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)

What’s Up Wednesday


I’ve been participating in What’s Up Wednesday to keep track of my writing progress and goals. Anyone can write a post and add the link to Jaime’s blog. Each week, participants post something under the four simple headings.

What I’m Writing

Currently past 487,000 words on my current WIP, Journey Through a Dark Forest, chapter 60, “Keeping a Promise,” This is the chapter that’ll include the Anglo-Soviet invasion of Iran in August-September 1941, so I’ll have to do a little research for those sections. I wish there were more WWII books, both novels and non-fiction, set outside of Europe, Japan, and North America! A lot of other countries were involved, you know.

The chapter starts bittersweetly, as Alina Petropashvili is finally reunited with her husband Amiran Koridze in the Fereydan bazaar. After four years of daily torture, Amiran finally escaped from prison in Georgia and made his way to Iran on foot, going over the Alborz Mountains just as Alina and her friends did in 1937. His body is severely battered, but with Alina’s loving care, he’ll eventually recover. Under all that torture, he never named names or provided information.

Best of all, he finally gets to see their three-and-a-half-year-old daughter Tamar, whom he had no idea existed. Amiran didn’t know Alina was pregnant when he ordered her to escape to save her life, after almost 10 childless years of marriage. It’s so jarring to me that in the Kartuli (Georgian) language, the words for mother and father are switched from the Indo-European languages. Tamar calls Alina Deda, and Amiran Mama.

What I’m Reading

I’ve been concerning myself primarily with reading for school, though I’m also finding time for library books when I can. I imagine I’ll have next to no free time for any personal reading or writing when I’m eventually pursuing that dream Ph.D. in Russian history!

What Inspires Me

How I’ve been able to put my schoolwork first and my fictional writing second. I’m also proud of myself for slowly getting confidence in standing up for myself to my roommate. I’m not going to just smile and passively accept moving because of a wild fantasy she’s latched onto. I went to the landlady between classes on Monday to let her know my roommate decided she wants to move out, doesn’t think she should pay rent if she won’t be living here for the next few weeks, and doesn’t feel morally and ethically obligated to find someone to sublet in her place. Hey, that’s not going to go on my credit rating!

As a bullying survivor, it’s very important I advocate for myself against strong personalities and don’t just go along with things I don’t want to placate and humour people. I have to remove myself from verbal abuse and not let passive-aggressive digs stand.

What Else I’ve Been Up To

The 8-day festival of Sukkot starts Wednesday night. Though I’ve never been in a position to be able to build my own sukkah, it’s nice to visit other people’s. My rabbi and rebbetzin love Sukkot, and always do such a great job with celebrations and meals.

The unexpected drama I mentioned last week? My roommate is convinced, against all logical, rational evidence to the contrary, that there’s drug manufacture and use in our building. I’m not going to break my lease and go through that extra expense and time of moving yet again, only a few months in, unless it’s to a studio or one-bedroom elsewhere in the complex. This is completely ridiculous, but apparently the almighty Google University knows more than the police, our landlady, and other sensible people.

I had to reassure a new friend who’s thinking of moving here that the rumour she’s heard about a meth lab is an absolute fantasy, the product of an extremely overactive, obsessed imagination. I can’t live with this kind of constant manufactured drama and stress. I’ve been here alone since Yom Kippur, with only my giant stuffed frog Simon and old beat-up Davy for company. The difference in how calm, secure, and happy I’ve been is like night and day!

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.