Occupational Bynames in Medieval Russia

By Paul Wickenden of Thanet

Occupational bynames fill a very large category in Medieval Russian onomastics. While non-patronymic bynames are rare in period, occupational ones are among the most common of category within this group. Today, they hold a significant place in any study of modern surnames.

The resources that are available for the study of occupational bynames are, as a rule, less than useful for SCA documentation purposes. Unbegaun devoted an entire chapter to them, but organized them by linguistic structure. Tumanova reproduced Unbegaun's list (without ascertaining which were period and which were not) in English alphabetical order. Yet, for the SCA, the most useful way to organize the names is by type of occupation so that a person can choose a name based upon the type of occupation they wish to have. Naturally, any sort of organization will have its own failings, but I have created several distinct categories (and sub-categories) that should make finding a name much easier.

Writing about occupational names themselves is a fairly lengthy project and out of the modest ambitions of this article. Unbegaun (110), for example, was always much more struck by the class nature of such names: "It is natural that surnames derived from occupational names should have been borne at the beginning by the middle classes -- merchants and artisans. In exceptional cases, however, even as early as the sixteenth century, representatives of the gentry bore occupational surnames." And, while it is probably true that such things are important, we know far too little about such trends to be able to draw such conclusions with certainty.

As a final note, we should be careful about how we use lists of occupational names. Unbegaun notes that it would be a mistake to literally translate these names. While it is perhaps true that these bynames were originally associated with people of a specific profession, that association would have died out over time and the names would take on a life of their own. Their original "meaning" would be lost (even in period).

Table of Contents

Using this List -- Agriculture/Hunting -- Government -- Defense -- Merchant/Commerce -- Crafts/Industry ( Food; Skilled Crafts; Clothing/Textiles; Weaponry; Household Goods; Sciences; Trades) -- Service -- Music/Entertainment -- Ecclesiastical -- Other -- Conclusions

Using the List

As I have done elsewhere, I have started with Unbegaun's list and attempted to discover how many of the names on it can be positively documented to period. First of all, I have pulled all the names that can be found in Wickenden. Secondly, I have identified which of the remaining names can be documented from period given names that are found in Wickenden. When those approaches have failed, I have relied upon dictionaries of period Russian (using the logic that if the occupation is period, that a period byname could have been formed from it).

I have not chosen to include bynames here that are formed from products. There are many such bynames -- created by adding a patronymic ending to the name of a product made by the person -- in existence. These are craft names with dual meanings (Sakharov = "of the sugar" or "the sugar-sellers") but could also easily be patronymic bynames created from a nickname (Sakharov = "son of Sakhar" [sugar]). Unbegaun (110) chose not to include these bynames for exactly that reason and I follow his lead.

As a final note, occupational bynames show an above average influence from foreign languages. That is, some Russian bynames are derived from foreign occupational titles. Where the names have such a foreign origin, they have been noted as such (Ukr = Ukrainian, Bel = Belarus, and Heb = Hebrew).


Our first category are names derived from hunters and farmers. I have chosen not to include food sellers (who are placed with other agents of commerce) or food processors (who have their own category). Here, we include only the growers and cultivators of foodstuffs. There are a fair number of these found in Wickenden as period surnames:

Names found in Wickenden as period given names only include:

The remaining agricultural occupations found in Unbegaun could not be documented directly. Those that could be inferred because the occupations themselves are period included:

Late Period Names. Two occupations mentioned by Unbegaun could be dated, but only to out of period dates. While the words both fall in our "gray area," it seems unlikely that a byname would have been constructed out of them in period. They are Flayer or Fleecer -- Zhivoderov (from zhivoder) -- dated to 1646 [SRIa V: 101]; and Sharecropper -- Vytchikov (from vytchik) -- dated to 1602 [SRIa III: 268].


Perhaps the bane of many people's existence, government jobs were as much a part of the Middle Ages as they are today. And given the stress placed on strong centralized authority throughout Russian history, it is natural that some of the officials would adopt their titles as bynames. To begin with, we have a few examples found in Wickenden:

The Hebrew word for a "trustee" (neman) in the region is found as a given name in Wickenden (232) and dated to 1234 (although Wickenden has it misdefined). If Neman is a period given name, then the byname Nemanov seems plausible enough.

The remaining governmental occupations found in Unbegaun could not be documented directly but those that could be inferred (because the occupations themselves are period) included:


Very much related to government jobs were those occupations connected with providing security and defending the state from its enemies. In this category, I have included all civil defense, personal defense, and military occupations. We end up with a formidible collection of occupations, the following of which can be found in Wickenden as bynames:

Names found in Wickenden as period given names only include:

The remaining governmental occupations found in Unbegaun could not be documented directly but those that could be inferred (because the occupations themselves are period) included:

Late Period Names. Some names from Unbegaun's list could be found but only in late or out-of-period references. Soldatov ("soldier") could be created from the given name Soldat, but the given name itself is only dated to 1643 in Wickenden [338]. Morekhodtsev ("sailor") can be created from the word morekhodets, but the word is first found only in 1667 [SRIa IX: 264]. Similarly, two words for "scout" are out of period (lazuchik -- creating Lazuchikov -- and lazuch'nik -- creating Lazuch'nikov) are both dated to 1614 [SRE II: 5].


