aliensdrinktea wrote: ↑12 Aug 2021 04:48
I'm thinking of making the word for "sun" in my proto-language the name of the (yet-unnamed) solar goddess, since ancient people would have seen the sun and the goddess as one and the same. The problem is, I don't want the deities to still be called things like "Sun" and "Moon*" by modern speakers who know these things to be natural objects and not divine beings. (In modern religious tradition, celestial bodies are still associated with deities but are not considered to be the deities themselves.)
*Actually, there's three moons, but I digress.
I can't really think of a parallel here. In Europe, we mostly call things by the names of the god still. Germanic languages don't colloquially - perhaps because the sun and the moon were even less important for them - but Sun and Moon are still used as names of gods by neopagans, and Germanic-speaking scientists still prefer the divine names. So we have solar power and the heliopause and lunar landers and so forth. Romance speakers still use the divine names on a daily basis. And even Germanic speakers use the divine names for the planets, and have even repurposed additional divine names for astronomical bodies unknown to the ancients. Would scientists avoid using the divine names if they still believed in the divinities? I doubt it, since neopagans don't avoid them. Likewise, Epicureans, who believed that Helios was a extremely large man who lived a long, long, long way away, still used his name for the sun.
It's worth saying here: there's no really a distinction between "natural objects" and "divine beings". The Greeks didn't believe that the sun was unnatural, or that it wasn't an object. They just believed that it was divine as well. Coming to believe that the sun was divine wouldn't require any changes in physical beliefs about the sun - just different conclusions about how we should act toward it. If a scientists says a prayer before sending off a solar probe, that doesn't require her to think anything different about its results.
We do have a modern parallel, incidentally, in the form of nations. America, France, Britain, Russia, are essentially treated as divine today - albeit rather puny deities by historical standards! - and spoken of in anthropomorphic terms, given attributes and agency. Sometimes they're given alternative names in their divine forms - Uncle Sam, John Bull, etc - but mostly people use the same names as for the geographical terms. Yet people don't get confused when they mix up geographical claims like 'Britain is an island' and anthropomorphic claims like 'Britain voted against the resolution'. Even though often the two terms don't even exactly correlate!
Finally, the other thing to remember is that there will usually be multiple sun gods, moon gods, and so on. The Classical moon was associated with at least six different goddesses: Selene, Artemis, Hecate, Phoebe, Pandia and Theia. [aiui Artemis as Artemis wasn't the moon, but was associated with her; but Artemis was also Cynthia, who was the moon]
I'm not sure how to tackle this. I thought of having deities' names being deemed too sacred for everyday use, so that epithets were preferred, but that still doesn't solve the problem of linguistically separating the sun from the sun goddess.
Why not? Bear in mind, there's no difference linguistically between an epithet and a name. Many, if not most, divine names began as epithets of other gods. Take those moon goddesses again: Selene is the bright one; Phoebe is the bright one; Pandia is the all-bright one; Cynthia is she who was born on Mt Cynthus; Artemis was believed by the Greeks to be 'the butcher' or 'the unviolated one', though its real etymology is unknown (she's probably from Anatolia, not Greece); Hecate's origin is appropriately unclear, but some have suggested she's "the Willful", or "The Far-Reaching"; Theia is simply "The Goddess", although she's also known as Euryphaessa, "The Wide-Shining One".
[also bear in mind, there's never really one god and another god in an unambiguous way: whether two gods are considered the same god is generally in flux - gods merge, gods bud off, and often people believe that two gods both are and aren't the same god simultaneously. The Greek sun god Hyperion, for instance, was both the father of the sun god Helios, and simultaneously the same as the sun god Helios. Phoebe was both the ancestor of Artemis and Selene, and also the same as Artemis and Selene (who could be called Pheobe Artemis and Phoebe Selene to disambiguate), even though Artemis and Selene weren't the same (although Artemis was the same as Cynthia, who could be the same as Selene), and so on... so whether something is an epithet or the name of a new god is always ambiguous]
Aside from the use of epithets, you could also just introduce new gods - or new names for them, since this is common enough.
Also, how resistant (if at all) are the names of gods/goddesses to language change, and does the presence or absence of a written canon make a difference? I'm talking about personal names, not titles/epithets.
In general, nothing is resistant to language change. The presence of a written canon won't inherently make a difference - see how in English we refer to /dZi:z@s kraIst/, not /i.E:so:s xristos/. The problem is that a written text can't be used to correct pronounciation, because as pronunciation changes, so does the interpretation of written text - people don't know that they're pronouncing it 'wrong'. However, spelling pronunciations are possible if sound change causes things like deletion or addition of phonemes - providing that the new phonotactics allow it. It's also possible that in some cultures with an intense focus on chanting, sound change may be greatly delayed by the desire to perfectly mimic a chant as a sound, rather than as language, and this can apply to divine names as much as to anything else in the scripture. However, both these routes - chanting and reading - assume a religion in which the small minority of educated priests really dominate the congregation. Notably, despite the power of priests in Catholicism, this did not prevent things like the dropping of the suffix from 'Christ', even though the priests would have known at least the Latin, if not the Greek, and known that the suffix 'should' have been there.