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.

  8. I posted a comment here on the pronunciation of the name; it doesn’t show up, but when I try to repost it, I can’t and the software tells me that I can’t submit a duplicate comment…

  9. David Marjanović says:

    But in standard German it’s a schwa.

    There’s a whole lot of standard pronunciations of German. Most indeed use some kind of central vowel (the rounded [ɵ] seems to be particularly widespread), but not all do; in Austria you’ll find unreduced [ɛ] as in Guevara.

    the software tells me that I can’t submit a duplicate comment

    Change or add a word and try again.

  10. In Germany, the name is pronounced [‘ni:tʃə] or [‘ni:t_sʃə]; the latter is perhaps a spelling pronunciation. I use the latter. I never heard it pronounced with final [i(:)].

  11. @DM: That worked, thanks!

  12. in Austria you’ll find unreduced [ɛ] as in Guevara.

    Yes, that startled me when I was there.

  13. David Marjanović says:

    the latter is perhaps a spelling pronunciation

    Of course it is; tzsch seems to have been the default spelling for /tʃ/ (both foreign and domestic… mostly foreign of course) a few hundred years ago. Maybe the z is there to bind the t and the sch together somehow.

    unreduced [ɛ]

    Of course that, too. originated as a spelling-pronunciation. In the dialects (and in Yiddish), MHG -e is not just reduced but gone entirely, the few word-internal reduced vowels that have not disappeared have ended up as [ɐ] just like unstressed (-)er(-), and MHG -iu (an adjective gender/number/case ending) has somehow become [ɛ] as far as I understand, plus lots of morphological reshuffling.

    From presumably the same source can find [i] in Switzerland and apparently [e] in Bavaria; this [e] is sometimes carried over into Standard pronunciations.

  14. John Cowan says:

    My mother, who after all was one of his translators, had absolutely no [s] in either her L1 German or her L2 English. Consequently, I would never think of putting it in.

  15. PlasticPaddy says:

    For saxon placenames see:

    Regarding use of tsch, tzsch, and zsch it appears that
    (1) tsch occurs only with German (i.e., not Slavic) elements
    (2) zsch occurs at the beginning of the name
    (3) tzsch occurs elsewhere
    So there is either a spelling convention or these are/were different sounds. There are three English sounds ch in church, s in measure and j in jungle. Modern Slavic languages seem to have the first two of these, and Saxon dialect distinguishes in some cases two sounds e.g., ts-sch and t-sch.

  16. David Marjanović says:

    There’s an artist called Nitsch.

  17. David Marjanović says:

    tsch occurs only in Crimmitschau, Deutschneudorf and Rietschen / Rěčicy. The last is obviously Upper Sorbian; the first must be as well (-au is German, but that’s just the usual folk etymology of -ow(V)); that leaves Deutsch-, which is the product of syncope (OHG diutisc and suchlike, in modern terms deut-isch).

    Modern Slavic languages seem to have the first two of these,


    and Saxon dialect distinguishes in some cases two sounds e.g., ts-sch and t-sch.

    Not that I know of.

  18. PlasticPaddy says:

    Yes, both of those are slavic. I just triggered on Deutschneudorf. It may be only a spelling convention that other slavic toponyms there use tzsch, except at the beginning of the name. In Brandenburg I found Letschin and Tschernitz, so the Prussian officials did not use the Saxon conventions ☺

  19. I’m not sure whether the tzsch in “Nietzsche” is just a spelling convention for [tʃ] or whether the tz perhaps has some etymological justification. If the name comes from “Nikolaus”, it may be the suffix (t)z that forms familiar forms of personal names, e.g. “Fritz, Lutz, Heinz” from “Friedrich, Lukas, Heinrich”. The last element could be a dialectal form of the diminutive suffix -chen.

  20. David Marjanović says:

    Well, the suffix there is *n – these are ancient, ancient n-stem nicknames (Lutz is originally from Ludwig, not Lukas).

    (Hence the *n-stem plural in Pressefritzen.)

    And where would Nikolaus acquire a long vowel? Are you far enough north to tolerate *short intervocalic /k/ so that Ni- has undergone open-syllable lengthening?

  21. PlasticPaddy says:

    The long vowel is odd. If Fritzsch is from Friedrich one might expect a long vowel there instead. Pietzsch I suppose comes from a local version of Peter (with long or palatalised vowel). But note the nickname Niko has a long vowel, so maybe there is a dynamic in German to make the vowel longer in nicknames before a single consonant but not double. So Peter>Piet>Pietzsch and Nikolaus > Niko with long vowel> Nietzsche but Friedrich > Fritz > Fritzsch. Since there is also Nitsch and Nitschke, the whole thing is also affected by Analogiebildung☺

  22. David Marjanović says:

    Ah yes. Niko is unknown up south, where approximately nobody is named Nikolaus in the first place, despite the popularity of December 6th.

  23. David Marjanović says:

    approximately nobody is

    …Yeah, nowadays. Things used to be different, and the established nickname was Nickl.

    Nowadays, people called Nicki tend to be Nicole.

  24. John Cowan says:

    The page David M links to says that this kind of hypocoristic, with short vowels and gemination, is mostly no longer productive except in Icelandic, where e.g. lögreglan ‘the police’ > lögga ‘cop’. The author obviously hasn’t noticed Bazza < Barry and Shazza < Sharon (which are lexicalized as ‘male bogan’ and ‘female bogan’ in AusE ) and many another -az, -azza name; common nouns include waz < wee ‘urinate’ and on the raz ‘flirting, debauchery, making merry’, etymology unknown. Rozzer ‘cop’ may also belong here, but it’s old (19C) and also ety. unk.

  25. David Marjanović says:

    Also Jezza < Jeremy.

