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Multiple names in Russian literature

Posted: Fri Aug 24, 2007 6:14 pm
by Shelley
Can anyone explain to me why characters in Russian novels have 2 or 3 (sometimes radically) different names? I'm reading "Crime and Punishment", by Fyodor Dostoyevsky. A character in it is called Razumihin, but when asked his name, he says it's Dmitri Prokofitch. Yet, in another scene he introduces himself as Vrazumihin, and makes a point of the fact that he's always called Razumihin! Add to that all the various nicknames that end in -ya or -ushka. AND the fact that the family names never match up -- Raskolnikov's mother is Pulcheria Alexandrovna and his sister is Avdotya Romanovna (aka Dounia).

Now, this is not the first Russian novel I've read. Turgenev, Tolstoy, Gorky -- I'm familiar with them. I read "The Master and Margarita" here at Wordwizard. A few years ago, I read "The Brothers Karamozov" by Dostoyevsky and loved it so I figured I pick him up again. "Crime and Punishment" is also proving to be a great read (don't nobody tell me what happens!)

I don't plan on giving up Russian books over this minor nuisance. I'm very curious, though, about this whole naming thing with the Russians. It occurred to me that the Vizardovitches here at Vordvizardelenkov might know a think or two.

Multiple names in Russian literature

Posted: Fri Aug 24, 2007 7:28 pm
by Erik_Kowal
Shelley, I suggest you take a look at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Russian_name for a fairly comprehensive description of the way names work in Russia.

Dounia (or Dunya) is the pet form of Avdotya.

See also the section entitled 'Wordplay' at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Crime_and_Punishment for descriptions of the telling names of some of the novel's characters.

Multiple names in Russian literature

Posted: Fri Aug 24, 2007 8:08 pm
by Shelley
Thanks for the link, Erik Kowalsky! So, as I understand it, Raskolnikov's whole name is Rodion (Rodya) Romanovitch Raskolnikov. The patronymic, Romanovitch, corresponds with his sister's name: Avdotya Romanovna, and her surname will be Raskolnikov whenever the book gets around to mentioning it. Their father's name was Roman Raskolnikov and he was married to Pulcheria, whose father's name was Alexander. Fantastic!

I had to stop reading the Crime and Punishment link because it contained spoilers. Thanks anyway -- I'll go back to it later.

Multiple names in Russian literature

Posted: Fri Sep 28, 2007 9:04 pm
by Shelley
I have finished Crime and Punishment, and just want to report that it is every bit as good as Brothers K. -- better, in fact, because it's a little "tighter", if you know what I mean. One thing I really like about Dostoevsky is how he writes about the inner thoughts and motivations of his characters. Everything is so psychological. Luzhin (bad guy) wants to marry Dounya (good guy) not because he loves her and wants to "rescue" her from penury, but because he wants to have Dounya, a woman he feels is superior, refined and perfect to be completely beholden to him and therefore beneath him. Then, he will "win":
Here was a girl of pride, character, virture, of education and breeding superior to his own (he felt that), and this creature would be slavishly grateful all her life for his heroic condescension, and would humble herself in the dust before him, and he would have absolute, unbounded power over her! . . . The fascination of a charming, virtuous, highly educated woman might make his way easier . . .
In The Brothers Karamozov there is a long section devoted to the spiritual questioning and philosophy of a Jesuit mentor to one of the brothers (I forget the character's name). I was struck by the huge scope of Dostoevsky's knowledge in this area and I plan to re-read that section soon.
By the way, I went back to the Wiki link provided by Erik and read the whole thing. It's very comprehensive re: characters and plot, so stay away if you don't want to know exactly what's going to happen.
Also, one more thing. I went to see a new movie, "Into the Wild", a couple of weeks ago, and there was a scene at a second-hand bookstall in which for some reason the director (Sean Penn) had stuck a copy of Crime and Punishment right in the foreground in two shots, each of the stall on a different day. The title was in a slightly different position on each day, but still right smack-dab in the middle of the shot! Had to be a reason . . .

Multiple names in Russian literature

Posted: Fri Sep 28, 2007 9:31 pm
by gdwdwrkr
Cool, Shellevna, the things you notice.

Multiple names in Russian literature

Posted: Mon Oct 01, 2007 9:36 am
by tony h
Thanks Shelley, after reading your comments I went and dusted off the Russian novels on my book shelves. I have started to re-read The Idiot which made a great impression on me when I first read it (apparantly, judging from my inscription on the inside cover, I was eleven. That's what comes from not having a television on moral grounds).

Multiple names in Russian literature

Posted: Wed Oct 03, 2007 1:25 am
by Shelley
So you spent time glued to The Idiot book, not The Idiot Box!
I've been wondering if the name Raskolnikov and the word Rascal are related. I'll add that to my list of things to look into in all my free time.

Multiple names in Russian literature

Posted: Wed Oct 03, 2007 3:17 am
by Erik_Kowal
They are not related. According to the Online Etymological Dictionary, the history of 'rascal' is as follows:

c.1330, rascaile "people of the lowest class, rabble of an army," from O.Fr. rascaille "outcast, rabble" (12c.), perhaps from rasque "mud, filth, scab, dregs," from V.L. *rasicare "to scrape" (see rash (n.)). The singular form is first attested 1461; extended sense of "low, dishonest person" is from early 1586.

The Russian surname 'RasKOLnikov' is most closely related to the noun "rasKOL'nik", meaning 'dissenter, schismatic'; in turn, this is derived from the verb "raskoLOT' ", meaning 'to split, chop, break up or disrupt'. (Syllables shown in upper case are stressed.)

The Russian prefixes ras-, raz- and razo- indicate: division into parts; distribution; action in different directions; action in reverse; termination of action or state; intensification of action; dis-, un-.

(Source: Pocket Oxford Russian Dictionary)

Multiple names in Russian literature

Posted: Wed Oct 03, 2007 5:14 am
by Shelley
Oh dear, whatever am I going to do with all my free time, now? ;^) Many thanks, Erik!