Saturday, 10 December 2011

Silly Russsian names

In 1895 the great Russian playwright Anton Chekhov visited Sakhalin, an island with a very harsh climate north of Japan, which was being used as a settlement of convicts and political exiles. As well as being famous as a dramatist and writer of short stories, Chekhov was a qualified doctor, and he produced a detailed report on the numbers of people living on Sakhalin, their standard of living, working conditions, diets and diseases, as well as observations on the native tribes of Gilyaks and Ainu. He was struck by the peculiar surnames of many of the convicts, and listed the following:-
"Fingerless, Limper, Stomach, Godless, Yawner, Not-remembered, Nameless (several versions of this), Family-forgotten, Buried, River, Grey-mare, Fetter, Behind-walls, Yellow-foot".
One suspects that many of these were nicknames given to a man's serf ancestor by his owner, and others were simply something written down by a court official for a peasant who genuinely didn't know his surname.

1 comment:

  1. Being a fan of names, I enjoyed your recap of Chekov and your second article about Russian naming.