Tatars and Non-Tatars in the Crimea.

A typically thorough and illuminating post at Poemas del río Wang discusses the complex ethnic and religious makeup of the Crimea following the Russian takeover:

After the late 18th-century Russian conquest, for virtually all the ethnic groups, be they Jews, Armenians or Gypsies, there were two classifications: Tatar and non-Tatar: “ours” and “newcomer”. As a result of five hundred years of Tatar rule, even the ethnic groups which, due to their religion or occupation, maintained their identity, adopted the Tatar language in place of their mother tongue. The Crimean Armenians and Karaim Jews, with the section of the Silk Road from the Crimea to Poland in their hands, spoke Tatar even in late 17th-century Lemberg, and used Armenian or Hebrew only as a liturgical language. The small group of the latter that survives in Galician Halich, which we will write about, even today carve their gravestones in Hebrew characters, but in the Tatar language. And both groups distinguish themselves from the Armenian-speaking Armenians and Yiddish-speaking Ashkenazi Jews who moved into the Crimea after the Russian conquest.

The first “Tatar” group of Crimean Gypsies, the Gurbets (who called themselves Turkmens) according to their own traditions arrived in the Crimea together with the Tatars as professional horse traders. They retained this profession until the revolution of 1917. They took their horses around to the fairs, not only in the peninsula, but in the whole steppe of Novorossiya, and the fortune of their wealthiest members was estimated at twenty thousand silver rubles. The other, more or less nomadic groups of the “Tatar” Gypsies were also organized primarily by crafts: the Demerdzhis were itinerant blacksmiths, the Elekchis sieve-makers and basket-weavers, the Dauldzhis the professional musicians of Tatar weddings and Ramadan celebrations. Although all of them declared themselves Sunni Muslims, the Tatars looked upon them with suspicion, because they also practiced a number of Shia customs, referring to their Iranian origins. Some of their groups allegedly used the confession “There is no god, but Allah, and Muhammad is His prophet” with the addition of “and Ali, the God-like”; and in the holy month of the Shiite martyrs they roamed the villages with flags and drums, mourning Hassan and Hussein.

After the Russian conquest, an influx of the non-Tatar Gypsies, called “Lakhins”, which is to say Poles, started from the other regions of the empire, primarily from Moldova and Bessarabia. By profession, they were primarily Ayudzhi, bear-leaders, wandering entertainers, who, in addition to the village circus, earned their meagre bread by cartomancy, chiromancy and other magic practices. They spoke Vlach, and declared themselves Muslims, but they did not go to mosque, celebrated their feasts according to pre-Islamic customs, and at the time of the 1831 census dictated their names in double, Muslim and non Muslim-form: “Mehmet, that is, Kili, Osman, that is, Arnaut, Hassan, who is also Murtaza…” Their nomadism was ended with the Tsar’s decree of 1809, which forced them to settle. After that time they learned the crafts of the earlier Gypsy groups, from which, however, they kept their distance until the very end.

There’s much more, including a grim section beginning “The question of who is Tatar and who not became really important in the 1940s,” and of course there are the usual magnificent illustrations. Don’t miss it, and may Studiolum and his fellow riverines of Wang live long and keep posting.

Comments

  1. “Murtaza” is as much a Muslim name as Hassan (that is to say, both are commonly used by Muslims and are of Arabic origin, although neither actually has any specifically Muslim meaning). “Arnaut” means Albanian, and was a common Ottoman last name. Sounds to me like they just liked nicknames…

  2. On the subject of Roma, by the way, you might enjoy the lessons on this site: romaninet.com.

  3. GeorgeW says:

    I am confused about the use of the word “Gypsy.” I have been under the impression, apparently misimpression, that this refers specifically to the Romani people. This author seems to use it in a much broader sense, maybe referring to any nomadic ethnic group, maybe nomadic of Eastern origin.

  4. marie-lucie says:

    Double names: It is quite common for people to be known by more than one name, especially in traditional, settled areas, for instance a formally given name which might be that of a grandfather or other relative, and an informal name used by the immediate family, age group, etc. In one native community I know an Arthur who is usually called Scotty, a Smiddy whose official name is Helmer, etc. Sometimes this is done to differentiate people with the same formal first name, as with George Bush the son called “Dubya” in his family. What seems unusual is for both names to be used on a census form as Westerners know it.

    A Canadian woman I know spent a couple of years teaching in an all-girl secondary school in Zambia. She told me that she enjoyed the experience, but it was hard to remember the students’s names because they frequently changed them, as in “I am not Mary any more, please call me Elizabeth”. I suspect that the students also had African names which were their “real”, permanent names, but were given “Christian” names in elementary school (especially if they were taught by foreigners who could not cope with the African names) and felt free to try on new names now that they were older.

  5. The ethnolinguistic complexity of this part of the world is daunting, to say the least. I can clarify something, however: when the author says of the “Lakhins” that they “spoke Vlach” I am fairly certain that what is meant is “Vlach Romani” (sometimes spelled “Vlax Romani”), a major dialect of Romani (an Indo-Aryan language) originally spoken in what is today Romania and which has a major borrowed Romanian component.

    Confusingly, “Vlach” can also refer to Romanian itself, especially in older writings. But in this context I doubt Romanian is the language referred to: even a century later, at the time of the abolition of slavery in Romania, Gypsies in Romania were predominantly native speakers of Vlach Romani, with the exception of the Boyash/Bayash, who had shifted to Romanian.

    “Vlach” is also sometimes used today to refer to the language also known as Aromanian, a Romance language closely related to Romanian (sometimes considered a “dialect” thereof, in which case “Romanian” of Romania and Moldova is referred to as “Daco-Romanian”) spoken in Northern Greece and neighboring parts of Albania, Macedonia and Bulgaria. Its speakers were traditionally nomadic, which highlights the ambiguity of “Vlach” of course.

  6. J.W. Brewer says:

    The reference to Iranian/Shia origins for the “Tatar Gypsies” suggests a possible connection to the http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dom_people, who in turn have at least some degree of connection with the Roma, the nature of which has apparently been viewed differently by different people over time.

  7. GeorgeW says:

    “Murtaza” is as much a Muslim name as Hassan (that is to say, both are commonly used by Muslims and are of Arabic origin, although neither actually has any specifically Muslim meaning)”

    However, both, as with many Arab/Muslim names, are derived from Arabic roots; Murtaza is from a root meaning contentment and Hassan from a root meaning good/proper/desirable.

  8. I’m not sure why you say “However,” since the statement you quote says “both… are of Arabic origin.”

  9. Thank you very much, Languagehat, for the reference, and the good wishes, also in the name of fellow riverines (what a good term you have donated to us!)

    As to the Muslim / non-Muslim dichotomy, perhaps the latter are just nicknames indeed. I should have remembered the Hungarian Gypsy practice, where everyone has a Christian name and a nickname, which can be either Romani or another Christian name (often in a nickname form).

    I have an experience similar to Marie-Lucie: when teaching Hungarian to Chinese immigrants, they also often changed their chosen “Hungarian” names, which they adopted to be more “presentable” in a Hungarian context. Perhaps the “Muslim” names of the “Lakhins” were of this kind.

    Etienne: In fact, I do not know whether the Gypsies in question spoke Vlach Romani or an old Romanian like the Boyash (who, called, Beash, also migrated to southern Hungary, and I could speak with them in modern Romanian). This is what my Russian sources write, and as – due to the 1944 events – I had no chance to speak with Gypsies in the Crimea, I do not know what the reality is. I also had Macedonian and Serbian Vlach-speaking students at the university of Budapest, so I have tested the difference, but I am sure that the Gypsies in question spoke no Arumunian, but either a 18th-century Romanian or a Vlach Romani dialect.

  10. GeorgeW says:

    Maybe “however” was not a good word choice. I was addressing: “. . .neither actually has any specifically Muslim meaning.”

    They may not have specific meaning, but they are derived from identifiable Arabic roots and, as such, do carry a general meaning or sense. Actually, Hassan حسن does have a more specific meaning, i.e. ‘handsome, beautiful, excellent.’

    Okay, that is Arabic, which would not necessarily be Muslim. But, even non-Arabic Muslims often select Arabic names because the Qur’an, considered a divine revelation, is written in Arabic, the language of the Prophet. So, the Arabic language has a very high status among all Muslims.

  11. marie-lucie says:

    Studiolum, I was not the one teaching name-changing African girls, it was a woman of my acquaintance, who told me about her students’ custom.

    Many Chinese students adopt first names of their own choosing when living outside of China, since their own names, even if they do not contain “difficult” sounds, will inevitably be distorted by foreigners who pay no attention to the tones and are unaware that their own more or less conscious changes in intonation will change a Chinese name’s meaning if uttered more than once in a stretch of conversation. As for those students changing their own chosen names during the course, I would think that as they become accustomed to the phonology of the new language, they are more comfortable with pronuncing it and are able to choose from a wider range of possible names for themselves.

  12. Dom (Garachi) of Azerbaijan were also, historically, speakers of the language they called “Tatar” (a dialect of Azeri) as well as their ancestral language (“Rom”). They were Shiites. The Azeri ethnonym <= “Gara” (Black).

    “Arnaut” (Eng. Arnavite) is strictly speaking an ethnic Albanian living in Peloponnese, rather than in the area of today’s Albania

  13. marie-lucie says:

    German Rotte, OF rote

    I will add a comment to the Root thread.

