A primer on Georgian names

Like the rest of the installments of my “A primer on ________________ names” series, this too is probably destined more for people doing research on search engines than my regular readers.

Kartvelophilia really snuck up on me, and only seriously struck when I was writing Chapter 26, “Trouble in Transcaucasia,” of Journey Through a Dark Forest. I’d had no plans to use former orphanage girl Alina Petropashvili or her Armenian friends in the third book, but you know what they say about the best-laid plans. While I was researching the city of Kutaisi, Georgian cuisine, and the history of Georgia during the Great Terror, I just began falling more and more in love with the culture, history, language, food, and people.

Georgian is a Kartvelian language, not Indo–European, and as such, most of its words and names will be thoroughly unfamiliar to the typical Westerner. It’s also a notoriously tongue-twisting language, with numerous consonants in a row. Interesting trivia fact: The Georgian words for mother and father are switched from most Indo–European languages’ words. Deda is “mother” and Mama is “father.”


Most people are probably familiar with the two most common Georgian surname endings, -dze and -shvili. E.g., Koridze, Lomidze, Beridze, Nozadze, Bolkvadze, Gelashvili, Dzhugashvili, Ivanishvili, Zotikishvili, Sologashvili, Manvelishvili. Some surnames end in -eli, -ia, -uri, -uli, -ani, -shi, -khi, -ti, -oni, and -kva. Like the names in many other languages, Georgian surnames too originated in reference to profession, physical characteristics, social status, regional origin, and patronymic.

I’ve heard the claim that Stalin was secretly Jewish, or of Jewish ancestry, based on his birth name, Dzhugashvili. First off, that name does NOT mean “Jewish” in Georgian, and secondly, Jewish and Christian Georgian surnames equally end in -shvili or -dze. It smacks of urban myth to say -shvili names are Jewish only. Plus he was studying for the priesthood prior to turning to atheism, and his final planned purge, The Doctors’ Plot, targeted Jewish doctors and was only aborted because he died. There’s documented evidence Lenin’s great-grandpap was Jewish, but no such proof has ever surfaced for Stalin.

Though a number of names used in modern Georgia are adapted loan names from the surrounding cultures, particularly Russian and Persian, I’m focusing on the native Georgian names. My apologies for any inadvertent misspellings or mistranslations!

Common names and their meanings, when known:


Aleksandre (Sandro)
Amiran, Amirani
Andria (Andro) (Andrew)
Anzori, Anzor (Noble)
Avtandil (Avto) (Heart’s sunshine; Sunshine of the heart)
Badri (Full Moon)
Bagrat (God-given)
Basil, Vasil (Vaso)
Batcha (Child)
Batchana (Undersized)
Bakhar, Bakar
Bakhva (Stocky)
Bekha (Senior)
Bidzina (Uncle’s fellow)
Botso (Fat man)
Davit, Daviti (David)
Dzaglika (Dog)
Giga, Gigi, Gigla, Gigo
Giorgi (Goga) (George)
Grigol (Gregory)
Gvtisavar (I’m God’s man)
Iakob (Koba) (Jakob)
Imeda (Hope)
Ioseb (Soso) (Joseph)
Irakli (Hercules)
Khveli (Generous)
Kokhta (Harmonious)
Kukuri (Rosebud)
Kvarkvare (Lovely)
Kviria (Sunday)
Lasha (Light)
Levan (Leon)
Malkhazi, Malkhaz (Youthful, Elegant, Beautiful)
Mate (Matthew)
Mgelika (Wolf)
Mikheil (Misho) (Michael)
Mukhran (Oak)
Mzechabuki (Sun’s fellow)
Mzekhar (You are the Sun)
Nikoloz (Nika, Nikusha) (Nicholas)
Okhropir (Gold mouth)
Otar (Meadow, Pasture)
Pavle (Paul)
Petre (Peter)
Pridon, Pridoni (The third)
Ramaz, Ramazi
Revaz, Revazi (Reziko) (Successful, Wealthy)
Sachino (Prominent, Visible, Clear)
Sakvarela (Lovely)
Sekhnia, Sekhna (Namesake)
Shalva (Peace)
Shavleg (Black)
Shevardena (Falcon)
Simon, Simoni
Sosana (Lily)
Sula (Soul)
Taka, Takha
Tamaz, Tamazi (Brave horse)
Toma (Thomas)
Tsotne (Little)
Ushisha (Fearless)
Utcha (Dark, Swarthy)
Vepkhia (Vepkho) (Tiger)
Zviad, Zviadi (Haughty, Arrogant, Proud)


