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What’s in a Name

Trailing the bounty of “Gypsy” appellations

- an original by
Chuck Todaro 

    The Roma people have been pelted with so many harsh names along the endless journey: “tsigan”, “blacks”, “crow”, some too offensive to list here, that many may not accept Juliet's noble appeal, "a rose by any other name would smell as sweet”,* meaning the nature of the subject is more important than its name.

Juliet and balconey
"a rose by any other name would smell as sweet"

    The renowned secretiveness and mystique of the Roma character would be the catalyst of the many varying Roma appellations; no one really knew who they were or where they had come from and which allowed a creative approach to the name-making process.  It all began in Byzantium, 1000 years ago, when rag tag Gypsies suddenly appeared parading through the streets, “…snakes wound around them, and they would tell one person that he was born under an evil star, and the other under a lucky star; and they would also prophesy about forthcoming good and ill fortunes."(1).

    Superstition in Byzantine society at the time of the Gypsies’ arrival was widespread reaching from the lowly peasants to mighty emperors.  There was a need at the time that the church and science couldn’t meet. The Roma found their niche working the occult; it was simply good business sense of supplying a service much in demand; from the church’s point of view it was a wicked problem; they didn’t like the competition and the persecution began right away by branding them “Athinganoi”, after a blasphemous sect of sorcerers. 

   The Latin pronunciation “Adsincani” spread with Venetian traders to Italy where it translated into Zingari and later Zigeuner in Germany, across the Balkans as “tsigani” in Romania, “chigani” in the Hungarian lands, and across Europe as “Chikani” in the Czech Republic and “tsigane” in France(2). Even the invading Turks preferred adopting the popular Greek root as “chingene” rather than a word of their own invention.


The Egyptians

    By the 13th century the Turkish horde had pushed its way to the brinks of Byzantium, and Roma, psychic or not, sensed the inevitable and began heading north to more stable regions, some settling in the Venetian controlled port cities of the Peloponnese’s islands (present day Greece) where they found security and a steady flow of business from passing traders and pilgrims.  As many as 300 Roma families settled at the town of Modon (today Methoni). They called the Roma neighborhood “Little Egypt”.




Tzigania Project is sadly no longer able to freely offer our exclusive research online due to plagiarism and other unconsented usage of our material.

 Our movement has always strongly believed in sharing objective truths of Roma history and culture as a means of combatting the abundance of misinformation and biased opinions feeding the stereotypes.

 Our excusive research is still freely available at our learning center locations. Contact us with ANY questions:

"Black as Tatars"

    In those places where the Adsincani root didn't take hold and the Egyptian link was considered a hoax. "tatar" became the name of choice. The link carried some credibility in the east where Moldavian armies returning home from battle with invading Tatar carried back both Gypsy and Tatar slaves. I Viovode Alexander, king and ruler of all Moldavian lands… give Bistrita thirty-one tigani (Gypsy) families and twelve Tartar families, names of the tigani families: Coman, Marco, Sinata… and the Tartar’s are named Palmes, Toder…” (5)


Roma Heathens
Roma  "heathens"



Racist Slurs and Insult

     “Get out of here you crow” can sometimes be heard shouted through the crowd of a noisy Romanian mayor’s office. It’s a rural epithet associating the Gypsies to the notorious black bird’s incessant chattering and stealing of the farmer’s grain. They call us “Allahsiz insaniar” Godless people,” says Bubulea Bendea of the Muslim Roma community along the Romanian coastline. Ghiocel Cobzaru recalls the childhood slur “gologan” (pauper) like it was yesterday. “They used to heckle us ....

Gypsy Bones
"oase tsiganeste" - gypsy bones at the market


- an original by
Chuck Todaro 
The End


* Shakespear. Romeo and Juliet. Act II. Scene II

(1) Canonist Theodore Balsamon (1204): The Gypsies in the Byzantine Empire and the Balkans in the Late Middle Ages, George C. Soulis. Dumbarton Oaks Papers, Vol. 15 (1961). P146

Athinganoi - Greek 
Adsincani  - Latin
Tsiganoi Greek
Tsigani – Romanian
Cigany – Hungarian
Cigonai – Lithuanian
Cigani – Latvian
Cigani – Slovakian
Tzigane - Russian

In 1483 - 300 huts recorded, 200 in 1495, 100 by 1497. 1500  Modon occupied by Ottoman Turks. In 1519 - 30 huts recorded.

(4) William Shakespeare. A Midsummer Night’s Dream  (1596)

(5) 1428

(6) Journal of the Gypsy Lore Soceity. Vol 2. No 3. July 1890. Herman Corner… Rufus

(7) Journal of the Gypsy Lore Soceity. Vol 2. No 3. July 1890. P 130.  

(8) Excerpts from Roma by WR Rishi