|Paul Goldschmidt's Dictionary of Russian Names - Grammar|
Articles > Names
Paul Goldschmidt's Dictionary of Russian Names - Grammar
Copyright (c) 1996 Paul Goldschmidt. Used by permission.
In modern Russian, names consist of a GIVEN NAME (imia), a PATRONYMIC (otchestvo), and a SURNAME (familiia), but as Tumanova notes quite well: "Russian naming conventions for early period are first name (baptismal name, usually that of a Biblical saint), followed by the everyday or common first name, patronymic, and rarely a surname. Russian naming conventions for mid to late period are first name, patronymic, and surname" (1989: 4). More precisely, Russian names started only as a given name, adding the patronymic around the 10th century, and finally the surname (from the patronymic constructions) only in the late 15th or early 16th century. The surname did not become common, in fact, until the 18th century (Tupikov, 1903: 21-22).1
Russian names, as should be apparent, underwent a large number of transformations. The most important lesson to learn from this assertion is that for every rule, there is an exception and many of the so-called "rules" of Russian grammar need to be unlearned. In this section, I will provide about a half dozen naming practices that are documentably medieval. Among other things, we will see that the popular Given Name-Patronymic-Surname (or G-P-S, for short) construction, while in use during the Middle Ages, is from the late medieval period and was certainly not the common naming construction for a majority of medieval Russians. Many other surprises await....
In Russian, linguists tend to differentiate between so-called "Christian" or "Canonical" names (khristianskii or kanonicheskii) and "Old Russian" (drevnerusskii) given names. The former are usually Biblical (like Ivan, Konstantin, and Pavel) while the others are traced to the Vikings or to earlier inhabitants of the steppes (like Oleg, Igor', and Ol'ga). From the adoption of Christianity in 988 onward, most Russians used Christian names, but many also had a Russian name (e.g., Ivan Guba Ivanov syn Kuneev  [Tup 121]). The result was an apparent double given name. Tupikov (1903: 18) argues that the second given name may in fact have been a nickname and may have been used more commonly in everyday conversation than the first given name. In such cases, the first element in the Russian's name was usually the "Christian" (i.e., baptismal) name and the second was the "Russian" one. Semenova (1969: 88-9) notes that there are exceptions to this pattern, with both names being Christian in origin or both Russian, or with the order simply reversed (i.e., Russian -- Christian). While double Christian names may have occurred in period, they make little logical sense. The Russian name, if it existed, had been received at birth. The "Christian" name came at baptism. If the child had been given a Christian name by his/her parents at birth, the Church would merely baptize the child by that name (and the child would then have only one given name).
Unlike modern conventions, nicknames or diminutives commonly appeared in place of full given names. Such short constructions were common for peasants and even occur amongst nobles from time to time. Due to the limits of this work, I will not discuss the issue of nicknames -- an issue requiring extensive discussion, as well as an understanding of Russian that the average medievalist does not possess. This Dictionary lists a fair number of period nicknames (usually identified as diminutive forms) under the main entry for the name.
It should come as no surprise that women's names are particularly more difficult to document than men's. As Superanskaia puts it: "As long as women had no kind of legal rights, they were mentioned extremely rarely in documents of that time" (1977: 15). Despite conscious efforts to counter this problem, this Dictionary also underrepresents women's given names.
One of the earliest means of differentiating one person from another person with the same name was the use of a patronymic (otchestvo). The major difficulty with creating a patronymic is not finding a name, but forming a given name correctly in a way that would mean "son of" or "daughter of" in Russian. Therefore, we will begin with a discussion of the grammatical structure of medieval Russian patronymics. While I shall only discuss patronymics constructed from given names, the rules I will outline below apply to all bynames and therefore can be used to create ones based on occupational titles and non-adjectival descriptives as well. For reasons that will become apparent as I go along, I shall begin with patronymics for men.
