Sakha Lessons.

Justin Erik Halldór Smith (who has appeared before at LH under the alias Justin E. H. Smith, e.g. here and here) has done a wonderful thing:

I began studying Sakha using L. N. Kharitonov’s Soviet-era textbook, the Самоучитель якутского языка. This is an excellent resource for learning Sakha, indeed I think the best in existence, and it occurred to me as I was working through it that it would be useful to make it available in English. At present, there are virtually no resources for learning Sakha that are accessible to non-Russian speakers. I therefore began systematically translating into English not only the Sakha exercises, but also the Russian explanatory apparatus, the remarks on grammar, and the Russian texts intended for translation into Sakha. This took a considerable amount of time, but I worked slowly and steadily and now have a fairly polished translation of Kharitonov’s great work, which I am making available here in a set of pdf files. At present I am only posting Part One (Lessons 1-40), as I am still polishing and correcting the second half. I am certain there are many errors in Part One that I have not caught, and I would be grateful to any reader who draws them to my attention. […]

It would be fairer to describe what I have done as an adaptation of Kharitonov’s work, rather than as a translation. I have made a somewhat inconsistent effort to de-Sovietize the work. In the Soviet period there were generally more unaltered Russian loan words in Sakha than today, and I have changed the spelling of most such words to reflect current usage. This includes both common and proper nouns: I have, e.g., changed врач (doctor) to its Yakutized form, быраас; and Лена (the Lena river) to Өлүөнэ. I have also systematically changed the names of people from typical Russian names (e.g., Вася, Пётр, Мария) to traditional Sakha names (e.g., Ньургун, Кэскил, Сайаана). In a way this adaptation is also a distortion, as even in the post-Soviet period most Sakha people continue to have Russian names, and my uneasiness about such distortion is what explains the inconsistency in the alterations. A greater challenge than proper names was mounted by the particular themes of the lessons. In the early lessons I systematically changed references to, e.g., working at the kolkhoz, to, e.g., working at the hospital. But as the lessons grew more complex, it became clear that the thematization of Soviet realities was ineliminable. And arguably it is wrong to eliminate it: even if the Sakha language has evolved significantly in the past half-century, and most of all since the fall of the Soviet Union, any learner of Sakha will inevitably find herself reading a good number of Soviet-era texts, and so must become familiar with the orthographic and grammatical conventions and with the subject matter of the period.

The result, then, is a hybrid of adaptation and fidelity, and a sequence of difficult judgment calls. I have corrected some small errors in Kharitonov’s work, and have moved the ‘Remarks on grammar’ section from the end to the beginning of each chapter. Kharitonov frequently introduces vocabulary items without providing a translation for them, where a Russian-speaker would easily understand their meaning but a non-Russian speaker would not. In these cases, I have included a translation or explanation, and have added the word to the dictionary (the third of three pdf’s here). Kharitonov sometimes does the same with the introduction of new elements of grammar, relying on a coincidental (or perhaps artificially constructed) similarity between Russian and Sakha. In such cases, I have also provided more explanation, for the non-Russian speaker, than he has given. In general, my interest is to provide access to the Sakha language without having to pass through Russian. The relationship between the two languages is complex and deeply rooted over the past five centuries, but in its earlier development and in its deeper structure Sakha is entirely unrelated to Russian, and decoupling the two is an important part of studying the language on its own terms.

Go to Smith’s site for the links; I confess his alterations make me uneasy, especially the haphazard attempt to eliminate Soviet realities, but that is a minor matter beside having the material available in English. (Thanks, Trevor!)

Comments

  1. David Eddyshaw says:

    There is John Krueger’s Yakut Manual (Bloomington: Indiana U Press, 1962) which is currently sitting on my bookshelves a few hundred miles away. As I recall, it’s entirely based on/translated from Soviet sources, direct access to speakers being impossible for Western scholars in 1962. It’s not at all bad considering, though.

  2. AJP Crown says:

    Halldór is Icelandic.

  3. SFReader says:

    There is nothing typical about Russian names of Yakuts.

    Because Vasya (Basil) is pronounced in Yakut as Basylai, Peter as Büötür, Maria as Maaryia.

    They are not even the most Yakutized names, because it can get eerily alien.

