Beyond the Basics: Aristeia Awards, 1821 Revolution

March 25 is a day of celebration and pride for Hellenes throughout the world, as we celebrate the commencement of the War of Independence from 400 hundred years of Ottoman rule. Men throughout Greece banded as brothers to battle for the freedom of their homeland. Those who fought with exemplary actions and bravery were awarded an aristeia (αριστείο). The word άριστος (aristos) means excellence; and the award is one of great prestige and distinction.* Men who received an aristeia displayed exceptional bravery in battle and were considered heroes.

There are three levels of Aristeia awards: silver, iron, and bronze. These are on display at the War Museum in Athens, which I visited in 2017 with my friend and guide, Giannis Mihalakakos. (Take a virtual tour of the museum here.)

War of Independence Awards, display of Aristeia awards

Many fighters of the Revolution received aristeia awards from the Government of Greece. Among them are members of my extended family. In a previous post, I wrote about Ioannis Zaharakis, born circa 1798 in Theologos, who received an Aristeia for his service. I have since learned of others, and on this commemorative day, I recognize these men of my family with honor and pride:

  • Mihail Aridakos / Aridas of Agios Ioannis
  • Efstratios and Dimitrios Iliopoulos of Agios Ioannis
  • Christos Kostakos of Anavryti
  • Georgios Christakos of Agios Ioannis
  • Christos Lerikos of Agios Ioannis
  • Dimitrios, Vasileios and Nikolaos Maltziniotis of Agios Ioannis
  • Kalogeros Papagiannakos of Agios Ioannis
  • Ioannis Zaharakis of Sellasia/Theologos
  • Dimitrios, Ioannis and Georgios Zarafonitis of Sklavohori

This image shows recipients Kalogeros Papagiannakos (line 42) and Georgios Christakos (line 51) of Agios Ioannis who received the Iron Medal.

Aristeia Awards, Line 42: Kalogeros Pappagiannakis; Line 51: Georgios Christakos, both of Agios Ioannis, Sparta. Research by Konstandinos Koutsodontis, 2020

The General State Archives of Greece is the repository for Aristeia Records. It has thousands of lists, each filled with thousands of names. There are files online at the GAK , but working through them to locate villages and names is beyond my ability. Researching in this collection is best left to Greek genealogy professionals. Those who have examined these archives for me are: Gregory Kontos of, Konstandinos Koutsodontis of Greek Genealogist, and Giannis Mihalakakos of Maniatika. I am grateful to each of them, my colleagues and friends. 🙂

Next year on March 25, 2021, and throughout the year, the 200th anniversary of the Revolution will be celebrated. Konstandinos, Gregory and Giannis will be writing about the men who freed Greece from captivity. Use their resources to find the heroes in your family, and contact them for research help. Gregory Kontos’ “Tracing Freedom: 1821” collection has just launched with searchable lists of captives from Lakonia.

Your ancestors fought and secured the freedom of Greece, thus securing a sovereign nation for the birth of your family. They deserve to be recognized and honored.

*A Hellenic historian shared the following: Aristeia is an ancient Greek word meaning “prize for excellence, prowess, the best and the bravest.”

How Do They Call You? Πως σε λένε;

My dive into the bewildering world of ever-evolving Greek surnames started in October 2008, when I received this Town Register from the Sparta Archives office:

Agios Ioannis, Dimotologion (Town Register) Family #6, Aridas, page 1 of 2

The first entry, family #6, is the household of Michail Chistos Aridas of Agios Ioannis, relatives of my paternal grandmother, Harikleia Aridas Kostakos:

Aridas, Michail; father: Christos, mother: Gkolfo, born 1867
Aridas, Eleni; father: Dimitrios Liakakos, born 1866
Aridas, Christos, born 1900
Aridas, Eleni; father: Vasileos Karteroulis, born 1877
Aridas, Vasileios, born 1905
Aridas, Panagiotis, born 1910
Michalakakos, Konstandinos, born 1912
Aridas, Anastasia, born 1918

I was surprised to see that  Michail had two wives: Eleni Liakakos and Eleni Karteroulis, with their respective children listed under the name of their birth mother. But I was stunned to see the name Konstandinos Michalakakos. Who is he, and why is he in this family? My first thought was that he is a cousin, an uncle, or even a friend living in Michail’s household.

