I don’t spend much time reading or thinking about philosophy, so when I occasionally run across the name of Emmanuel Levinas I mentally put it in the same “incomprehensible French thinker” bag as Derrida, Deleuze, et hoc genus omne. But when I hit William Rees’s TLS review of three books on Levinas, it suddenly occurred to me to wonder what kind of name that was. Russian Wikipedia explained it, and the explanation is interesting enough I thought I’d post it. He was born in 1906 into a Lithuanian Jewish family in Kovno/Kaunas, then in the Russian Empire, and named Emmanuel Levin (Levin being a common Jewish surname in those parts). When Lithuania became independent after World War I, the name was written according to Lithuanian rules of orthography as Emmanuelis Levinas; when he moved to France for his university education, the first name reverted to the more French-sounding Emmanuel, but the surname remained. Voilà!

I can’t resist pointing out an idiotic statement in the second paragraph of Rees’s review: “Born in 1906 into a family of bourgeois Lithuanian Jews, Levinas left the Russian empire to pursue philosophical studies in France, choosing Strasbourg because it was ‘the city closest to Lithuania’.” Does Rees not realize the empire ended in February 1917?


  1. The empire by no means ended in February 1917. For small nations such as Lithuania, Moldavia (Bessarabia), Georgia etc., the Soviet Union was as much an empire as that previously ruled by the tsars. Despite whatever communist ideology might have claimed to the contrary, the Soviet Union was, in effect, a Russian imperial project (Russian rule, centred in Moscow; Russian colonisation of historically non-Russian territories; imposition and dominance of the Russian language).

  2. Yes, yes, but I seriously doubt that’s what Rees meant. Also, you’re overstating: “imposition of the Russian language” isn’t even remotely true.

  3. Imposition of the Russian language was certainly true in the Soviet Socialist Republic of Moldavia, for example, where there were severe restrictions on the use of Romanian, the language of the vast majority of the population, with Russian being imposed in education and all situations pertaining to public life. It was also true in the non-Russian national okrugs (e.g. the Khanty-Mansi National Okrug) where Russification was pursued alongside Russian colonisation.

  4. J.W. Brewer says

    It’s not so much whether one views the Soviet regime as a continuation of the prior “empire” or not, it’s that immediately prior to heading for Strasbourg Levinas was personally outside that empire because he was finishing his secondary education in, as noted above, an independent Lithuania that as of the early 1920’s had (alas only temporarily) extricated itself from rule from Moscow.

  5. J.W. Brewer says

    When Levinas matriculated, the University of Strasbourg had only recently resumed French as its primary language of instruction, after a post-1871 interlude as the Kaiser-Wilhelm-Universität. I don’t know which French university held the closest-to-Lithuania distinction during that interlude and how the French re-annexation of Alsace-Lorraine may have negatively affected that institution’s enrollment of prospective students to whom that might have been important.

  6. It was also true in the non-Russian national okrugs (e.g. the Khanty-Mansi National Okrug) where Russification was pursued alongside Russian colonisation.

    I’m not sure what you mean, since a dictionary («Hanti knijga») was published in 1931, one in another dialect in 1933, and in 1950 an official decision was taken to promote literacy in three more dialects. Obviously I’m not claiming the USSR was an ideal custodian of all its languages, but it ostentatiously promoted the use of local languages; to compare it to, say, the French determination to force everyone in France to speak French, as you seem to be doing, would be absurd.

  7. It’s fair to say the empire ended when the last emperor abdicated, in February or March 1917, depending on whether one uses the Julian or Gregorian calendar. One could argue, I imagine, that the Provisional Government acted as a regent since only the Constitutional Assembly would have had the power to establish a new system of government. However, the PG started to call the country the Russian Republic in September 1917, which seems to suggest it had a different idea about its role.

    It’s also worth noting that the February revolution ended all restrictions on the Jews. The use of the term “Russian empire” is particularly misleading in relation to a young Jewish student in post-February Russia.