The old Russian folk saying, "A chicken is not a bird and a woman is not a person," along with such wisecracks as "I thought I saw two people on the road, but it was just a man and his wife," points to a tradition of misogyny and a tendency to marginalize women in Russian traditional culture. The lack of status granted to women is more than a historical footnote. It is also an important barrier in identifying period bynames for them--a necessity as the SCA's College of Arms requires people to submit a given name and at least one byname. Nonetheless, the two subjects are difficult to separate. It is extremely difficult to document medieval patronymics for women. As Superanskaia (1977: 15) explained it, women lacked legal status and therefore did not really need to be differentiated from each other. According to Superanskaia, only after Peter the Great's land reforms of 1714 did women generally receive the right to own land and thereby the privilege of being addressed (like men) with a full names (including given name, patronymic, and surname). The conditions under which they would have bynames usually involved a daughter of a wealthy or influential noble. The daughter's use of the patronymic was intended to identify her privileged father only. The women whose names are preserved often simply were treated as appendages of their male relatives. Bæcklund (1956: 24) explains why:
When the need was felt for a more precise description of a man, various means could be used other than patronymics, pointing to his social position, governmental function, political allegiance, occupation, trade or profession. With a woman such possibilities were limited. She was, first of all, a member of her family. Consequently, pro foro externo, outside the family, the indication of the head of her family, added to her Christian name, was the surest and the most natural means of her identification.
Yet this finding may not actually be discouraging. In many ways, feminine patronymics were more flexible than masculine ones because of their lack of systematization in pre-Petrine times.
In this maze of identifiers some women even lost their identity altogether. There are numerous references to women which omit their given names in favor of their bynames: Vasil'eva zhena Obrezkova (1615-9) [XII 35] and Fedorova Babkina (1551) [RIB XIV 50]--or literally, "Vasilii Obrezkov's wife" and "Fedor Babkin's wife/daughter/mother [the relationship is not made clear]." Obviously, this particular variant, while period, is not registerable in the Society because of our requirement that clients submit a given name.
Therefore, Ivan Guba, our proud dad, might have named his daughter, Ol'ga:
Ol'ga Ivanova* Ol'ga Gubina* Ol'ga Ivanovicha* Ol'ga Ivanova Gubina Ol'ga Ivanovicha Gubina Ol'ga Ivanova Gubinicha Ol'ga Ivanova doch'* Ol'ga Gubina doch'* Ol'ga Ivanova doch' Gubina* Ol'ga Ivanova Gubina doch' Ol'ga Ivanovicha Gubina doch' Ol'ga Ivanovna Ol'ga Gubovna Ol'ga Ivanovna Gubina Ol'ga Ivanovna Gubina doch'
The asterixes again mark the common forms.
There are some "patronymics" which were not patronymics at all, having been created instead from the mother's name. Tupikov (1903) approaches them with a degree of disdain and they are admittedly quite rare, but they did exist. Unbegaun (1972: 21) notes that some of them were a mark of bastardry (e.g., Oleg Nastas'ich, the son of Iaroslav Galitskii and his lover Anastasia, or "Nastas'ia"  [Tup 24])3 and others are the offspring of famous mothers where the name of the father was considered entirely unimportant (e.g., Vasilii Marichinich, the son of Princess Mariia ("Maricha") Vladimirovna  [Tup 24]). In most cases, however, we simply do not know how such metronymics came about. Ironically, masculine metronymics provide much of our documentation for women's names--the records of the male offspring being much better historically preserved than their mothers.
While more common with men, metronymics can even occasionally be found among women. We find Sof'ia, Mar'ina mat' (1614) [RIB XIV 230], the mother of Mar'ia, Ermolina doch' (1614) [RIB XIV 229]. In this case, the mother is named after the daughter, but the structure and the principle are the same. It shows that (at least on occasion) scribes were not adverse to the practice of matrilineal bynames.
Possessive and Descriptive Bynames
In addition to patronymics, one finds fairly common use of descriptive and possessive bynames, particularly among women. One such case is Afim'ia Nepotselueva  [Ves 219] (or Afim'ia "the Unkissed"--an unfortunate lady!). There are two basic types: patronymic and adjectival.
Patronymic descriptive bynames are name elements that describe the person by taking an adjective or a noun (or both --in the form of a compound) and adding a patronymic-style ending to create a proto-surname. Some examples would include: Bezborodov ("the clean-shaven"), Negodiaev ("the unpredictable"), Dolgonosov ("the long-nosed"), or our virtuous Afim'ia mentioned above. The tendency is to add the simplest patronymic ending (case #1). In every instance, however, this "patronymic" must obey standard grammatical rules and agree with the gender of the subject.
