English Language & Usage Stack Exchange is a question and answer site for linguists, etymologists, and serious English language enthusiasts. Join them; it only takes a minute:

Sign up
Here's how it works:
  1. Anybody can ask a question
  2. Anybody can answer
  3. The best answers are voted up and rise to the top

Why is it that the sainted John Chrysostom (b. 347?, d. 407; Archbishop of Constantinople, 397–407) is almost never referred to as "John Golden Mouth" in English? ("Chrysostom" means "Golden Mouth" in Greek.) Would "John Golden Mouth" sound somewhat inappropriate or somewhat weird in English? Compare how we change Vlad Țepeș to Vlad the Impaler.

share|improve this question
Why would you "translate" someone's name? Yes, that would be weird. – JLG Jul 24 '12 at 14:20
Exactly What JLG says - otherwise where would it end? Would you expect people to call me (Matthew Ellen) Gift of God of light? – Matt E. Эллен Jul 24 '12 at 14:28
@JLG - Because it's not his name, but rather his nickname. And we have bunch of cases with nicknames being translated, for example, Saint Basil the Great, Ivan the Terrible, Vlad the Impaler, etc. – brilliant Jul 24 '12 at 14:30
@Brilliant - I have cleared up your question to make it clear what you are talking about. I've not heard of this guy until just now. – Matt E. Эллен Jul 24 '12 at 14:39
@MattЭллен - "Why is it that John Chrysostom John Chrysostom, the nickname of the Saint, is almost never referred to as "John Golden Mouth" in English" - It sounds a bit wrong to me, because people are not referring to his nickname, but rather to his very person. – brilliant Jul 24 '12 at 14:41
up vote 11 down vote accepted

Actually, the Greek is Χρυσόστομος, so writing Chrysostom is in some fashion already an Anglicized translation, since we have transliterated Χ (chi) > Ch and have dropped the -ος at the end. Mozart kept the Latinized Johannes Chrysostomus in his own name.

I have another reason, though. The nickname Χρυσόστομος shouldn’t really be translated into English “golden mouth”, or else you’ll lose its true meaning. The culturally correct version for English is actually “silver-tongued”, because that’s the corresponding idiom in English used to refer to one’s eloquence in speaking.

However, sometimes we really do get to read Ἰωάννης ὁ Χρυσόστομος fully translated, as Maggilory did when in 1871 he published his work, John of the Golden Mouth.

I still think John the Silver-Tongued sounds better in English, because you have to translate the sense, not the words.

share|improve this answer
Does the Greek term have the same negative (or perhaps more accurately, dismissive) connotations that "silver-tongued" does in English? It would be a shame to pick up unintended connotations in an attempt to make a better translation. – T.E.D. Jul 24 '12 at 15:28
@T.E.D. I don’t think of it that way, at least, not by itself.The OED says of silver-tongued “Eloquent, persuasive, sweet-spoken.” None of its citations have any negative connotations. There is also the citation of “His tongue was silver and his heart was fire.” Perhaps you have some contamination with the devil part of “silver-tongued devil” tainting the earlier portion of the expression. – tchrist Jul 24 '12 at 15:40
I agree with T.E.D., there can definitely be some association with deception, as noted on Wikipedia. I expect this is from "silver-tongued devil". – Hugo Jul 25 '12 at 5:24
See also here. – Hugo Jul 25 '12 at 5:30

St. John Chrysostom is very rarely called "Golden Mouth" in English, because there is no English idiom "golden mouth". It sounds very strange and unintentionally hilarious.

However, there is as English idiom "golden-tongued", and lo and behold St. John Chrysostom is sometimes called St. John the Golden-Tongued.

share|improve this answer

Where a name or nickname can be reasonably rendered by English-speakers, generally it's not translated. Chrysostom is easily said, as is Charles André Joseph Marie de Gaulle — we don't render his name as "Charles Andrew French". Even a transliterated name like Aung San Suu Kyi is reasonably easy once you know how to say it.

However a name which can't easily be transliterated like Tȟatȟáŋka Íyotake may well be translated. Most people have heard of Sitting Bull.

share|improve this answer
I’ve always found Iberian practice in this area peculiar. When writing English-language texts, the Spanish never translate kings named things like Juan Carlos or Alfonso into John Charles or Alphonse, yet the Portuguese regularly translate their own João or Alfonso into John and Alphonse. I have no idea why. Similarly, you don’t hear Juana la Loca called Crazy Jane, although you probably should (or at least, I like the sound of it :). I think this used to be more common than today: witness the many names for Christopher Columbus. – tchrist Jul 24 '12 at 14:54
It was common until the 18C to Latinise names when writing them, especially in academic texts. So 'Johannes' Kepler, except when the English want to claim someone, Giovanni Caboto = John Cabot – mgb Jul 24 '12 at 15:04
The Chinese philosopher Kong Fuzi (a transliteration, meaning Master Kong) is regularly referred to as Confucius in the West, even at a housing development in NYC called Confucius Plaza, which is lived in by mostly Chinese speaking people. – bib Jul 24 '12 at 17:06

Your Answer


By posting your answer, you agree to the privacy policy and terms of service.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.