Ukrainian Cossack names and surnames

If you think that the Cossacks could only fight and smash enemies in the Zaporizhian Sich, then you are deeply mistaken. There was an exceptional registry on the Sich, all affairs were conducted carefully, with competence, in accordance with the economic and political standards of that time. The documentation management was on the high level. In order to improve their recordkeeping even more, in 1756 a census of Cossacks was carried out, the document was called «Register of Cossack Army.» Thanks to this registry we have a chance to study the list of Cossack names and surnames.

Cossack names

According to researchers, about 200 male names were placed on record to the «Registry». By word-usage frequency, two names were in the lead: Ivan (11% of the total number of names) and Vasyl — 6%. The other common names were Fedir, Stepan, Grytsko, Mykhaylo, Semen, Andriy, Yakiv, Olexiy, Roman, Danylo and so on. The most common female names were Oksana, Ganna, Ivanna (feminine of Ivan), Oleksandra or Olesya (feminine of Oleksandr), Svitlana. Almost all of them are still in daily use.

So, Cossack male names, the same as Cossack female names, weren’t something extraordinary. The same can’t be said for Cossack last names.

Last names or nicknames

There was an interesting custom in the Zaporizhian Sich – the newcomer, who joined the Cossack society, had to change his family name to a new Cossack surname. This “nickname” was usually chosen by other Cossacks for a new comrade.

There are two versions explaining the need to invent new last names:

  • There were many serfs on the Sich, who fled from their owners. Seeking serfs, the owners sent inquiries to the Sich with runaways’ surnames. For this reason, the young men willingly changed their old surnames so they could not be found.
  • The need to give a nickname arose from the fact that the identification and even a simple function of managing in Cossack society required speed and mobility. Calling each other by full name was overlong, and calling just by firsts names didn’t work because of their frequency, only name «Ivan» is worth something. As a result, the practice of military life furthered the need of nicknames.

Not only strength and power were appreciated іn Cossack society, but also jokes and wit. And this humor and ridicule were put into the basis of Cossack nicknames. They characterized the Cossack’s personality much better than the whole autobiography could do. Later, nicknames morphed into Cossack surnames, recorded by various documents, registers and censuses.

As for the word building, the large majority of Cossack surnames have patronymic suffix -enko. It usually appeared from names, nicknames or the profession of Cossacks’ fathers:

  • Stepanenko – Stepan’s son;
  • Romanenko – Roman’s son;
  • Goncharenko – the son of a potter (Gonchar).

Last names with suffix -iсh (-ovich, -evich, -nich) were typical for aged Cossacks, who had special merits in the Cossack army, this suffix gave a shade of respect to such surname.

One more peculiarity of Cossack surnames, which has no equals in other Slavic languages, is a combination of several words, usually with comic shades. For example, Nejzhborscht (don’t eat borscht), Perebyjnis (break the nose), Lovykin’ (catch the horse), Obijdykhata (go around the house) and so on.

Surnames’ forming

Cossack surnames can be divided into several groups by the origin of their appearance:

  • Physical features. Specific features of the Cossack appearance were actually reflected in such surnames as: Slipyj (blind), Kryvyj (crooked), Golovatyj (with big head), Chub (forelock), Zub (tooth), Ryzha Baba (red head wimp), Vytrishkuvatyj (wide-eyed), Tovstolob (thick-headed), Gostrovuh (sharp-eared), Vovchymorda (wolfish face) and so on.
  • Character features: Strogyj (strict), Motornyj (speedy), Lutyj (fierce), Nud’ga (dull), Linyvy (lazy).
  • Location. By the surname of the Cossack was fixed the name of the village, city, or even country, where he came from: Fastovets (city Fastiv), Zoschutinets (Z- Oschutinets – means from village Oschutinets), the same Zomchara (from Omchar), Lytvyn (Lithuanian), Makedonskyj (Macedonian).
  • A form of activity. Often surnames were given in accordance with the form of activity, occupation, functions in the Cossack army: Serdyuk – (hetman’s guard), surnames Pushkar, Garmash or Garmatyj were given to Cossacks who served the weapon (pushka or garmata can be translated as gun or cannon), Storozhenko and Gardovyj (guard), Kramar (seller), Pismennyj (writer), Koval (forgeman), Slyusar (locksmith), Poshivailo (tailor), Muzyka (musician), Tantsura (dancer).
  • Similarities with representatives of fauna and flora. Noting the resemblance with features of animals, insects, especially birds, Cossacks gave the following last names to their comrades: Pacyuk (rat), Korova (cow), Kobyla (horse), Zhuk (bug), Sova (owl), Soroka (magpie), Synytsya (titmouse), Vorona (crow), Golub (pigeon) and so on.
  • Event. A memorable action, an unusual or funny event in Cossack’s life became the basis of many interesting surnames: Netudyhata (the wrong house), Rozbyjgolova (break the head), Zagubysunduk (lose the box), Ubyjvovk (kill the wolf), Palyhata (burn the house).
  • Period of time. Seasons, days of the week as last names were given to those men, who appeared in a certain period of time: Zyma (winter), Ponedilok (Monday), Subota (Saturday).

The principles of word building and the emergence of surnames help to study the genealogy of the ancient Cossacks and a large number of modern Ukrainian families.

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