Quick and Dirty Russian Names

by Lady Sofya la Rus
Dvorianka Sofya Jakovleva Kliucheneva

A comprehensive study of medieval Russian names is unrealistic for most SCA Heralds, and it's been my experience that the standard SCA reference, Dictionary of Russian Names by Paul Wickenden of Thanet is too much for most SCA Heralds to read thoroughly, either.

And so I have attempted to put together a brief summary of key issues in medieval Russian names. This is not meant to be the "final word" especially since Russian is full of exceptions that prove the rule.


Period Russian Language

Period Russian names are, of course, written in period Russian in the Old Church Slavonic/Early Cyrillic alphabet that was based on the Greek alphabet.

However, names written in Cyrillic are not registerable in the SCA, and not readable by the vast majority of SCA members. So we must somehow convert the original Russian into the Latin alphabet. There are many ways to do this. In the SCA, we usually use the modern systems of transliteration.

These systems work fairly well, however, they are NOT period. The Old Cyrillic alphabet is not identical to the modern Russian alphabet. And modern English is definitely not the same as Old English, Middle English, or even Elizabethan (aka Early Modern) English. As far as I know, Paul Wickenden of Thanet was the first to try to address Spelling Russian Names in Period English. He analyzed the book Of the Russe Commonwealth to see how its English auther, Giles Fletcher, handled Russian names in 1591 C.E. I have gone on to provide my own analysis of ways to write Russian in Early Modern, Middle and Old English at Spelling Russian in Period English, if you are interested. But again, the modern transcription systems have been the standard for the SCA College of Arms, so that is what I will show here.

Transcribing Modern Russian into Modern English

Cyrillic

Sounds Like

ISS

LOC

Revised English

U.S. Military

Cyrillic

Sounds Like

ISS

LOC

Revised English

U.S. Military

А

Ah

A

A

A

A

Р

R (rolled)

R

R

R

R

Б

B

B

B

B

B

С

S

S

S

S

S

В

V

V

V

V

V

Т

T

T

T

T

T

Г

Hard G

G

G

G

G

У

Oo

U

U

U (or oo)

U

Д

D

D

D

D

D

Ф

F

F

F

F

F

Е

Yeh or eh

E

E

Ye or E

E (or Ye)

Х

Kh (hard h)

X

Kh

Kh

Kh

Ë

Yoh or oh

Ë

E

Yo or O

E (or Yo)

Ц

Ts

C

Ts

Ts

Ts

Ж

Zh

Zh

Zh

Zh

Zh

Ч

Ch

Č

Ch

Ch (or Cz)

Ch

З

Z

Z

Z

Z

Z

Ш

Sh

Š

Sh

Sh (or Sch)

Sh

И

Ee

I

I

I

I

Щ

Shch

Šč

Shch

Shch (or Sch)

Shch

Й

Like y in boy

J

I

I (or Y or deleted)

J

Ь

“hard sign”

<> 

К

K

K

K

K

K

Ы

Tense “I”

Y

Y

Y

Y

Л

L

L

L

L

L

Ь

“soft sign”

<> 

М

M

M

M

M

M

Э

Eh

É

E

E

E

Н

N

N

N

N

N

Ю

You

Ju

Iu

Yu

Yu

О

Oh

O

O

O

O

Я

Yah

Ja

Ia

Ya

Ya

П

P

P

P

P

P

 

 

 

 

 

 

Russian Name Construction

The SCA uses the Given Name + Byname construction.
Medieval Russian names can easily be adapted to this.


Given Names - two types:
    Christian names - given at baptism. Based on Russian Orthodox saint's names.
      Ivan, Georgii, Semen
      Maria, Anastasiia, Ekaterina

    Old Russian names - given at birth. Based on traditional, pre-Christian names. Often look like nicknames.
      Domazhir, Zhiroslav, Miloslav
      Peredslava, Milka, Deretka

After the conversion to Christianity in 988, most Russians had a Christian name. Many also had an Old Russian name to be used in addition to, or instead of the Christian name. These Old Russian names were used less and less over time.


Bynames - many, many types:
    Patronymics - by the far and away the most common byname in period. Generally based on the father's name or names (both given names and bynames were used). Usually end in ov/ev for men, and ova/eva for women but other forms are required by Russian grammar and some are optional. It is also optional to add "syn" for son and "doch'" for daughter. Study the references!
      Stepan Ivanov, Pavel Andreev, Mikhail Iaroslavl' syn Gubin
      Anna Semenova, Marina Alekseeva, Evdokia Mikhailovicha doch'

    Physically or Psychologically Descriptive Names - fairly common, usually adjectives or pseudo-patronymics or based on Old Russian names. Adjectival forms usually end in ii/oi/yi for men and aia/iaia for women, but others are also used. Check the references! (Sound familiar? Just assume you need to check on the grammar for all these bynames.)

      Mal (small), Chernek (black), Guba (lip)
      Bezubaia (toothless), Milka (dear), Krasnaia (red or beautiful)

    Occupational Names - quite popular, though still dwarfed by the number of patronymics. Many survive in patronymic form as Russian surnames.

      Znamenshchikov (standard-bearer), Khlebnik/Khlebnikov (baker), Pevtsov (singer), Shchepetov (pedlar)
      Sadovnik/Sadovnikov (gardener), Pistsov (scribe), Brazhnik/Brazhnikov (brewer)

    Flora and Fauna - fairly common, especially birds and mammals. Overlap with Old-Russian "given" names. Like Occupational Names, many of these names are preserved in patronymic form in surnames.

      Volchok/Volkchov (little wolf), Medved'/Medvedev (bear), Shchuka (pike), Drozd (blackbird), Orel/Orlov (eagle)
      Dubin (oak), Osina/Osinin (aspen), Bereza/Berezin (birch), Gribov (mushroom)

    Locative Names or Toponyms - Not very common. Most often formed as adjectives, but there are other forms. However, the construction "iz + placename" does NOT seem to be one of them.

      Aleksander Nevskii (named for the battle he won on the River Neva)
      Dmitrii Donskoi (ditto for the Don River)

    Surnames - starting to be seen in period, but not really relevent for SCA purposes. Based on above bynames.

These types are discussed in much more detail in Paul Wickenden's work, either in his dictionary or in articles on The Russian Archive.


Selected References:

Eastern Orthodox Saints' Lives //www.orthodox.net/links/saints-by-name.html
Greek Orthodox Calendar of Saints' Days //www.goarch.org/eu/chapel/calendar.asp
Omniglot, a guide to written language. //www.omniglot.com/writing/cyrillic.htm
Paul Wickenden of Thanet, Dictionary of Russian Names. //www.sca.org/heraldry/paul
Paul Wickenden of Thanet, The Russian Archive. //www.goldschp.net/archive/archive.html
Paul Wickenden of Thanet, Spelling Russian Names in Period English. //www.goldschp.net/archive/fletcher.html
Predslava Vydrina, Russian Personal Names: Name Frequency in the Novgorod Birch-Bark Letters //www.s-gabriel.org/names/predslava/bbl
Sofya la Rus, Spelling Russian in Period English. //www.strangelove.net/~kieser/Russia/spelling.html

Comments or questions? sofya@heraldshill.org
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