Bedisa (Fate)
Chiora (Bird)
Dedika (Mother’s daughter)
Dedisimedi (Mother’s hope)
Dodo, Duda
Dudukhana (Fat girl)
Dzabuli (Girl)
Ekaterine (Eka) (Catherine)
Elene (Helen)
Elisabed (Eliso) (Elizabeth)
Endzela (Snowdrop flower)
Eteri (Air, Ether)
Firimtvasa (Moon’s mouth)
Firimzisa (Sun’s mouth)
Fotola (Leaf)
Gedia (Swam)
Gogutsa (Little girl)
Gulisa (Little heart)
Gulsunda (Heart’s need)
Gultamze (Heart’s Sun)
Gulvardi (Heart’s rose)
Gvantsa (Wild, Crazy)
Iatamze (Sun of violets)
Irema (Deer)
Irine (Irene)
Kekela (Beautiful)
Khaltamze (Women’s Sun)
Khareba (Like an ikon)
Lali (Ruby)
Lamara (the Svanetian dialect’s form of Mary)
Lamzira (Place of prayer)
Maguli (Similar)
Maisa (Born in May)
Makvala (Blackberry)
Manana (Heather)
Mariam, Mariami
Mtvarisa (Moon’s girl)
Mzekhar (You’re the Sun)
Mzeona (Sunny)
Mzetamze (Sun of Suns)
Mzia (Sun)
Mzissadari (Like the Sun)
Mzistvala (Sun’s eye)
Nana (Nani, Nanuli)
Natela (Natia) (Light, Bright)
Nestan, Nestani
Nino (saint who brought Christianity to Georgia) (Nina)
Nugesha (Hope)
Pepela (Butterfly)
Pikria (Thinking woman)
Sanata (Shine)
Sandua (Principal)
Shorena (Remote)
Shukhia (Light)
Sulikho (Soul)
Tamar, Tamari
Taplo (Honey)
Tinatini (Sunbeam, Sun)
Tshinara (Smile)
Tsiala (Celestial)
Tsira (Girl)
Turpa (Lovely)
Vardo (Rose)

Kutaisi, Georgia


River Rioni

By the banks of the River Rioni, image by А. Мухранов (A. Mukhranov) (www.travelgeorgia.ru).


The Ukimerioni Fortress ruins, image by Rusudan Beridze (user: Serafita).

The Gelati Monastery, image by Ilan Molcho, uploaded by geagea (1661.jpg).

Kutaisi is Georgia’s next-largest city, at about 200,600 people, and the capital of the Imereti region. It’s nestled along both banks of the Rioni River, the Northern Imereti Foothills, the Samgurali Range, the Colchis Plain, and many deciduous forests. The city has a humid, subtropical climate, and because of all the nearby mountains, rain can be expected in any month. It’s also very windy, and snow can be wet and heavy.

Kutaisi was the home of many Georgian rulers throughout history. One of the city’s landmarks is the Bagrati Cathedral on Ukimerioni Hill. It was built during the early 11th century, during King Bagrat III’s reign. In 1692, it was blown up by the invading Ottomans. Only in the 21st century were the ruins finally restored.

Another landmark is the Gelati Monastery, which contains the Church of the Virgin, the Church of St. George, and the Church of St. Nicholas. Many ancient manuscripts and murals are preserved there, and it once had an Academy that was home to many of Georgia’s greatest writers, scientists, philosophers, and theologians.

Bagrati Cathedral restored, image by Brave Lemming (http://www.flickr.com/photos/jptournut/8207226180/).

Kutaisi is the setting for part of Chapter 26, “Trouble in Transcaucasia,” of my WIP, Journey Through a Dark Forest. Former orphanage girl Alina Petropashvili, now grown up, has been living in Kutaisi since she came home in April 1927, shortly before her 19th birthday. She loves living in such an ancient, historic city, but her unjustly imprisoned husband, Amiran Koridze, orders her to get out of there, go to her friends in Armenia, and escape to the Fereydan region of Iran, which has a lot of Georgians.

