The Russian Panama.

In the course of an e-mail conversation about faux amis, Lizok happened to mention that “A панама hat is not a Panama hat.” I can’t describe my shock; all my bilingual dictionaries define панама (penultimate stress: пана́ма) as ‘Panama (hat),” and why would one ever suspect anything different? And yet when I went to Russian Wikipedia I discovered that, sure enough, the images showed something completely different, what the corresponding English article calls bucket hat, fisherman’s hat, Irish country hat, and session hat (one could also call it a sun hat). Looking it up in the Национальный корпус русского языка (Corpus of the Russian Language), I found a number of hits in Danilkin’s 2017 biography Ленин: Пантократор солнечных пылинок [Lenin: Pantocrator of dust motes in sunlight], including this: “Некое подобие гибрида панамы и банной войлочной шапки мы видим на известной фотографии «Ленин в Закопане».” [We see a certain semblance of a hybrid of a Panama hat and a felt bath hat in the famous photograph “Lenin in Zakopane”]. My question is, how and when did the referent change? And what do Russians call a Panama hat as others understand it? The Wikipedia article doesn’t have a Russian equivalent!


  1. This very detailed investigation suggests that Russian-style panamas first appeared before WWI, inspired by French bohemian hats, and really took off in the 1920s when Young Pioneers adopted, with modification, boy scout uniforms.

    It’s very true that “panamka”, little “Panama” hat, was very much associated with the vintage pioneer camps…

    PS: and in the Central Asian regiments of the Red Army, the “tropical hat” (later also known as panama) is said to have started as an Italian Bersaglieri hat, left over in Samara from an unsuccessful attempt to organize ethnic Italian batallions from the prisoners of war…

  2. David Marjanović says

    Interestingly, the Russian article says the панама is the national headgear of Ecuador, while the English one likewise attributes the origin of the Panama hat to Ecuador.

  3. PlasticPaddy says
  4. This very detailed investigation suggests that Russian-style panamas first appeared before WWI, inspired by French bohemian hats, and really took off in the 1920s when Young Pioneers adopted, with modification, boy scout uniforms.

    Thanks, that’s extremely helpful!

  5. I think the best Russian approximation to Panama hat is соломенная шляпа (straw hat). Канотье (canotier = boater) is more specific and a different shape.

  6. the панама is the national headgear of Ecuador

    The national headgear of Panama came up a while ago at LH: el sombrero pintao.

  7. Thank you, Languagehat, for writing this post! It’s interesting to see all the responses to your questions.

  8. Looks like the national headgears of Panama and Ecuador are made from the same plant (under different names):

  9. Keith Ivey says
  10. So it was — well done!

  11. It’s quite fascinating how language can evolve and lead to such confusions! The term ‘панама’ indeed stirs up a mix-up between what we know as a Panama hat and the bucket-style hat popular in Russia.

    It’s like a little linguistic adventure, uncovering the layers of meaning behind words we thought we understood. And speaking of adventures, it seems now they’ve even got these ‘панама’ hats tailored for mounting troops – talk about versatile fashion!

  12. I’ve just started reading Nabokov’s Подвиг [The feat, tr. Glory] and what do I see on the very first page but:

    Деда он помнил ясно, но только в одном виде, в одном положении: старик, весь в белом, толстый, светлоусый, в панамской шляпе […]

    Which Nabokov & Son translated:

    He remembered his grandfather distinctly, but only in one form and position: a corpulent old man, dressed completely in white, fair-whiskered, wearing a Panama hat […]

    So in 1932 Nabokov used it in the Western sense.

  13. David Marjanović says

    Sorry, you have been blocked
    You are unable to access
    Why have I been blocked?

    This website is using a security service to protect itself from online attacks. The action you just performed triggered the security solution. There are several actions that could trigger this block including submitting a certain word or phrase, a SQL command or malformed data.
    What can I do to resolve this?

    You can email the site owner to let them know you were blocked. Please include what you were doing when this page came up and the Cloudflare Ray ID found at the bottom of this page.

    I mean, I’ll manage, but… LOL.

  14. Lars Mathiesen (he/him/his) says

    I got the same thing, both when I tried the first time and now. Cloudflare’s default settings for security don’t do this, so someone has been extra zealous. If it’s a mistake or that web site just doesn’t like EU traffic, I can’t tell. (There might be material elsewhere on the site that is not meant for our eyes, even though Panama hats would seem to be an innocuous topic).

  15. David Marjanović says

    I mean, it’s a .su site, so perhaps the Iron Curtain is still up…

  16. Google cache:

    Панама для войск СпН выполнена из смесовой ткани Ripstop, состоящей из 70% хлопка и 30% полиэстера с армирующей нитью. Такое сочетание материалов делает ее особенно прочной и долговечной. Поля панамы окантованы основной тканью, а по периметру тули нашита лента защитного “Олива”. Эта лента создает ячейки, в которые можно установить маскирующие элементы, такие как растительность, позволяет маскироваться на природном фоне.

    Шнур панамы СпН подбородочный плетеный из нейлона обладает высокой прочностью и оснащен удобным фиксатором, который обеспечивает надежную фиксацию панамы на голове при активных движениях. Идеально подходит для использования военными, горными стрелками, охотниками и любителями активного отдыха в условиях природы.

  17. David Marjanović says

    Ich weiß nichts
    Google weiß alles
    – Jan Kaiser, some 25 years ago

  18. Lars Mathiesen (he/him/his) says

    D.M.: I notíced that, but OTOH they are running on Cloudflare which was founded in 2009. WP tells me that the .su ccTLD “is known for usage by cybercriminals.[4][5][6]” It’s managed by a non-profit established in 1992 or so, but what that means in Russia is not a thing I have any insight about. Maybe it’s just easier to register a domain there than in .ru.

  19. David Marjanović says

    Oh, sure, I think .su is just cheaper because nobody actively wants to have it.

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