Greek Gods Sign Names

Find out how some Greeks sign the names of their Greek Gods. This process has taken thousands of years to develop…

How many times have you struggled with signing the names of things you know little about?

The Greek Gods for one? If you knew that Dionysus was the god of wine and entertainment you might have described him as a bearded fella in a white robe, holding a wine glass. He might be followed by a procession of wild female followers and horse like satyrs.

The Greek have thousands of years of history behind them. They have no need to elaborate when they are signing the name of their Gods. To them, Dionysus is signed as WREATH-ON-HEAD, DRINKING.

Last summer, I met deaf archaeologist Dimitra Kokevi-Fotiou who guided me around the Parthenon in Athens. Dimitra was kind enough to do a video showing us the names of the Greek Gods in their splendour. I marvelled at the grace of Apollo’s lyre harp, or how Dimitra’s hands demonstrated the folds of Aphrodite’s robe flowing down the body.

These signs are unique to Dimitra and Greece. They have handshapes that are very different to other sign languages like BSL or NZSL. I am not suggesting we adopt these signs as our own. But they do give us a window in how the passing of time has informed these signs.

These signs are embedded in Greek culture. It has taken time for these signs to spread throughout the community, and some use them, others may not.

In British Sign Language, Queen Victoria has been given the same sign as the sign for Victory. Most of us fingerspell David Cameron’s initials instead of giving him a proper sign name. We have been a little more creative with Prince Charles, cupping our hands behind our ears to resemble the size of his ears.

Perhaps new signs need time to emerge. Perhaps we need to know more about the people or ideas they represent before we can enter into the natural experimental process of sign language creation.

For classroom or sign language teachers, hopefully this gives you some inspiration when thinking about signs for your next unit on Greek history. However remember that the process of sign language creation takes time, and there might be several attempts before the signs are taken up by the sign language community. But putting your ideas on video is always a good idea.


The Greek Gods in a nutshell – see if you can spot how these roles are shown in sign language.  

Zeus The king of the gods, also had a thunderbolt as a weapon
Hera The goddess of weddings and marriage.
Athena Goddess of war and wisdom. Wears a fin like helmet.
Poseidon God of the sea and earthquakes has a trident as a weapon.
Hestia Goddess of the hearth and the home
Demeter God of agriculture
Ares God of war and violence
Hephaestus God of fire / metalworking with blacksmith tools
Hermes God of travel, commerce, communication and language
Apollo God of music, arts and the sun
Artemis Goddess of the Hunt/The moon
Dionysus God of wine, revelry and entertainment
Aphrodite Goddess of love, beauty, desire and pleasure.

Note: The Romans had similar gods, but with different names and slightly different roles.


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