Frequent commenter Map sent me a link to a Russian story she thought I’d enjoy, Р.В.С. by Arkadii Gaidar; she added that the author was the grandfather of Yegor Gaidar, briefly prime minister of Russia in 1992. I’d never heard of the author (which shocks Russians, who all read him in school), but I loved the story (about two young boys trying to save a wounded soldier during the Russian Civil War). Then I got some further background: Gaidar, whose real name was Golikov, was commander of a special unit of the Red Army, notorious for the brutal murder of deserters and civilian hostages (Russian links 1, 2). This, while distressing to learn, is not exactly LH material, but his pseudonym is. It seems Golikov’s unit served in Khakassia (a small region northwest of Tuva; the Turkic Khakass are now a small minority of the population), and the locals were so terrified of their depredations they were constantly asking “Khaidar Golikov?”: ‘where’s Golikov headed?’ (khaidar meaning ‘to where’). Golikov thought “Khaidar” was some sort of honorific and adopted it as his pseudonym. OK, that story sounds suspiciously like urban legend; I tried to check it out at the Introduction to the Khakas Vocabulary, but they haven’t added the words beginning with x (kh). In the unlikely event someone out there can confirm or deny the Khakass meaning, be my guest; otherwise I’ll regard it as not proven.
The other thing I’m wondering about is how the pseudonym became an actual family name; lots of Russian writers took pen names, but they didn’t pass them on to their offspring—Maxim Gorky‘s son, for instance, was Maxim Peshkov.