I just ran across the information that the novelist Irwin Shaw was born, in New York to Russian-Jewish parents, Irwin Gilbert Shamforoff. This immediately struck me as an odd name, and sure enough, it does not seem to exist otherwise: a normal transliteration gets no Google hits, and the Cyrillic equivalent Шамфоров gets only a few references to Shaw. Is it just an incredibly obscure name, or is it an Ellis Island deformation of some name I’m not thinking of?

Also, this morning my wife showed me a reference to an actress named Q’Orianka Kilcher. Needless to say, I was intrigued; my first guess was that it was either self-invented or Klingon, but shame on me—it turns out “her mother is descent from the Huachipaeri and Quechua tribes of South America,” and the name is Quechua for ‘golden eagle.’ I checked my Quechua phrasebook (not yet entered in my catalog because it’s in the second row—there are even more books piled on the backs of the shelves than are visible), and sure enough, the vocabulary has “gold—qori.” But wait: q is a “guttural fricative similar to the ‘ch’ in Scottish ‘loch,'” and q’ is “Quechua ‘q’ with glottal stop.” So is there a typo in the vocabulary? Because presumably her parents wouldn’t have added the apostrophe just for the hell of it. But since they did, I feel obliged to point out that it’s not like Irish O’, and the following letter should not be capitalized, as IMDb and the newspaper had it; online sources are split, so I’m guessing she spells it Q’orianka and it gets changed by editors or computer programs. But who knows how she says it? (Ms. Kilcher, if you’re reading this, please leave a comment!)


  1. ‘Shaw’ is normally a British Isles name either from Old English Scog “forest”, Irish O’Shaughnessy or a Scottish Gaelic name of uncertain origin possibly MacSheathanaich. The name was common among Protestant Scotch-Irish settlers in the United States. I’ve also heard of some Chrokees who have this last name probably because they were in close contact with Scotch-Irish settlers.
    I located some internet information on Q’oriana Kilcher. Her first name apparently means “Golden Eagle” in Quechua. I’m surprised she’s not listed on the Boy & Girl actors of Europe website but here are some pics of her from another web site:

  2. You might try checking at, the Jewish Genealogical Society’s website.
    And: Shamforoff could, I think, also be Shamvorov in Russian (or Ukrainian, or….)

  3. I wonder if it might not be a corruption of Shamporov or Shamborov which both get a few google hits. It seems plausible anyway.

  4. “Shaw” also has a second life, so to speak, as an adopted name – an example being bandleader Artie Shaw, born Arthur Jacob Arshawsky.

  5. And another example being Irwin Shaw.

  6. At first glance “Shamforov” strongly reminds me of the french author S.R.N. de Chamfort (known in Russia, I think, mostly for his Maximes et pensées). doesn’t mention Chamforov or any similar form. The sound /f/ isn’t typical for Russian words and names; usually it is a sign of foreign etymology.

  7. Michael Farris says

    “Gold” is quri in my Aymara dictionary, which makes me think (for some historical reasons I can expound on if anyone is interested) that the sound isn’t glottalized in any variety of Quechua. The apostrophe (usually indicating a glottalized stop in Andean languages) was simply added to make the name look more exotic.
    ( q in Aymara is a “post velar” stop, somewhat like the sound romanized as q in Arabic)
    I’m reminded of an essay I read a long time ago (in Spanish) about hispanic students somewhere in California who took Spanish class in high school. They all already spoke Spanish to some degree but didn’t know how to read and write. When some of them discovered that acute accents were used in writing their names in Spanish, they were enchanted and started using them all the time (a process made especially satisfying by the disapproval of some of their Anglo teachers). Those whose names didn’t use the accents were jealous and wanted to get in on the act ….

  8. Thanks! But now I’m annoyed with Ms. Kilcher for using a vanity apostrophe and wasting several of my precious neurons that could have been devoted to something productive, like Pelignian.

  9. Qoriana is the cousin of the pop singer Jewel, and their fathers are Germans. The exoticism is probably of the poppy type.

  10. The Kilcher family were Alaskan homesteaders and hippies. Their family tree includes many uncommon names including
    Jewel Kilcher
    Atz Kilcher
    Mossy Kilcher and
    As I recall they even had a Sunshine Kilcher.

  11. Hi, can I have Q’orianka’s email address? I know her, cause we were friends when we were 6 years old. We lived at Hawaii then. I’ve written many letters to her, but she never answered. So please can I’ve her email? Thank you!

  12. I was wondering if I could get Q’orianka Kilcher’s Email address. I would appreciate it if I could contact her to congradulate her in her great achivements. Also I’d like see if she was going to the 57th Navajo Festival.
    I read her artical in the “National Museum of the American Indian” Winter 2005 issue she seems like she’s a great person to get to know. I am an Eastern War Dancer in teen division and also 15. Please let me have her Email adress, thank you!

  13. I was WONDERING if Qoriana was related to Jewel! I saw her on the today show this morning, they mentioned she was part S. American Indian, part Alaskan, & part Swiss, & I figured it had to be the Alaska Kilcher family. My father was friends with her grandfather. My ex-husband grew up neighbor with her Aunt, Moss, in Rainbow, AK. (Her real name is Maurice, I think “Moss” is just a nickname.)

