The Tao of Stefan (Or, How They Get Here)

I apologize, my gentle snowflakes, for the slow pace of posts during this unexpectedly hectic week. Today I have been enjoying a brief respite before the onset of the weekend, however, and it occurred to me that perhaps I should borrow a page from Nick Norelli’s playbook and address two of the questions that, according to SiteMeter, have recently brought the unsuspecting to The Voice of Stefan.

1) Astute in Alexandria (VA, USA) asks: “What is the meaning of Stefan?”

The name Stefan is derived from the Greek στέφανος (stephanos), meaning crown or wreath. The standard lexicon of Classical Greek, Liddell and Scott, suggests that this noun is derived from the verb στέφω (stephō), which means basically to surround; listed under both headings are a number of instances of this strict sense. However, the more frequently used meaning of the verb (which is quite an ancient one; cfr. Autenrieth’s Homeric Dictionary) is to crown, or else one of its related metaphorical meanings. The same is true of the noun. (Not, of course, that the meaning to surround is unrelated to the meaning to crown: a wreath or crown, after all, encircles one’s head!) Further, the standard Greek lexicon of the New Testament, Bauer, Danker, Arndt and Gingrich, notes that this noun is already attested as a proper name at least as far back as the extant works of the Greek orator Andocides (d. 390 BC; cfr. his Περὶ τῶν μυστηρίον 1.18), and that its use was quite widespread in Greek antiquity.

The name Στέφανος has acquired varied forms as it has made the pilgrimage from language to language: English has Stephen, Spanish Esteban, Italian Stefano, the Slavic languages Стефан (Stefan), etc. How the French ended up with Étienne is one of the Great Mysteries of the Ages. Also, in certain Slavic languages one can find variants such as Степан (Stepan) and Стеван (Stevan). Regardless of the fascinating phonetic changes that each successive variant exhibits, they are all one and the same name.


1.- For some reason, people insist on writing my name “Estaban” instead of “Esteban.” This was only a rare occurrence in former times, but instances of this transgression have dramatically increased in frequency in recent months. Of course, this is a bit bewildering to me, since “estaban” is the third person plural (and in Latin American Spanish, also the second person plural!), imperfect preterit of the verb estar (to be/to be at), and I always try to read it like that for a split second, before I realize it’s a misspelling of my name.

2.- As I have noted elsewhere, while I much prefer the Spanish form of my name, I always answer to Stefan for the benefit of the Spanish-impaired–Anglo and Slavic alike!

3.- Placing a proparoxytone accent on Esteban, as many English-speakers are wont to do, makes it sound like you’re attempting to seduce the patrón of a South American hacienda. The correct stress falls, of course, on the second-to-last syllable.

2) Researcher in Richmond (VA, USA) asks: “Who was Esteban in the Bible?”

St Stephen, described in the Bible as a man full of faith and of the Holy Spirit, was one of the first seven deacons of the Christian Church and also the very first Christian martyr. The account of both his diaconate and his martyrdom may be found in chapters 6 and 7 of the Acts of the Apostles. It is to that extended passage, then, that interested readers should turn to learn the details of the life, ministry, and death of St Stephen.

It should be noted that although no less an authority than St John Chrysostom was of the opinion that the Seven of Acts 6 were not, in fact, deacons, the broad consensus of patristic and liturgical exegesis understands that they were, and so the iconographic tradition of the Church depicts St Stephen wearing an orarion (i.e., a deacon’s stole) and holding a censer, both of which are typical of the deacon’s liturgical ministry.

Acclaimed as protomartyr and protodeacon, St Stephen is feasted by the Orthodox Church on December 27 (Jan. 9, N. S.), and on this very day, August 2 (Aug. 15, N. S.).


8 responses to “The Tao of Stefan (Or, How They Get Here)

  1. I spelled your name as Estában once, I think. Of course it was a typo, but I have since repented in sackcloth and ashes. ;-) And your third footnote had me cracking up!

    Good stuff!


  2. Yes, and your swift repentance was duly noted, and will never be forgotten. ;-) As for the third note, if you want to know exactly what I have in mind, just go watch the movie The House of the Spirits, where Jeremy Iron’s character is “Ésteban” throughout. Ugh.


  3. I think people spell it Estaban because they are writing it phonetically, if that’s the correct way to put it. But they should go the whole way and spell it Estaybahn. But I suppose many are thinking éstah ban.

    You’ll have to just put up with us monolinguals I suppose.


  4. How funny, Jeff! I think I’d be okay with something Ehstaybahn. ;-) Seriously, though, I think you might be on to something there: people might be thinking “éstahban,” which leads to the spelling mistake. You have, as usual, thrown all kinds of light on an important issue!

    And what do you mean put up monolinguals?! How long must I suffer you, faithless and perverse generation? ;-)


  5. Well, it’s our parents’ fault, as are most of our maladies. God will use us to build character.

    I took some Spanish in high school and a semester in college before I dropped out so I know just enough to be able to pronounce some words.

    If only I was forced to learn Greek.


  6. After our wedding we had to send out “thank you” cards for all the gifts we receieved. One of the cards was addressed to my Great step-aunt whose last name sounds like “Gronkowitch.” Apparently my had misspelled her last name (not it the way I just did) when she sent out the “thank you” cards. At the next family get together we received a long lecture from her about how a name is all you have and how easy her name is to spell and how she doesn’t understand why people misspell it.


  7. Jeff> You know, we're always blaming our parents for everything! And who do we have to blame for that? Um… our parents. ;-) And hey, at least you're being forced to learn a little bit of Greek!

    Charles> Ugh, poor Aunt "Gronkowitch"! It's so hard to put up with the onomastically inattentive. ;-)

    Amanda> Frankly, so am I! :-)


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