Wrong! He is Michail’s son.

My first lead came from an Aridas relative whose mother visited Agios Ioannis in the 1950s. She was told that Michalakakos was the original name and Aridas had begun as a nickname or paratsoukli (παρατσόυκλι) for an ancestor who had long legs. The Collins Greek-English dictionary verified the translation, with definition (b) leg.

Last summer in Agios Ioannis, one of my Aridas cousins verified that the names were used interchangeably. However, he was certain that Aridas was the original name and Michalakakos (son of Michail) was a spin-off; and that Konstandinos chose to use Michalakakos because that name was “more professional and respectful” in his work as a theologian in Athens.

And there is yet another derivative of the name– “Aridakos” (son of Arida) as shown in this 1875 Male Register: line 3318: Konstandinos Aridakos, son of Christos, and line 3320: Anastasios Aridakos, son of Efthymios.

Mitroon Arrenon, 1875, Sparta, Greece.

Question: which name is correct?
Answer: all of them!

And how can that be? Giannis Michalakakos (no relation) remarked: “In Greece, we ask: πως σε λένε; how do they call you?”  Those words — πως σε λένε — struck me powerfully, as my mind processed that people are generally asked, “how do they call you?” NOT “what is your name?”

So, a person can reply any way he chooses: call me the son of Michael (Michalakakos), or call me the son of Aridas (Aridakos) or simply, call me Aridas.

Following the paper trail of Michail Christos proves that this practice was customary. He is named Aridas in the Town Register above, in his Male Register, and on his passenger ship record. But in his marriage record of 1903 he designates himself as Michail Michalakakos.

Sparta Mitropolis Marriage Index Book; Sparta: Oct 1899-Sept 1907; page 174; #478: 9 November 1903; Michail Michalakakos and Eleni Vaseleios Karteroulis; second marriage for him; first marriage for her; both from Agios Ioannis, Sparta.

Interestingly but not surprisingly, some of Michail’s children followed his pattern of using whichever name they wanted, whenever they chose.

Aikaterini: (not in the above Town Register): her 1913 passenger ship record uses Aridas; her marriage record uses Mihalakakou and lists her father as Mike Mihalakakon.

Gkolfo:  her 1921 passenger ship record uses Aridas; her marriage record uses Mihalakakos and lists her father as Mihael Mihalakakos.

Konstandinos:  Male Register uses Michalakakos with a notation regarding a surname change; Agios Ioannis school records use Aridas; Town Register uses Aridas.

Anastasia: Town Register uses Aridas; school records use Michalakakos.

Efrosyni:  consistently used the Aridas surname, but this news article reveals that as late as 1950, Michail was known as both Aridas and Michalakakos. (Efrosyni married Nikolaos Revelos):

Efrosyni Aridas Revelos visit to her Michalakakos family in Agios Ioannis

Digging deeper into all members of the Aridas family produced many documents, both Greek and U.S., which verify the interchangeable use of the three names.

This example is a marriage record for Efthymios Michail Michalakakos who is the son of Michail Efthymios Aridas, another branch of the Aridas family in Agios Ioannis:

Mitropolis of Sparta, Marriage Index Book: Sparta, 1866-1872; Year: 1871; Entry #302
License Date: October 30, 1871; Groom: Efthymios Michalakakos; no father listed; residence: Agios Ioannis; Bride: Stamatiki Karnazakou; father: Ilias; residence: Agios Ioannis

Πως σε λένε? You get to choose!

