I’m in the middle of Vasily Narezhny‘s very enjoyable 1814 novel Российский Жилблаз (A Russian Gil Blas); I’ll have a good deal to say about it when I finish it, but right now I want to pass on one of those etymologies I probably once knew but have long since forgotten. One of the characters in the novel is a woman named Федора [Fedora]; I didn’t remember encountering the name before, but it was obviously the female version of the very common Федор [Fyodor] and thus was the Russian equivalent of Theodora. “Huh, it sounds just like fedora,” thought I, but was that a coincidence? I knew the hat was named for the title character in the 1882 play Fédora by Sardou (Sarah Bernhardt was so popular in the role that the soft felt hat she wore became fashionable and was called by that name), but was that character by any chance Russian? I went to the Wikipedia article, and sure enough, the character was Princess Fédora Romanoff (i.e., Федора Романова). I fingered my own, slightly battered, fedora with even greater affection.
Oddly, in 1884 Sardou wrote a play Théodora about the Byzantine empress. I wonder if he knew it was the same name?
Update (November 2012). See now Sashura’s post (in Russian), with video clips of Kornei Chukovsky’s reading of his poem “Федорино горе” and a staged version.


  1. There was actually such a Princess.
    Feodora Alexeevna Romanova (1674 — 1678), daughter of Tsar Alexei Mikhailovich and Tsarina Natalia Naryshkina
    Poor girl…

  2. Is it Romanov in the play? in the Giordano opera derived from the play, she’s called Romazov.

  3. in the Giordano opera derived from the play, she’s called Romazov.
    I expect that was out of a desire not to offend the Russians, since the Romanov dynasty was still in power (the opera was first performed in 1898).

  4. I didn’t know this! Thank you, LH.

  5. John Emerson says

    Hat etymology in Russian. You are in heaven.

  6. Hat etymology in Russian. You are in heaven.
    His ореол must be glowing!

  7. It is (moderately) interesting that both the fedora and the trilby, which came to be thought of as men’s hats, were named for female characters. (Trilby in George du Maurier’s novel of that name was the singer under the spell of Svengali.)

  8. quickly adding fedora to my dictionary of Russian words in English!
    Fedora is also the lazy housewife in Chukovsky’s popular children’s poem Fedora’s Trouble (“Федорино горе”). She neglects her household items to the point that they run away. The poem is here. Chuk may have killed the lovely name forever.

  9. What a delightful poem—thanks for sharing it!

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