  14. Etienne says:

    About “double names”: when I was teaching in the Canadian West I met some members of a local Church who had themselves done some teaching and missonary work in a Bantu-speaking country (I *think* Zambia) who told me that the chief motivation for their pupils taking on an English name in class was because said pupils didn’t think their foreign teachers could pronounce their true names correctly. And they were right in that belief, apparently (These Church members were refreshingly self-critical and quite readily admitted to me that their command of the local Bantu language was grossly inadequate. One of them told me that struggling with all the complexities of a Bantu language, with its tones and nominal classes and the like, definitely made him lose whatever residual racism was left in him: as he told me, you cannot believe in the intellectual deficiency of people who speak a language that makes you long for the almost primeval simplicity of…New Testament Greek).

    Studiolum: because after the abolition of slavery in the Romanian lands in 1856 most of the Gypsies who emigrated were Vlach Romani-speaking, with Romanian being the first language of only a minority (the Boyash/Bayash/Beash), I think it is reasonable to assume that a century earlier most if not all Gypsies were Vlach Romani-speaking. I am no Russian scholar, however (unlike many hatters), and I wonder: in the Russian sources in question, could “Vlach” refer to either Romanian or Vlach Romani? A related question: even if the term unambiguously refers to either language, can we be certain that outside observers could tell the difference between Romanian-influenced Romani and Romani-influenced Romanian, especially if we assume that Gypsies engaged in frequent code-switching?

    Incidentally, it is clear that the dialects of Romanian spoken outside of Romania by the Boyash do not have a common “Proto-Boyash Romanian” ancestor: rather, different groups shifted to differen dialects within Romania, according to geographical location, each of which in turn underwent changes (both within Romania and outside) according to whatever other language(s) and/or Romanian dialect(s) individual Boyash groups came into contact with.

  15. Although Murtaza is a name of Arabic origin, it isn’t pan-Islamic. It is generally considered Shi’a since it was one of the titles of Imam Ali (al-Murtada, a title usually translated as “Chosen [by God]“). However the name is also popular among Sunni Tatars of Crimea, probably after Murtaza Khan, one of the last rulers of the Golden Horde who sought refuge in Crimea in XVth c. Among the Tatars it’s believed that the name means simply “Beloved”.

  16. marie-lucie says:

    David: missionary teachers in Bantu-speaking areas:

    It is quite possible that the people you met and the ones I met (the woman and her husband) were sent by the same religious group. I am pretty sure that my acquaintances were not missionaries but they were very devout Anglicans. Perhaps there was a program sending qualified Canadian teachers to teach in Zambia for a limited time.

    Bantu vs NT Greek: When I first went to live in a native community, one of the ways I could listen unobtrusively to the language as spoken naturally (mostly by elders) was to go to church, where one of the ministers was a local elder who conducted the services in his own language. (This gave me an undeserved but useful reputation for devoutness!). At the time I could only understand a word here and there. After a few weeks, while shopping in the nearest town, I went into a deli and heard people there speaking German. Although I had studied it in high school, I had never been very proficient, but hearing it this time I found it remarkably easy to understand the conversations! I probably did not understand more than at best half of what was being said, but it was considerably more than what I could do in the native language at the time.

  17. J.W. Brewer says:

    m-l: isn’t it pretty common for learning an L3 (or Ln+1, I guess) to bring a previously-studied L2/Ln back to the surface? E.g. when my mother (then aged about 35) was trying to learn Japanese she suddenly remembered a lot of high-school French she thought she’d forgotten (which was rather inconvenient when she was in a store in Tokyo trying to remember the Japanese word for something with her brain only coming up with the French one).

  18. George Gibbard says:

    Actually Arnavut in Turkish appears to refer to any Albanian, not just those in the Peloponnese:
    http://tr.wikipedia.org/wiki/Arnavutluk

  19. marie-lucie says:

    JWB, I don’t know if this has been studied (it probably has been), but it does happen. I think that the brain faced with a new language thinks “ha, switch to foreign language mode” and recovers bits of a not-completely-forgotten foreign language, instead of trying to input the new, still-to-be-acquired language, which has not imprinted itself into the brain yet. Neuroscientists might have a more technical explanation for this phenomenon!

  20. Arnavite

    Recte Arvanite in English, from Greek.

    double names

    In my mother’s elementary German classes, she gave all of the students German names, either equivalent to or merely similar to their own names. My wife’s Spanish teacher also did this; he named her Gabriela, a name she happens to dislike, and refused to change it on the obviously specious grounds that it was “the Spanish version of Gale“.

    Vlach

    The origin of this word is Common Germanic walh ‘a person who speaks a Romance language’. It was borrowed into Slavic and thence Greek, and in English was used to refer to speakers of both British Latin and British, giving Wales/Welsh and Cornwall. Alternative borrowing paths give us the English words Vlax, Wallachia(n), Walloon/Wallonia.

  21. It is very much in the Hindu tradition to have double names. For instance after years of knowing someone whom you’ve been calling “Hans”, like everybody else, you might discover that his real name is in fact “Sanjeev”. This is because the official name is given by the pandit, who looks in the panchang (Hindu calendar / astrology book) for a suitable one, whereas the family chooses another name, one that they like, which will be the usual name.

  22. GeorgeW says:

    Dmitry Pruss: “al-Murtada, a title usually translated as “Chosen [by God]“.

    I think I have seen that translation given as well, but I don’t know what the basis is. The general sense of the Arabic root is ‘satisfaction/contentment/approval’ and ‘chosen’ is not close to any of the various definitions given in “Hans Wehr,” or, for that matter, an easy semantic shift to imagine. I wonder if in going to Farsi, the meaning shifted somewhat.

  23. David Marjanović says:

    the language they called “Tatar” (a dialect of Azeri)

    This reminds me that Crimean Tatar isn’t Tatar either.

    In my mother’s elementary German classes, she gave all of the students German names, either equivalent to or merely similar to their own names.

    This kind of thing is done very often; in the cases I’ve experienced, it was explicitly done so we wouldn’t need to switch sound systems all the time.

    or, for that matter, an easy semantic shift to imagine

    I find “approve” > “choose” very easy to imagine.

  24. This is because the official name is given by the pandit, who looks in the panchang (Hindu calendar / astrology book) for a suitable one

    To a Russianist, this cannot help but bring to mind Gogol’s “Overcoat” (or, if you’re Nabokov, “Carrick“):

    Akakiy Akakievitch was born, if my memory fails me not, in the evening of the 23rd of March. His mother, the wife of a Government official and a very fine woman, made all due arrangements for having the child baptised. She was lying on the bed opposite the door; on her right stood the godfather, Ivan Ivanovitch Eroshkin, a most estimable man, who served as presiding officer of the senate, while the godmother, Anna Semenovna Byelobrushkova, the wife of an officer of the quarter, and a woman of rare virtues. They offered the mother her choice of three names, Mokiya, Sossiya, or that the child should be called after the martyr Khozdazat. “No,” said the good woman, “all those names are poor.” In order to please her they opened the calendar to another place; three more names appeared, Triphiliy, Dula, and Varakhasiy. “This is a judgment,” said the old woman. “What names! I truly never heard the like. Varada or Varukh might have been borne, but not Triphiliy and Varakhasiy!” They turned to another page and found Pavsikakhiy and Vakhtisiy. “Now I see,” said the old woman, “that it is plainly fate. And since such is the case, it will be better to name him after his father. His father’s name was Akakiy, so let his son’s be Akakiy too.” In this manner he became Akakiy Akakievitch. They christened the child, whereat he wept and made a grimace, as though he foresaw that he was to be a titular councillor.

  25. marie-lucie says:

    LH, I am a bit confused. Who is objecting to the names? At first, it seems to be the mother, but afterwards it is “the old woman” (presumably the godmother). Is it just the godfather who is reading the names, or the godmother too? And is the mother supposed to be a widow already?

  26. Hmm… good question. I always thought it was the mother all the way through, but “the old woman” would seem to imply the godmother (are godparents responsible for naming the child? I know nothing of these matters).

  27. Vlach

    In Polish Italy is called Włochy (plural).

    Besides walh mentioned above, suggested alternative etymology is from the Volsci tribe name.

  28. Who is objecting to the names?

    The mother is objecting to the names. It’s easier to see that in the original where the mother is called покойница (deceased, late) twice: “His mother, …” and “said the good woman”.

  29. Poor woman could not pay to have a good name selected for her son. It was a racket.

  30. marie-lucie says:

    Naming customs vary from one place or culture to another, and Christian naming probably incorporated and preserved some older customs. In order to understand the scene in Gogol’s story one would also have to be familiar with traditional Russian Orthodox practices, which I know next to nothing about.

    Among early Christians (eg at the time of St Paul) the godparents were supposed to guide and support a new convert in the practice of their faith, at a time when most christenings were of adults. As the religion spread and most people were baptized as early as possible in life the godparents were carefully chosen as possible parent substitutes in case of death of one or both parents. In the latter case, it would not do to choose people much older than the parents as godparents.

    In this case I can see that the mother (a widow?) was not the one supposed to name her own child. Was the godmother (whatever her actual role in the child’s life) to be paid for doing it? And it is understood that she refused the names on the calendar for that reason before settling for the father’s name? I read somewhere, perhaps here, that Akakiy was not considered a very good name, but I don’t remember the particulars.

  31. Sir JCass says:

    suggested alternative etymology is from the Volsci tribe name.

    Volcae, surely. A Gaulish tribal confederation.

    The Volsci were an Italic people who had their dovecote fluttered by Coriolanus.

  32. John Emerson says:

    In the US Michael Dukakis was Greek-American, but in Greece he was a Vlach Greek. Most or all were bilingual in their own language and Greek.

    http://www.nytimes.com/1988/10/17/us/campaign-trail-tapping-another-ethnic-group.html

  33. “There are a hundred ways of wasting paint, and the first way is to paint a sign in Vlox,” says an old aphorism (invented by Avram Davidson), apparently because the Велощий (also invented by him) are mostly illiterate in their own language. Whether this is an endonym distorted by Gothic-speakers into their own word for ‘foreigner’, or an exonym that vloxophones took to themselves (apparently the case for the Cherokee: ᏣᎳᎩ Tsalagi < Cherokee, not the other way about) is something I leave up to the imaginations of Slavonicists.