    I’m also fairly certain that none of the historians who consider the USSR a reincarnation of the old empire would write “Alexander Solzhenitsyn was expelled from the Russian Empire in 1974.”

    As for Levinas, I would read him if only I could understand academic philosophy. He was interested in, and probably influenced by Lev Shestov.

  8. And I wonder what kind of name Leslau is. Polish? German?


    What a wonderful life!

  9. I mentioned the Xanty-Mansijskij nacionnal’nyj okrug because in the 1990s, after the fall of the Soviet Union, I lived in the Xanty-Mansijskij avtonomny okrug for a year, and I know that in official practice speakers of the indigenous languages were treated with utter contempt in the communist period, as indeed they still are. Ostentatious promotion of the indigenous languages was as much a lie as Soviet propaganda claiming that life under communism was paradise. This is why, despite the dictionaries and a handful of linguistic and ethnographic works, Khanty and Mansi are virtually extinct as living languages; speakers of the two languages have been forced to adopt Russian, the same as they were forced to adopt Russified proper names (traditionally, the Mansi did not use proper names; see Е. И. Ромбандеева, История народа манси (вогулов) и его духовная культура, “Северный дом”, Северо-Сибирское региональное книжное издательство, г. Сургут, 1993, pp. 45-50).

  10. Apropos of Levin/Levinas, Ромбандеев (Yevdokiya Ivanovna Rombandeyeva, who died this year, was the greatest authority on the Mansi language and culture) is a Russified proper name derived from the Mansi рāмпаньти (“in a hurry”).

  11. SFReader says

    – to compare it to, say, the French determination to force everyone in France to speak French, as you seem to be doing, would be absurd.

    In general, Tsarist authorities could care less what backward languages natives spoke in deep wilds of Siberia. The language of state administration with which they were concerned as bureaucrats and the language of state-controlled public schools was Russian and that was the extent of their interest in language policy. *

    Soviet authorities went much further. They wanted to transform all ethnic groups in the country into ideal members of socialist society, and to control their thinking and way of life. Of course, such wide-ranging social experiment was impossible to implement in two hundred languages, so after a brief interlude, Russian was proclaimed the language of progress and socialism which everyone in the country must learn (with probable exception of 1960s system of boarding schools for children of reindeer herders, there was no pressure to forget one’s native language, that would be politically incorrect, but it happened as a logical byproduct of socialist development. )

    * It is interesting to note that the Tsarist authorities had nothing to do with the most successful example of linguistic Russification in the empire – adoption of Russian as a native language by millions of Jews. This was entirely a result of private decisions of Jewish parents to provide useful education in Russian for their children – the Russian government actually tended to regard this phenomenon as dangerous and even actively tried to stop it – by imposing limits on enrollment of Jewish students in Russian schools.

  12. – In general, Tsarist authorities could care less what backward languages natives spoke in deep wilds of Siberia.

    Outside the wilds of Siberia, a very real case of the imposition of Russian can be found in Bessarabia during the time of the Russian Empire, where use of the Romanian language was banned in church services, in schools, and in intellectual life in general. Needless to say, Russian was the sole language of all public administration. The imperialistic imposition of Russian continued in the communist period – in the Moldavian S.S.R. you couldn’t even send a telegram in Romanian. The Moldovan movement for independence sprang from the population’s demand for the right to use their native language as much as it did from discontent with the soviet system in general.

  13. It is worth noting that in Siberia, Russification, Russian colonisation, and destruction of native languages and cultures passed the point of no return after oil and natural gas were discovered in the taiga in the 1950s and 60s. Early Soviet language policies seem to have been more idealistic.

  14. David Marjanović says

    traditionally, the Mansi did not use proper names

    Interesting. Can you tell me more about that?

    I’ve read of one tribe in the northern half of the Amazon rainforest where people don’t have names and call each other by kinship terms; this works because the tribe is so small. But Mansi, in its many “dialects”, used to be spoken over a huge area. How did that work?