While more contemporary Russia tends to look down upon commerce as either theft or laziness, medieval Russia was bursting with practitioners of commercial trades. Russia's merchants were proud of their work and naturally chose to identify themselves with appropriate bynames. Among the commercial bynames that one can find in Wickenden include:

One names found in Wickenden as a period given name only includes the Belarusian variant for "shopkeeper" (Kramar) dated to 1597 [167]* which gives us Kramarov.

The remaining commercial occupations found in Unbegaun could not be documented directly but those that could be inferred (because the occupations themselves are period) included "carrot seller" or Morvnikov (from morkovnik, 1566) [SRIa IX: 265].

Late Period Names. Late or post period surnames can be created from the following given names found in Wickenden:

Two further names could be created from out of period words. One of these is "female milk-seller" -- Molochnitsin (from molochnitsa, 1626) [SRIa IX: 254] and the other is "usurer" -- Rostovshchikov (from rostovshchik, 1620) [SRIa XXII: 219]


By far, the occupational category represented with the greatest variety of bynames are the crafts and various industrial occupations. Given the preponderance of such occupations among the middle class Russians, this is no great surprise. To aid in finding a name, I have further subdivided the crafts into specific types.

Food. In this sub-category, I have included all occupations connected with the processing of food. For food producers, see the "Agricultural/Hunting" category above. Bynames found in Wickenden include:

Given names found in Wickenden provide the following additional possibilities:

The remaining food trades found in Unbegaun could not be documented directly but those that could be inferred (because the occupations themselves are period) included:

Skilled Crafts. Like most European cultures of the period, there was a wide variety of workers with highly trained specializations. Given the high prestige of their occupations, many of these workers identified themselves with their bynames. Examples found in Wickenden include:

And while the remaining list of such skilled occupational bynames found in Unbegaun are not found in Wickenden, some of the actual occupations themselves are period and thus the bynames seem probable enough. These include "bookbinder" (perepletchik, 1571) [SRIa XIV: 278] which gives us the hypothetical Perepletchikov; "gudok maker" (gudochnik, 1589) [SRIa IV: 155] or Gudochnikov; and "ear-ring maker" (serezhnik, 1541) [SRIa XXIV: 89] or Serezhnikov.

Clothing/Textiles. Like foodstuffs, the craftsmen who specialized in textiles, tailoring, and clothing manufacture make a distinct category of occupations. Among those names found in Wickenden are:

Two occupations related to this category are found in Wickenden only as given names. They are: "fuller" (Volnotep, 1600) [400], from which we can presume Volnotepov; and the Ukrainian word for "shoemaker" (Chebotar, 1595) [49]*, from which we get Chebotarov.

Names not found in Wickenden but documentable as period occupations include: "dyer" (senelnik, 1586) [SRIa XXIV: 151] or Senelnikov; "glover" (rukavichnik, 1584) [SRIa XXII: 244] or Rukavichnikov; and "hatter" (sapozhnik, 1540) [SRIa XXIII: 62] or Sapozhnikov.

Weaponry.And if there were soldiers, there were certainly people supplying the tools of war. Occupational bynames of such a category found in Wickenden include:

Porokhovshchikov ("gunpowder maker") could be theoretically constructed from Porokhovshchik, but this given name is only dated to 1648 [276], making the patronymic unlikely to be period. No other occupational titles in this category can even be dated as period.

Household Goods. Every household had needs for a multitude of basic products. In urbanized Russia, families frequently purchased what had previously been made at home. Producers of household products spawned a large selection of occupational bynames. Among those found in Wickenden include:

Bochkarev ("cooper") could be theoretically constructed from Bochkar', but this given name is only dated to 1628 [30], making the patronymic unlikely to be period.

Several more examples cannot be directly documented, but can be inferred because the names of their occupations exist as period words (and while many more of the products themselves can be dated as period but are not included here, as noted in the introduction):

Late or Out of Period Names. Two interesting names from Unbegaun can only be documented from late or out-of-period words: Svechnitsin -- "candle-maker's wife" -- from svechnitsa (1626) [SRIa XXIII: 156]; and Grebenshchikov -- "comb-maker" -- from grebenshchik (1658) [SRIa IV: 126].