    Uibaan – Ivan,
    Legentei – Innocent,
    Diögör – Yegor,
    Okhonooһoi – Afanasii,
    Kirgielei – Gregory,
    Süödür – Fedor,
    Bylatian – Platon,
    Baibal – Pavel,
    Maheele – Mikhail,
    Mappemai – Mathew,
    Diaakyp – Yakov,
    Khabyryylla – Gabriel,
    Khabyryys – Gavril,
    Mikiite – Nikita,
    Aramaan – Roman,
    Miiterai – Dmitry;
    Balaҕyyya – Pelageya,
    Bokkuoya – Praskovya,
    Ogdoochchöya – Evdokia,
    Aanys – Anna,
    Moturuona – Matryona,
    Sokokche – Fekla, etc.

  4. SFReader says:

    And if there is a language least requiring de-Russificatiion, this has to be Yakut, because it de-Russifies Russian words just by borrowing and in the process turning them into unrecognizable alien utterances which Russians can’t even pronounce let alone tell that they are borrowed from Russian.

    Diokuuskay kuorat bochuottaah olohtooğo,sudaarystybannai-uopsastybannai dieyetele, Ölüökhüme uokurugun zemskey upravatın beressedeetele, Diokuuskay uobalaһın upravatygar chiliene, khontuora sekeriteere, uopsastybannai ostolobyoy sebiedisseyin

    Every word but one here is Russian, believe it or not…

  5. Rodger C says:

    direct access to speakers being impossible for Western scholars in 1962

    About ten years after that, John Krueger told me about a student or colleague of his who had been at UN headquarters in NYC and had run into a group of people who turned out to be Sakhas. He was chatting away merrily with them about their language when their handler showed up and hustled them away.

  6. Wow, that must have been exciting and pleasing for all concerned (except the handler)!

  7. J.W. Brewer says:

    That seems a very odd usage of “alias,” akin to saying that “George H.W. Bush” was an “alias” for George Herbert Walker Bush. Which I say not to be picky or petty, but to inquire whether if, rather than a slip of the tongue/typing-finger, it is actually evidence that others conventionally and deliberately use that word with a different semantic scope than I understand it to have. (In other words, I am mentioning my “that must be an error” gut reaction only because I am interested in the possibility that it might be wrong.)

  8. https://corpora.uni-hamburg.de/hzsk/de/islandora/object/transcript:nslc-0.2_KES_031115_Paris_nar/datastream/SCORE/KES_031115_Paris_nar-score.html

    story by an ethnic Nganasan speaker about how they were flown by Soviet authorities from their tundra home to Paris, France to provide some ethnic dance entertainment for the French.

  9. I vaguely (and perhaps incorrectly) remember that that colleague who met those Sakha was Richard Rupen, author of ‘Mongols of the 20th century’ (Bloomington, 1964). He mistook them for Mongolians and spoke to them in Mongolian, which they didn’t understand. He then spoke to them in Russian, which they did understand, and Rupen found out they were Sakha.

  10. That seems a very odd usage of “alias,” akin to saying that “George H.W. Bush” was an “alias” for George Herbert Walker Bush.

    That was my little joke, and apparently it fell flat.

  11. J.W. Brewer says:

    Ahh. I accept that “using words slightly outside their usual semantic scope for jocular effect” is a thing, and it’s even a thing I was already generally aware of. Perhaps my failure to take that sensible interpretation of the sentence in question was due to lack of coffee.

  12. AJP Crown says:

    A separate but related topic: Your surname shows which family you belong to. Your first name distinguishes which member of that family you are. So calling your son “George Bush” when you yourself are already George Bush is just pissing about with a quite sensible system. It’s probably illegal in Germany.

  13. January First-of-May says:

    A separate but related topic: Your surname shows which family you belong to. Your first name distinguishes which member of that family you are. So calling your son “George Bush” when you yourself are already George Bush is just pissing about with a quite sensible system.

    Didn’t stop the Romans from doing the exact same thing for centuries both before and after the Common Era, making quite a lot of historians (both contemporary and modern, though the latter probably more so) utterly confused.

    In modern American culture, this sort of thing is typically indicated by suffixes (Sr., Jr., III, and the like), though IIRC the Bushes aren’t normally disambiguated by suffixes, because technically their names are already distinct (similarly for John Adams and John Quincy Adams).