  15. According to Rombandeyeva, the Mansi lived in small, isolated village communities and referred to each other by kinship terms, physical/personal attributes (the surname of Mansi national poet Yuvan Shestalov literally means “gloomy, sullen”, for example), spatial relation (e.g. whether the person’s house was upstream or downstream; the surname Pagin, from after proper names were introduced by Russian missionaries, literally means “far from the riverbank”, for example), and general appellatives such as tēxam (from tē “this” xum “man”), yurtā (“friend”), yurtkvyo (“other friend”).

  16. SFReader says

    It is always advisable to avoid anachronistic terms in reference to languages spoken in the past.

    We know that Moldavian population of Bessarabia didn’t speak Romanian, they spoke what they called лимба молдовеняскэ (Moldavian language).

    It is of course true that the Russian government attempted for a while to use only Russian in public administration of Bessarabia and the crude methods used are to be condemned, but it should be kept in mind that Moldavian language was spoken by less than half of population of Bessarabia, the rest spoke their own languages.

    Moldavians also were primarily rural people, very much underrepresented in cities and towns of Bessarabia (from about 17% in Kishinev to less than 0.3% in Hotin).

    It would be wrong to attribute this demographic diversity to Russian colonization, since Principality of Moldavia had very large Ruthenian population since the very beginning (in fact, Slavonic/Ruthenian was the only official language of the principality of Moldavia for the first few centuries of its existence). Jewish settlement in Moldavian towns also began in the Middle Ages.

    Given this background, it is clear that the alternative to “imposition of Russian language” in Bessarabia was imposition of Romanian language on non-Moldavian population of Bessarabia.

    I suppose non-Moldavian 99.7% of population of Hotin would be particularly unhappy with that.

  17. Shestalov is a Russified proper name derived from the Mansi sestālp. Yuvan Shestalov (1937-2011) managed to publish one book in the Mansi language in the 1950s, but after that was allowed only to publish in Russian.

  18. – We know that population of Bessarabia didn’t speak Romanian, they spoke what they called лимба молдовеняскэ (Moldavian language).

    There is no such thing as a Moldavian language. The language spoken in Moldova is indistinguishable from Romanian; lexically and grammatically they are identical. The so-called “Moldavian language” was a Soviet propaganda construct aimed at suppressing any movement toward reunification with the rest of Romania.

  19. SFReader says

    -The language spoken in Moldova is indistinguishable from Romanian; lexically and grammatically they are identical.

    This argument didn’t prevent emergence of six identical Serbo-Croatian languages.

  20. January First-of-May says

    TL/DR: the local population of Moldova spoke Moldovan, which was actually a very close dialect of Romanian.

    Pretty sure there are a few other similar cases of essentially the same language known by different names (Hindi/Urdu and Farsi/Dari/Tajik come to mind).

  21. SFReader says

    In France, the language spoken in the United States is called Américain.

  22. I think SFReader was talking about Moldavian as distinct from Wallachian, whereas aib is objecting to the notion of Moldavian as distinct from Romanian, with its boundary at the Prut. The latter is more of a Soviet invention, isn’t it?

  23. January First-of-May says

    I think SFReader was talking about Moldavian as distinct from Wallachian, whereas aib is objecting to the notion of Moldavian as distinct from Romanian, with its boundary at the Prut. The latter is more of a Soviet invention, isn’t it?

    That makes sense, thanks!

  24. SFReader says

    Similar confusion exists with Karelia/Karelian language.

    There are about half a dozen different regions/languages/dialects which can claim Karelianness. So a question whether Karelian and Finnish are different or identical can have half a dozen possible answers depending on which variety of Karelian is meant (ranging from virtually identical to mutually unintelligible. And some forms of Karelian are probably separate languages in their own right – neither Finnish nor Karelian)

  25. January First-of-May says

    IIRC, Serbo-Croatian actually consists of three dialect branches, one of which contains standard Serbian, Croatian, Bosnian, and Montenegrin*, while the other two are limited to a small area (in Croatia, IIRC).

