What's In a Name?

Griffin segreant wearing the mural crown of Perugia, 13th century

A Gryphon by any other name would still be just as noble... Just as there are a variety of shapes belonging to the Gryphon, so too is the Gryphon famous for it's large assortment of names, from a variety of languages and ages:

Greffon, Griffun, Griffoune, Gryffoune, Grefyne, Grephoun, Griffen, Griffin, Griffion, Griffon, Griffoun, Griffown, Griffyn, Grifon, Grifyn, Griphin, Griphin, Griphinne, Griphon, Gryffen, Gryffin, Gryffon, Gryffoun, Gryfon, Gryfoun, Gryphen, Gryphin, Gryphon

Now through all of these names, the three most common are Griffin, Griffon, and Gryphon. Griffin seems to be the most popular spelling, mostly because of it's use as a surname, while Gryphon appears to be the spelling preferred by those who hold the beast in high regards, such as myself, and others with a penchant for the archaic.

There are even a number of possibilities as to the origin of the word, Gryphon.

The most popular belief is that the word is akin to the Greek word grupos, which means "curved, bent, or hook-nosed". This is appropriate due to the Gryphon's hooked aquiline beak.

Another is the Old English term for "a kind of eagle or vulture", grype,. It was believed that Gryphons appear in Scripture under this name, specifically in Leviticus 11.13, but Sir Thomas Browne proved otherwise in his Vulgar Errors. (Leviticus 11.20 in the King James Version of the Bible is translated as "fowls walking upon all fours", which is sometimes mistaken to mean gryphons. The translation should actually read "insects" instead of fowl, however.)

More of a stretch (yet popular among scholars) is the Sanskrit term graha, meaning "seizing", as well as the Vedic grabha, "grabber". This is possible through the symbolism of the Gryphon, who guards (i.e. grabs, and takes hold of) gold and the Sun, of which it represents.

There is also a possible connection to the German word greifen, whose language still holds the term Greifvogel for all birds of prey.

Etymology Online Dictionary writes that the word is derivative of the Old French grifon, first found in 1205.

There is also a supposed connection to the Hebrew word for "cherubim", k'rub, meaning "winged fabulous being", as well as the Hebrew kerub, or "winged angel".

Here is an interesting play on the Gryphon's name. Gubernatis, in his Zoological Mythology, explains that

"...as Apollo is the prophetical and divining deity, whose oracle, when consulted, delivers itself in enigmas, the word griffen, too, meant enigma, logogriph being an enigmatical speech, and griffonage an entangled, confused, and embarrassing handwriting." Incidentally, griffonage is the only word that still sees (moderate) use today.

© 2019 James Spaid. All rights reserved.