Sciences. Not a large category of occupations or source for names. Occupations from the sciences do generate one byname and two given names found in Wickenden. The surname is "astrologer" (Zvezdochetov (1585) [426]) and the given names are: "blood letter" (Rudomet, 1610) [301] which can give us Rudometov (although the surname is probably out of period); and the Hebrew word for "physician" (Lekar', 1539) [183] which supports Lekarev.

Trades. Skilled trades, of course, were not the only occupations practiced by craftsmen. There were a variety of other trades which, while not highly specialized, were no less crucial for the day to day survival of the people. A variety of occupations represented by bynames that can be found in Wickenden include:

There are also a sizable collection of cases where the byname cannot be documented, but a given name with the occupational meaning is found. In these cases, a plausible byname could be created that was either an occupational one or a patronymic:

Names from Unbegaun that could not be found in Wickenden, but could be documented as being based on period words, include:

Late Period Names. Plavil'shchikov -- "founder" -- can be derived from the late period given name, Plavil'shchik (1605) [269] but is probably out of period as a byname. Several other names from Unbegaun's list can only be documented through late period words (and are thus probably also out of period):


In addition to the trades, there was a burgeoning service industry in medieval Russia. Many of these occupations lacked significant status, but were carried with pride from generation to generation. Occupational bynames of this class found in Wickenden include:

Three additional bynames can be documented through period given names. They are: "coachman" (Iamshchik, 1541) [114] or Iamshchikov; "ferryman" (Perevoznik, c1495) [264] or Perevoznikov; and "meal carrier" (Mukovoz, 1599) [223] or Mukovozov.

Names that can only be documented as being based upon period words include:

Late Period Names. Some additional late period words give us additional surnames from Unbegaun: Izvozdnikov -- "cabman or carrier" -- from izvozdnik (17th century) [SRIa VI: 126]; and Denshchikov -- "officer's servant" -- from denshchik (1639) [SRIa IV: 215].


Entertainers were not members of a prestigious profession class of professions, but there many types of names in period based upon such professions. The ones found in Wickenden include:

The tools of the trade were often period words and in some cases the occupations connected with those tools were period as well. Those that could not be documented above, but which could be found as being based on period words, include:


And then we have the Third Estate itself. Given the importance of religion in Russian culture and the strong role of the church in Russian life, it comes as no surprise that there are quite a collection of these names. For the most part, these names refer to Orthodox Christian professions, but there are a few Jewish officials included in this section. Names found in Wickenden include:

Names found as given names (but not as bynames) in Wickenden include: "church reader" (D'iachko, 1545) [79] or D'iachkov; and "inspector of ritual butchers [Heb]" (Bodek, 1195) [30] or Bodekov.

Names documented only through the use of period words, include:


And then, finally, there are a variety of names that do not seem to fit under any other category. In some cases, they are hardly "occupations" at all (dice player, rogue). In other cases, they are marks of status more than pastime (estate owner, dweller). Names found in Wickenden include:

Names from Unbegaun that can be documented as being based on period words, include:


This is obviously a very big category of names and the list provided in this article is far from complete. Still, it should provide many interesting naming possibilities.

Finally, as I have done before, I would offer the following additional notes:

1) Because of the rather unique category of names that the ones listed here fall into, I have identified them as "bynames." As noted, some of them may be patronymics, while others could be true surnames. Determining which are and which are not, however, is not a terribly productive enterprise. Therefore, labeling them all as "bynames" (unless otherwise pre-determined) seemed the wisest approach.

2) Throughout this article, I have only provided masculine versions of the bynames. For the most part, these are all "Type I" bynames, so they can be feminized by adding "-a" on the end. For those unfamiliar with Russian byname construction, I would refer you to the more thorough discussion in Wickenden's study of grammar.

3) The reader will note a number of names with asterixes (*) next to them. These are guilty confessions. They are names which have been misidentified within Wickenden for one reason or another. In some cases, they have been placed in the wrong location, while in others their definitions have been incorrectly given. In general, in cases of dispute between the third edition (2000) of Wickenden and this article, this article is more accurate and up-to-date. (sigh!)


Akademiia nauk SSSR/Rossisskaia akademiia nauk. Slovar' russkogo iazyka [SRIa]. Moscow: Nauka, 1975-1999+. Twenty-three+ volumes.

Sreznevskii, I. I. Slovar' drevnerusskogo iazyka, Reprintnoe izdanie [Sre]. Moscow: Kniga, 1989/1893. Three volumes.

Tumanova, Tatiana Nikolaevna [a.k.a. B. J. Gerth]. The Compleat Russian Name Book, Third Edition. Los Altos CA: Free Trumpet Press West, 1989.

Unbegaun, B. O. Russian Surnames. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1972.

Wickenden of Thanet, Paul. Dictionary of Period Russian Names, Third Edition. Normal IL: Free Trumpet Press West, 2000/1996/1994.

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