    It seems to me that it is the mother who is rejecting the names throughout, and that she is a widow (“his father’s name was Akakiy”). In principle, parents had little role in choosing a child’s name: their choices were limited to the names of saints whose day the child’s birthday was (in the West, for example, today is the day of St. Thomas More). In this case the mother rejects all three names from the proper day as unheard-of, and when she is given more names (from adjacent or randomly chosen pages of the calendar, perhaps?) she rejects them too.

  34. tetri_tolia says:

    Is Akaki(y) a common Russian name? I’ve never heard it before outside of a Georgian context (maybe it’s just popular because of Akaki Tsereteli (აკაკი წერეთელი), one of the great Georgian poets).

  35. Is Akaki(y) a common Russian name?

    No, not at all; that’s part of the joke. The other part is that it reminds the Russian reader of кака [kaka], baby-talk for shit.

  36. marie-lucie says:

    When I first read the passage, I understood that the mother was the one who rejected the first set of names, and she was the one called “the good woman”, but then the person who rejected the second set was called “the old woman”. Surely a woman still of birth-giving age cannot be called an old woman! Or is this phrase a common designation in Russian which is not to be taken literally, perhaps like French une bonne femme, literally °a good woman° but actually quite derogatory?

  37. Checking a different translation makes it clear that it’s the mother in all cases. I can’t easily excerpt it here, but the phrases translated “the mother … the good woman … the old woman … the old woman” are given as “the happy mother … the poor lady … the mother … the mother.” In this translation, her response to the original set of names is only “thought” rather than “said”, though it’s clear that she must have expressed her thought aloud.

    Definitely time to turn a critical eye to the original text here. Google Translate, which cannot be suspected of elegant variation, gives “she … the deceased … the old woman … the old woman” respectively.

  38. There’s a recent (2009) grammar of Boyash Romanian as spoken in Hungary (Orsós, Anna & Kálmán, László: Beás nyelvtan. Budapest: Tinta könyvkiadó) if anyone is interested.

  39. marie-lucie says:

    JC: Google Translate, which cannot be suspected of elegant variation, gives “she … the deceased … the old woman … the old woman” respectively.

    “The deceased”?

    I was also puzzled by uwe’s comment earlier: The mother is objecting to the names. It’s easier to see that in the original where the mother is called покойница (deceased, late) twice

    I could understand something like “his late mother” used in a different context, but obviously at the time of the main character’s birth the mother is alive and able to give her opinion about how to name him. In a French translation the word покойница could be translated “la défunte”‘the dead/late one’, but the word could not be used in a scene which shows her as still alive and speaking. “The late one said …” doesn’t sound right. “His late mother had said …” might be better if the whole scene was set farther in the past, with thes same verb tense throughout.

  40. late/deceased

    In Russian when you speak about someone who is dead, you may refer to them as “late/deceased” not just delivering an eulogy at a funeral. It’s old-fashioned and has mostly gone out of use now I think, but my grandmas used to talk like that.

    http://ru.wiktionary.org/wiki/%D0%BF%D0%BE%D0%BA%D0%BE%D0%B9%D0%BD%D0%B8%D1%86%D0%B0#.D0.97.D0.BD.D0.B0.D1.87.D0.B5.D0.BD.D0.B8.D0.B5“И вот покойница принялась разъезжать по Москве и делать визиты всем прежним своим знакомым.” (The deceased started to drive around Moscow, paying visits to her former acquaintances) – is not from a macabre ghost story about revenge of the dead :)

  41. marie-lucie says:

    uwe, thank you! I see that a literal translation into French or English is inappropriate. But “old woman” as a substitute is inappropriate too in the context in question, since she is not old at the time of the scene described.

  42. I agree — that’s not a good translation. It should just be “she” or “the mother” all the way through.

  43. Indeed, neither human translator used “the deceased”, only literal-minded GT. But Marie-Lucie’s question remains: whatever did Gogol or his narrator mean by calling the mother (now deceased) a старуха, not once but twice? Perhaps she was old when she died, but hardly when she gave birth!

  44. J. W. Brewer says:

    Re names in “double form,” it remains quite common among Jews in the U.S. and I believe other Anglophone countries (and I expect non-Anglophone countries other than Israel although I’m not quite so sure) to have a Hebrew name that is distinct from their “regular” legal name and used within their own community in certain (primarily-if-not-exclusively religious) contexts. Sometimes the “regular” name (if not simply the Anglicized or whatever version of the Hebrew name, which happens but I believe is by no means the majority case) is kinda/sorta related to the Hebrew name either by sound or by sense, but sometimes not. (AFAIK there are no surnames in this context, only patronymics.) What’s different from the 19th century Crimea is that in the U.S. the government typically does not keep track of those Hebrew names.

  45. the U.S. the government typically does not keep track of those Hebrew names

    Not in one specific record. But in the census and vital records of the XIX c., the names of the immigrants keep changing from one census-taking time to another, as a rule becoming more Americanized as they years go buy.

    Taking a Tatar name as the official name was relatively common outside of Crimea too, e.g. in Azerbaijan. My second cousin had to legally change her family name which her Azeri grandfather wrote down in a Tatar form, for conformity sake. Two generations later, the same name ended up strikingly non-conforming in Baku, and she had to teak the spelling to re-Azerify it, in order to qualify for the ethnic quotas in school.

  46. J. W. Brewer says:

    You have the same thing with newly-arrived immigrants these days who may or may not adopt a more “American-sounding” name and who may or may not at some point “officially” change their name for legal-document-etc. purposes. Name-changing tended to happen more informally in the old days (you can still find legal authority for the proposition that you can change your name unilaterally as long as there is no fraudulent intent, but in a world where it is inconvenient to have government-issued documents that don’t match your name, there is more of an incentive to do it more bureaucratically).

    I was thinking more of the case of perfectly-assimilated-seeming Ashkenazic Americans of my own generation who were given perfectly goyische-sounding names like Gary or Scott by which they were uniformly known in the wider world both legally and socially but who also had Hebrew names which there would have been no reason for the rest of us to have known.

  47. It is very typical in the US for Chinese-Americans even after five or (now) six generations to have both a Chinese personal name and an English one. It’s common for Japanese-Americans, at least of my generation, to have an English first name and a Japanese personal name for their middle name. Koran-Americans and Vietnamese-Americans seem to go with one or the other. I am sure the there is a story there.

    Traditionally in China it was absolutely standard for anyone above a peasant to have an actual personal name and also a “courtesy” name, and there was a standard formula for listing these in the little bio-sketches. (They read almost like police booking documents.) The courtesy name was used so that outsiders, especially social juniors, would have a name to refer to someone without having to presume by using their actual name.

    Then people would pick up extra designations as they went through life – teachers would give school names, when people joined clubs they would take club names, and bosses would assign work names. (This last was a mercy; it was a lot better than having your actual names used when you were being chewed out for something.)

  48. you can still find legal authority for the proposition that you can change your name unilaterally as long as there is no fraudulent intent

    Indeed, when Kabotchnik of Boston became Cabot, and the original Cabots brought suit, the judge (apocryphally, at least) sent them away with this: “So here’s to good old Boston, the home of the bean and the cod, where the Lowells speak only to the Cabots, but the Cabots speak Yiddish, by God.”

  49. But Marie-Lucie’s question remains: whatever did Gogol or his narrator mean by calling the mother (now deceased) a старуха, not once but twice? Perhaps she was old when she died, but hardly when she gave birth!

    But the narrator is thinking of her as she was in recent memory, not as she was at the time she gave birth. Similarly, when looking at pictures of my 98-year-old mother-in-law as a young dancer, we might say “The old gal was quite something!”

  50. J. W. Brewer says:

    FWIW, Gogol himself was named Nikolai despite not being born on the feast day of St. Nicholas (even as far as I can tell of any of the less famous saints named Nicholas, of whom there are a number). One (not necessarily unreliable) online source claims “He was named Nikolay after the miracle-working icon of Saint Nicholas that was kept in the church of the nearby village of Dikanka.” In general, I suspect an empirical study would find that the percentage of Russians even in the old days who were given a name by looking up a list of saints-of-the-day was not all that high (even w/o looking at individual cases, it seems like probably too high a percentage of the population possessed highly-popular names liturgically associated with too small a percentage of days of the year), but I don’t know if such a study has been done. I’m not saying no one was named on that basis (such that it could give rise to a cultural cliche about how simple folk in some other province might actually behave even though it’s not how your own immediate social circle did it), just that I’m skeptical whether it was predominant. Indeed, it’s a commonplace thing to say about Russian and other Slavic cultures that ones name day (i.e. the feast day of the saint whose name you bear) is more important than ones actual birthday, a norm that only makes sense when the two are not likely to be identical.

  51. norm that only makes sense when the two are not likely to be identical

    But surely descending from an earlier norm when they were identical, no?

  52. J. W. Brewer says:

    Maybe, maybe not. Show me the census records or parish registers or any documentary evidence you like of an actual time and place where date of birth plus a liturgical calendar accurately accounted for the distribution of first names in the community.

  53. J. W. Brewer says:

    In the medieval West, wikipedia claims “Ordinary folk celebrated their saint’s day (the saint they were named after), but nobility celebrated the anniversary of their birth.[citation needed].” Whether birthdays qua birthdays get observed at all is a culture-specific thing. We rather famously do not know Shakespeare’s birthday, and I’m not sure whether we have good grounds for assuming he knew it (or at least knew some day he thought was his birthday, whether accurately or no) himself.

