thousands.

“The Calling of St. Peter and St. Andrew,” Jacob de Wet. Public Domain.

The same Andrew, tradition has it, went to the Greek lands to preach, going as far north as Scythia, notorious for being just on the boundary between the civilized and the savage. He was martyred, though, back in Achaia, south of Corinth, in the heart of civilization, as Peter and Paul were martyred in Rome, by the command of that same effeminate emperor Nero.

Now here is an odd thing about Andrew and Nero. Andrew’s name was Andreas, not a Hebrew but a Greek name, meaning manly. Another one among Jesus’ disciples had a Greek name: Philip means lover of horses or horseman — a lot of Greek names had horses in them, such as Chrysippus (Golden Horse), Xanthippus (Yellow Horse), Leucippus (White Horse), Melanippus (Black Horse), and Aristippus (Noble Horse). That may be why, when some Greek-speaking Jews wanted to approach Jesus, they asked Andrew and Philip to introduce them. It’s hard to believe that Andrew knew Greek but his brother Peter did not, when they lived in the same place and did the same work, and when everybody did business in Greek, just as everybody in business in Europe nowadays can at least poke along with a little bit of English. Maybe they said to themselves, “He’s got a Greek name, so we’ve a better chance with him.”

Of course, you’re going to want to give boys names that have to do with manliness and strength. The Hebrews did that too. Girls are given names to suggest beauty, gentleness, grace; Shoshanna (Susannah) means Lily, and Deborah means honeybee, from which we get honey and beeswax, sweetness and light. But Shimshon (Samson) means Sun or Sun-boy: it suggests power. The Roman name Nero didn’t mean black or having a dark complexion; Latin nigrum, from which we get Italian nero and French noir, is entirely unrelated. No, Nero meant manly: it is really the same name as Andreas, in a different form. The root of both names had to do with power, manliness, force: hence Welsh nerth, power, as in that great war song Men of Harlech, when the Welshmen sing out that the Lord’s on their side, yn rhoi nerth i ni, “to give us force!”

Of course, being a real man requires a lot more than the ability to beat people up. Nero wasn’t much of a man, though he did indulge himself sometimes in going out in the streets at night incognito, to beat people up for the fun of it, with his henchmen on hand in case his intended victim was stronger than he expected. But all cultures have recognized that power is a part of it, especially a power over yourself, such as Nero never had. The British associated manliness with direct speech — when you’re called on to say something, because otherwise you usually mind your business — and keeping your affairs straight and proper. So it is that the hero of William Wycherley’s play The Plain Dealer — meaning, “the man who doesn’t speak in a sneaking and double-dealing way” — is named Manly. May all Andrews be so!

Browse Our Archive

Word & Song is an online magazine devoted to reclaiming the good, the beautiful, and the true. We publish six essays each week, on words, classic hymn, poems, films, and popular songs, as well a weekly podcast, alternately Poetry Aloud or Anthony Esolen Speaks. To support this project, please join us as a free or paid subscriber.

Browse Books By Anthony Esolen

Word & Song by Anthony Esolen

Word Audio

Stop by on Mondays to hear Tony discuss the word of the week, with etymologies, ad libs .. and pizzazz.

Listen on

Substack App
Apple Podcasts
RSS Feed

Appears in episode

Anthony Esolen

Recent Episodes