Which name is the original family name? The jury is still out. It is understood that surnames (as are defined today) did not become standardized in Greece until after the 1900’s. Anything before then is fluid, and determined by the practices of each family and its individual members.

Πως σε λένε? I am slowly learning to think like a native Greek. Understanding the culture, the history and the language is vital. And, it lessens frustration and expands acceptation.

This article, published in the National Herald, adds additional insights into this topic:
Demetrios is now Jimmy.

Postscript: November 2, 2019: Since writing this original post, I have learned of two additional reasons for double surnames.

  1. Children who were raised by people other than their birth parents (known as “soul children”) may have two surnames–their birth surname and their surrogate parents’ surname. These could be children who were orphaned or given up by a parent who could not care for him/her; or a couple may have adopted a child.
  2. I found a man who appeared to have three surnames when he was called for military service in 1886.*

Hellenic Genealogy Geek Facebook page members clarified that there are only two surnames, Καψής ή Παναναγιωτόπουλος, the soldier’s name is Ανδρέας, and his father’s name is Γιαννάκη ή Παρασκευα. This makes more sense than having three surnames! In summary, don’t be surprised to find alternate names for both the surname and the given name.

An excellent article describing the origin of Greek surnames can be found here.

*Source:  this entry is found in the Φ.Ε.Κ. Government Gazette, 1886; location: Faron, Patreon, Achaiolidas (Αχαιοηλιδος Πατρεων Φαρον).

Return to Greece, 2016. Part Six: It’s All About Family

This is the sixth post in a series about my trip to Greece, June 30-July 20, 2016 — an amazing journey of history, family and discovery. Previous posts can be found here.

Open arms with tight hugs. Kisses on both cheeks. Happy smiles and joyful reunions. This is how my family greets me when I return to Sparta. There are so many places to explore and discover; but for me this is the bottom line:  it’s all about family. Prior to my visits to Greece, the names and places on my pedigree chart were simply long names and dots on a map. Now, they are attached to real people who have become a vibrant and important part of my extended family.

Joy is sharing what you love with whom you love. For me, joy is introducing my family to their roots — touring our villages and meeting our relatives. Kathy’s paternal grandparents are Kallianes from Kastania (now Kastoreion) and Linardakis from Vordonia. Although we don’t know of family now living there, we so enjoyed exploring the towns, peering into shops, watching chickens, dogs and cats roam their yards, and looking at stone and stucco houses that have sheltered countless families through countless years.

Kastoreion, Laconia. July 2016

Kastoreion, Laconia. ancestral village of the Kallianes family, July 2016

Vordonia, Laconia, July 2016

Andrew, Ben and Kathy at the Linardakis village of Vordonia, Laconia, July 2016

I love the monuments erected in every town that memorialize those who died in military service. My heart skips whenever I find an ancestral name etched in marble. Even if I cannot connect that individual to my line, I know that in these small villages, people with the same surname are almost certain to be related. While driving in Vordonia, we turned into a back street and unexpectedly were confronted by the village monument. stopping to examine it, I became emotional when I showed Ben and Andrew several men with the Linardakis surname.

Finding the Linardakis surname; Vordonia, July 2016

Finding the Linardakis surname; Vordonia, July 2016

Visiting our Aridas and Kostakos familes in Agios Ioannis has endeared my grandchildren to their Spartan relatives and grounded them to the land of their ancestors. Bridging the Atlantic and meeting kin has widened their concept of family. Eating a meal in a house built by their ancestor in the mid-1800’s has brought them a sense of “rootedness” that is unparalleled. And best of all, they were warmly embraced and loved immediately by all who met them.

These are photos of my Kostakos and Aridas family in Agios Ioannis, Sparta. They are on my father’s side — my grandparents were John Andrew (Ioannis Andreas) Kostakos and Hariklia Aridas, both born in Agios Ioannis. On the Kostakos side, our common ancestor is Andreas Kostakos who was married twice: first to Anastasia, then to Poletimi Christakos. These two Kostakos families are descended from Andreas and Anastasia; I am descended from Andreas and Poletimi. On the Aridas line, our common ancestor is Michail Aridas and his wife, Stamatina.

