Russian Ornithological Bynames

By Paul Wickenden of Thanet


A popular medieval and SCA naming practice is the use of zoological bynames, that is, using the name of an animal as a surname or descriptive element (e.g., Drozdov, Gusev, Sokolov, Zhuravlev, etc.).

While the popularity of the practice in the SCA probably is attributable to fantasy novels, the frequency of the practice in medieval Russia has several explanations. First of all, animal names were sometimes used as given names and could be passed on as patronymics. A child who bore a patronymic based on the father's (zoological) given name would have a byname element that would be completely indistinguishable from a zoological byname. Put in more simpler terms, did Ivan Orlov translate as "John, son of Orel" or "John the Eagle?" Without a pedigree, it is impossible to know and (thankfully) completely unimportant to us as reenactors. Both possibilities are reasonable. Another explanation is that a person might name themselves after an animal that they worked closely with. Iurii Golubev ("George the Pigeon") might be a breeder of pigeons. However, there were also plenty of occupational bynames that described animal husbandry, so this is less likely. A more probable reason to bear a zoological byname is because of one's desire to invoke the animal in question (Ivan Orlov might see the eagle as a strong animal and wish to claim such strengths for himself).

Unbegaun (p. 186) explains that the most common zoological bynames in Russian are based on the names of birds. Of the 100 most common surnames, nine of them are based on the names of birds. While he is speaking of modern naming practices, it is readily apparent that bird names were common in period also.

I have assembled here a list of ornithological bynames found in period. The list was begun off of the surnames listed by Boris Unbegaun in his Russian Surnames (pp. 188-189) and amended to as I found names that Unbegaun had not included. My highest priority was to find dated references to the actual bynames in period. To do this, I simply used the third edition of my Dictionary of Period Russian Names. When that proved to be impossible, I tried to find the bird's name in use as a given name in my Dictionary (after all, if it was used as a given name, it could be used as a patronymic). If neither of these options worked, I turned to dictionaries of period Russian. Beginning with Sreznevskii's Slovar' drevnerusskogo iazyka (the modest Russian equivalent of the OED), I searched for period references to the bird's name. Where Sreznevskii failed me, I pulled out the 23 volume (and growing) Russian Academy of Sciences's Slovar' russkogo iazyka. While this monstrousity only goes up to "skoryi" so far and it tends to focus on 17th century sources, it is pretty safe to say that it is the dictionary to end all dictionaries. While finding a bird's name in a dictionary of period Russian would not prove that the bird's name was used as an anthroponym, the SCA currently does not require proof of this for registering names. At the risk of oversimplification, if the word is period and words like it were used to create bynames, then you can register the byname.

Here are the bird names that can be positively identified as being used in period as bynames (with their first date of appearance and the page from Wickenden that they came from): Bird, little {Ptitsyn (c1495 [286])}; Blackbird {Drozdov (c1495 [76])}; Buzzard {Sarychin (c1495 [307])}; Capercailzie {Glukharev (1614 [99])}; Chicken, cock {Petukhov (1552 [266]), Kurov (c1495 [176])}; Chicken, hen {Klushin (1614 [151]), Kuritsyn (1573 [177]), Kurochkin (1616-24 [177])}; Cormorant {Baklanov (1495-9 [16])}; Crane {Zhuravlev (1604 [422])}; Crow {Kargashin (1500 [132]), Voronin (c1495 [402])}; Cuckoo {Zagoskin (1600 [410])}; Dove {Golubin (1598 [101])}; Duck {Utin (945 [382]), Utkin (1539 [382])}; Duck, drake {Seleznev (c1495 [310])}; Duck, mallard {Krekshin (1500 [168])}; Eagle {Orlov (c1495 [250])}; Falcon {Sokolov (1498 [338])}; Falcon (special breeds) {Balabanov (1585 [17]), Choglokov (1565 [50]), Cheglokov (1498 [50])}; Finch, gold- {Shcheglov (1597 [317]), Shchegolev (1591 [317])}; Finch, pine- {Shchurov (1578-9 [319])}; Goose {Gusev (1551 [110])}; Goose, gander {Gusakov (1648 [110])}; Grey-hen {Teterin (1578 [363]), Teterkin (1st Half of 16th Century [363])}; Grouse, hazel {Riabchikov (1539 [296])}; Hawk {Iastrebov (1545 [116]), Iastrebtsov (1504-5 [116])}; Hen-harrier {Lunev (c1495 [195])}; Heron {Chaplin (1577-8 [48])}; Jackdaw {Galkin (1500 [95])}; Kite {Korshunov (1555 [161])}; Landrail {Korostelev (1498 [160])}; Lark {Zhavoronkov (15th Century [417])}; Linnet {Chechetkin (1545 [50]), Chechetov (1596 [50])}; Loon {Gagarin (1500 [94])}; Magpie {Sorokin (c1495 [340])}; Martlet {Strizhev (1619 [348]), Strizhkov (1620 [348])}; Nightingale {Solov'ev (1569 [339])}; Owl, brown- {Sychev (c1495 [357])}; Partridge {Kuroptich (1583 [177])}; Pigeon {Golubev (c1495 [101]), Golubtsov (1615 [102])}; Pigeon, wood- {Viakhirev (1648 [393])}; Plover {Zuev (1594-5 [426]), Zuikov (1571 [426])}; Quail {Perepelkin (1594-7 [263])}; Raven {Voronov (c1495 [402]), Voronkov (1588-9 [402]), Vorontsov (c1495 [402])}; Rook {Grachev (1608-9 [105])}; Seagull {Chaikin (1580 [48])}; Siskin {Chizhov (1495 [56]), Chizhikov (1646 [56])}; Snipe {Kulikov (1545 [174])}; Sparrow {Vorob'ev (1551 [402])}; Starling {Skvortsov (1584-6 [333])}; Swallow {Kasatkin (1543 [133]); Swan {Lebedev (c1495 [183])}; Teal {Chirkov (1627 [55]), Chirkin (1571 [55])}; Thrush {Drozdov (c1495 [76])}; Tomtit {Remezov (1495 [295]), Remizov (1637 [295]), Sinitsin (1495 [329])}; Woodcock {Kulikov (1545 [174])}; and Woodpecker {Diatlov (1501 [66])}

