Saturday, June 30, 2018

Most Russians Got Last Names Only a Century Ago

Paul Goble

            Staunton, June 29 – The 1897 census found that about 75 percent of the population of the Russian Empire did not have last names, with the share having them somewhat greater in the central part of the country and much lower on the periphery. But with the coming of Soviet power and passportization, everyone had to have a last name.

            In some cases, Irina Shlionskaya writes on the Russian7 portal, they simply added an -ov or -ev ending to what had been their patronymics or nicknames, with Vasily, the sone of Prokpiya, for example, becoming Vasiliy Prokopyev and Fedor the Kosov (Scythe) becoming Fedor Kosoy or Fedor Kosov (

            In March 1918, Lenin signed a decree “on the right of citizens to change their families or their nicknames” after many people, including whole units in the Red Army, asked for permission to do so. Thus, people with names like Durakov (“of the fools”) wanted to be known as Vinogradov.

            But that was only one of the ways people chose last names. Because of the Soviet system, there arose many neologisms, with some people taking the names of revolutionary heroes like Lenin, Stalin, Kirov or Molotov and others coming up with names from revolutionary slogans or institutions.

            Among these, Shlionskaya continues, were the Avangardovs, the Ateistovs, theWolframovs, the Dekabristovs, the Delegatovs, the Demokratovs, the Deputatovs, the Novomirovs, the Renatovs (from ‘revolution, science and labor”), the Elektronovs, the Yubileynovs and the Yunatovs.

            Meanwhile, in non-Russian areas, patronymics were russified into last names with Abdulla become Abdullayev, Gadzhi Gadzhiyev, and Mamed Mamedov. But it also happened that ethnic Russians in some non-Russian areas adapted their Russian names to non-Russian patterns.

            Thus, in Latvian areas, Russians often changed Petrov to Petrovs, Kuznetsov to Kuznetsoovs, and Fedorov to Fedorovs.  Indeed, the Soviet actress Lyudmila Gurchenko in her memoirs says that her father’s name was Gurchenkov but that living in Ukraine, her family dispensed with the v.

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