    I accidentally found Jazz < James on Wiktionary. But the etymology of lowercase jazz is:

    Unknown. First attested around 1912 in a discussion of baseball; attested in reference to music around 1915. Numerous references suggest that the term may be connected to jasm and jism.

  26. @DM: You’re right about that the vowel in these firms on -tz- tends to be short, and I don’t know how far South forms like Niko were attested before the 20th century. I don’t know enough about the dialects of that area to say whether some kind of secondary lengthening may have been going on. On your other point, I don’t think that the n-stem would have to obligatorily show up – after all, the diminutive of Fritz is Fritzchen, even though oblique forms like Fritzen(s) were still in use in 20th century literary language.

  27. Stu Clayton says:

    What’s oblique about Fritzens ? It’s not a diminutive (that I’ve ever heard), but a possessive (genitive) form of Fritz. A bit pre-mid-20C and now avoided by the vulgar, but how else to form the possessive of names like Fritz and Nicolas ? I use it all the time in these circumstances.

    Fritzens Mutter ist eine Zablonski.

  28. John Cowan says:

    Does Zablonski have a metaphorical meaning here, or are you just saying “is surnamed Zablonski”?

  29. What’s oblique about Fritzens ?

    “Oblique” means any case other than nominative.

  30. Sorry for probably writing too condensed. I assumed that DM’s remark about the familiar names in (t)z being n-stems implied that an -(e)n- should show up before the diminutive suffix, to which I adduced Fritzchen as a counterexample.
    As for the genitive, I think most people nowadays, if they wouldn’t go for one of the periphastic constructions, would use Fritzs, despite the fact that this is indistinguishable from the nominative in speech. But you are right that the possibility to distinguish the nominative from the genitive keeps the old genitive form in use by people who would never use the old dative and accusative form Fritzen.

  31. David Marjanović says:

    an -(e)n- should show up before the diminutive suffix

    Kluge’s law: PIE plosive + *n under Verner conditions gives long voiceless plosives in Proto-Germanic, in this case *tt. The implications are most of what the book I linked to is about.


    Fritz’ rather.

  32. Stu Clayton says:

    Does Zablonski have a metaphorical meaning here, or are you just saying “is surnamed Zablonski”?

    She was surnamed Zablonski before her marriage to a Schnepfe. At any rate she is called Mimi.

  33. AJP Crown says:

    Waz may be Australian, I’ve never heard it. In England to pee (for men only, I think) is to have (or take) ‘a wiz’ and I always took it to be onomatopee-ic. ‘On the raz’ is originally Australian? I can’t prove it isn’t. Baz for Basil etc. may have started as a joke imitation of Chas. as the written Victorian shortening of Charles. It was a common way to form nicknames in London in the sixties, particularly for footballers, as was spaz, from spastic and I really doubt this all started in Australia. My name is Jeremy and I’ve been a Jez to a few people since the early 70s (only in England); it didn’t begin with Jeremy Clarkson. Fuzz for police may have some connection to fuzzy the bear – I just thought of that; at any rate that started in America.

  34. Сашура says:

    link to Chapter IV doesn’t seem to work?
    I wanted to check Bogoslafsky = theology. Богославский with an A is more like Glory-of-Godsky

  35. John Cowan says:

    Well, when I inquired for slang nouns other than names ending in -az(za), it was a 35-year-old Englishman who responded with waz and on the raz. Baz is just the first syllable of Basil anyway (though in the U.S. both Basil and basil usually get the FACE vowel, which is a spelling pronunciation). Soz ‘sorry’ could have come up, but didn’t. As for being Australian, Ozites (and Scots) are the main users and creators of English expressive diminutives these days; there’s probably barely an anglophone alive who doesn’t know selfie, but as far as the evidence goes it began in Australia. The same person suggested that raz might be from razzle-dazzle, which is reasonable as far as it goes. He himself has been called Lazza, though not since the 90s.

    Wiz ‘urinate’ is an alternate spelling of the ordinary verb whiz ‘move switftly while making a buzzing or hissing noise’, which is indeed onomatopoetic. The origin of fuzz remains completely mysterious. In America, at least, the fuzz are the cops, but an individual cop can be called a fuzz too.

  36. link to Chapter IV doesn’t seem to work?

    Yup, dead as a doornail. Not surprising after fifteen years.

    He himself has been called Lazza, though not since the 90s.

    And let’s not forget Gazza.

  37. AJP Crown says:

    I should have mentioned Chas as a shortening not only for Charles but – in the case of the Animals’ bass player who took Hendrix to London – for Chandler (Chas Chandler’s first name was Bryan not Charles). In other words, the English -z ending doesn’t have to come after an S as it does in the case of Basil (my grandfather’s name, he no ‘Baz’). Same of course with Paul Gascoigne & Gazza and Jez for Jeremy. I’m pretty certain all this is English (perhaps Scottish) not Australian in origin. I have no bias being half Australian, with some Scottish ancestors, and half English.

  38. It’s on Gutenberg in various formats, iBooks, Kindle etc.

    I checked Chapter IV, it’s a little error, as I thought.
    Bogoslavsky = Bog+Slava = God+Glory
    Theology = Bogosloviye = Bog+Word [Sloviye = Words = Scholarship] = Bogoslovsky

  39. ps Grandevillagesky is hilarious

  40. PlasticPaddy says:

    There is a searchable site for UK newspapers:
    I searched Liverpool echo for “Jezza” and “Gazza”. Citations earlier than 1990 do not appear to be nicknames for gary, jeremy, i.e., Gazza seems to occur only for “la Gazza ladra” and Jezza for the abbreviation of a Fulham player bedford jezzard. But this could stem from editorial policy and not reflect usage in speech.

  41. Interesting, thanks for doing that.

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