Adjectival bynames consist, in turn, of two sub-categories. There are numerous cases of simply adding a common adjective onto a given name, as in: Korotkii/Korotkaia ("short"), Dorogoi/Dorogaia ("dear"), Pervoi/Pervaia ("first"), Beloi/Belaia ("white"), Shirokii/Shirokaia ("wide"), or Krasnyi/Krasnaia ("red"). The adjective, of course, has to agree with the gender of the subject (the standard masculine adjectival endings are -oi/-yi/-ii, while the feminine ones are -aia/-iaia). It is also possible (although rare) for this byname to appear in the genitive case (just like type #3 masculine patronymics). To become genitive, masculine adjectives drop their endings (-oi, -ii, or -yi) and replace them with -ego or -ogo4 while feminine adjectives drop their endings and add an -oi or -ei.
The second type of adjectival byname is actually a special type of a possessive element (serving the same purpose as a patronymic). Most often found in women's names (and more rarely in men's), these types of names indicate the literal owner of the subject. They are formed by taking the type #1 patronymic and adding the feminine suffix -skaia (or masculine -skii) or sometimes simply -aia/-ii (without the -sk-). Tret'iakovskaia zhena Sapozhnika (1613-8) [RIB XII 16], then, means "Tret'iakov's [or Tret'iak's] wife Sapozhnika." In this case done by taking Tret'iakov and adding -skaia (the feminine adjectival ending). When this form is found in men's names, it is almost exclusively in Western Russia and in late period. It seems to have been a way that Russians copied Polish names (i.e., made themselves sound more "Polish").
An unusual variation of this last form is adding the adjectival ending to a given name directly (Ivanskii, Bogdanskii, etc.). This structure is basically a patronymic. Just to complicate matters, it may appear in the genitive case.
There was no reason why the adjectival form could not be combined with one or more of the more basic forms, as in Mar'ia, a Druzhininskaia zhena Vakhneva (1607) [RIB XIV 579] and Mar'ia Mikhailovskaia zhena Agramakova (1567) [RIB II 42]. There are also cases where the father is named in a standard patronymic, but the husband is named adjectivally: Neonila Sozont'eva doch', a Evseevskaia zhena (1608) [RIB XIV 190] and Matrena Isakova doch', a Semenovskaia zhena (1618) [RIB XIV 290]. The husband's surname is even added on at the end as well: Fevroniia Fokina doch', Mikhailovskaia zhena Spasenieva (1618) [RIB XIV 270] and Minodora Fedorova doch' Elizarova, Fedorovskaia zhena Kherpina (1618) [RIB XIV 283].
Complexities abound, of course, and this form was intermixed with the others, as in: Avdot'itsa Vasil'eva doch', a Kirilovskaia zhena Sidorova syna (1603) [RIB XIV 540] ("Avdot'itsa, daughter of Vasilii, and the Kiril wife of the son of Sidor--an example which presents three possible byname forms in one name) and the rather confusing Princess Alena Stepanovna kniazia Petrova zheny Barisavicha Zasekina (1624) [RIB II 982] whose name is Alena Stepanovna (i.e., daughter of Stepan) but who is also identified as the wife of Prince Petr Barisavich Zasekin--using an ungrammatical double genitive construction (literally, "of Prince Petr Barisavich Zasekin's wife").
Names could also appear with geographical qualifiers, as they do with most other European languages. In the SCA this is most commonly done by taking a name, and adding "iz" (from/of) and the name of the place in the genitive case (e.g., iz Pskova). This construction is artificial, found only in a few questionable contexts, and probably improper medieval usage. Far more common was the transformation of the geographical location into a more standard patronymic construction (i.e., Pskovich -- literally, "son of Pskov"), a noun (Pskovitianin -- "Pskovite"), or an adjective (Pskovskii -- "the Pskovian") (Semenova, 1969: 89).
