Alpha, Beta, Gamma: New names of COVID-19 variants remind Filipinos of fraternities

June 3, 2021 - 10:55 AM
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Illustration by Gerd Altmann via Pixabay

After the World Health Organization introduced new names for the existing COVID-19 variants in the globe, some Filipinos quipped that it reminded them of fraternities.

The United Nations agency assigned the letters of the Greek Alphabet to simply the discussion and pronunciation while avoiding stigma.

The move comes amid criticisms on the variant names given by scientists, such as the variant from South Africa having multiple names like B.1.351, 501Y.V2 and 20H/501Y.V2.

It was found to be too complicated.

Variants from the United KingdomSouth Africa, Brazil and India were now assigned the Greek letters Alpha, Beta, Gamma, Delta according to the order of their detection.

Other variants of interest continue down the alphabet.

The variant from the Philippines is referred to as “Theta.”

Infectious disease epidemiologist Dr. Maria Van Kerkhove, who is WHO’s technical lead of COVID-19 response, shared the rest of the new names on her Twitter account.

Historically, viruses have often been associated with the locations from which they are thought to have surfaced.

Others believe this is discriminatory for places and could be inaccurate, such as the case with the 1918 “Spanish flu” pandemic which has unknown origins.

RELATED: Is it all Greek to you? Coronavirus variants get new names

Meanwhile, some Filipino online users commented that the name change reminded them of fraternities.

“(Miyembro) ata ng fraternity ‘yung mga variant…” a Facebook user wrote with a grinning face emoji.

“(Puwede) ng fraternity,” another online user commented.

“TARAY, fraternity lang? Covid hazing!” a different Filipino quipped, referencing a much-condemned practice in admission to such societies.

A Seattle-based online newspaper said that the tradition of fraternities being represented by letters of the Greek alphabet go back to the 18th century, when the first fraternity was formed in Virginia, the United States.

“Founded in December 1776, Phi Beta Kappa was a men’s fraternity before evolving into the honors fraternity that exists today. It was the first college society to use a Greek-letter name to identify itself. The founding members of PBK formed the society with the idea that it would be dedicated to the pursuit of intellectual fellowship and education,” the feature said.

“They chose the Greek letters Phi Beta Kappa because those letters represented their secret motto: Philosophia Bios Kybernethes, which roughly translates to ‘Philosophy is the guide to life,'” it continued.

“As the popularity of Phi Beta Kappa led to the creation of other fraternities, the precedent set by PBK led other fraternities to adopt Greek mottos in order to name their organizations,” the feature added.

“These organizations were also motivated by the thought that as college men, the members were more highly educated than their peers who were not members of these groups. Because Greek and Latin languages both exemplified intellectual standing, these Greek names became standard,” it further said.