    *) but not Slovene or Macedonian

  26. Likewise, standard Hindi is closer to Urdu – both being based on the speech of Delhi – than it is to broadly-construed Hindi varieties like Rajasthani and Bihari.

  27. I don’t have much to add, but wonder if you all have seen a book by my former prof/colleague, Bruce Grant.

    I haven’t read it, but have heard him talk about it to undergrads when I was his TA. I presume there’s some very interesting stuff on language policy and practice:

    In The Soviet House of Culture: A Century of Perestroikas, Princeton U. Press, 1995.

    Here’s the description, quoted from Princeton U. Press:

    At the outset of the twentieth century, the Nivkhi of Sakhalin Island were a small population of fishermen under Russian dominion and an Asian cultural sway. The turbulence of the decades that followed would transform them dramatically. While Russian missionaries hounded them for their pagan ways, Lenin praised them; while Stalin routed them in purges, Khrushchev gave them respite; and while Brezhnev organized complex resettlement campaigns, Gorbachev pronounced that they were free to resume a traditional life. But what is tradition after seven decades of building a Soviet world?

    Based on years of research in the former Soviet Union, Bruce Grant’s book draws upon Nivkh interviews, newly opened archives, and rarely translated Soviet ethnographic texts to examine the effects of this remarkable state venture in the construction of identity. With a keen sensitivity, Grant explores the often paradoxical participation by Nivkhi in these shifting waves of Sovietization and poses questions about how cultural identity is constituted and reconstituted, restructured and dismantled.

    Part chronicle of modernization, part saga of memory and forgetting, In the Soviet House of Culture is an interpretive ethnography of one people’s attempts to recapture the past as they look toward the future. This is a book that will appeal to anthropologists and historians alike, as well as to anyone who is interested in the people and politics of the former Soviet Union.

  28. It’s an excellent book; I don’t seem to have talked about it on LH, but I mentioned it here. However, I don’t think there’s much about language (although he does mention the change of alphabets in the 1930s).

  29. J.W. Brewer says

    FWIW, the changeover from Church Slavonic to the Romance vernacular was not complete for religious purposes in the Romanian-and/or-Moldovan-speaking bits of the Eastern Orthodox world until not all that long before the Russian acquisition of Bessarabia, so if Slavonic was restored by command from on high as the liturgical language in Bessarabia w/o consulting the wishes of the laity and/or parish clergy that may have been imprudent and/or unjust, but was a restoration of earlier local practice rather than a completely alien imposition.

    . https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Old_Church_Slavonic_in_Romania

  30. “Yuvan Shestalov (1937-2011) managed to publish one book in the Mansi language in the 1950s, but after that was allowed only to publish in Russian.”

    This is simply not true. Shestalov’s opus magum, A Heathen Poem (Нюлы Э̄рыг), was published as a separate book in the original Mansi in 1984. You can buy it here at Ozon. His first collection was published in 1958 and another book of poems in Mansi, in 1961.

  31. J.W. Brewer says

    Separately my impression is that the Czarist era, like the Soviet era, had a lot of inconsistency in language policy both in theory and in practice due to variation in political circumstances and priorities etc. So e.g. at one point in the 19th century there was an active effort to squelch Lithuanian (because for political if not linguistic purposes the Lithuanians were lumped in with the Poles, who were being targeted for Russification at the time) whereas next door in Latvia I believe (although to be fair this may be based on a hazy recollection of a single book I probably can’t reconstruct the author or title of) the Russians not only never really tried all that hard to Russify the German-speaking elite, they intermittently tried to promote the Latvian vernacular as a way of potentially driving a political wedge between that elite and the local peasantry.

