In an effort to find out something about the Isaurians and their language (a vain effort, and if anybody knows anything beyond “warlike” and “unknown” I’d appreciate hearing about it) I ran across Vassil Karloukovski’s Page, with its many Bulgarian-related links; what particularly attracted my attention was the section devoted to The Language of the Huns, Chapter IX of O. Maenchen-Helfen’s The World of the Huns (University of California Press, 1973). I’ll quote the meaty passage on Etymologies:
We must be prepared to meet among the names borne by Huns Germanic, Latin, and (as a result of the long and close contact with the Alans) also Iranian names. Attempts to force all Hunnic names into one linguistic group are a priori doomed to failure.
“Let no one,” warned Jordanes, “who is ignorant cavil at the fact that the tribes of men use many names, the Sarmatians from the Germans and the Goths frequently from the Huns.” Tutizar was a Goth and Ragnaris a Hun, but Tutizar is not a Gothic name and Ragnaris is Germanic. The Byzantine generals who in 493 fought against the Isaurians were Apsikal, a Goth, and Sigizan and Zolban, commanders of the Hun auxiliaries. Apsikal is not a Gothic but a Hunnic name; Sigizan might be Germanic. Mundius, a man of Attilanic descent, had a son by the name of Mauricius; his grandson Theudimundus bore a Germanic name. Patricius, Ardabur, and Herminiricus were not a Roman, an Alan, and a German as the names would indicate, but brothers, the sons of Aspar and his Gothic wife. There are many such cases in the fifth and sixth centuries. Sometimes a man is known under two names, belonging to two different tongues. Or he has a name compounded of elements of two languages. There are instances of what seem to be double names; actually one is the personal name, the other a title. Among the Hun names, some might well be designations of rank. It is, I believe, generally agreed that the titles of the steppe peoples do not reflect the nationality of their bearers. A kan, kagan, or bagatur may be a Mongol, a Turk, a Bulgar; he may be practically anything.
The names of the Danube Bulgars offer an illustration of the pitfalls into which scholars are likely to stumble when they approach the complex problems of the migration period with their eyes fixed on etymologies. In spite of the labor spent on the explanation of Bulgarian names since the thirties of the past century, there is hardly one whose etymology has been definitely established. The name Bulgar itself is an example. What does it mean? Are the Bulgars “the Mixed ones” or “the Rebels?” Pelliot was inclined to the latter interpretation but thought it possible that bulgar meant les trouveurs. The Turkish etymology was challenged by Detschev; he assumed that Bulgar was the name given to the descendants of the Attilanic Huns by the Gepids and Ostrogoths and took it for Germanic, meaning homo pugnax. Still another non-Turkish etymology has been suggested by Keramopoulos. He takes Bulgarii to be burgaroi, Roman mercenaries garrisoned in the burgi along the limes. Without accepting this etymology, I would like to point out that in the second half of the sixth century a group of Huns who had found refuge in the empire were known as fossatisii. Fossatum is the military camp.
In addition to the objective difficulties, subjective ones bedevil some scholars. Turkologists are likely to find Turks everywhere; Germanic scholars discover Germans in unlikely places. Convinced that all proto-Bulgarians spoke Turkish, Németh offered an attractive Turkish etymology of Asparuch; other Turkologists explained the name in a different, perhaps less convincing way. Now it has turned out that Asparuch is an Iranian name. Validi Togan, a scholar of profound erudition but sometimes biased by pan-Turkism, derived shogun, Sino-Japanese for chiang chün, “general,” from the Qarluq title sagun. Pro-Germanic bias led Schönfeld to maintain, in disregard of all chronology, that the Moors took over Vandalic names.
In view of the difficulties concerning the study of Hun names—the inexactness inherent in transcriptions, the morphological changes which many names must have undergone, the ever present possibility that the names were Gothicized, the wide margin of error in the manuscript tradition—in view of all these one cannot help marveling at the boldness with which the problem of the Hunnish language has been and still is being attacked.
I love that “sometimes biased by pan-Turkism”; yeah, I’d say that someone who derives shogun from the Qarluq title sagun may have a teeny little bias somewhere. I’m not sure how far one can trust his “profound erudition.”
(I expect this post to be of particular interest to John Emerson, who has cited Maenchen-Helfen in his post “The Steppe Barbarians in Eurasia.”)