Amiran proposed to Alina by the ruins of the Bagrati Cathedral on Ukimerioni Hill in September 1927. Their apartment overlooks the Rioni River and the lush, green hills. Georgia feels like the most beautiful country in the world to Alina, because it’s hers. From the moment she stepped foot off the train home and breathed in the air, she’d known she was home and never wanted to leave ever again. It’s very painful for her to have to leave to save her life, and ensure a safe future for the child she’s just discovered she’s having after almost ten childless years of marriage.

Gorgeous River Rioni running through Kutaisi, image by Tamuna Kakauridze (lemill.net).

The ruins of Geguti Palace are another landmark beacon of Kutaisi. The city also contains Sataplia Cave, which has dinosaur footprints; the Meskhisvili Drama Theatre; three synagogues on Gaponov Street, part of the city’s historic Jewish neighborhood; Motsameta Church; and the Catholic Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception. It’s also believed that Kutaisi was home to the Golden Fleece stolen by Jason.

Kutaisi Shul

The main synagogue, the only Kutaisi shul still in use today, image by Dato Rostomashvili (Flickr).

Georgia has one of the most ancient Jewish communities outside of Israel, and Kutaisi was part of that community. The Jewish presence in Georgia can be traced to the Babylonian captivity, the 6th century BCE. (Contrary to the Ashkenazocentric myth, Eastern Europe was far from the only place in the Diaspora!). There were a number of shuls in the Jewish neighbourhood, though only one is used today. The majority of the community went to Israel from the 1970s onward. Prior to Soviet persecution, in March 1879, there was a blood libel trial in Kutaisi, though all ten accused were acquitted.


The ruins of the Bagrati Cathedral, pre-restoration, painted by Aleksandr Fyodorovich Peters (artcyclopedia.ru).

Downtown Kutaisi, image by Kober.

More information:






Fereydunshahr, Iran


Moalem Park, Copyright Ooggs00995.

Copyright Ooggs00995.

Georgian lettering in Fereydunshahr, Copyright Ooggs00995.

Copyright Ooggs00995.

Fereydunshahr is the eponymous capital of Fereydunshahr County, in the Fereydan region of Iran’s Isfahan Province, and features frequently in the Iranian chapters and sections of my WIP. The Fereydan region was chosen for my Georgian character Alina and her Armenian friends to settle in after escaping the USSR in 1937, because in addition to having a large Armenian population, it’s also notable as Iran’s largest concentration of Georgians. Not only that, but these Georgian-Persians have preserved their native language. The other Georgians of Iran speak Persian.

Fereydunshahr is home to about 13,500 people, and is tucked into the beautiful Zagros Mountains. Iran has a lot of amazing, gorgeous mountains, as I hope to discover in person when I take my trip there within the next few years. Within the greater Fereydan region, apart from Fereydunshahr, there are about ten Georgian villages and towns, which still preserve the Georgian language and customs. However, these people have long since converted to Islam, and there are no Georgian Orthodox churches which I know of in Iran.

The highest of the Zagros Mountains in Fereydunshahr is Mount Shahan Kun, about 13,254 feet high. In the foothill of the mountain, many people gather to ski, hike, picnic, take pictures, walk, and just admire Nature. Until the construction of the Sardab Dam, the city was also home to the beautiful Baba Ahmad Spring. In the Western part of the city is the Punezar Waterfall.

Fereydunshahr has a ski resort, part of an active Winter sports culture. Since Iran has so many mountains, many people enjoy skiing. The skiing season lasts from November to April. In addition to skiing, the city also draws many other Winter tourists.

It’s not as well-known as a city like Tehran, Isfahan, or Tabriz, but I’m really looking forward to visiting and seeing the natural beauty and convergence of many cultures for myself.

Moalem Park, image by Ooggs00995.

Moalem Park, image by Ooggs00995.

Moalem Park, image by Ooggs00995.

More information:


http://frerydunciti.blog.com/ (lots of beautiful pictures!)

20th Anniversary and World Building Blogfest, Day Four (Food, Drink, Holidays, Culture)

Today, 31 January 2013, makes it 20 years since I began my first Russian novel. I was just a 13-year-old kid in 7th grade, brand-new to Russophilia and writing present tense, not exactly well-steeped in how to write good 20th century historical fiction. I created that book on a 1984 152K Mac, and kept all the files on disks. All the chapters except Chapter 22, the first chapter of Part II, were created in MacWriteII or ClarisWorks. The formatting of the margins and spacing within empty space, in the original sections of the first chapters, are all out of whack after being converted and reformatted. An echo of the past, of that vintage computer, lingers on in this book.