  54. marie-lucie says:

    In countries of mostly Catholic tradition, such as France in older days and still in some rural areas of French-speaking Canada, children were traditionally given the name of one of the saints attached to their birthday, and the associated celebration in the following years was that of la fête (the feast day) rather than the day of birth. In Canada it is still the norm to say Bonne Fête for “Happy Birthday”. In France, when personal names became disassociated from the saints’ places on the calendar, the birthday became l’anniversaire de naissance ‘the birth anniversary’ (the wedding anniversary becoming l’anniversaire de mariage), and later plain l’anniversaire. When I was a child, we did not have ‘birthday parties’ as known in America but the day was marked by a wish of Bon anniversaire, a cake (with candles to be blown) and a small gift. The feast day (if observed at all) was only marked by a wish of Bonne fête.

  55. J. W. Brewer says:

    marie-lucie, there are lots and lots of people in the Dictionary of Canadian Biography with French last names and the first name Louis. Of the first dozen or so I checked with a specific birthdate given, 0% were born on the fete of St. Louis. Maybe boys who were born on that day (or days, because there are a few other saints by that name beyond the famous one) were disproportionately likely to get the name, but there certainly doesn’t seem to be evidence of a taboo restricting those born on other days from using it. And if those born on other days could be named Louis, they thus could duck whatever less appealing names the calendar of saints might have had associated with their actual birthdays. I suppose once middle names became a thing you could stick a saint-of-the-day in that way inconspicuously – I don’t know when having multiple names because common in Francophone cultures outside the nobility where you got strings like Marie-Joseph Paul Yves Roch Gilbert du Motier de La Fayette. (Born Sept 6 but I can’t be bothered to see if any of the names in that string could plausibly be associated with that date.)

  56. Re names in “double form,” it remains quite common among Jews in the U.S. and I believe other Anglophone countries (and I expect non-Anglophone countries other than Israel although I’m not quite so sure) to have a Hebrew name that is distinct from their “regular” legal name and used within their own community in certain (primarily-if-not-exclusively religious) contexts

    Yup. It’s a deep tradition that extends throughout Ashkenazi Jewry and possibly beyond. Boys are officially named upon being circumcised (eight days after birth); girls are presumably named at birth. The Hebrew name is used when the boy is called to read the Torah for the first time (at his bar mitzvah), and subsequently, as is the case with girls who have a bat mitzvah. The couple’s Hebrew names are used at the wedding ceremony, on the כתובה ketubah, and on a writ of divorce. Hebrew names are also inscribed on gravestones. There are no family names as such, the name of the father typically being used, as in יוסף בן יעקוב | Yosef Ben-Ya’aqov | Joseph son of Jacob. There’s also a custom in Israel, and perhaps beyond, for gravestones to be marked יוסף בן רחל | Yosef Ben-Rakhel | Joseph son of Rachel. Children attending ‘Sunday school’ or similar, where the language of instruction is Hebrew (or at one time, Yiddish), will be called by their Hebrew names in these classes.

  57. marie-lucie says:

    JWB: The tradition was not an absolute prescription, but it did exist, together with the common custom of naming the first child after a parent or grandparent.

    lots and lots of people in the Dictionary of Canadian Biography with French last names and the first name Louis.

    This must date from the time of kings: many French people emigrated to Québec during the reigns of Louis XIII, XIV and XV, and French Canadians did not participate in the Revolution and maintained a moral allegiance to the French kings after being conquered by the English (and there were officially three more Louis’s after the conquest).

    multiple names

    The purpose of giving a child a saint’s name was to pay homage to the saint and attract his or her protection. Poor people usually had to be content with one name, and the number of names increased with social status, that’s why you find noble people and especially members of the Royal family (in the time of kings) with long strings of names. In my father’s family, he, his brother, father, grandfathers and great-uncles (most of them skilled tradesmen and office workers) all had two names. Among the women, the ones called Marie-something (including myself) had or have one more name, and the ones with single names, such as Lucie alone, have two extra names. Many French people have at least three names, but only one of them (formerly the last one, now the first one) is in general use, the others are not often disclosed except on official documents such as birth and death certificates, passports, and the like. That’s why it feels strange to read the complete names of famous French people on Wikipedia.eng (as was discussed here some time ago).

  58. J. W. Brewer says:

    But it is rather statistically unlikely for a first-born to share a birthday (and associated church feast day) with a parent or grandparent (only 3 total of the same sex out of 365 or 366 possible days), isn’t it? So the traditions are in conflict. I’m not questioning that referring to the church calendar was *a* naming custom, only the proposition that it was the predominant one that accounted for much or most of the variation in who ended up with what name. One study for pre-modern English names (turning up on funerary brasses between 1100 and 1600 – possibly a skewed sample in various ways) had the ten most common male names covering 80%+ of the males in the sample. http://www.s-gabriel.org/names/arval/brasses/menfreq.html Even if a few of those names could be associated with more than one day of the year (e.g. two prominent saints named John, each of whom had more than one fete), that suggests that the church calendar was not driving most naming decisions.

  59. marie-lucie says:

    You are right that giving a child a parent’s name will most likely conflict with giving a saint’s name depending on the birthday. But since the parent’s name can only be given to one child of the relevant sex, other children can get saints’ names depending on their birth dates. In large families, using the name of the birthday saint would avoid the problem of having to come up with names again and again.

    My mother had a brother called Pierre, named after his father, himself named after his own father, and so on for several generations of single-son families. My uncle Pierre only had one child, a daughter, who has a son and a daughter. Her son is called Pierre-Etienne, after his two grandfathers.

  60. J. W. Brewer says:

    Of course if you want to “shop” for a common name you already have in mind while honoring the tradition, you may just need a really good set of ecclesiastical reference books and a little bit of luck. Just on one (far from complete) website, i was able to dig up on the order of a hundred Orthodox saints named John, some famous (the ones in the Bible, John Chrysostom), some notable in more select circles (John Climacus, John of Kronstadt), some exotic-sounding (John the Hairy, John the Hut-Dweller), some obscure (John the Cabinetmaker, beheaded by the Ottomans Feb. 26 1575, the John who may lack an epithet other than that of martyr, shot by the Bolsheviks on the outskirts of Petrograd July 31, 1922), and so on. No doubt the Catholics have others.

    The fact that the book at hand in the Gogol story only has three saints per day instead of dozens shows how hard things were in olden pre-internet times for those without access to a good reference library.

  61. In pre-Reformation days the English were notorious in Europe for only using about ten names.

  62. In Canada it is still the norm to say Bonne Fête for “Happy Birthday”.
    Funny, I know of another country where these things happen as well.

  63. Ashkenazic immigrants coming from Eastern-European to America often ended up with with three (or more names). My great-great-grandfather had a Yiddish name (Lieb) and Hebrew name (which has been lost) in the old country of Belarus; in America, he adopted the official name Leonard but was known as Louie. His sons, born in the Russian empire, (probably) all had Hebrew names, which they dropped for American-sounding ones when they immigrated. My grandfather Efraim became Frank; Pesach became Philip. Another brother changed his name to Charles, although we don’t know for sure what it had been originally. The exception was Joseph, who only had to change the spelling of his name, since Joe already sounded acceptably American. Unlike their father, who was still occasionally known as Lieb, the brothers went exclusively by their new names. My father, who was very close to his grandfather Frank, had no idea what Frank’s name had been in the old country.

    Nowadays, many Jewish children, including mine, have dual names. My daughter Lillian Marie is also Yael Miriam; Reuven James is also Reuven Chaim. When there is a Hebrew cognate, that’s usually taken as the Hebrew name. On the other hand, there is no Hebrew name related to Lillian, so we just chose one we particularly liked. Our younger son is named Benjamin Efraim; the Efraim is after after his great-great grandfather mentioned above, whose birth name we had just discovered in his 1905 immigration record. It’s a running joke that If he wants a more typically American name, our son can go by Ben Frank.

    There is an additional complication in finding cognate Hebrew names, because the names given to Jewish children are sometimes “obfuscated” in a certain fashion. It’s traditional not to give a child the name of a still-living relative, but there are tricks to get around this. It’s common to give similar-sounding names in honor of living older relatives, or opposite-sex versions. My first name, Brett, was after my great-grandmother Betty, whose name at birth, in the U.S., was Rebecca. (Her husband, named Nathan, went by Nick.) My daughter’s middle name, Marie, was after my father Martin. My middle name, David, was for my great-great-grandfather; my uncle Daniel would have been named David as well, if great-great-grandpa David had died a few months earlier. My grandfather Sol gave all his sons middle names that were adapted from Sol. Two of them, Steven and Scott, started with the same letter, and the third was Paul, a Latinization of Sol/Saul. So when they chose a Hebrew name for my father, Martin Steven, my grandparents took the old Hebrew form Shmuel of Sol to replace Steven; for Martin, they just picked something that began with the same letter, Moshe.

  64. marie-lucie says:

    Siganus: Bonne Fête for “Happy Birthday”

    I think that in French-Engolish bilingual countries the French word (un) anniversaire  did not catch on for “birthday” because plain “anniversary” in English was already taken for “wedding anniversary” (for other commemmorations, such as the recent D-Day anniversary, both languages use an anni… word, but in a phrase identifying the event commemorated).

    When I came to North America I was surprised to learn that there were special days commemorating the births of famous dead people, for instance Abraham Lincoln. Their births? What for? They hadn’t done anything yet! French people recognize the anniversaries of famous people’s deaths, occurring after a lifetime of achievement. These anniversaries are not public holidays but the media run features about the people, learned societies organize conferences, visits to the graves, dinners, and similar events.