  32. The Russians never tried at all to Russify the German-speaking elite, which was extremely loyal (and seen as more “advanced” than the Russians themselves). The common people distrusted them, but the common people didn’t set language policy.

  33. Rob Solheim says

    I’ve been living in the Khantiy-Mansiy autonomous region for the past 8 years, and from what I’ve seen I think it’s fair to say that the language is essentially moribund. Even the Mansi people who I spoke to who work at a cultural museum admitted that they don’t see the language as a day to day means of communication. There are no official announcements or publications in the language (that I’ve seen), and if they want to get a job, Russian is essential. There also seems to be practically zero education in schools of the region about the culture of these peoples, and Russians here are, almost without exception, completely dismissive of both language and culture. I believe the situation is a bit better with the Nenets further north though.

  34. Sad, but not surprising.

  35. No, the imperial government did not try to Russify the German upper classes in Estland, Livland and Courland. However, starting from the late 1870s, its policies in the region were aimed at reducing the power and influence of the German minority. The overall plan was to “standardize” the Baltics so they would converge with the core provinces in certain respects. The German landowners and burghers lost their residual privileges; government by the barons and burghers was replaced by government by the imperial bureaucracy, although not completely; trial by nobles gave way to trial by peers. The peasants, emancipated without land under Alexander I, were gradually increasing their holdings at the expense of the German landlords.

    However, there was a flip side to this: the St. Petersburg government sought to de-Germanize education and official business by Russifying them. In Estonia, primary education was already in Estonian (whose speakers made up 90% of the population). It was one thing to force the University of Dorpat to switch to Russian and quite another to make every village schoolmaster teach Estonian kids in Russian. Literacy declined as a result, although it remained very high compared with Russia proper. The independence cause received a major boost.

  36. David Marjanović says

    In France, the language spoken in the United States is called Américain.

    Only in the book formula “Translated from the”. Same in German.

  37. SFReader says

    Situation in Khanty-Mansiisk region can be entirely explained by demography. Vast oil and gas reserves were discovered here in 1960s and the region was swamped by hundreds of thousands of oilmen from elsewhere in the Soviet Union (mostly Russians and Ukrainians, but also large numbers of Azeris, Tatars, etc.)

    Khanty and Mansi account for some 1.9% of population of the region (lower, I believe than the share of American Indians in the US population). Language marginalization was the result.

  38. The situation is additionally not helped by how both “Mansi” and “Khanty” are divisible in around four mutually unintelligible dialect groups each — and how the early Soviet efforts at establishing literacy picked one of the larger varieties as the standard and attempted imposing it on the whole ethnic group.

    This is a non-issue for Mansi by now (Eastern is down to its last known speaker; Western and Southern went extinct somewhere between 1960 and 2010, nobody cared enough to check when exactly; only the fairly homogeneous Northern group remains), but it’s a pain for attempts at revitalizing Khanty, three of whose main groups are still going at some thousand speakers each. Ironically though, the most divergent and relatively small Vasyugan dialect in the Tomsk Oblast might still have some of the better immediate prospects — in that it remains, to my knowledge, remote enough to not be threatened by freefall assimilation. (But a mere few hundred speakers clearly isn’t going to be much of a base for future stability either.)

  39. Speaking of Indians and names, the Navajo don’t traditionally use names either. They have “war names” which are kept secret between the giver and the bearer, and they have nicknames which are local, variable, and contextual, and may not even be known to the bearer. Modern Navajo have Anglo names as well, of course. Similarly, during the Boont era (1880-1920), the people of Boonville, California were referred to in the jargon by nicknames that were often known to everyone but the bearer, particularly if they were obscene or insulting in Boontling.

  40. “Jewish settlement in Moldavian towns also began in the Middle Ages.”

    “TL/DR: the local population of Moldova spoke Moldovan, which was actually a very close dialect of Romanian.”

    Does anyone have an idea what percentage of the population was Jewish in the whole region?

