Middle Mongol Grammar for SCA Names
Articles > Names

Middle Mongol Grammar for SCA Names

by Ursula Georges

Table of Contents

Introduction

Middle Mongol or Middle Mongolian is the language spoken between approximately 1200 and 1600 CE. It differs from modern Mongolian languages, in particular Khalka Mongolian, in many ways, including vowel sounds, vocabulary, and writing systems. The names of medieval Mongol names were recorded using many different writing systems, including 'Phags-pa (Tibetan), Mongolian, Arabic, Chinese, and Latin scripts. In the Society for Creative Anachronism, transliteration of a reconstructed Mongolian spelling is most popular.

A registered SCA name must contain at least 2 elements. This poses a problem for Mongol personas, because even today, most Mongolians don’t use inherited surnames. This article describes the grammatical rules for three possible solutions:

  • Descriptive bynames
  • Patronymic phrases
  • Tribal/clan bynames.

Pronunciation and Sound Patterns

Consonants

Many consonants are close to their English equivalents. Here are some with more ambiguous transliterations or less familiar sounds. In the table below, IPA refers to the International Phonetic Alphabet, and the description is the formal phonetic description.

Transliteration

IPA

Description

Pronunciation

q/x/kh

q

Postvelar/uvular stop

Like K, but tongue touches further back in the mouth

γ/gh

ɣ

Postvelar fricative

As beginning of Arabic غريب gharib ‘stranger'

š/sh

ʃ

Sh as in Ship

č/c/ch

c, cç

Voiceless palatal stop or affricate

As beginning of French qui or alternatively beginning of Hungarian tyúk ‘hen' (latter is close to English Ch as in Church)

The r is closer to a Spanish trilled r.

Vowels

Middle Mongol vowels are divided into three categories:
  • "Back" vowels: a, o, u
  • Front "neutral" vowel: i
  • "Front" vowels: e, ö and ü

Vowel

IPA

Description

Approximate Sound (US English)

a

a/ ä

Open front/central unrounded vowel

Ah with tongue in front of mouth, vowel in cot for some

o

o

Close-mid back rounded vowel

Oh with rounded lips

u

u

Close back rounded vowel

Vowel in boot, moon

i

i

Close front unrounded vowel

Vowel in feed

e

e

Close-mid front unrounded vowel

Canadian eh

ö

ø

Close-mid front rounded vowel

Vowel in French peu, German schön

ü

y

Close front rounded vowel

Vowel in German über

Vowel harmony

Vowels in a Middle Mongol word are consistent: all back vowels, or all front vowels.

Examples.

Ebügen ‘old, elder'

Itelgü ‘falcon'

Mungqaq ‘fool'

Qoridai ‘pelican'

Genitive

Middle Mongol is a case-based language: the function of a noun in a sentence is indicated by a suffix. The most important case for our purposes is the genitive, which equates to English "of _____". The genitive endings in Middle Mongol follow the rules of vowel harmony.

Common Middle Mongolian Genitive Suffixes

Modifying name ends in

Modifying name contains

Possessive Suffix

n

Back vowels a, o, u; or only vowel is i

-u, -nu

n

Front vowels e, ö, ü

-ü, -nü

A different consonant

Back vowels a, o, u; or only vowel is i

-un

A different consonant

Front vowels e, ö, ü

-ün

A vowel

-yin

Example

Tamača-yin → of Tamača

Word order

In Middle Mongol, adjectives typically come before nouns, just as they do in English.

Example

boγda Temüǰin → Holy Temüǰin

Compare Little John.

Descriptive bynames

Descriptive bynames are quite common in Middle Mongolian sources. They may come before or after the given name, depending on the word (and perhaps the extent to which it's incorporated in a name!) In more complicated name constructions, the combination of a given name and descriptive byname acts as a unit.

Descriptive names from the first chapters of The Secret History of the Mongols

Byname

Example

Meaning

Barim Ši'iratu

Barim Ši'iratu Qabiči

having legs the size of a fist, short-legged

Bayan

Toroqolǰin Bayan

rich

Bökö

Čiduqul Bökö

strong man, wrestler

Boro'ul

A'uǰam Boro'ul

from boro 'grey'

Ebügen

Qarača Ebügen

Old man, elder (title of respect)

Eke

Hö'elün Eke

mother (respectful)