  65. I think the sense ‘wedding anniversary’ of anniversary must be fairly recent. U.S. dictionaries do not seem to include it, giving only a generic definition like ‘a date that is remembered or celebrated because a special or notable event occurred on that date in a previous year’ (thus m-w.com). Nor do most of the British dictionaries I checked, though the ODO does include it: ‘the date on which a couple was married in a previous year’. The unrevised OED1 entry from 1884 does not give it, nor are any of its examples about marriage, though quotations from 1200 to 1860 are given.

    Good birth records have been available during most of the settlement of the New World. In Europe, it was not in general possible to celebrate the anniversary of a famous person’s birth unless their parents were significant enough that the birth would be both registered and the registry preserved. Many historical birth dates are inferred from baptism dates. (Shakespeare was baptized on April 26 and died on April 23, and a tradition has arisen that he died on his birthday, though there is no evidence for it.)

    Christians of course do celebrate both the birth and the death of Christ, though the former is a nominal rather than a historical date.

  66. When I came to North America I was surprised to learn that there were special days commemorating the births of famous dead people, for instance Abraham Lincoln. Their births? What for? They hadn’t done anything yet! French people recognize the anniversaries of famous people’s deaths, occurring after a lifetime of achievement.

    When I first went to France I was suprised to learn that they do not celebrate Christmas…

  67. “When I came to North America I was surprised to learn that there were special days commemorating the births of famous dead people, for instance Abraham Lincoln”

    This is hardly unique to North America though. Christmas being the obvious example. Lenin’s birthday was a holiday in the USSR (introduced as a corrective measure in 1955 when Stalin was being knocked off his pedestal). I suppose in monarchies it was (is?) more common to celebrate the birthdays of living rulers. Emperor Franz Joseph’s birthday was one of the central holidays of the Austro-Hungarian empire.

  68. marie-lucie says:

    Christmas

    JC, Vanya: The reason that the birth of Christ is celebrated is that (according to tradition) it had been predicted and people were awaiting it (hence the travels of the Magi to find “the newborn king”). Of course nobody else has ever been in that situation, so he cannot be taken as an example. Other famous birthday celebrations do not include showing effigies of the person as an infant! His death is commemorated and mourned but what is celebrated is the Resurrection “on the third day”.

    For centuries the Church recorded baptisms, but exact birth dates were less relevant, hence the frequent discrepancies in different records. Where parish records are still available, they are a very important source for demographers and genealogists. In France many of those records were destroyed during the Revolution when many churches and associated buildings were attacked.

    Des, most French people celebrate Christmas, but they don’t go overboard with it. Perhaps you mean that the government does not.

    My father’s family did not, not because they had another religion but because they had no religion. Instead of Christmas they had a festive dinner and exchange of gifts on New Year’s Day.

  69. Their births? What for? They hadn’t done anything yet! French people recognize the anniversaries of famous people’s deaths, occurring after a lifetime of achievement.

    Nice sentiment :) I would think that many famous people of the recent past, just like most of us today, enjoyed it when other remembered and marked their birthdays when they were alive? So why not keep doing something which they themselves enjoyed to respect their memories?

    Efraim became Frank
    etc.
    Isn’t interesting how a century ago, the erstwhile Anglo name were taken over by Jewish immigrants and become primarily “second name” mirrors of the Yiddish names, simultaneously losing popularity in the Anglo population? And the same process, later, makes a number of Anglo Christian name identifiable as Chinese second names?

    This process of displacement of “native use” of certain traditional names, which shift into their new ethnic second-name roles – is it predominately American? Or also attested in other countries of immigration? For example, did African and Arab immigrants in France, or Turkish immigrants in Germany, “take over” any traditional German names?

    Remembering the death of someone may work the best when you’re planning to avenge the death or to keep the ire of the past injustice burning forever. Martyrdoms of Christian and Shi’a saints, violent deaths of the French Revolution era, absolutely. For a martyr, one’s death is indeed the true highlight of achievement. For a disabled stroke or Alzheimer patient (the way most of us will die), death is just a final footnote in a tally of losses

  70. Their births? What for? They hadn’t done anything yet! French people recognize the anniversaries of famous people’s deaths, occurring after a lifetime of achievement.

    Nice sentiment :) I would think that many famous people of the recent past, just like most of us today, enjoyed it when other remembered and marked their birthdays when they were alive? So why not keep doing something which they themselves enjoyed to respect their memories?

    Remembering the death of someone may work the best when you’re planning to avenge the death or to keep the ire of the past injustice burning forever. Martyrdoms of Christian and Shi’a saints, violent deaths of the French Revolution era, absolutely. For a martyr, one’s death is indeed the true highlight of achievement. For a disabled stroke or Alzheimer patient (the way most of us will die), death is just a final footnote in a tally of losses

    Efraim became Frank
    etc.
    Isn’t interesting how a century ago, the erstwhile Anglo name were taken over by Jewish immigrants and become primarily “second name” mirrors of the Yiddish names, simultaneously losing popularity in the Anglo population? And the same process, later, makes a number of Anglo Christian name identifiable as Chinese second names?

    This process of displacement of “native use” of certain traditional names, which shift into their new ethnic second-name roles – is it predominately American? Or also attested in other countries of immigration? For example, did African and Arab immigrants in France, or Turkish immigrants in Germany, “take over” any traditional German names?

  71. J. W. Brewer says:

    DP: there do seem to be some patterns among the sort of “American-sounding” names selected by Asian-American families for their US-born children, but I’m not sure that any particular name has reached the tipping point of other parents avoiding it because it “sounds too Asian” a la the previous process where certain names became perceived over time as “Jewish-sounding” because too many Ashkenazim had converged on the same solution for an assimilated/goyische-sounding name.* I have a vague sense that that latter process (names selected by Jewish families as “Gentile-sounding” eventually becoming regarded by the broader society as “Jewish-sounding”) may have also happened to a few names in the German-speaking world circa the late 19th century.

    *One of my great-grandfathers was named Sydney/Sidney (I don’t think he and others were entirely consistent in the spelling over time), but he was born around 1870 – a generation or two before that had become a markedly “Jewish-sounding” name in AmEng.

  72. Rodger C says:

    I believe there was a time when any German/Austrian named Siegfried was almost certainly Jewish.

  73. My great-great-grandfather had a Yiddish name (Lieb) and Hebrew name (which has been lost) in the old country of Belarus; in America, he adopted the official name Leonard but was known as Louie.

    His Hebrew name was very likely אריה | Aryeh | Lion. German for lion is Löwe, in Yiddish it’s לייב layb, in Polish it’s lew and in Russian it’s Лев.

  74. Etienne says:

    D.P., J.W.: Among girl’s names I (and others, I suspect) think of “Vivian/Vivien” as being heavily associated with Westernized Chinese or second-generation Chinese immigrants in the United States, and I could well believe that non-Chinese anglophone parents in some areas may now perceive it as “too Chinese” a name (It is French in origin, of course, and indeed in France “Viviane” still seems common enough).

    I actually have a personal theory (well, okay, a dim hunch, to which I will have to add other considerations: so a sum of things, i.e. not so much a dim hunch as a dim sum…Chinese? Dim sum? Get it? Oh, dear, where have the lovers of true puns gone?) on the reason for its popularity: Mandarin, and indeed most varieties of Chinese, lacks a /v/ phoneme, and thus a name like “Vivian/Vivien”, with two /v/’s, is perceived by Chinese parents as the “nec plus ultra” of Western names.

  75. J. W. Brewer says:

    Etienne: “Vivian” does fit a pattern I’ve noted anecdotally, namely the tendency of some Asian-American parents to use names that seem vaguely archaic or out-of-fashion, as if the parents had been learning about indigenous Anglophone names by reading century-old novels, possibly with UK rather than US settings. (Looking at the SSA baby name database, the popularity of Vivian in the U.S. peaked in 1920 before entering a long decline, although it’s been making a significant comeback in recent decades — perhaps one with an ethnic skew although I’d like to see harder data on that.) Gladys and Eunice would be other examples I’ve noticed, and on the boys’ side some of the Asian-American kids I grew up with (and this is out of a very small sample, probably 2-3% max of my pre-college schoolmates were Asian-American) included e.g. a Harold and an Edmund. Perfectly cromulent English-language names, just a tiny bit off contextually for the generational cohort. As to the appeal of Vivian, it seems like just-so stories about names that maximized compatibility with L1 phonology and names that maximized contrast with L1 phonology would be ex ante equally plausible . . .

  76. “Vivian/Vivien” as being heavily associated with Westernized Chinese

    in the Nevada marriage records of the 1990s, among the first 75 records, just 4% of brides named Vivian had Chinese last names (Hispanic surnames predominated, followed by Anglo). Vivien’s had Chinese surnames in 12/75 Nevada marriages of the 1990s, and it was frequently used as a “second name”. In California birth records of the same time time, I saw 5 Chinese and 27 Vietnamese surnames among the first 75. Vivien was a name of 20 Chinese babies, and 5 Vietnamese, among 75. So at a first glance, the name didn’t morph into predominantly Asian (but if the Chinese women pick second names at a later time, rather than at birth, then the birth stats may be a systematic underestimate).

    But since the Vietnamese do use letter V in many names, the “phonetic foreignness” hypothesis probably doesn’t pan out?

  77. There are also counter-suggestible folks who give their children unusual (but not downright bizarre) names in an attempt to make them stand out of the crowd just a bit. My wife Gale’s name was given her by her father, who was a professional meteorologist; the name is common enough, but the spelling is not. Our daughter Irene’s name was chosen by us as a name unlikely to be borne by any of her peers, but not so odd as to make her the object of mockery (a prediction both halves of which have been correct). This pattern was repeated in the naming of her son Dorian (we’ll see what happens).