Consider the following documentable toponyms formed like patronymics: Mitka Istomin syn Ondreeva (1529) [Tup 561] ("from Istoma"); Petr Kievich (1564) [Tup 571] ("from Kiev"); Kopos Nekrasov syn Moskvina (1560) [Tup 194], Gorain Moskovkin (1552) [Tup 117], or Fedko Moskovchich (1552) [Tup 651] ("from Moscow"); Sidor Novgorodov (15th Century) [Gra 276] ("from Novgorod"); Vasiuk Starodubov syn (1530) [RIB II 39] ("from Starodub"); or Dmitrii Zhidimirich (1327) [Mor 85] ("from Zhitomir"). Noun forms include: Iena Belozerets (1613) [Tup 81] ("of Beloozero") and David Kievlianin Zorynich (1167) [Mor 92] ("from Kiev"). Adjectival forms include: D'iak Ivanovich Rzevskii (1557) [Mor 81] ("of Rzev") and Fedor Starodubskii Pestroi (1430) [Tup 302] ("of Starodub").
In the Middle Ages, surnames were not really in use per se. Most surnames that appear are, in fact, patronymics that are treated as surnames, that is, what we now consider to be surnames were, in fact, only patronymics during the pre-1600 period. Non-patronymic surnames are rare and, according to Unbegaun (1972: 19), mostly from Ukraine and Belarus. The construction of surnames resembles that of patronymics and it is often difficult to differentiate between the two. For instance, in cases where the given name was followed by both of the father's given names, the resulting effect could resemble a surname (e.g., Vasilii Ivanov syn Gubin). The "Gubin" in this case is actually a precursor of the modern surname and may be considered such for most purposes, in spite of the fact that it is really a patronymic.
While it cannot be denied that only one patronymic construction (-ovich/-evich for men and -ovna/-evna for women) has been preserved to the present day and that the other patronymics are now treated only as surnames, it is difficult to determine when this change occurred. Tupikov notes: "In the earliest time it is not difficult to differentiate patronymics, not because they end in -ich, but because in that time we do not encounter surnames; but later the patronymics and surnames blur together" (1903: 21. Italics mine). Most estimates place the beginning of the use of surnames to the late 14th century but they are not commonly in use until the 18th century.
There are, however, surnames that (while looking like patronymics) are actually surnames. For example, patronymics based upon bynames are exclusively surnames. Names that are based upon animals, inanimate objects, animals, or occupations are likely to be surnames. Bynames based upon occupations are almost always surnames (unless the person just happens to be the offspring of a person with that occupation). Therefore, Barsukov (literally, "son of a badger") and Miasnikov ("son of a butcher") probably are surnames and not patronymics and therefore mean "the Badger" and "the Butcher" respectively.5
Basic grammar and common sense apply to their construction. Surnames could not employ the genitive or the familial constructions of syn/doch'.6 Surnames must agree with the gender of the subject, therefore all women's surnames ended in "-a" or "-ia" and men's surnames generally did not.
Double surnames were also found in period. These hyphenated surnames are either descendents of double patronymics or patronymic-toponym compounds. They become exceedingly rare by the second half of the sixteenth century (Karnovich, 1886, 72).
We know very little about Russian titles. The SCA has tended to encourage the use of gospodin/gospozha ("citizen/ess") as an equivalent of Lord or Lady. These words are quite old and in use in period. Tikhomirov (1956: 47) notes early equivalents like "gorozhanin," "grazhdanin," or "grazhanin" as terms for "citizen" appear as early in 997 and the existence of an even more archaic "gorozhane" is documentable. Yet there is no indication that it was used as an honorific. In medieval Novgorod it appears to have been used by the upper class, but the entire principle of special titles appears to be quite limited until the post-period Petrine reform.
Aside from kniaz (prince), velikii kniaz (great prince), boiar, and boiarskii syn ("boiar's son" or sub-boiar), most titles in use in period apparently derive from the West and were introduced by foreignors. Therefore, we find the Polish pan ("lord") and the German graf ("count"), but no sign of indigenous equivalents. The latter term's usage with Russian names has a particularly alien air and seems to imply the existence of a foreign patent.
Any attempt to develop truly Russian titular equivalents for the types of honors we bestoy in the SCA will have to rely on an extensive study of the court systems of medieval Russia (in particular, making use of the different degrees held by boiars) and will vary by whether we are dealing with the Kievan period, the Novgorod/Tatar Yoke period, or the days of Muscovy. Such an attempt is a worthy future pursuit.