Ioanna Kostakos Family, with Ben Soper, Andrew Soper, Kathy Lynard, Carol Kostakos Petranek, Peggy and Vassilis Vlachogiannis, Agios Ioannis, July 2016

Family of Ioanna Kostakos of Agios Ioannis. With Ben Soper, Andrew Soper, Kathy Lynard, Carol Kostakos Petranek, Peggy and Vassilis Vachaviolis, and Ioanna Kostakos, July 2016


Family of Eleni Kostakos of Agios Ioannis. Natasa, Panos, Eleni, Eleni, Panorea, Carol Kostakos Petranek, July 2016

Family of George Aridas, Agios Ioannis. George, Roula, Adamandia Aridas; George's sister, Afroditi. July 2016

Family of George Aridas, Agios Ioannis. George, Roula, Adamandia Aridas; George’s sister, Afroditi. July 2016

This is the Chelidonis Family of Athens. Nikos is my second cousin on my mother’s line. His mother was Tasia Eftaxia from Mystras; our common ancestor is Ioannis Eftaxias, born 1809. My grandmother, Angelina Eftaxias Papagiannakos, was Tasia’s aunt. Panagiotis found me on Facebook three years ago, and we met in person during my trip in 2014. We were so excited to connect our families, as neither of us knew that the other existed!

Family if Nikos Chelidonis, Athens. Viki, Nikos, Panagiotis. July 2016

Family if Nikos Chelidonis, Athens. Viki, Nikos, Panagiotis. July 2016

The Eftaxias family of Mystras has long roots in Mystras. My grandmother, Angelina Eftaxias is the aunt of Andreas (photo on left). Andreas’ son, Lewnidas, is a master stone mason and works on churches and other buildings throughout southern Laconia.

Andreas Eftaxias, his son. Lewnidas ad Afroditi. Mystras, July 2016

Andreas Eftaxias, his son. Lewnidas ad Afroditi. Mystras, July 2016

Lewnidas and Andreas told me that our first Eftaxias ancestor escaped from Constantinople during the Ottoman conquest in 1453! He and three friends fled together and settled in Mystras. Lewnidas showed me a bronze medallion that was brought by this ancestor and kept by the family for generations. I posted this photo on our HellenicGenealogyGeek Facebook page and knowledgeable friends there described the medallion: l-r: Christ on the cross; Byzantine cross with words, ” Ιησούς Χριστός Νικά”; the Holy Mother, Mary; and the Holy Trinity, possibly based on Rublev‘s painting of the same name.

Medallion dating to 1453, belonging to Eftaxias family; Mystras, July 2016

Medallion dating to 1453, belonging to Eftaxias family; Mystras, July 2016

I was so thrilled to extend my family further on this trip. My new-found cousin, Dimitrios Papagiannakos, and his wife, Georgia, own a beautiful home goods store in Sparta which sells a myriad of items from cooking utensils to beautiful crystal. I think I gave Dimitrios quite a shock when I walked into his store and introduced myself as his cousin from America! I had brought photos of his Pappas family in the U.S., including a group shot taken at our Pappas Cousin’s Reunion. Working around his customers, we managed to have a spirited and lovely conversation about our families. My only regret was that his parents were out of town and I was unable to meet them. Next trip!


Dimitrios and Georgia Papagiannakos in their lovely home goods store, Sparta, July 2016

I also traveled to Markopoulos, northeast of Athens, to meet Vassilis Papagiannakos, owner of the Papagiannakos Winery. The winery was started by his grandfather, also named Vassilis, in 1919. Now managed by the 3rd generation of Papagiannakos’, Vassilis and his wife, Antonia, have expanded the business, developed new and award-winning wines, and constructed a beautiful edifice where business events, weddings and other activities are held. Although Vassilis and I do not know how–or if– we are related, we are looking to explore our family roots together.


