Just like the debate between the terms “Latino” and “Hispanic”, there has been a long-brewing controversy over the terms “Greek” and “Hellene.” Some people consider it insulting to be called “Greek” because they claim it makes reference to a derogatory term used by the Ottoman Turks to refer to people from Greece. Somehow the term “Hellene” is more authentic, more elevated, and more autonomous. The word “Greek” not only sounds less pleasing to the ear, but to some ears connotes something inferior. It is a label an occupier placed on us to put us in our place so to speak.
Just to set the record straight—the word “Greek” does not refer to a derogatory term for “slave” in Turkish or what not. The Turkish and Arabic word for Greek has been and is “Yunnan” or “yunnanieh.” The etymology of the word “Greek” according to the “Online Etymology Dictionary,” hails from an early German borrowing of the Latin word for Hellenes, “Graeci.” Aristotle was the first in the written record to use “Graikhos” as equivalent to “Hellenes” as he was referring to the Dorians in Epirus with that term. According to a linguistic theory put forth by Georg Busolt, a German classical historian, the term derives from “Graikhos” “inhabitant of Graia” (lit. “gray”), a town on the coast of Boetia. This was the name Romans gave to all Greeks as Greek colonists from Graia were the first to found an important city in southern Italy where the Latins first met Greeks. This to me sounds like a more correct theory, making the Romans and not the Turks the originators of the term “Greeks.”
The word “Hellene” or “Hellenic” according to the Oxford Dictionary of Etymology refers to the inhabitants of the Hellenic peninsula. The earliest surviving use dates from Homer. It is not taken from the name of “Helle” who fell from off the ram with the golden fleece into the Hellespont.
As far as I know, there is no inferiority complex that should raise its ugly head when someone uses or is referred to as “Greek”. Yes, there’s a certain nice ring to “Hellenic” as it sounds more elegant and elevated, but there is nothing inherently nasty about calling yourself “Greek”.