At 13, I had no idea I’d stay with the story that long, or even that it would end up being that long (342,000 words in the finished first draft, a bit over 350,000 at its height during extensive revisions a decade after finally finishing, now down to around 335,000 and possibly to go down to 330,000). I didn’t realize how drastically I would change the original material and plotline. I didn’t even know that Amy wasn’t a Russian name.

But the story stayed in my head for all those years, driving me back to it time and time again, with the entire basic outline memorized in my head. There was something so special about it that called to me and made me stay with it, when so many other books I began around that age were never finished and have long since been forgotten and written off. I can’t even remember or explain how I hit upon the new and improved title that came to me during my second major writing phase, You Cannot Kill a Swan: The Love Story of Lyuba and Ivan. The original title was Amy and the Boys (gag).

In honor of this special 20th anniversary, I’ve decided I’m going to be doing some kind of indie or e-publishing of the first book sometime this year. I began the book in 1993, finished it in 2001, began an endless series of revisions and edits in April 2011, and am still doing edits and revisions on and off to make it as perfect as possible. I’m not waiting another 10 or 20 years to put my pride and joy out there.

World Building

The topic of the fourth day of the World Building Blogfest concerns the culture of our worlds—cuisine, dance, language, holidays, that sort of thing. I decided to write out the Georgian alphabet, and just because I could, I drew the Armenian alphabet as well.

Georgian is on top in violet, Armenian is on the bottom in dark blue. This was my first time writing the Georgian alphabet, as opposed to how I’m a bit more seasoned at writing the Armenian alphabet. I made a mistake on the Georgian letter Pari, with the arm on the left-hand side coming in way too far, and tried to color over it with a white colored pencil, to no avail.


Some of the Armenian letters have two transliterations because Armenian is pronounced differently depending on where you’re from, East or West. For example, baklava in Eastern Armenian vs. paklava in Western Armenian, dz’merek (watermelon) vs. tsumereg.



As you can see, Georgian, unlike Armenian, doesn’t have upper-case vs. lower-case versions. There are three versions of the Armenian letter Ch because I’ve seen it written all three ways.

You know you’re an incurable omniglot when you’re starting to learn your sixth alphabet and umpteenth language! If I can master Georgian and stop forgetting the Armenian alphabet, maybe someday I really can learn the Arabic/Persian alphabet. (Besides the obvious Roman alphabet, my other alphabets are Cyrillic, Greek, and Hebrew.)

Georgians and Armenians have a rich culture of hospitality and food. The signature Georgian bread is called khachapuri, and has egg and cheese baked inside. The signature Armenian bread is lavash, a flatbread. They both have many foods cooked in walnut sauce, and enjoy fruits such as pomegranates, figs, dates, olives, plums, apricots, and oranges. Also in common is a yoghurt-type cheese I learnt to call lebaneh, but which also has the varying names libna, labneh, lebni, and zabedi. They also have a popular pickled string cheese similar to mozzarella, chechil in Armenia and sulguni in Georgia.

Alina sneaks over to see her imprisoned husband and give him some fruits, bread, nuts, and cheese from the bazaar before she starts making her way into Persia. She hasn’t been eating very heartily since his arrest, and finally is prevailed upon by her Armenian friends to start eating well for the sake of the child she’s carrying. When Alina arrives in Yerevan at her friends’ apartment, Ohanna makes her lentil salad, mushroom soup, pumpkin stew, lebaneh, topig/topik (an appetizer that’s sort of like a giant falafel ball, mixed with potatoes, and stuffed with currants, nuts, onions, and spices), roasted chicken in walnut sauce, matnakash (a soft, golden-brown bread), paklava, and kefir flavored with pomegranate.

Dinner can last for hours, with all the dishes and drinks, and all the toasts. Georgians have elevated the feast to a ritual-like event called a supra, with each dish preceded by a toast. Sometimes what starts out as a simple, basic lunch or dinner can be elevated into a whole supra.  You’ll never go hungry if you’re in Georgia or Armenia.