Vassilis and Antonia Papagiannakos and their daughter, Aggeliki. Papagiannakos Winery, Markopoulos, July 2016

Every trip to Greece strengthens my family ties. I love these cousins. They set an example of hard work, honesty and devotion to our family and our heritage. I am ever-grateful to have the means and the opportunity to introduce them to my own descendants. Together, we carry on traditions and relationships that honor our ancestors.

Scanfest: Saving Yiayia’s Photos

When Hurricane Sandy flooded Sheepshead Bay, Brooklyn in October 2012,we worried about the water damage in our aunt’s basement and the reconstruction that would be required.

Gianna Doukas

Gianna Doukas

But, when my cousin’s daughter, Gianna, dashed to the house, she saw that something even more precious was in danger of being destroyed — my grandparents photo albums. She gathered up the water-logged treasures and spread them out on sheets and towels. She tried to separate the ones that had already begun to stick together, and to remove the ones that were in those awful “magnetic” photo albums. Although some photos were lost, thanks to Gianna, over 400 were saved.

My cousin, John, mentioned to me that he was concerned about the state of these pictures. Many had curled when they dried, some were getting black mold, and others were brittle. I offered to come to the house with a flat-bed scanner and digitize every one of them. Last weekend, I made the drive from Maryland to Brooklyn.

Verazzano Narrows Bridge linking New Jersey and New York

Verazzano Narrows Bridge linking New Jersey and New York

Our “scanfest” began on Saturday morning at the Sheepshead Bay home of my Aunt Alice Kostakos. When John retrieved the box of photos, it didn’t look like this would be such a big job, but it took 2 days and over 10 hours!

Kostakos family photos, rescued from the flood

Kostakos family photos, rescued from the flood

We set up shop at Aunt Alice Kostakos’ kitchen table and began by retrieving oldest  black and white photos.

Working hard! l-r: Marianne Doukas, John Stakis, Georgia Kostakos Doukas, Alice Kostakos. Kitchen of Alice's home, Sheepshead Bay, Brooklyn, June 11, 2016

Working hard! l-r: Marianne Doukas, John Stakis, Georgia Kostakos Doukas, Alice Kostakos. Kitchen of Alice’s home, Sheepshead Bay, Brooklyn, June 11, 2016

Thanks to Aunts Georgia and Alice, we were able to identify every person in every photo! We affixed post-it notes to the bottom of each, identifying people, dates and places. The photo and post-it note were then scanned as one image, ensuring that the information would not be separated from the picture. Over the coming months, I will crop each photo and add its identifying information into the metadata. This photo shows my grandparents sitting in front, Hariklia Aridas Kostakos and John Andrew Kostakos — surrounded by their children, grandchildren, and extended family members.

1953; Brooklyn; Kostakos home.

1953; Brooklyn; Kostakos home. My grandparents, Hariklia Aridas Kostakos and John Andrew Kostakos (front), surrounded by family.

Every photo tells a story, and thanks to our Aunts, we heard many great ones. My family moved from Brooklyn when I was five, and one great blessing to me was hearing about many of the relatives in these pictures whose names I had heard, but whom I barely knew. This photo is among the earliest we found, dated 1934: on the left is my father (age 17) and my godfather, Peter Aridas, age 50). You can see how the ink on the back of the photo bled through when the photo was  wet.

My father, Andrew Kostakos (left) and my godfather, Peter Aridas (right), 1935, Brooklyn, NY

My father, Andrew Kostakos (left) and my godfather, Peter Aridas (right), 1934, Brooklyn, NY

We worked for eight hours on Saturday, and even ordered in lunch so we would not have to take time to go out. We enjoyed dinner at a Greek (of course!) restaurant at the waterfront on Saturday evening, and on Sunday morning, regrouped for day two. This time, we set up shop on Aunt Alice’s dining room table which gave us much more room to spread out.