  78. Here’s an explanation for the prevalence of Asian-American Vivians. I’m not claiming that it’s the correct explanation, judge for yourselves.

  79. Vivien as in Scarlett makes certain sense, if not as true origin, then at least as folk etymology. The parents would have to explain their choice of a name to the incredulous folks back home, and what may be easier than to explain that the name came from a good movie or a good book? This alone can explain the prevalence of dated names among the “second names” of the foreigners: they weren’t just looking for a name which conformed in the new country – it should also have passed without raised eyebrow in the old country, too. And old classic names / names from the classic books must be easier to explain back home.

  80. marie-lucie says:

    Dmitry: I would think that many famous people of the recent past, just like most of us today, enjoyed it when other remembered and marked their birthdays when they were alive? So why not keep doing something which they themselves enjoyed to respect their memories?

    All children enjoy celebrating their birthdays, and when you are a child each birthday is indeed a milestone, as within a single year you change physically and mentally, learn and enjoy new things, stop doing others, etc, and you are very conscious of many of these changes. But once you are an adult there is not much of a reason to have a big party and receive gifts simply because you have changed the number of your years, while you feel just the same as during previous years. How much difference can there be between the ages of 42 and 43, for instance? Important life changes which might have happened in between the two birthdays are not usually related to the age difference. Personally, I don’t publicize my birthday and don’t plan or expect anything special to happen on that day.

    If someone enjoys certain activities on their birthday, especially getting together with a group of friends, those friends might continue the tradition after that person’s demise, but in the case of a nationally or internationally known person, there is no reason for a substantial number of people, personally unknown to the deceased, to celebrate the birthday in the same manner as the deceased’s friends or family might have done during life. We celebrate the start of the life of someone who became famous through later achievements, not the birth itself or the festivities associated with successive birthdays in the person’s life.

    For an celebration of some kind occurring on the anniversary of a death, as in France, it is not the death itself that is commemorated, but the life and achievements that ended on that day, usually irrespective of the manner and circumstances of the death unless the death itself was meaningful: martyrdom rather than cancer or a heart attack, for instance.

  81. marie-lucie says:

    Dmitry again: Isn’t interesting how a century ago, the erstwhile Anglo name were taken over by Jewish immigrants and become primarily “second name” mirrors of the Yiddish names, simultaneously losing popularity in the Anglo population?

    Why “second name” rather than “first name”? During my English studies (in France) I read the major American writers of the 19C, but I only read later ones after I came to North America. It took me several years to realize not only the importance of Jewish American writers but the ethnic clues in the first names of writers and others, such as Sidney or Irving. It seems to me that nowadays obviously Old Testament names like Isaiah or Ezekiel are given to the offspring of Protestant fundamentalists rather than Jews, but I could be wrong.

    did African and Arab immigrants in France, … “take over” any traditional [French] names?

    I can’t be sure since I don’t live in France, but I don’t think so. Black Africans and Arabs are unlikely to “pass” as French, although some of their French-born offspring (especially from mixed marriages) might. Among Black Africans, the non-Christians (Muslim or not) use their traditional names, and the Christians have been baptized with French names. In several countries along the Gold Coast there is a custom of naming children according to the name of the day they were born, such as the local equivalent of “Tuesday”, so there must be second or alternate names in order to keep people apart. I had some African classmates in high school who had an official French first name and another name which was their day-of-the-week name, which they did not use around French people. Some of the French first names must often have been taken from the saints of the calendar according to the day of birth, since they were rarely names which were usual or popular within France.

    Muslims of whatever ethnic origin are unlikely to adopt traditional French first names, which are mostly Christian. Unless they come from mixed marriages, people with a French first name and an Arabic-sounding last name are most probably Jews originally from North Africa, like the well-known linguist Claude Hagège, who was born and raised in Tunisia.

    First names in France used to be legally restricted to those on the Catholic calendar and the Revolutionary calendar (which only lasted a few years and where the months and days had new names relating to natural events, plants, tools, etc). A few others were tolerated if they came from traditional sources such as the OT and ancient history (Diane, Marius, etc), but foreign names were forbidden. The naming law was changed a few years ago, first to make it less restrictive (eg a name was OK if it was easily pronounced in French), and later repelled (I think).

  82. obviously Old Testament names like Isaiah or Ezekiel are given to the offspring of Protestant fundamentalists rather than Jews

    It depends: the name Abraham is still fairly current among Jews, though probably not being given to Jewish American babies much at present. There’s a theory that the popularity of Jesús in iberophone countries, but not elsewhere, reflects the one-time popularity of its Arabic equivalent Isa.

    Akan names, as they are called, are still very popular: some famous bearers include President Kwame Nkrumah ‘Saturday-male Ninthborn’ and Secretary-General Kofi (Atta) Annan ‘Friday-male One-of-twins Annan’. The old-time popularity of Phoebe among African Americans may reflect Fiifi, Fiibi ‘Friday-female’, and Robinson Crusoe’s slave Friday may be, as Wikipedia says, “conceptually related”.

  83. marie-lucie says:

    JWB: 4% of brides named Vivian had Chinese last names (Hispanic surnames predominated,

    Spanish has a direct equivalent of Vivian/Vivian: “Viviana” or (perhaps more often) “Bibiana” ( the pronunciation is the same), so I think this is a case of parents picking an English name close to one existing in their language, rather than (like the Chinese parents) picking a name that is drasrtically different.

    (In England, “Vivian” is a male name (I have met a male Vivian). Is “Vivien” the female counterpart (hence Vivien Leigh)?

  84. GeorgeW says:

    “There’s a theory that the popularity of Jesús in iberophone countries, but not elsewhere, reflects the one-time popularity of its Arabic equivalent Isa.”

    FWIW, Isa is the Muslim-Arabic name for Jesus. The Christian-Arabic name is Yasua’.

    I have read a good argument that the Bible was written in Arabic before the Qur’an based partly on the Arabic names of Jewish biblical personalities which were borrowed into Arabic from Greek (rather than Hebrew). ‘Isa’ is a prominent example.

  85. Athel Cornish-Bowden says:

    Marie-Lucie, your comments on naming practices in France prompt me to ask how much you know about the way children of unknown parents were named in the past in France. I have a very specific reason for wanting to know. Victor Henri was one of the architects of enzyme chemistry from around 1900, and his thesis from the Sorbonne in 1903 is a classic. He was born in Marseilles on 7th June 1872. His birth certificate says “des parents inconnus”, but that is certainly untrue so far as his mother is concerned, and there is no serious doubt about who his father was (the husband of his mother’s sister). As he was born at home at what was in 1872 a very classy address it is simply not credible that the registrar didn’t know the name of the mother, so one must suppose that someone was bribed when they filled in the birth certificate. Anyway, after a few years in France he was adopted by his father and aunt, and the three parents (who apparently had a ménage à trois that all three accepted) took him off to St Petersburg to grow up there. (They were Russian, and Henri’s mothers were cousins of the distinguished mathematician Alexander Lyapunov). As there were several people called Viktor in the Russian family there is no difficulty in explaining where the Victor came from, but it’s less obvious where the Henri came from (which, despite being legally adopted, he retained all his life, so he could perfectly well have called himself Viktor Nikolayevich Krylov)). I’ve seen it suggested that children of unknown parents were assigned family names by the registrar more or less at random, sometimes using the name of an appropriate saint. However, St Henri’s day is in July, not 7th June, so that won’t work here. Do you have any idea if there was any system for choosing family names of children on unknown parentage?

    Incidentally they came to Marseilles specifically to ensure that he would be born in France. Being born of unmarried parents was a very bad idea in Russia at that time, and France was a much better bet: illegitimate or not, he grew up with all the normal rights of a French citizen.

  86. Trond Engen says:

    John Cowan: There’s a theory that the popularity of Jesús in iberophone countries, but not elsewhere, reflects the one-time popularity of its Arabic equivalent Isa.

    I have a theory that it came from Muhammad during the reconquista, be it by renaming of living persons, continuation of the practice under pseudonym, or patriotic polarization.

  87. Athel Cornish-Bowden says:

    John. Thanks for reminding me. Now that you do I remember the discussion of Vingt-Trois. However, my more specific interest in Victor Henri’s origins came later, so I had forgotten.

  88. marie-lucie says:

    Athel: Victor Henri

    Even in a prominent family where shenanigans such as you describe were apparently well-known (or at least the subject of gossip), the name of the birth parents, even that of the mother, could not have been registered without their explicit consent. The registrar could not legally have written in the parents’ names on the basis of what would have been hearsay. The father was (and still is) normally the one to go to the registrar to declare the birth of his child. Another person, such as a midwife, could declare the birth but was not thereby empowered to say who the parents were.

    There is at least one well-known similar case: Franz Liszt was openly the lover of Marie d’Agoult, a married society lady who left her husband for him. When their daughter Cosima was born, her birth was declared to the registrar by Liszt who named himself as the father but with mère inconnue instead of the mother’s name, because the child of a married woman would be legally assumed to be the child of her husband. (The phrase would also cover a case in which the parents’ relationship was not in question but the mother had been living under an assumed name). As Cosima grew up she was bitterly angry at her mother for not acknowledging her legally as her child.

  89. marie-lucie says:

    illegitimate or not, he grew up with all the normal rights of a French

    But being illegitimate, he had no automatic right to inherit from his father (let alone from his “unknown” mother) unless the father named him in his will as he would an unrelated person. This distinction between legitimate and illegitimate children was erased a few years ago: all of a person’s children now have the same rights.

  90. Catherine Darley says:

    did African and Arab immigrants in France, … “take over” any traditional [French] names?

