Sunday, October 22, 2023

Matriarchy Survives in Komi Villages, Helping National Language and Identity to Survive as Well

Paul Goble

            Staunton, Oct. 19 – Darya Ananyeva, a Russian feminist and human rights activist, last summer made a trip to villages in the Komi Republic to study the survival of matronyms in the Komi language. But she discovered something much bigger: the survival of matriarchy as a way of life. And the video she made about this has gone viral.

            Her video, The Matriarchate in the Komi Republic, is available on YouTube at She discusses her work in an interview at

            Metronyms, names that are drawn from the mother’s rather than the father’s, exist in a number of languages; but in the past they were widespread in Komi. What is remarkable, Ananyeva says, is just how widespread they remain outside the major cities of that republic. This feminist tilt, she points out, is reflected by the female bird in the republic’s coat of arms.

            And perhaps more important, Ananyeva continues, is that the authorities in Komi recognize these names and allow them to be used in official documents, something that seems certain to keep this tradition alive for another generation or more. But metronyms also reflect a deeper reality: the survival of matriarchy in the villages of the Komi Republic.

            The phenomenon survives for a variety of reasons: men leave for work elsewhere, women assume an equal or even dominant position, or children grow up in families where only one parent is present. It is so widespread, the feminist says, that Komi people do not recognize how special and important it is.

            According to her, villages where matriarchy remains are places where Komi identity and the Komi language are in the strongest position. Unlike in Syktyvkar, these villages still have schools where Komi is studied, and she says she found that “all the children” in the villages she visited spoke Komi among themselves and their families.

            Ananyeva’s next project is to conduct interviews across what Moscow calls “the Russian North” and show that it is nothing of the kind, that the peoples there have their own identities not derived from Russian and that calling the region “the Russian North” is an attack on these special identities.

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