Magda Isanos (1916-1944)
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"We have to tend all the time towards the achievement of the idea of good, generosity and beauty, no literary work can live without them. The more barbarous the times are, more poisoned with hate and irrational, the more the intellectual is obliged to cultivate his soul in a moral sense and to oppose the trend. Forgive me for preaching, but the spectacle of human degradation terrifies me and makes me fear for you, as you always fear for the beloved ones in times of pest."

(Letter to Eusebiu Camilar, August 27, 1939, Costiujeni)


As Elisabeta Isanos shows in her novel called „Cosânzenii”, the etymology of the name “Isanos” became clear to her, thanks to several hints of very different origin: a story heard in the family and one of her own imaginary journeys to the Samos island using an old tourist guide, the origin/native place of the Greek branch of the family wherefrom the writer’s mother’s father came.
The story refers to the circumstantial Graecizing of the first one who had the name „Isanos”, Iosif Santa, who was a farm mechanic on different estates in the area of the city of Galati. It is said that before he married Hrisopia Papadopol, he was asked to change his name so as to be in line with what was then considered the “high-class”, although the fiancee’s family of traders was already /on the wane/declining: the high-class “spirit” was still intact.
Another version was that the first one to change his name was not Iosif, but his elder brother, Mihai, a nonconformist who was fond of parties, a real contrast to the diligent and quiet younger brother. The reason why one brother or the other had been convinced was the promise that by changing the name, they would be equal to those at the top. Of course, according to the mentality of the time and the place, as an important Greek community lived then in the city, those at the top were the Greeks.
The author’s imaginary journey to the Samos island was led by an old guidebook so as to know the island as it used to be in the old times when the first traders called Papadopol migrated. Nowadays, the place has a completely different configuration, therefore the author’s journey was not only in space, but also back in time, when the Vathy harbour on the island was formed by two cities: „Vathy ano”, up the mountain and „Vathy kato”: “Upper Vathy” and “Lower Vathy”. “Is-ano”, made of two adverbs, “isa” (equally) and “ano” (up) would therefore mean, as the family story goes, “at the same level with what is up”. This hypothesis is confirmed by the form of the initial name, in the document issued by the mayor of the town, on October 3, 1885 when Iosif Santa, concealing his real family name, requested the issuing of a “Proving Act replacing the birth certificate” which he needed for marriage. The witnesses, four women and a man stated that they knew the applicant very well and that they were “able and ready to replace by their statements” the missing birth certificate.
According to their statement, Iosif was born in Galati, in 1854, they could not remember the day “because at that time, no accurate registers were kept”. In the document issued then by the mayor’s office, the man goes for Iosif Isano, a mechanic, “son of Mr. Ioan Isano and of Mrs. Carolina Isano, both deceased.” In order to complete this episode, the author remembers the epilogue heard in her childhood from the direct successor of Iosif, her grandfather, Dr Mihai Isanos, who had seen, when he was a child, the authentic documents, in Latin, of his father, hidden in a tool box. Shortly after, the proving papers were burnt on Hrisopia’s urge: it was dangerous to have two identities. In this way, any connection of Iosif Santa with his family was destroyed. Moreover, as it can be noted in the Act quoted before, his parents’ names, Ioan and Carolina, had also been Graecized, so as to concord with the son’s pseudonym. Without the oral confession of the author’s grandfather, this story would have been buried for good. This is how the family stories, the documents preserved, the research may concur not only in clarifying the meaning of a name, but also in bringing to light the avatars of a family. “Isanos” has indeed, by the meaning thus acquired, the attributes of an „avant la lettre/before letter” pseudonym: if the proposed etymology is accurate, it becomes the equivalent of the Latin “Excelsior”.