    Muslim ones usually don’t. Children from mixed marriages may have sometimes traditional Christian names, but more often, as a sign of integration, parents choose inter cultural names — Mediterranean names that can sound either European or North African (Sonia, Yanis, Myriam / Meriem, Lydia, Celia). African non-Muslim children may have traditional names but in most cases they have Christian names.

    about Victor Henri
    For the two or three last centuries, and still nowadays, the rule for children “de parents inconnus” is that the officer in charge of the “état civil” chooses a name and a surname for the child as soon as possible, that these name and surname must be exempt of anything that could give offense to the child in the future. For this reason, the habit has been until today to give a (masculine) Christian name as surname, so that people whose surname is Pierre, Charles, Robert, Jean, etc. can be sure to have a illegitimate child among his ancestors. In general, in hospital and orphanages, they gave those names and surnames in an alphabetical way but it seems that inspiration played an important part.

  91. marie-lucie says:

    Catherine, merci pour ces précisions!

  92. In my West Cork grandparents’ time, the tradition was to call sons after relatives in the following order: the first one after the father’s father; the second after the mother’s father; the third after the father’s eldest brother; and so on. My grandfather took my infant uncle to be baptised while my grandmother was at home recuperating, with instructions to name him after her favorite youngest brother. By the time he got to church he had forgotten which relative had been specified, so the priest by default named the boy, their fourth son, after her disliked eldest brother. She was not pleased.

  93. Another way to choose (or have chosen) a new name is exemplified by Lorenzo da Ponte. Born a Jew named Emanuele Conegliano, he took the name of the bishop who baptised him at the age of eleven when he, along with the rest of his family, was converted so his father could marry a Christian second wife. This was, apparently, customary. I don’t know why he couldn’t keep the Emanuele, which seems like a perfectly acceptable Italian name (vid. Vittorio Emanuele), but perhaps in the mid-eighteenth century it was distinctively Jewish, or at least more so than a saint’s name.

  94. Athel Cornish-Bowden says:

    Catherine, merci pour ces précisions!

    Let me add my thanks. Very helpful, and consistent with what I know about Victor Henri.

  95. Catherine Darley says:

    In France too, Chinese children born here have two names — one Chinese they only use in their family I suppose, and another French one for common use. Their French names are often slightly old fashioned, names that you’d associate rather with people born 50, 60 or 70 years ago (Sylvie, Chantal, Martine, Claude, Henri…).
    On the contrary, Jewish children in the district where I work in the South-East of Paris, a rather Orthodox community, have only their Jewish name and no other one anymore. It’s a recent phenomenon and, as in other parts of the French society, associated to a desire to be unconventional — so, sundry Biblical names with various orthographies.

  96. David Marjanović says:

    For example, did [...] Turkish immigrants in Germany, “take over” any traditional German names?

    Nope. Practically all of them have Muslim names (Mehmet, Fatma), Alevite names (Cem) or secular Turkish names (Ümit).

  97. marie-lucie says:

    Catherind: It’s a recent phenomenon and, as in other parts of the French society, associated to a desire to be unconventional

    I think that since for generations the choice of names was restricted by law, people nowadays enjoy the liberation and try all sorts of unconventional names for their children. Some of these names were popular in much earlier centuries (eg Grégoire, Théophile), others are foreign (eg Ryan, April) or regional (eg Adraboran), others sound cute (eg Cerise ‘cherry’), others simply have unusual spelling, and there are various combinations of these factors. As for a name like mine, it is now hopelessly old-fashioned!

  98. One of Queneau’s Exercises de style, namely ” reads as follows:

    Sur la Joséphine arrière d’un Léon complet, j’aperçus un jour Théodule avec Charles le trop long et Gibus entouré par Trissotin et pas par Rubens. Tout à coup Théodule interpella Théodose qui piétinait Laurel et Hardy chaque fois que montaient ou descendaient des poldèves. Théodule abandonna d’ailleurs rapidement Eris pour Laplace.

    Deux Huyghens plus tard, je revis Théodule devant Saint-Lazare en grand Cicéron avec Brummel qui lui disait de retourner chez O’Rossen pour faire remonter Jules de trois centimètres.

    The Barbara Wright translation:

    On the back Josephine of a full Leo, I noticed Theodulus, one day, with Charles-the-too-long, and Derby, surrounded by Plato and not by Rubens. All of a sudden Theodulus started an argument with Theodosius who was treading on Laurel and Hardy every time any Marco Polos got in or out. However, Theodulus rapidly abandoned Eris to park Fanny.

    Two Huyghens later I saw Theodulus again in front of St. Lazarus in a great Cicero with Beau Brummel, who was telling him to go back to Austin Reed to get Jerry raised by a little Tom Thumb.

    This actually has more jokes than the original!

  99. Er, namely “Noms propres”.

  100. marie-lucie says:

    Clever translation! Without knowing Queneau’s basic text it’s impossible to understand what is going on.

    Saint-Lazare is not St. Lazarus (a person or even a church), but a railway station.

  101. J. W. Brewer says:

    Further to Catherine Darley’s point, there is now also a subset (a minority but a noticeable one) of the NYC-area Jewish population that uses their untranslated Hebrew names (often transliterated in non-assimilated orthography, e.g. Yitzhak rather than Isaac) as their “regular” names for all purposes, has them on their drivers’ licenses etc. This phenomenon seems mostly but probably not exclusively associated with Hasidic/haredim/”black hat” subsets of the community.

  102. @J. W. Brewer: The use of Hebrew forms of names is a pretty common practice among American Jews of all persuasions. I would consider it unremarkable to meet a Jew from South Carolina named Yitzhak instead of Isaac, or Chava instead of Eve. The Anglicized names may still be more common, especially among less religious Jews, but even completely nonreligious Jewish parents sometimes choose more Hebrew names. (I had never set foot in a synagogue in my life at the time when my wife and I decided to name our first son Reuven.)

  103. Catherine Darley says:

    I think that since for generations the choice of names was restricted by law

    I’m not sure that the choice of names was so restricted by laws in the past, except in recent times.
    Until the Third Republic with the Jules Ferry laws (1881-1882) establishing free, mandatory and laic schools, and then the unification of the country that imposed French language as the only language in France, I don’t think that laws had anything to do with naming children. Since then yet (and until 1993 I believe), regional names (or foreign names) were banned. I remember a girl who was in my school in the 70s, whose legal name was Jacqueline, a name she abhored, while her “real” name, used by everybody (family, friends, teachers…) was Anouck. Obviously, her name derived from the famous French actress, Anouck Aimée — but Anouck is a Breton name and her parents weren’t authorized to declare her birth under this name.

    In older times, things were different: in my village in Burgundy, from the 16th to the 18th century (état civil since 1539), most women were named either Anne, or Marie, or Elisabeth or a mix of them (Anne-Elisabeth, Marie Elisabeth, Anne-Elisabeth-Marie, etc). Men were named from the Patron saints of the place : the village is placed under the protection of St Symphorien, whence a lot of Symphoriens there (very rare name), and as we are near the Pontigny abbey where St Edmund of Abingdon was buried in 1240, the name Edme (or Edmée for girls) occured frequently until the French revolution.
    Already in the 18th century, and even more in the first half of the 19th, the place was highly dechristianized: tombstones show a large panel of strange names during that period (Roman and Greek names, Voltairian ones — Zaïde —or Revolutionary ones too — I noticed a Pacifique Darley somewhere). After 1850, during the Second empire, the village was invested by mission priests and Christian names went back (but no Symphorien and Edme anymore).

  104. That’s too bad — the world needs more Symphoriens and Edmes.

  105. Wiki.en says Anouk is a diminutive of Anna used in both French and Dutch onomastics. There is an Anouk in Dorian’s kindergarten class; when I first saw the name on the list I guessed that it was perhaps Arabic and male.

  106. J. W. Brewer says:

    Absent hard data, I am happy to have my anecdotal observations yield to Brett’s. It certainly does seem like there might be multiple motivations for giving ones child a Hebrew name with an “unassimilated” spelling and/or pronunciation, and not all of those motivations would correlate to any particular intra-Jewish religious perspective or affiliation. Indeed, increased exposure via media and in some cases through first-hand contact or extended family to the naming practices of modern Israelis (most/many of whom are fairly secular) could be one factor.

  107. marie-lucie says:

    Catherine, I suppose that you are much younger than I am. I am not sure how old the law (or ruling) on names was, but at one time les officiers d’État-Civil (meaning mostly mayors) were supposed to respect a law regarding acceptable names for newborn children. That’s why “Anouck” was not accepted and the girl was officially “Jacqueline” instead. But mayors had some discretion in the matter and some were more accommodating than others, especially if a name was traditional in a region: Annick and Yannick became very popular outside of Brittany. One girl in my elementary school was called Céronne, from the patron saint of the village of Sainte-Céronne. The saint in question did exist, many centuries ago, although I don’t know if her name is in the Catholic calendar.

    Some years ago there were several lawsuits brought by parents whose chosen names for their children had not been accepted by the authorities, and as a result the children did not have a birth certificate and a legal existence. One mixed French-English couple was refused the right to call their daughter “Marjorie” even though it was admitted that the noun was quite pronounceable and even pretty in French. One Breton family became famous: they had had problems with registering their first four children with unusual Breton names, but had eventually succeeded. When they chose “Adraboran” for the fifth child (a boy) the name was too much for the authorities and there was a long-running battle until the law was eventually repelled.