  14. J.W. Brewer says:

    Well, it wasn’t illegal in Germany back when you had fellows like this on the scene: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Heinrich_XXIV,_Prince_Reuss_of_Greiz

  15. John Cowan once quoted a relevant passage from Robert Graves, writing as the Emperor Claudius:

    In compiling my histories of Etruria and Carthage [which the real Claudius really wrote, though they are lost], I have spent more angry hours than I care to recall, puzzling out in what year this or that event happened and whether a man named So-and-so was really So-and-so or whether he was a son or a grandson or no relation at all. I intend to spare my successors this sort of irritation.

    Thus, for example, of the several characters in the present history who have the name of Drusus — my father; myself; a son of mine; my first cousin; my nephew — each will be plainly distinguished whenever mentioned. And for example again, in speaking of my tutor, Marcus Porcius Cato, I must make it clear that he was neither Marcus Portius Cato the Censor, instigator of the Third Punic War; nor his son of the same name, the well-known jurist; nor his grandson, the Consul of the same name; nor his great-grandson of the same name, Julius Caesar’s enemy; nor his great-great-grandson of the same name, who fell at the battle of Philippi; but an absolutely undistinguished great-great-great-grandson, still of the same name, who never bore any public dignity and who deserved none.

  16. @J.W. Brewer – among people who run blogs, or other computer-based communication systems, ‘alias’ refers to the name that the poster appears under, as opposed to his/her ‘real name’. The usage is older than the Web, it is an integral part of the Linux/Unix operating systems.

  17. J.W. Brewer says:

    @david: But does “alias” still apply, in that context, when the name the poster appears under is, in fact, his/her “real name,” whether in its fullest possible form (typically used by most people only on legal documents or in unusually formal contexts) or some transparent customary shortened form?

  18. Entirely off-topic.

    I stumbled over a youtube video of a lecture Stephen Kotkin gave a few months ago at the IAS on ‘Stalin at War’. It’s terrific, and clearly a preview of Stalin Volume III. Obviously of great interest.

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1NV-hq2akCQ

  19. AJP Crown says:

    No confusion over who Stalin is. Or Bob Dylan. Invent your own name, none of this “I come from the Bushes.” There’ll never be a Johnny K.L. Rotten Jr.

  20. The record label “юность севера” in Yakutsk has some releases in Sakha, if punk/punk-adjacent tickles your eardrums. Always fun to play the Turkic-language drinking game “how many words do you think are in the plural?” I particularly like Судургу Тыллар by Crispy Newspaper.

  21. Athel Cornish-Bowden says:

    Your first name distinguishes which member of that family you are. So calling your son “George Bush” when you yourself are already George Bush is just pissing about with a quite sensible system.

    You wouldn’t have approved of my great-great-greatgrandfather James Cornish. His father, also James Cornish, had nine sons and one daughter, whom he named : James, William Floyer, John Floyer, Charles, Anthony, Philip, Gould Floyer, Hubert, George and Charlotte.

    He himself had six sons and one daughter, whom he named James, William Floyer, John Floyer, Charles, Philip Gould, Hubert and Charlotte.

    I don’t think I’ve come across a family record so confusing.

  22. Athel Cornish-Bowden says:

    Well, it wasn’t illegal in Germany back when you had fellows like this on the scene: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Heinrich_XXIV,_Prince_Reuss_of_Greiz

    No Heinrich XXIII, apparently. Maybe they lost count.

  23. David Eddyshaw says:

    The last Roman emperor was either Constantine XIII or Constantine XI. Mind you, they can be forgiven for having lost count after a millennium and a half.

  24. PlasticPaddy says:

    @athel
    Your family seemed to have used a variation on the pattern given here(you need to give the order of the births and the mother’s parents names for me to be sure) ; the pattern in the link more resembles one I would recognise from reading about rural or small-town Italy
    https://blog.findmypast.co.uk/traditional-scottish-naming-patterns-2115646700.html

  25. SFReader says:

    Emperor Nicholas I of Russia was father of
    Grand Duke Nicholas Nicolaevich the Elder (1831–1891) who was father of Grand Duke Nicholas Nicolaevich the Younger (1856–1929).

    The younger grand duke was commonly known by his nickname – NickNick..

  26. @languagehat: As I think I already commented recently, in the early parts of his history of Rome, Livy plainly does not care which Appius Claudius he is talking about at any given time, even as several generations pass. He just uses the family as archetypes of pridefulness.

