I’m reading Russia, by Donald Mackenzie Wallace, an indispensable text for any English-speaker who wishes to understand the country in tsarist times (there were three editions, in 1877, 1905, and 1912; I’m reading an abridgment of the last, but the 1905 is online here and here); I wish to present here an amusing anecdote from near the start of Chapter IV:

According to this custom, when a boy enters the seminary he receives from the Bishop a new family name. The name may be Bogoslafski, from a word signifying “Theology,” or Bogolubof, “the love of God,” or some similar term; or it may be derived from the name of the boy’s native village, or from any other word which the Bishop thinks fit to choose. I know of one instance where a Bishop chose two French words for the purpose. He had intended to call the boy Velikoselski, after his native place, Velikoe Seló, which means “big village”; but finding that there was already a Velikoselski in the seminary, and being in a facetious frame of mind, he called the new comer Grandvillageski—a word that may perhaps sorely puzzle some philologist of the future.

Aside from the story, I had not realized priests were given new family names, and I thought it was interesting enough to pass along.


  1. This is completely unrelated, but…
    I’ve always wondered about the spelling and pronunciation of “Nietzsche”. Not just the final “e” being constantly pronounced as [i] (it should be a schwa, right?), but…there seem to be too many consonants.
    If it’s supposed to be pronounced “Neets-shuh”, then isn’t the “t” unnecessary, since the “z” already sounds like “ts”? And if it’s just “Neet-shuh”, then isn’t the “z” completely useless?
    How do you pronounce “Nietzsche”, anyway? I assume it’s not the way people in America pronounce it. (“Nee-chee”)
    Where did the name come from?

  2. I had thought it was Slavic in origin, but according to this forum posting it’s a regional German name:
    The surname “Nietzsche” is an East-Middle German (Thuringia, [Upper] Saxony, Silesia) derivation of the first name “Nikolaus”. The letter order “tz-sch” doesn’t appear in High German, but is characteristic for some person and place names here.
    As for pronunciation, I say “NEET-shuh,” but I’d love to hear from a German speaker; spelling, even in German, is not necessarily logical and minimalist.

  3. The author of my Russian Etymological Dictionary (1910-1914) has the arresting name Preobrazhensky = Transfiguration, and I once saw a tv interview with one Tsvetok, a distant relative of El Poldo de la Flora, no doubt.

  4. I heard it pronounced as Nee-shay in that movie, “Anywhere but Here”. How’s that?

  5. It’s pronounced “knee-cha.” That’s from a Philosophy professor with a doctorate. I’ve seen it pronounced various ways myself in movies as well. I think the most popular mispronunciation though is “Knee-chee”.

  6. Andreas Brandstetter says:

    Its Ni like knee and tzsche like Che Guevara

  7. Gene Fellner says:

    No, it’s a German name. Final E in German is a schwa. It’s NEE-ch’ — or NEE-chuh as others suggest. There are a few provincial dialects in which the final E is pronounced like English EE. My high school German teacher was from one of those places so perhaps yours was too. But in standard German it’s a schwa.
    NEE-chee is merely non-standard and would be frowned on if uttered by a foreigner outside the localities where it occurs. But NEE-shay and NEE-chay are just plain wrong, made up by some pompous ignoramus. Like the utterly incorrect French J that is suddenly in vogue in American newscasters’ pronunciation of Azerbaijan and Beijing.

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