    Several of my great-grandparents were born in Moldavia, near Iași, and they definitely only spoke Yiddish. Of course, this might be because they were not allowed to attend school, and then left as soon as they possibly could.

  41. From Wiki: “By 1900 there were 250,000 Romanian Jews: 3.3% of the population, 14.6% of the city dwellers, 32% of the Moldavian urban population and 42% of Iași.” From what I gather, the overall Jewish population was higher in Bessarabia – 11.8% according to the 1897 census – than in right-Moldavia, although I can’t find a particular figure for the latter.

    My grandmother came from a petty-bourgeois Jewish family in Kishinev and learned Russian in gymnasium; they were sheltered by friends during the pogroms, and it wasn’t until after the revolution that she moved to Bucharest. I know nothing about her Romanian-language skills, but I assume she had some; she quickly took to English once she came here, and enjoyed making multilingual puns.

    (On the other hand, my grandfather – a poor baker from around Zhitomir – was only ever fluent in Yiddish, although he apparently managed enough English to get through the naturalization process. My father says he also used to speak some kind of Yiddish-Slavic pidgin with his Polish co-workers.)

  42. Thanks Lazar,

    Those are very interesting numbers.

    I would suppose that if 10-42% of the local population in any particular area was Jewish, and (as I have heard first-hand, but from quite distant, nearly forgotten, memories) the Jews almost always spoke Yiddish to each other, then it is strange to say that THE population of Moldova, Moldavia, Bessarabia, Romania, etc. spoke ‘Romanian’.

    When referring to this time, in this region, you cannot really talk about a single local population that spoke mostly a single language.

    But, as the current Jewish population in the region is nearly 10,000x lower than 100 years ago, we could expect that there may be some historical bias on what the important languages were in the past.

  43. demoscope.ru has a detailed breakdown of the first Russian census taken in 1897. Residents who listed Yiddish as their mother tongue made up 46% of the total both in Kishinev and in Zhitomir. Romanian/Moldovan L1 speakers only accounted for 18% of the residents in Kishinev.

  44. SFReader says

    Romanian census lists Jews as Mosaics.

    Following Russian practice I assume (Моисеева закона).

    In English looks weird

  45. J.W. Brewer says

    Does the old Czarist census info track knowledge of L2’s (and L3’s etc etc) beyond just listing everyone’s L1? My vague sense is that most (not necessarily all) 19th-century Yiddish speakers also had some degree of L2 fluency in one or more (sometimes many more) relevant local goyische languages, although that’s not inconsistent with the possibility that in e.g. Kishinev in the 1890’s the average Yiddish-speaker might have had greater L2 command of Russian than Romanian. And there may well have been a variety of urban locations throughout Eastern Europe where the “city” goyische language most useful for Yiddish-speakers to have picked up would be a different one than the predominant goyische-peasant language in the surrounding countryside.

  46. J.W. Brewer says

    To take a more recent and semi-parallel post-Yiddish example, I have heard (although I can’t say I can trace it to a statistically rigorous source) that Ashkenazic immigrants to the U.S. from the former Ukrainian SSR are highly likely to be L1 Russian speakers rather than L1 Ukrainian speakers, although I don’t know how much their ethnic identity was the real independent variable versus just tending to coincide with other factors (region within the Ukraine; urban v rural; social class and level of formal education; etc.) that may have affected having one L1 rather than the other.

  47. SFReader says

    This was true even in Tsarist Russia. Jabotinsky complained that Jews were the main instrument of Russification in the western provinces, keeping Russian language spoken in places where not a single Russian lived, unless he was a soldier or a Tsarist official.

    In Jabotinsky’s view (himself L1 Russian speaker), this was unacceptable – Jews had to switch to Hebrew, immigrate to the land of Zion and start their own imperialism instead of serving Russian imperialism.