    @David Eddyshaw: In the over a thousand years between Constantine the Great and Constantine XI fighting to the death on the walls of Byzantium, the whole naming convention for the imperial culture changed, from primarily classical Latin to practically modern Greek. So different parts of names did not even mean the same thing. Retroactively applying regnal numbers when they were not used contemporaneously and the language has changed appreciably is always going to pose problems with recurrent names. The French backdated their numbers to make Louis the Pious Louis I, rather than giving that numeral to Clovis the Great.

  27. January First-of-May says:

    No Heinrich XXIII, apparently. Maybe they lost count.

    They did not; they just counted all the males in the family. Heinrich XXIII was Heinrich XXII’s brother (and consequently Heinrich XXIV’s uncle).

    Retroactively applying regnal numbers when they were not used contemporaneously and the language has changed appreciably is always going to pose problems with recurrent names.

    Or when the country had changed appreciably; the coins of Ioann (Ivan) VI of Russia (the baby who “reigned” briefly in 1741-42) call him Ioann III, apparently counting from Ivan the Terrible – probably as the first Tsar (the previous three were only Grand Princes of Moscow).

    Other problems show up when deciding which brief reigns count. The coins of Wenceslas IV of Bohemia (reigned 1378-1419) call him Wencezlaus Tercius, i.e. Wenceslas the Third (I have several of those coins in my collection), apparently because Wenceslas III’s brief reign (1305-06) was not counted.

    It is, of course, convenient to give regnal numbers to brief usurpers sharing the names of earlier rulers, because in that case we could think that the association might perhaps have been deliberate; thus Domitian II, a obscure and barely attested usurper from around the early 270s AD (there are two known coins bearing his name, one of them found in 1900, the other in 2004; in addition, some historical works mention a person with that name from the right time and place, though not as an usurper).

     
    EDIT: I should probably also mention the somewhat infamous case of Swedish regnal numbers, which go back to a set of semi-legendary and sometimes entirely legendary monarchs. IIRC, the first historically attested Karl and Erik of Sweden are Karl VII and Erik VI respectively.

  28. David Marjanović says:

    So calling your son “George Bush” when you yourself are already George Bush is just pissing about with a quite sensible system. It’s probably illegal in Germany.

    It’s legal in Germany and even in Austria to name your children after yourself; males with sen. or jun. after their names were common into my parents’ generation. (No Bobby Three-Sticks, though, except in very rare cases for nobility – last time I checked, that family was at Heinrich LXXV – or relatively old money like Julius Meinl V.) Since then, however, it has completely fallen out of fashion and now appears to be extinct.

  29. J.W. Brewer says:

    Higher-than-III numbers are rare in the present-day US but not unheard of, especially in families prominent for political or other reasons. I have myself met William Howard Taft V a few times — he seems a nice and accomplished guy, and once worked for someone I had previously worked for, with one of his co-workers at the time being someone I was independently friends with. Don’t know if he has any sons and if so what he’s named them.

    But there is apparently out there a Pierre Samuel du Pont VI, fairly recently graduated from college, whose grandfather Pierre IV was in public office in my home state from when I was 5 until when I was 19. The numbering there gets a little dodgy though. He’s only the 4th in the current run of Pierres. His great-grandfather Pierre III was not the son but a nephew of the very-well-known in his day (but childless) Pierre (1870-1954), who seems not to have been generally referred to either while alive or even retrospectively as Pierre II, since he was not the son but the great-great-grandson of the *original* Pierre Samuel (1739-1817) — the family patriarch who emigrated to the U.S. in the 1790’s after narrowly escaping death at the hands of the Jacobins. So Pierre III didn’t necessarily need a number and if it were thought he did, II would have been the more plausible/obvious choice.

    In a more extreme case more akin to those princely German Heinrichs, the well-known boxer George Edward Foreman (who lost his world title to Ali in Zaire back in ’74) named all five of his sons George Edward Foreman. More specifically, sez the internet, they are disambiguated as George Jr., George III (“Monk”), George IV (“Big Wheel”), George V (“Red”), and George VI (“Little Joey”). But it’s fair to say that that is not a common pattern in the U.S.

  30. AJP Crown says:

    You wouldn’t have approved of my great-great-greatgrandfather James Cornish.