Elči

Qači'un Elči

messenger

Emegen

Qo'aqčin Emegen

Old woman

Girte

Tödö'en Girte

the foul

Mergen

Qoričar Mergen

skillful, clever

Moči

Moči Bedü'ün

carpenter

Moriči

Qutu Moriči

horse-herder

Mungqaq

Bodončar Mungqaq

the fool

Qača'u

Sali Qača'u

obstinate, stubborn

Qara

Qara Qada'an

black

Qo'a

Mongqolǰin Qo'a

fair, beautiful

Sečen

Tumbinai Sečen

wise, prudent

Sem

Sem Soči

silent, taciturn

Soqor

Du'a Soqor

blind, one-eyed

Üčügen

Üčügen Barula

small

Yeke

Yeke Barula

big

Patronymic Phrases

In Middle Mongol sources, people are occasionally described as their father's sons or daughters, using the word kö'ün for son and öki or ökin for daughter. Descriptions of this sort weren't used as consistently as true surnames, but are useful for SCA purposes.

Construction

Father's name + genitive suffix + kö'ün (son)/ öki(n) (daughter) + given name

Examples from The Secret History of the Mongols

Batačiqan-nu kö'ün Tamača → Tamača son of Bataciqan

Tamača-yin kö'ün Qoričar Mergen → Clever Qoričar son of Tamača

Tribal/Clan Bynames

In Middle Mongol sources, people are frequently identified as belonging to a particular clan or tribe. In my analysis of the beginning of The Secret History of the Mongols, the most frequent construction uses a tribe or clan name in the genitive.

Construction

Tribe name + genitive suffix + name

(Tribe names ending in –t convert to –d)

Examples from The Secret History of the Mongols

Jalayir-un Seče Domoq → Seče Domoq of the Jalayir

Merkid-ün Yeke Čiledu → Yeke Čiledu of the Merkit

Annotated Bibliography

Juha Janhunen, ed. The Mongolic Languages. London: Routledge, 2003.
Essays summarize linguistic features of historic and contemporary Mongolian languages. For our purposes, essays on Proto-Mongolic (Juha Janhunen), Middle Mongol (Volker Rybatzki) and modern Khalkha (Jan-Olof Svantesson) are most useful.
Luigi Kapaj (in the SCA: Gülügjab Tangghudai), "Researching Mongol Names in the SCA." Silver Horde, 2004.
http://silverhorde.viahistoria.com/main.html?research/ResearchingMongolNames.html
Critique of standard SCA sources for Mongol names.
Marta as tu Mika-Mysliwy, "Mongolian Naming Practices". KWHS Proceedings, 1998; Laurel website, 2010.
http://heraldry.sca.org/names/mongolian_names_marta.html
Lists medieval Mongol names, titles, and bynames. Good place to start browsing for an SCA name. Etymologies and transliterations should be checked in Rybatzki's Personennamen.
Igor de Rachewiltz, ed. Index to the Secret History of the Mongols. Bloomington: Indiana University, 1972.
Middle Mongol text of The Secret History in Roman characters.
Igor de Rachewiltz, trans. and commentary. The Secret History of the Mongols (2 volumes). Leiden: Brill, 2006.
Excellent scholarly edition of The Secret History. Detailed indices and notes are useful for SCA name heraldry.
Volker Rybatzki, Die Personennamen und Titel der mittelmongolischen Dokumente. Dissertation, University of Helsinki, 2006.
http://ethesis.helsinki.fi/julkaisut/hum/aasia/vk/rybatzki/
Dictionary of Middle Mongol names and titles. The text is in German, but many etymologies are in English. The name list starts on p. 37 of the PDF; codes beginning with O indicate evidence from medieval sources, while codes beginning with E mark discussion of etymology. Excellent source for identifying correct transliterations and searching for names with specific meanings.
Volker Rybatzki, "From animal to name, remarks on the semantics of Middle Mongolian personal names," Per Urales ad Orientem. Mémoires de la Société Finno-Ougrienne 264. Helsinki 2012. 333–338.
http://www.sgr.fi/sust/sust264/sust264_rybatzki.pdf
Summarizes patterns in Middle Mongol name meanings.
Jan-Olof Svantesson, Anna Tsendina, Anastasia Karlsson, and Vivan Franzen. The Phonology of Mongolian. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2005.
Discusses pronunciation of Khalkha and historical Mongolian languages. Includes discussion of different writing systems.
The Tibetan and Himalayan Library, "Transliteration Systems for Uyghur-Mongolian or Vertical or Old Script".
http://www.thlib.org/tools/scripts/wiki/Transliteration%20Schemes%20for%20Mongolian%20Vertical%20Script.html
Comparison of some popular transliteration methods.