  108. Catherine Darley says:

    The last lawsuit on this subject was about a girl named Mégane. The problem was that at the time, a Mégane was a car produced by Renault which was very popular in1999. The mayor of the town (I think it was Nantes) where the girl was born refused the name because the family surname was Renaud and so, the baby would have a car name — and of course, the parents argued, first that it was a Celtic name, Megan, written with a French spelling and pronunciation, second that car names change frequently, third that there was already another girl named Mégane Renaux in another region with no problem (Renault, Renaud and Renaux are all pronounced in the same way).
    The Civil code (art. 57) allows judges to delete names from birth certificates if they consider a name to prejudice the child’s welfare. In that case, and if the parents don’t propose another name for the child, he can choose another name for the child.
    But in fact, todays, judges very seldom intervene in this matter. Even one of our former member of the French government has a child named Terebenthine (i.e. Turpentine).

  109. Etienne says:

    John Cowan: “Anou(c)k” was not rare as a girl’s name when I grew up in Québec, and I definitely had the sense it was more common on this side of the Atlantic than in France. Because the boy’s name “Yannick” was also popular and is unambiguously Breton in origin, I suspect “Anou(c)k” likewise entered as a Breton name (despite the fact that among the founding population of French Canada there were comparatively few Bretons: l’île de France and Normandy supplied the bulk of the colonists, and various other regions supplying a small percentage of the founding population each: my own ancestor who migrated to New France –the one who was captured by the Iroquois and sold to the Dutch of New Amsterdam, as I think I mentioned on a thread here once–came from Auvergne, originally).

  110. marie-lucie says:

    Since Anou(c)k, Annick and Yannick are diminutives of the names Anne and Yann respectively (Yann being equivalent to Ian = Fr Jean = John), they could count as Christian names. I have known a number of Annicks but the only Anouk I had ever heard of was the actress known as Anouk Aimée.

  111. David Marjanović says:

    Now I’m reminded of the names in Le petit Nicolas! Irénée, Fructueux…

  112. marie-lucie says:

    David, I have read a few of the stories abut Le Petit Nicolas, and his friends and classmates have very odd first names! The author must have a book of saints which includes all those associated with calendar days, whether or not the names have been used in the past few centuries.

    The only Irénée I have heard of (apart from the original martyr) was Eleuthère-Irénée Dupont de Nemours, the French immigrant who founded the DuPont chemical dynasty. As for Fructueux ‘fruitful’ (a word less common than the English adjective), I am not sure if the name belongs to the saints’ calendar or the revolutionary calendar.

  113. J. W. Brewer says:

    “Irenee” stayed in use as a family name amongst the du Ponts for a number of generations after the first E.I. came over, with some of its bearers becoming namesakes to places that remain locally relevant to those of us who grew up in Delaware even as the family has receded from public life. E.g., my brother was as a boy given excellent treatment for curvature of the spine at the Alfred I. du Pont Hospital for Children and, had our family home been located a few miles west of where it was, both he and I would have attended Alexis I. du Pont High School, with the “I” in both cases being for “Irenee.” But afaik it never became a vogue name in the region more broadly. Outside the U.S., “Irenaios” is not a particularly uncommon name for Eastern Orthodox monks and bishops, but although the original St. Irenaios/Irenaeus/Irenee spent most of his career in Lyon, he is perhaps not honored onomastically in his own country. The female “Irene” is a perfectly standard American name, although increasingly less common in more recent generations than for those born before say 1950.

  114. marie-lucie says:

    Irénée/Irène

    Irène was quite popular in France at one time, although never one of the top female names. When I was around fourteen or fifteen my best friend was called Irène, which sounded to me like a grown-up name, although not really old-fashioned. We were both born before 1950!

  115. Stefan Holm says:

    What’s the debate about Irene all about? Isn’t it a both beautiful and in the northern hemisphere widespread girl’s name? The origin is Greek Ειρηνη, Eirene, with the meaning ’peace’. The most famous one in my world is Irène Joliot-Curie, daughter of Marie and Pierre Curie and herself reciever of the Nobel Prize in chemistry 1935.

    And – great-vowel-shifted – it can’t be unfamiliar in the USA, according to this classic, including a very young Pete Seeger on the banjo.

    (I’ve done my very best to get the link right. Otherwise: Help me Hat!)

  116. Can’t help you if you don’t give me a URL; there ain’t one in your comment.

  117. Here’s Seeger’s version of “Goodnight Irene.” And for good measure, here’s a Leadbelly version.

  118. Stefan Holm says:

    Sorry – here’s another try to restore the precious name Irene: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KpZ1Cx1IcC0

  119. Weavers reunion concert at Carnegie Hall, 1963.

    My daughter’s given names are Irene Rosemarie, and she heard “Goodnight Irene” as a lullaby for many years, often enough to get thoroughly sick of it as an adult. My grandson continues the (recent) family tradition of rare names: he is Dorian Sion Cowan. My wife is Gale Laura Cowan, formerly McGhan, née Waas; and although I am a John (after one grandfather) I am also a Woldemar (after the other).

  120. How do you pronounce Sion — “Sighin’”?

  121. J.W. Brewer says:

    Just to quantify – per the SSA database (which has certain limitations but is still the best dataset out there), approx 9700 girls born in the US in 1919 (year of P. Seeger’s birth) were named Irene, down to approx 2900 by 1945, down to approx 1500 by my own birth in the mid-Sixties (although I knew at least two girls by that name during by K-12 education), and down to below 450 for 2013.

  122. Sighin’

    “See-on”. His father chose that name.

  123. I would have guessed Sion was some sort of Sean relative, maybe pronounced like Sean, or “shown”.

  124. David Marjanović says:

    David, I have read a few of the stories abut Le Petit Nicolas, and his friends and classmates have very odd first names! The author must have a book of saints which includes all those associated with calendar days, whether or not the names have been used in the past few centuries.

    There are Merovingian names, too, though I forgot which ones. Apparently the names in the books are a parody of a 1940s/50s fashion.

  125. That’s the danger of parody — the parodied item is forgotten, and the parody is stranded.

  126. Rodger C says:

    “How doth the little crocodile.”

  127. Strangely, I actually heard a reading of “How doth the Little Bee” once when I was a kid. So far as I can remember, no mention was made of the now much more famous parody.

  128. David Marjanović says:

    That’s the danger of parody — the parodied item is forgotten, and the parody is stranded.

    Oh, this reminds me: Are the Judaean People’s Front and the People’s Front of Judaea parodies of the huge diversity of Palestinian liberation organizations of the 1970s, of which only two have survived?

  129. They are parodies of left-wing factionalism in Western Europe and the U.S. The giveaway is the penultimate “He’s Brian … He’s Brian … He’s Brian” scene, which is a parody of “I’m Spartacus … I’m Spartacus … I’m Spartacus.” In particular, the scary Judaean People’s Front are the Stalinists.

  130. The Judean People’s Front were Nazis, actually. All but their scenes except the final one were cut for pacing and being not especially funny. (The Pythons’ statements disagree about how much questions of good taste also came into the decision.) However, some of the deleted material is available on the Web, and I think all their scenes are in the published film script.

  131. The Judean People’s Front were Nazis, actually.

    But that doesn’t work in context. As far as I know, there were no factional divisions among Nazis (as opposed to personal fiefdoms); you were either a Nazi or not. The factional divisions among left-wingers are both notorious and funny.

  132. Well, the Pythons did indeed decide that the scenes with the Jewish Nazis were not funny.

    While the statement that the various factions were a parody specifically of the political left is definitely found in numerous places on the Internet, when I was looking yesterday, I couldn’t find a direct quote from any of the Pythons confirming that fact. I’m not saying that it’s not true, but it’s not clear to me to exactly how specific the political parody was the supposed to be. Nor could I determine which of their quasi-independent writing teams were responsible for that particular line of jokes.

  133. Oh, I forgot to say: There were plenty of factional and ideological divisions among the Nazis in the 1920s and early 1930s. In particular, there was originally a strong socialist component to the party, dating back to its founding members. However, as long as the party’s fortunes were rising under Hitler’s leadership, they got along pretty well. The rebellious elements were either eliminated or cowed into obedience by the Night of Long Knives, leaving essentially no dissent for almost the entire period when the party was actually in power.

  134. But that doesn’t work in context.

    That’s one of the reasons it was removed from the film. Quoth Wikipedia:

    The most controversial cuts were the scenes involving Otto, initially a recurring character, who had a thin Adolf Hitler moustache and spoke with a German accent, shouting accusations of “racial impurity” at people whose conceptions were similar to Brian’s (Roman centurion rape of native Judean women), and other Nazi phrases. The logo of the Judean People’s Front, designed by Terry Gilliam, was a Star of David with a small line added to each point so it resembled a swastika, most familiar in the West as the symbol of the anti-Semitic Nazi movement. The rest of this faction also all had the same thin moustaches, and wore a spike on their helmets, similar to those on Imperial German helmets. The official reason for the cutting was that Otto’s dialogue slowed down the narrative. However, Gilliam, writing in The Pythons Autobiography by The Pythons, said he thought it should have stayed, saying “Listen, we’ve alienated the Christians, let’s get the Jews now”. Idle himself was said to have been uncomfortable with the character; “It’s essentially a pretty savage attack on rabid Zionism, suggesting it’s rather akin to Nazism, which is a bit strong to take, but certainly a point of view”. Michael Palin’s personal journal entries from the period when various edits of Brian were being test-screened consistently reference the Pythons’ and filmmakers’ concerns that the Otto scenes were slowing the story down and thus were top of the list to be chopped from the final cut of the film. However, Oxford Brookes University historian David Nash says the removal of the scene represented “a form of self-censorship” and the Otto sequence “which involved a character representative of extreme forms of Zionism” was cut “in the interests of smoothing the way for the film’s distribution in America.”

  135. Huh. Well, color me educated.

  136. David Marjanović says:

    …Wow. :-S

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