    Don’t get me started on the Cornishes, the Warres* and the Warre-Cornishes. (Over 150 years, my mother’s family had a string of alternating Jonathans & Daniels.)

    *Edmund Warre, author of On the Grammar of Rowing.

  31. How one even gets called War?

    Fearsome lot they were, I imagine.

  32. AJP Crown says:

    Not as scary as the Waughs of Golders Green, who are occasionally pronounced, especially by dogs, Wuff.

  33. January First-of-May says:

    How one even gets called War?

    Fearsome lot they were, I imagine.

    Then there’s the De La Guerre (“of the war”) family of medieval Normandy, which in England became De La Warr (with some variation in the last word) – not sure if phonemically or via translation. The state of Delaware is named for a member of that family.

  34. James Fenimore Cooper’s character Сhingachguk was a Delaware Indian.

    Very fitting

  35. I stumbled over a youtube video of a lecture Stephen Kotkin gave a few months ago at the IAS on ‘Stalin at War’. It’s terrific, and clearly a preview of Stalin Volume III. Obviously of great interest.

    Just watched it — it is indeed terrific (and a good sample of his borscht-belt style of public speaking). Thanks very much!

  36. Also, on his recommendation I just bought The Viaz’ma Catastrophe, 1941: The Red Army’s Disastrous Stand against Operation Typhoon by Lev Lopukhovsky (only $3.82 for Kindle, versus $68.67 for the hardcover and $61.54 for the paperback!).

  37. AJP Crown says:

    Wikipedia says Earl De La Warr holds the subsidiary title of Viscount Cantelupe (1761). The title is (supposed to be) pronounced “De La Ware”, like Delaware in America.

    The De La Warr Pavilion in Bexhill is a late work of the Berlin architect Erich Mendelsohn (he’s generally pretty well-known for the Einsteinturm in Potsdam). The De La Warr occasionally features in the BBC’s Hercule Poirot and similar post-WW1 productions, I remember seeing the staircase in something.

  38. J.W. Brewer says:

    In Delaware English “De La Warr” is *not* pronounced homophonously with the local toponyms — it used to come up not just because of occasional discussions of those toponyms’ etymology but because until it was shut down in 1978 amidst the tumult of the times there was about 10 miles south of where I lived a “De La Warr High School,” situated in a school district (then obliterated by court-ordered consolidation) of the same name. “De La Warr” in DelEng rhymes with “bar,” whereas “Delaware” rhymes either with “bare” or, if the vowel is reduced by shifting stress off the final syllable, “burr.”

  39. David Marjanović says:

    Einsteinturm

    Looks like a monolith alright.

  40. I bear the same first name as my father, Hans-Werner. So that kind of thing still happened in the 60s.

  41. AJP Crown says:

    Re Lord Cantelupe, I don’t suppose the Mellon family is from Delaware.

  42. David Marjanović says:

    So that kind of thing still happened in the 60s.

    Yes, I included that in “the generation of my parents”. It seems to have completely disappeared since (I’m tempted to speculate “since 1968”, but of course have no idea).

  43. J.W. Brewer says:

    AJPC: Alas, the Ur-Mellon (Thomas, 1813-1908) was born in Ulster and seems as a child to have immigrated straight to Western Pennsylvania w/o spending any time in Delaware en route. (Separately, the Cantelupe title did not become attached to the De La Warr title until four Lords De La Warr after the one that got the U.S. toponyms named for him.) But consider also variant text D of Child Ballad 207, which beginneth: “In the Parliament House a great rout has been there, / Betwixt our good king and the lord Delaware.” Although that’s “Lord Delamere” in other versions of the ballad and who knows what (if any) actual historical peer might have been meant.

  44. J.W. Brewer says:

    Googling reveals a lot of claims that naming sons after fathers (with a Jr. or III or what have you to differentiate) has been on the decline in the U.S. over the last 50 years and that seems anecdotally plausible but I couldn’t quickly find anyone with actual good data. I would assume the related phenomenon (definitely a thing historically in my mother’s family) of passing on the father’s first name to the oldest son but using a different middle name for disambiguation would probably have declined at the same time. I don’t know if the SSA / Census folks don’t track that or what. Maybe they have datasets that would make it possible to quantify the trend but haven’t made them available to outside researchers?

