I was browsing my Russian edition (Русские фамилии, Moscow: Progress, 1995) of Unbegaun’s Russian Surnames, looking at the section of Russian names of German origin, when I hit a passage that listed particularly opaque ones:
Багговут [Baggovút] (Baggehufwudt, ultimately of Swedish origin)
Дервиз [Dérviz] (von der Wiese)
Поганков [Pogánkov] (Pagenkampf)
Сиверсов [Síversov] (Sievers)
Фамендин [Faméndin] (von Mengden)
Фонвизин [Fonvízin] (von Wiesen)
Францбеков [Frantsbékov] (Fahrensbach)
Эверлаков [Everlákov] (Overlack)

Then, in the next paragraph, he showed how the family name Степун [Stepún] came from German Steppuhn, which itself was borrowed from Lithuanian Steponas, which came from Slavic Степан [Stepán], and I thought the round trip was interesting enough to post.


  1. Stephen C. Carlson says

    Let me try: Baggehufwudt = Mod. Sw. orthography Baggehuvud = ‘ram’ + ‘head’.

  2. Trond Engen says

    Apparently so. But I didn’t know that bagge might mean “ram”. The meanings I know are “sack; chubby man; weevil (or some such form of 1insect)”.

  3. I am sure he was called Baghead for a reason

  4. Ubengaun followed some of the pre-scientific, folk etymology-rich sources from the times when noblemen, especially those with not-too-pleasant names like Pogankov, may have been all too happy to invent German roots. (sources such as Карнович Е.П. Родовые прозвания и титулы в России и слияние иноземцев с русскими. СПб, 1886.) For example, Karnovich explained "Nerytski" from "an ancestral land possession in Norway".

  5. Ah, I hadn’t thought of that. You’re right, the root pogan– ‘foul, unclean’ seems a likelier source for Pogankov!

  6. From my (admitedly uneducated) point of view, Поганков is somewhat strange name. From the stem поган- (similar to pagan) I would expect Поганов and indeed such last name does exist. Поганков has to be made out of поганка, most famously, a type of poisonous mushrooms such as death cap (Amanita phalloides) , but also a bird family Podicipedidae (grede). I can understand why poisonous mushrooms might be called “unclean”, but birds? I didn’t find any explanation, but didn’t search much either.

  7. If it’s from поганка, I’d expect Поганкин.

  8. If it’s from поганка, I’d expect Поганкин.
    the surname is virtually nonexistent, and, if you believe Karnovich, then it was an artificial name and thus it didn’t have to follow the regular rules. On page 20, he describes a widow of a German physican Pagenkampf who supposedly lived in Moscow in 1701-1707, changed her surname, and afterwards her new name “Pogankof” was taken by her sons.All I could figure out was that there may have been at least two Dr. Pagenkampfs in Russia, in the 1730s and later in XVIII c., and no Pogankov’s of any significance until about 1800s.

  9. WP s.v. “grebe” says:

    Grebes are small to medium-large in size, have lobed toes, and are excellent swimmers and divers. Although they can run for a short distance, they are prone to falling over, since they have their feet placed far back on the body.

    Grebes have narrow wings, and some species are reluctant to fly; indeed, two South American species are completely flightless. They respond to danger by diving rather than flying, and are in any case much less wary than ducks.

    So perhaps when they dive, they tend to come up muddy.

  10. >So perhaps when they dive, they tend to come up muddy.

    From wikipedia:

    Русское название «поганка» происходит от отвратительного вкуса их мяса, которое имеет неприятный запах рыбы.

    The Russian name, «поганка» comes from the disgusting taste of their meat, which has an unpleasant fish smell

  11. This made me remember a fancy dinner in Reykjavik where the hosts made me guess what was on an appetizer plate. Cold smoked fish, of an unknown variety, I suggested. Turned out it was puffin breast, the cutest of the diving birds… (on the same trip, there was a separate encounter with the seriously unpleasant fish smell too, of course. Can’t avoid hakarl).

Speak Your Mind