  14. I was WONDERING if Qoriana was related to Jewel! I saw her on the today show this morning, they mentioned she was part S. American Indian, part Alaskan, & part Swiss, & I figured it had to be the Alaska Kilcher family. My father was friends with her grandfather. My ex-husband grew up neighbor with her Aunt, Moss, in Rainbow, AK. (Her real name is Maurice, I think “Moss” is just a nickname.)

  15. Hope you’re all doing great. Well, I just wanted to mention that Q’Orianka’s father is not German, he’s Peruvian, a Quechua/Huachipaeri Indian. She has a large family here and comes visiting whenever she can, along with her mother. She’s very proud of her Indian heritage, which is great ^_^. Regards from Lima, Peru.

  16. Q’orianka Kilcher was born in Germany. Her father is a peruvian indian whose native language is Quechua. The correct form to pronounce Q’orianka is pronouncin the “Q” as the “H” in “hot”. Q’orianka is very proud of her peruvian ancestors and is trully the first indian actress/ actor of peruvian origin to succed in Hollywood . (Considering that Benjamin Bratt is peruvian also).

  17. I forgot to tell you that as an example the quechua name for Cusco ( the famous touristic city in Peru, from where you can access Machu Picchu) is Q’osco (similar to Q’orianka). Cusco was the spanish denomitation for Q’osco.

  18. I’m boosting this in the hope that after all these years someone might have some answer to my question about the surname Shamforoff. Here are some relevant passages from Michael Shnayerson’s 1989 biography of Shaw:

    For William Shamforoff, thirty-six, a Russian-Jewish immigrant from
    the Ukraine town of Nezhin, near Kiev, the move to Brooklyn with his wife
    and two young sons would seem enough of a fresh start to inspire a change
    of family surname. Shamforoff had been born into an unusually literate
    family — his father, Israel, had originally been a scribe, and one grandfather
    a Hebrew teacher. Nezhin was a cultural oasis of the Chernigov region,
    with a college that boasted Nikolai Gogol among its graduates. Its location
    on the Oster River, and its railroad junction, made the city an important
    crossroads of trade, where merchants from Turkey, Crimea, Moscow and
    Siberia would come to do business, as well as an agricultural center that
    prided itself on its local pickles. Times were hard, though: Israel’s wife,
    Bessie, lost eight of the fourteen children she conceived. In 1892, after
    several bad harvests, Israel Shamforoff made the decision to journey alone
    to America, with an immigrant’s dream of getting established in the new
    country, then sending for his family. Late in the vear, he traveled overland
    to the North German coast, then boarded the Thalia, an immigrant ship,
    for the crowded ten-day trip to New York.

    Their first child, Irwin Gilbert, was born February 27, 1913; a second son, David, was born August 27, 1916. Both children were given the family name of Shamforoff.

    Mixed feelings also attended the subject of religion in the Shamforoff
    household. Will and Rose would hardly have denied their religion. They
    espoused Jewish family values; the social world they inhabited was almost
    entirely Jewish. Yet they were determined to become assimilated Ameri-
    cans in every sense and made a conscious choice not to speak Yiddish in
    the house. The further choice to amend the family name to Shaw seems
    to have been made jointly by William and his two brothers, David and
    Daniel, three years after their arrival in Brooklyn. Young Irwin, however,
    resented the decision enough to retain the name Shamforoff through high
    school. He also insisted on being bar mitzvahed, though because he knew
    not a word of Hebrew — let alone Yiddish — the occasion became little more
    than a birthday party.

    In the winter of early 1929, some nine months before the real onset of the Great Depression, Irwin enrolled at new, tuition-free Brooklyn College, established in the borough’s downtown commercial district. It meant a longer subway ride, a dreary campus life, but also the first real glimmerings of literary success. As if in anticipation, Irwin Shamforoff, fifteen-year-old freshman,
    enrolled under the more literarily promising name of Irwin Shaw.

    At least we now know the part of Ukraine it’s from. Maybe it’s based on a Hebrew acronym, like Barabtarlo and so many others?

  19. Dunno about Shamforoff, but at least Q’orianka Kilcher’s IMDB page has long since been corrected to use lowercase o, and to say that it’s her father who’s Peruvian, not her mother. Within a few months after this post, Hat saw her starring in The New World (see post on the dialogue in reconstructed Virginia Algonquian). And these days you can easily find clips of her saying her name, starting with an ordinary English /k/ (*not* the h in “hot”).

    I suspect the apostrophe is her parents’ fault, just because she’s famous enough that if that wasn’t her exact name at birth, it would’ve come out by now.

    Coincidentally, the word qori ‘gold’ had come up just three months earlier.

  20. PlasticPaddy says

    Deformation of Shafirov? I looked up Suvorov for comparison: the family claimed it was Swedish, others said it derived from suvor with a meaning “quick”, the boyar register combined both theories (Swedish ancestry, Russified name).

  21. Hmm… maybe? Or something starting with Ж, since that’s traditionally a problem to render in English? Maybe from French Chamfort somehow??

  22. Or something starting with Ж, since that’s traditionally a problem to render in English?
    At least that’s mostly rendered as “zh” nowadays. In German non-scientific transcription, as used e.g., by papers and other news sources, both Ж and Ш are rendered as “sch” to this day, like the infamous Mr. Prigoschin. Another example is Doktor Schiwago; I only learnt that the name started with Ж at university, and many Germans pronounce the name with [⁠ʃ⁠]​, not knowing better.

  23. At least that’s mostly rendered as “zh” nowadays.

    Nowadays, yes, but not so much at the turn of the 20th century.

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