  45. Those data, if prematurely revealed, could shake the foundations of the republic!

  46. J.W. Brewer says:

    As long ago as 1976 a successful presidential candidate insisted on being listed on ballots under his alias “Jimmy Carter” rather than his One True Name, which was James Earl Carter, Jr. A more recent occupant of the White House was born William Jefferson Blythe III, but the “III” became otiose when he replaced his deceased father’s surname with that of his stepfather Roger Clinton Sr.

  47. Delamere > Delaware: American versions of “Wexford Girl” and “Lady of Carlisle” are “Knoxville Girl” and “Lady of Caroline.”

  48. PlasticPaddy says:

    From wikipedia:
    “[The 1st Baron Delamere] was an idiot who decided it would be impressive to have a peerage. He thought he had a bargain when he paid 5,000 for it. The only problem was that the going rate was 1,200. Before he came along we had been content to be shire knights in Cheshire, when William the Conqueror gave us the whole county.”

  49. If you think Claudius had it bad, try reading the Tale of Genji. Every character is only referred to by their title or rank (for men) – or in terms of relation to their male relatives (for women) – proper names are scrupulously avoided as it was considered discourteous to refer to members of the aristocracy by their actual names. It becomes confusing almost at once, and then it goes on like that for 2500 pages.

  50. John Cowan says:

    How the House of Reuß cheats on its dynastic numbers.

    Traditionally “Jr.” and “II” were disjoint in American practice: “Jr.” was only for sons, “II” only for all other descendants. Thus Henry Ford II was the son of Edsel Ford, who was the son of Henry Ford. Note that people with distinct middle names, even if they don’t use them, don’t use a suffix, as in the two Presidents Bush.

  51. January First-of-May says:

    Traditionally “Jr.” and “II” were disjoint in American practice: “Jr.” was only for sons, “II” only for all other descendants.

    Nevertheless, Barack Hussein Obama II was indeed named for his father (Barack Hussein Obama Sr.) and not any earlier relative.

  52. David Eddyshaw says:

    try reading the Tale of Genji

    Not the least of the authoress’s charms is that she takes it for granted that her reader is just as clever and sophisticated as she herself is, and would never need anything so plonkingly crass as to have subtle nuances explained.

    Unfortunately this is far from so in my case. Still eminently worth trying to keep up, though.

  53. I really have to read that now that I have three translations.

  54. David Marjanović says:

    It becomes confusing almost at once, and then it goes on like that for 2500 pages.

    Actually, I should try reading it sometime – because that sounds like I might find it easier to follow than if I had to remember names and titles/ranks (because surely everyone’s social status is supremely important for the plot, so names alone won’t do). Or are characters promoted or demoted all the time?

    (I have read, though, that modern editions often give the characters names to alleviate that supposed problem.)

    people with distinct middle names, even if they don’t use them

    Well, they do use the initials a lot. Over here, middle initials are exceedingly rare. I have no idea if people with sen./jun. after their names have the same middle names.

    (And initial initials, like L. Ron Hubbard, seem to be unheard of. But that’s probably another story.)

  55. David Eddyshaw says:

    Or are characters promoted or demoted all the time?

    Unfortunately, yes.
    It’s confusing for pretty much anybody who isn’t a Heian courtier with a very good memory. I think the tradition of assigning helpful made-up individual names to the characters started quite early in Japan itself.

    It is worth the effort. I found it very hard going initially, and had to discipline myself to keep going for about the first quarter. It is probably the most alien fictional world from a social standpoint I’ve ever encountered, and I was nearly half way through before I really understood just why Murasaki thinks Genji is such a paragon of ideal manhood. I stayed up far too late finishing the last quarter (a fact which I would have found hard to believe when I began.)

  56. David Marjanović says:

    Unfortunately, yes.

    Ah. In that case…

  57. David, yeah the modern translations sort-of cheat by giving characters names. I say sort of because the original does something similar, by associating poetic images or epithets (or, more prosaically, ,keywords) with particular characters, in fact the name Murasaki is not the author’s real name but derived from the poem Genji writes for her which compares her to a purple (ie. murasaki) flower.

    I agree with Eddyshaw that it’s totally worth the effort but does require a lot more purposeful attention from the reader than even a very difficult modern novel. But it’s probably the closest thing you’ll ever read to a novel from an alien civilization that we can somehow decipher and render into modern English.

