I was looking up something else in my Russian edition (Русские фамилии, Moscow: Progress, 1995) of Unbegaun’s Russian Surnames when I found myself getting lost in Boris Uspensky‘s essay “Социальная жизнь русских фамилий” [The social life of Russian family names], appended to Unbegaun’s text. I was first struck by a passage on the history of the name Zinoviev (my translation):
For example, the Russian noble family [род] of the Zinovievs goes back to the Polish-Lithuanian family of the Zenovichi [Зеновичи], of Serbian origin: the Serbian Zenovichi despots, having moved to Lithuania, started calling themselves Zenov’evichi [Зеновьевичи], and afterwards, in Great Russian territory, they were renamed Zinovievs [Зиновьевы].
On the next page, Uspensky writes:
The capacity of Russian family names for modification, adapting themselves to one or another social norm, should not surprise us, if we bear in mind that family names are a relatively new phenomenon in Russia. This is evidenced by, among other things, the foreign origin of the word фамилия [‘family name’], which was borrowed in the 17th century, originally meaning ‘clan, family’ [род, семья] (corresponding to the meaning of the Latin or Polish word familia); the sense of a designation for the family began to crystallize around the 1730s, but did not become solidly fixed until the end of the 18th and beginning of the 19th century. It is instructive that until the 18th century there was no way in Russian to adequately express the concept (such words as прозвище and прозвание could refer either to family or individual appellations).
В каком-то губернском городе дворянство представлялось императору Александру, в одно из многочисленных путешествий его по России. Не расслышав порядочно имени одного из представлявшихся дворян, обратился он к нему: “Позвольте спросить, ваша фамилия?” — “Осталась в деревне, ваше величество, — отвечает он, — но, если прикажите, сейчас пошлю за нею”.
In a certain provincial capital, the nobility was being presented to the Emperor Alexander during one of his many journeys around Russia. Not having heard properly the name of one of the nobles being presented, he turned to him: “Your familia, if I may ask?” “They’re back in the village, Your Majesty,” he answered, “but if Your Majesty wishes, I can send for them.”