In the news last week, an Athens court dismissed a case requesting that the word ‘lesbian’ be only used to refer to residents of the small island of Lesbos in the Aegean Sea. Three such residents requested that the word be banned from being used to refer to homosexual women. One of the plaintiffs was photographed holding a banner that proclaimed “If you are not from Lesbos / you are not a lesbian”.
“This is a good decision for lesbians everywhere,” Vassilis Chirdaris, lawyer for the Gay and Lesbian Union of Greece, told Reuters. “A court in Athens could not stop people around the world from using it. It was ridiculous.”
The female poet* Sappho was famous for her love poems in ancient Greek times, and the word ‘lesbian’ was derived from her birthplace, Lesbos. It turns out that the island has become something of a popular destination for gay women, and this has provided a boost to the local tourism industry.
It’s not unheard of for certain towns or regions to restrict the use of their name for commercial purposes, and for this reason the word ‘Cognac’ can only be used to describe brandy made in that region. Unfortunately for the people of the village of Champagne, Switzerland, they can’t even use their own village name on local produce. France is very proud of its Champagne wine region, and Switzerland has, for politico-economic reasons, agreed to forbid this tiny village from using the word ‘Champagne’ on their products.
Despite all the efforts of the French, ‘champagne’ has become synonymous with almost any ‘sparkling white wine’ in many places in the world, despite not being technically correct. We could use ‘methode traditionelle’, or ‘bubbly’, but it’s just not the same. ‘Champagne’ is becoming generic, which has to be somewhat of a compliment for the region, surely? Similarly, whatever the ruling had been in Athens, I doubt many people worldwide would restrict the use of the word ‘lesbian’ to the description of the 90,000 inhabitants of Lesbos.
*I’m not a fan of the word ‘poetess’, for some reason. Maybe ‘poetress’ would be better?