  58. David Eddyshaw says:

    Murasaki’s diary is well worth reading too (and a lot shorter.) She comes over as a much more attractive and interesting person than her waspish contemporary Sei Shōnagon (whose actual name we naturally do not know either.)

    The tradtional name “Murasaki” for the author is actually that of a character in the novel, herself unnamed: it’s rather as if Charlotte Brontë was generally known as “the Second Mrs Rochester.”

  59. J.W. Brewer says:

    Maybe I was just filtering it out, but I don’t recall those who were prone to speculation and surmise about the location and other circumstances of the birth of Barack Hussein Obama II focusing on the genuine oddity of the “II.” Seems a missed opportunity. I think John Cowan’s description of “II” as for “other descendants” is a bit narrow, because one also sees it used when, e.g., a nephew is named for an uncle. I guess maybe we don’t have a single word that means “some sort of younger male blood relation other than a son.”

  60. On that topic of confusing names, I was just listening to a podcast about a horrific crime that took place near Bremen in late 1945. A group of displaced Polish Zwangsarbeiter broke into a remote farmhouse and in the course of looting, executed 11 family members. Only the father survived. He then remarried and gave his first three children the same first names as three of the four children who had been murdered. Apparently that was fairly common in Germany, especially after WWI when a lot of boys were given names of elder siblings who had died in the war. One imagines that led to a fair amount of psychological confusion in that generation.

  61. @John Cowan: I don’t think there is any consistency about whether middle names count toward having the same name as a paternal ancestor. My old friend, Mark Alan Lawrence IV, is the fourth consecutive Mark Lawrence, but he, his father, grandfather, and great-grandfather all had different middle names. Similarly, my father-in-law is technically “II,” after his grandfather (his older brother having already been named for their father, although he also got a “II,” rather than “Jr.,” in spite of their being from a very old, patrician New York family), even though his middle name is not the same as his grandfather’s.

  62. John Cowan says:

    “Descendant” was an error on my part: it should have been something like “cognate relative (that is, not by marriage, but through either males or females) in a descending line”.

    As for Obama etc., exceptis excipiendis.

  63. David Eddyshaw says:

    My father has the same first name as my grandfather did, but unlike his father he has no middle name at all. This doesn’t seem to be at all common in the UK with names not obviously of foreign origin, though I’ve no idea of the statistics. Offhand, I can’t recollect any compatriots of my acquaintance who are as starkly binomial as my father.

    My father-in-law was always known by his middle name, and in the titles of his books always reduced his disfavoured first name to a mere initial; at least one of his American publishers was so flummoxed by this that they put the initial in the middle more Americano without asking.

    A truly excellent senior colleague of mine from years ago by the name of James Finbarr Cullen was always called “Barry” by those with the right to address him familiarly; I still recollect the frisson of hearing a visiting American speaker repeatedly calling him “Jim.” It was like one of those Bateman cartoons.

  64. David Eddyshaw says:

    Just thought I’d get in quick and mention Harry S Truman and Johnny Cash before anybody else can. First post! (so to speak.)

  65. John Cowan says:

    As I have probably mentioned here before, my father’s friend C. West Churchman told me that he began to use that form of his name (and to be called West familiarly) because he was tired of always being called Chuck. I note that his father was also C. W. Churchman for Clark Wharton.

    Indeed, every single person mentioned on that page (with the possible exceptions of Churchmouse’s parents, Werner Ulrich, and Kristo Ivanov) was well-known to my parents, and Russ and West were responsible for my parents meeting, and therefore for me.

  66. The problem of dealing with Harry Truman’s single-letter middle name (chosen so he could be named after both his grandfathers) established the standard style of writing one-letter names with a period, unless the named person specifically prefers to have no period. Truman did not care, so the press corps collectively decided to write his full name as “Harry S. Truman,” and the precedent was set.

  67. David Marjanović says:

    David S Berman always publishes without a dot.

    West? There’s a Sino-Tibetanist by name of W. South Coblin.

  68. And, while we’re at it, the Appalachian historian, Ronald D Eller.

  69. John Cowan says:

    I once saw a letter addressed to Churchman that began “Dear Cousin Charles West”. I suspect it came from a “very far-away cousin” (RLS, Catriona) indeed.

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