It is widely accepted that the name Alexander is Greek and that it means “protector of man”, from aléxein – to ward off, defend and andrós – man. However, this name has been around for more than three thousand years, and the popular etymology that we have today might be just a folk etymology inherited from Ancient Greece.
The first known Alexander was not Greek
The oldest mention of the name Alexander is written in ancient Greek, Linear B script, but it refers to Alexander who was the king of Wilusa (better-known as Troy), around 1,250 BC. Now, Troy was a non-Greek kingdom – that is why the Greeks attacked it, as the Illiad tells us. Also, there are other Trojan kings whose names are known – and they are all non-Greek. Alexander’s predecessor was Kukkuni and his successors were Piyamaraduš and Walmu. It would have been unusual for king Alexander to have a foreign name.
Andrós – an Indo-Europan word for “man”
As we saw, the second part of the name comes from the word andrós – man. However, this Indo-European word is not exclusively Greek, and it has many cognates in different languages. It is a genetive singular of the word anḗr – meaning: man, husband, and human (as opposed to God). Ultimately, the word is related to Sanskrit नृ (nṛ́), नर (nára) with the same meaning.
Aléxein – perhaps not “defender”, but “deity”
Plato’s Cratylus is a good example of how ancient Greeks dealt with etymologies. Even the non-Greek words were sometimes explained in Greek. And that just might be the case with the word Aléxein – it is simply the closest sounding Greek word. Indeed, this etymology must be ancient, as Alexander, meaning “protector of man” was one of the ancient epithets of the goddess Hera.
However, I would like to propose an alternative etymology here, based on Sanskrit. Why Sanskrit? Well, besides the fact that most Indo-European words can be traced back to this language, we now know that Proto-Sanskrit speakers actually inhabited Anatolia and other parts of modern Turkey in the period when this name was first attested. And not only that, there is a popular theory that Sanskrit actually originated in this part of the world. See here. Also, some other Trojan names, like Priam, could be related to Sanskrit (from priya – dear, beloved).
So what is this alternative theory then? Well, in Gujarati, Prakrit, Sanskrit and other Aryan languages, the word alakkha / alakṣya / alakh meant “invisible, unknowable” and was used in reference to none other but the Supreme Creator God – Brahma. I can’t help but think that this is also the true etymology of the name Allah – and that the Semitic explanation: al-, “the” + ʾilah, “deity” is also just a folk etymology. Not to mention that the Semitic holy couple Abraham and Sarah mirrors the Aryan holy couple Brahma and Saraswati. In the melting pot that stretched from Anatolia to Iran and from Iran to India, ideas were exchanged and the cultures borrowed one from another, that is a fact.
And in our case, the name Alexander could actually mean “God-Man“.
Godman – an ancient term for a holy man
In India, Godman refers to a holy man, a charismatic guru, and a demigod-like figure. However, the term God-man exists even in Christianity, in Greek Theánthropos and Latin Deus-homo, in relation to the dual nature of none other than Jesus Christ. The term must be really ancient as most cultures have similar names for their shamans, seers, and medicine men.
However, even before Christ, there was another man who believed himself to be a demi-god. His name was Alexander the Great. He believed himself to be the son of Zeus, the supreme god, and everywhere he went, seers and wise men seemed to confirm his theory. He conquered the known world, from Greece to Iran and India – founding numerous cities of Alexandria along the way. But did he believe himself to be a “protector of man” or did his name actually mean “A Godman, Son of God”? Wouldn’t that be a name easy to understand in all Aryan languages from the lands that he had conquered, a name perfectly fit for a man of his ambition, coined in times when people still believed that Nomen est Omen?