  48. marie-lucie says


    I agree with David M that “américain” for the language of the US is only used to indicate the original language of a translated work.

    the Mansi/the Navaho/ and others did not use personal names …

    There are many places in the English-speaking world where you might not learn the actual names of some of your neighbours right away if you only hear them call each other “Honey” or “Darling” or such. Children often don’t know the actual names of their friends’ parents if they only hear “Mom” and “Dad”.

    In many cultures, a person’s name is not something to be dragged out in public, but something to be kept secret or almost so, to be used only on special occasions, as there is danger to the owner of a name if someone else (especially an evil spirit) learns it (see the story of Rumpelstitskin). On the “Northwest Coast”, the home of hierarchical indigenous societies, traditional names are not bestowed on an individual for life but correspond to ranks within a given tribal hierarchy. People (especially males) are raised with the knowledge of where they belong in the hierarchy and whose name they may hope to acquire if they behave in a manner appropriate to its rank. After the death of the highest-ranking tribal elder, his name is passed on to the next in line, often a nephew, who may have been chosen long in advance by the deceased or (if there is no obvious “heir” or that person is not considered mature or competent enough) by a consensus involving other elders, especially older ladies. In turn, the chosen person’s traditional name passes to his next in line, and so on through several steps. As a result, people expect to hold several names during the course of their lives, and high-ranking individuals are preoccupied at first with earning the right to a higher name that their current one, and later with making sure that their own name will be passed on to a suitable heir of their own choice.

    In earlier times, babies were not given “real” names but referred to by cute nicknames or meaningless sound combinations. Young parents were addressed as “father/mother of No-Chin”. There could also be terms of address for boys or girls, for siblings, for people of various ages, rather than their names.

    As for referring to people according to “spatial relations”, this is the same principle as the origin of many family names referring to locations, which were originally nicknames, as in French Desjardins, Deshayes, Duhamel, Delarue, Delaville, Delorme, Duchesne, Dupin, Dupont, Delamare (Of the … gardens, hedges, hamlet, street, town, elm, oak, pine, bridge, pond) and countless others.

  49. @JWB: Yeah, I’ve met a few “late Soviet” Jews from Ukraine, but I’ve never heard of any having Ukrainian as their primary language. (Or Yiddish, for that matter.) My guess would be that Ukrainian is still a pretty ethnically bound language, so ethnic non-Ukrainians in the country – outside of maybe the far west – would naturally gravitate toward Russian.

  50. minus273 says

    Wow on the Northwest Coast naming stuff. That reminds me so much of premodern high bureaucratic societies like Imperial China or Japan.

  51. Samoan titles are not personal names, but they work pretty much the same way.

    On not using names publicly in Alessandria, Italy.

  52. marie-lucie says

    minus, JC: Any references I might consult on those Asian or Polynesian naming practices?

  53. SFReader says

    Re: “father/mother of No-Chin”

    As everyone who had misfortune of watching South Korean soap operas knows, that’s extremely common practice in Korea as well.

  54. Wikipedia is generally the place to start with these things, and then follow the references.

  55. marie-lucie says

    SFR: “father/mother of No-Chin” in Korea

    Do you mean calling parents “father/mother of …” or also “No-Chin” for the baby?

  56. SFReader says

    In addition, teknonymy, or referring to parents by their children’s names, is a common practice. It is most commonly used in referring to a mother by the name of her eldest son, as in “Cheolsu’s mom” (철수 엄마). However, it can be extended to either parent and any child, depending upon the context.[17]

  57. Arabic abu and umm make teknonyms from fathers’ and mothers’ names respectively. WP says their use “implies a familiar but respectful setting.”

  58. Those can also be followed by something associated with a person, to make a nickname. For example, one of Muhammad’s most prominent companions, ‘Abd ar-Raḥmān bin Saxr, is traditionally known as ʾAbū Hurairah (“father of kitten”) because of his love of cats.

  59. marie-lucie says

    JC, thanks for the Wikipedia article on Samoan social structure and names. One of many similarities between Polynesia and the NW Coast.

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