This short treatise on grammar has hopefully introduced just how flexible Russian naming practices were in period. To illustrate just how complicated naming practices could be, consider a true historical example. Two sisters, Ul'iana and Evdokseia, whose lives are recorded in 1617 [RIB XIV 331] make a fine case. Their father's name was Ignatii Antsyforov syn. At birth, the eldest daughter, Ul'iana, could have been referred to as any of the following:
Ul'iana Ignat'eva Ul'iana Ignat'eva doch' Antsyforova Ul'iana Ignat'eva doch' Ul'iana Ignat'evskaia doch' Ul'iana Ignat'evna Ul'iana Ignat'evskaia doch' Antsyforova Ignat'eva doch' Ul'iana Ignat'evskaia doch' Ul'iana
In actuality, the scribe called her, Ul'iana Ignat'eva doch' Antsyforova syna.
At an early age, she was married off to Boris Vasil'ev syn Popov. At which point, she could have been still called by her old name or have had her bynames changed to match her new master:
Ul'iana Borisova Ul'iana Borisova zhena Popova Ul'iana Borisova zhena Ul'iana Borisovskaia zhena Ul'iana Borisova zhena Vasil'eva Ul'iana Borisovskaia zhena Popova Borisova zhena Popova Ul'iana Borisovskaia zhena Ul'iana
Her name also could have preserved her father's name at the same time, and been one of the following (or a variation thereof):
Ul'iana Ignat'eva doch', a Borisova zhena Vasil'eva Ul'iana Ignat'eva doch', a Borisovskaia zhena Ul'iana Ignat'evna Borisova zhena Vasil'eva syna Ul'iana Ignat'eva Borisovskaia zhena Vasil'eva syna Popova etc... etc...
In actuality, she was called, Ul'iana Borisova zhena Vasil'eva syna Popova and her sister, who married Miron Kozmin syn Shvakova became known as Evdokseia Mironova zhena Kozmina syna Shvakova. In any case, the actual order of the name elements was fairly unimportant and could be juggled around as desired. The most important consideration to the scribe was simply that the woman be properly identified, so that she would not be confused with others. The multitude of different ways in which she could be linked to her family should testify to the great latitude with which medieval writers operated.
To review some key points, it was not necessary for Russian names to follow the modern given name-patronymic-surname (G-P-S) construction. Many constructions were possible, as the following examples illustrate:
G-G: Roman Masnal. 1563. [Tup 245] G-P: Igor' Glebovich. 12th Century. [Tup 165] G-S: Ivashko Tabanov. 1500. [Tup 776] G-P-P: Efim Olekseev syn Padorin. 1609. [Tup 684] G-G-P: Ivan Liapun Osipin. 1527. [Tup 680] G-G-P-P: Gridia Zub Onan'in syn Guznishcheva. 1495. [Tup 527] G-G-P-S: Ivan Chekhol Ofonas'ev syn Khvostov. 1518. [Tup 804] G-P-P-S: Ofonia Koposov syn Volodimerov syn Rumianova. 1495. [Tup 729]
Other combinations (e.g., G-P-P-P, G-G-P-P-S, etc.) are derivatives of these constructions and are likely to have existed in period as well. To make life even more complex, the order of the elements was not fixed in medieval usage, so bynames could proceed given names.
One should note that Russian orthography has undergone some changes since the Middle Ages. Medieval Russian is partial to many alternate spellings. The most important of these was the use of the letter "o" in place of "a," as in the names Oleksandr (Aleksandr), Onton (Anton), Oleksei (Alexei), Ofonasii (Afanasii), and so on. The o-spelling is probably older but there is no clear chronological delineation between one and the other (both were in use in the Middle Ages) and one should consider this simply a case of alternate spelling (i.e., Oleksandr and Aleksandr are the same name). In Medieval Novgorod at its height (in the 13th century), one could also find fairly consistent switching of the letter "ts" for "ch" and vice versa and of the ending "eia" for "iia" and vice versa. These and other examples can be found throughout the Dictionary as "variant" spellings.
As a final note, you will find many alternative grammatical constructions for patronymics (including endings in "-ik," "-chich," "-vic," and the like). These are not Russian constructions and were only found in Russia because of the fluidity of the early Slavic tribes.
|Maintained by Codex Herald. This page was last updated on Friday, April 26, 2013.
The heraldry.sca.org site is copyright 1995-2022 Society for Creative Anachronism, Inc. The copyright of certain portions of heraldry.sca.org are retained by the original contributors as noted.
Paper texture used with permission from GRSites.com.