Day two at the dining room table. l-r: Georgia Doukas, Marianne Doukas, Carol Kotakos Petranek, John Stakis, Alice Kostakos. Sheepshead Bay, Brooklyn. June 12, 2016

Day two at the dining room table. l-r: Georgia Doukas, Marianne Doukas, Carol Kotakos Petranek, John Stakis, Alice Kostakos. Sheepshead Bay, Brooklyn. June 12, 2016

By using both a flatbed scanner and a portable Flip-Pal scanner, we digitized 400 photos. These raw and unedited images are now online in a private Flickr account, with links sent to all of our cousins. It will take time to crop and electronically tag each photo, but everyone now has access to what we accomplished.

I’m headed to Sparta, Greece, at the end of the month, with the hopes of finding additional documents on my family. My long-term goal is to create a family history book, incorporating many of the photos we scanned and the documents I obtained, along with some family stories. The next generations — Gianna and beyond — will not know their ancestors unless our generation does its part.


My Grandmother on the S.S. Nea Hellas

Several members of my family traveled on the Nea Hellas when they returned to Greece to visit their family. In 1940, my paternal grandmother, Harikleia Aridas Kostakos and her daughter, Aphrodite, crossed the ocean on the Nea Hellas when they went to Sparta. Hariklia suffered from Parkinson’s disease and returned to her land of birth to access “healing waters.”

1948 Kostakos, Hariklia and granddaughter Carol Harriet Kostakos (now Petranek), Brooklyn, New York

1948 Kostakos, Hariklia and granddaughter Carol Harriet Kostakos (now Petranek), Brooklyn, New York

With World War II exploding, I can only imagine the anxiety on both sides of the Atlantic as Hitler’s forces threatened Greece. What was my grandfather feeling, knowing his invalid wife and young daughter were an ocean away? What thoughts crossed the minds of the Aridas family in Agios Ioannis, Sparta, as Hariklia and Aphrodite left the village for Piraeus? On March 16, 1940, mother and daughter departed Piraeus on the Nea Hellas  — one of the last boats to leave before the ports were closed! They arrived at Ellis Island on April 2, 1940.

This card as Nea Hellas was published by F.Cali of Genova. Source:

Their ship manifest shows they traveled second class (lines 6 & 7).

1940 Kostakos, Hariklia-Aphrodite Pass Ship Apr 2 pg1

The handwriting on page 2 indicates my grandmother’s medical condition: partial paralysis, Parkinson’s syndrome.

1940 Kostakos, Hariklia-Aphrodite Pass Ship Apr 2 pg2

My grandmother was detained at the the Ellis Island medical facility while her case was reviewed by a Special Inquiry Board. The Cause of Detention was noted as:  Med. Cert. LPC & Phys. Def. LPC means “aliens likely to become public charges.” Hariklia was married with children, so she was certainly not likely become a “public charge;” however, her physical condition and protocol required her to be examined.

The manifest columns on the far right show that Hariklia and Aphrodite were detained for 2 days: their meals were 2 breakfasts, 4 dinners, and 2 suppers; and they were released on April 4.

1940 Kostakos, Hariklia-Aphrodite PassShip Apr 2 p3


This video of the Nea Hellas, posted today on Facebook, brought me to tears. The faces of hope and anticipation reflect the strength and resolve of our ancestor immigrants in looking forward to a new life, not only for themselves, but primarily for their posterity.


This website, Memories of the Nea Hellas, has a touching collection of many personal experiences.

This website, Greek Line ships, has a brief history and photos of the following boats that brought many thousands of Greeks to America:
Arkadia – Canberra – Columbia – Lakonia – Katoomba – Nea Hellas – Neptunia –
New York – Olympia – Queen Anna Maria