Names for the Greek letters

From: Micheal Palmer (
Date: Tue Aug 18 1998 - 00:02:37 EDT

Who invented the names we now use for the Greek letters?

It occurred to me the other day that some of the names we now use for the
Greek letters would have made little sense in the classical period. That
caused me to worder when those names first appear in the literature.

Let me give an example. EP-SILON and UP-SILON share the word PSILON
('simple') presumably to contrast them with the diphthongs AI and OI
respectively. In the classical period, though, there would have been no
confusion between these letters and the relevant diphthongs, so the names
could not have originated that early could they?

Depending on whose reconstruction of the pronunciation you follow the names
may have made sense by the New Testament period. Were they invented about
that time or later? If the names come from a later period, is there any
evidence for what these letters were called in the classical period?

Micheal W. Palmer
North Carolina State University
Philosophy and Religion (New Testament)
Foreign Languages (Ancient Greek)

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