And then there are the animal names that could only be documented as given names found in Wickenden: Bullfinch {Snegirev (from Snegir', 1536 [336]), Snigirev (Snigir', 1537 [336])}; Buzzard {Sarychev (Sarych, 1597 [307])}; Chicken, cock {Kochetov (Kochet, 1623 [152])}; Crow {Kargin (Karga, 1614 [132])}; Eagle, golden- {Berkutov (Berkut, 1597 [25])}; Hawk {Kaniukov (Kaniuk, 1545 [131])}; Jay {Soikin (Soika, 1566 [338])}; Landrail {Derkachev (Derkach', 1565 [65])}; Lapwing {Chibisov (Chibis, 1582 [54])}; and Parrot {Popugaev (Popugai, 1642 [276])}

Finally, there are the bird names that I could find in dictionaries. Here, the difficulties are enormous. For example, Sreznevskii provided virtually no direct help at all. I could not find kuropatka (partridge) in the dictionary, but was able to find kuroptina (partridge meat) dated to the 16th century (Vol I: 1379). Obviously, if partridge meat is period, so is the bird, but in what spelling? The word kuropatka turns out to be post-period (see below) so the modern byname from that word (Kuropatkin) probably is as well. Lastochka (swallow) could also not be found (and also turns out to be post-period), but the period variations of lastovitsa and lastun (both dated to the 15th century [Vol II: 12]) could be. Hypothetically, these two names would create the bynames: Lastovitsin and Lastunov.

The Academy of Sciences opus was somewhat (but only slightly) more helpful. We can use it to indirectly document several additional bynames: Cuckoo {Kukuvitsin (from kukuvitsa, 14th century [VIII:113]), or Kukavitsin (kukavitsa, 16th century [VIII: 113]) -- although the modern Kukushkin (kukushka, 17th century [VIII: 113]) is out of period}; Oriole {Ivolgin (ivolga, 15th century [VI: 77])}; and Peahen {Pavin (pava, 16th century [XIV: 111] and derived from the German pfawe)}.

Far more interesting (for a herald or an onomast, but probably not to someone trying to document a name) were the large number of fairly common birds whose names turned out to be post-period (or, at least, whose names could be documented only to post-period). These included: Finch {Ziablitsin (from ziablitsa, 17th century [VI:72])}; Goatsucker {Kozodoev (kozodoi, 17th century [VII: 227])}; Nightjar {Kozodoev (kozodoi, 17th century [VII: 227])}; Partridge {Kuropatkin (kuropatka, 1696 [VIII:140])}; Swallow {Lastochkin (lastochka, 1705 [VIII:178])}; and Turkey {Indeikin (indeika, 17th-18th centuries [VI: 235])}.

A Note on Pigeon Breeds. Unbegaun (190) adds that his list was only the beginning of bird names. There were a series of names specifically for pigeon breeders that described salient features of the pigeons that they bred ("white-wing," "red-feather," etc.). Many of these names are period as the following list of such surnames (taken from Wickenden) shows: Black-heel {Chernopiatyi (1588-9 [53])}; Black-neck {Chernoshein (1621 [53]}; Blue-spotted {Siniavin (1577-8 [329])}; Grey-heel {Seropiatich (1470 [313])}; White-body {Belotelov (1498 [24]); White-eye {Beloglazov (1598 [23]); White-leg {Belokopytov (1610 [23])}; White-nose {Belonosov (1602 [23])}; White-tail {Beloguzov (1545 [23])}; White-wing {Belokryl'tsev (1596 [23])}; and Yellow-foot {Zheltonogov (1590 [418])}.

And again, there are several given names found in Wickenden that could be used to create bynames, including: Black-ear {Chernoukhov (from Chernoukh, 1552 [53])}; Black-tail {Chernoguzov (Chernoguz, 1646 [52])}; Blue-nose {Sinenosov (Sinenos, 1623 [329])}; Red-feather {Krasnoperkin (Krasnoperka, 1618 [168])}; Red-neck {Krasnoshein (Krasnosheia, 1595 [168])}; White-cheek {Beloshchekov (Beloshchek, 1539 [24])}; and Yellow-nose {Zheltonosov (Zheltonos, 1615 [418]).

It is theoretically possible to mix and match colors and body parts, thus creating dozens of additional byname possibilities. Now, it is likely that the these bynames described other animals' (and even human) traits. Names like "white-beard" (Beloborod), for example, probably do not describe birds!

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