Have you ever wondered the magical significance of your name, or maybe, that your name isn't an accident? When we are born, not only do we get a unique thumbrint, palm lines, a special celestial configuration imprinted in our natal chart -- but -- our parent(s) set a magical intention for us by giving us a name. Every name has a meaning, a history, words that came before to mold it's meaning -- and then the transferral of love and hope that goes into the act of naming -- a magic in itself. Our names may change when we marry, or we may evolve and change our names to something that feels more true, but regardless, we still have a name that we are called by. In a world that sometimes feels devoid of magic and identity, we can look to our names as another north star, a guide that connects us to family, place, and identity.
This idea is reinforced in numerology, that each name holds a life path, a soul urge, and more.
And then, in many traditions, we get a name day. In the Greek culture -- name days are still kind of a big deal.
My name is Demetria Theophania Provatas -- and, if you can't tell, it is ridiculously Greek. It translates out to something that is roughly "of Demeter" "a vision of God" or “of divine manifestion” (another word for Epiphany) and Provatas "a flock of sheep" (insert jokes here).
I've always liked that many European last names refer to the trade that your ancestors and family practiced. Provatas means my ancestors and family were shepherds. It helps me to imagine a family with a flock of sheep on the island of Limnos, where my Papou emigrated from. My parents contemplated between the names Penelope, Persephone, and Demeter --- and then decided on Demeter, but changed it to Demetria so that I could be baptised in the Greek church. Nearly every Greek person is named after a saint, or a god or goddess (which shows that your family is less devout) and my name is a saint's name that was adapted from a goddess name.
My yia yia, who emigrated here from the region of Thessaly, loved to bake, and my family often attributes my passion for it as a gift from her. My aunt tells stories of how she and her grandmother and aunts would get together in my yiayia's village and make phyllo from scratch, rolling up a big batch on a broomstick handle.
Name days are part of an Orthodox, Catholic and Christian tradition, and were supposedly originally encouraged as an alternative to the birthday, which was thought to be a pagan celebration. Something that is a bit funny now. However, as many and most Greek names derive from a pagan tradition, I think it all somewhat blends together. I actually like the idea of celebrating your name day, and all that is held within the meaning of a name as it's own special holiday, as well as the other stories affiliated alongside.
In the orthodox Greek calendar each day has been dedicated to a Saint or martyr from the biblical tradition. I grew up celebrating name days as birthdays, and my dad's name days were celebrated with even greater importance. On my name day my dad would come home, wish me happy name day, and give me a card and a box of chocolates. When he was growing up, he would celebrate with a big party, desserts, music, dancing, guests, the whole deal.
Since I was born just a few days before the Epiphany, or the Festival of Lights, my parents gave me the middle name Theophania -- meaning the light or manifestion of God -- or Epiphany!
So, in short, this month holds one of my name days! To celebrate I made a traditional Greek cake called ravani or revani. It is in the classification of Greek desserts called "siriopiasta" or drenched in syrup. I've taken to seeing this as an opportunity to add in some medicinal syrups and elixirs. This past year I've continued to view all of our meals as food as well as medicine - and so for this occasion - I added a bit of immune boosting elderberry syrup to the cake. So you can have your cake and your immune support too. Greek desserts are quite sweet, so I'm not sure if you would call this healthy ... but definitely a nice for a special occasion!
traditional buttery Greek semolina cake drenched in syrup
For the Cake
3/4 cup butter, softened
3/4 cup coconut sugar (granulated sugar will work fine too)
1 cup unbleached all purpose flour
1/2 cup almond meal
1/2 cup semolina
1/2 cup dessicated coconut
1 cup whole or almond milk
1 tsp baking powder
For the Syrup
1 cup honey
3/4 cup water
1 medium-size lemon's peel
2 tablespoons lemon juice
1/4 cup elderberry syrup (optional)
1. Preheat your oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Grease a spring form pan with butter. Or I used a 9" cast iron skillet - whichever.
2. With a hand held mixer, or stand up mixer. Beat the butter and sugar together on low to medium speed until creamy & fluffy. Add each egg in one at a time until they are fully incorporated. Pour in the milk and beat well.
3. Slow mixer down to low and add in flour, almond meal, semolina, and baking powder. Mix in the dessicated coconut with a rubber spatula until fully blended in. Place pan in oven and bake for 45 minutes, until a knife comes out clean when poked through the center.
4. In the meantime prepare the syrup. Add the honey, water, lemon juice and peel together. Bring to a boil and then lower heat and let simmer for 10 minutes.
5. When the cake is done, let cool slightly. While it is cooling add the elderberry syrup to your syrup mixture. Pour the syrup very slowly over the cake, starting from the middle and circling around. Cut into diamonds and serve! This cake actually gets better as it sits - it may be better the next day!
What is your name? Do you know it's origins and meaning? I'd love to hear stories !
<3 <3 <3