Famous surnames (unintentional) in my Russian historicals

When I began my first Russian historical in January ’93, I chose names from a 1965 encyclopedia. This was long before the Internet existed for research (provided sources are properly vetted).

After my Russophilia began developing much more deeply at sixteen, I realised my characters’ names are well-known in Russian history. I also discovered surnames differ by sex; e.g., Konev vs. Koneva, Malenkov vs. Malenkova, Vishinskiy vs. Vishinskaya.

Marshal Georgiy K. Zhukov, 1896–1974

Zhukova, Lyuba’s birth surname. Its root, zhuk, means “beetle.” This is the name of WWII hero Marshal Georgiy Konstantinovich Zhukov.

Malenkov, main antagonist Boris. Georgiy Maksimilianovich Malenkov was an important politician during Stalin’s reign. Its root, malenkiy, means “little; small.”

Konev, Ivan’s family name, which Lyuba gladly takes to get rid of her repulsive blood father’s name. There were two famous bearers, Major General Ivan Nikitich and Ivan Stepanovich, both important WWII commanders. Its root, kon, means “horse.”

Marshal Ivan S. Konev, 1897–1973

Litvinov, heroic friend Pyotr. He double-crosses his father and brothers to get his friends out of the newly-formed USSR and onto a ship to America, and later defects to Sweden with his baby sister. In 1945, he comes to America with his sister, wife, and children. Maksim Maksimovich Litvinov was a diplomat and ambassador to the U.S. Its root, Litvin, means Lithuanian.

Beriya, the creepy secondary antagonist of Part I of the first book. It was such an eerie coincidence how I inadvertently selected the surname of a real-life sexual predator and vile waste of oxygen, Lavrentiy Pavlovich Beriya.

Vishinskiy, Lyuba and Ivan’s friend Nikolas, an inveterate intellectual who began going by the Greek form of his name at age twelve. After arriving in America, he changes the spelling to Vishinsky. Andrey Yanuaryevich Vyshinskiy was an infamous prosecutor in the show trials of the Great Terror.

Marshal Kliment Ye. Voroshilov, 1881–1969

Voroshilova, Lyuba’s rival Anastasiya, who sometimes plays the role of secondary antagonist of sorts. Kliment Yefremovich Voroshilov was a high-ranking military officer and politician under Stalin.

Kutuzova, Lyuba’s female best friend Eliisabet. Most Estonians didn’t have official surnames till the 19th century, and many took Russian and German names when the law dictated they adopt surnames. Eliisabet’s ancestors took their name in honour of Prince Field Marshal Mikhail Illarionovich Golenishchev-Kutuzov, a great military hero.

General Kutuzov, 1745–1813

Golitsyn, a boardinghouse manager who later becomes Ivan’s uncle. The House of Golitsyn is a princely family.

Furtseva, Lyuba’s friend Anya. I got lucky when I chose the surname of a famous women for a female character! Yekaterina Alekseyevna was one of the most important female politicians in the USSR.

Minina, Lyuba’s friend Alya, and Anya’s lesbian partner. Kuzma Minin is a national hero who defended the Motherland against a 17th century Polish invasion.

Shepilov, Lyuba’s cousin Ginny’s former best friend Aleksandr, who comes through with heroism when push comes to shove. Dmitriy Trofimovich was a reactionary politician who served under Stalin and Khrushchëv.

Tsar Boris Godunov, ca. 1551–1605

Godunov, antagonist cousins in the first book. Though both Misha and Kostya are morally repugnant, Kostya is more buffoonish than evil. He’s great comic relief. I loved using both again in the third book.

Vrangel, Lyuba’s next-best friend Kat. The House of Wrangel is a Baltic–German noble family, with many illustrious members over the centuries.

Nikonova, Anastasiya’s best friend Katrin, later Lyuba’s dear friend as well. Originally, her name was Nikon, taken from Patriarch Nikon. I was the classic kid who read too much and understood too little!

Discarded famous names:

Stalina, Lyuba’s cousin Ginny’s sweetheart Georgiya, whom he later unknowingly fathers a child with during her visit to America for Lyuba and Ivan’s wedding in 1923. I changed it to the similar-sounding Savvina. Does anyone NOT know who Stalin was?!

Trotskiy, Lyuba and Ivan’s friend Aleksey. That namesake is pretty obvious too, which is why I changed it to the similar Tvardovskiy (more on that in Part II).

Herzen, Lyuba’s cousin Ginny. The famous bearer was Aleksandr Ivanovich, an important philosopher and writer. I changed it to the similar-sounding Kharzin.

WeWriWa—Twelve-dish Christmas supper


Welcome back to Weekend Writing Warriors and Snippet Sunday, weekly Sunday hops where writers share 8–10 sentences from a book or WIP. To mark the recent Russian Orthodox Christmas, this snippet comes from my fourth Russian novel, in a scene featuring the traditional twelve-dish supper of Christmas Eve (6 January). This is the beginning of 1949.

NYU freshmen and Irish twins Igor and Ilya are living with their great-aunt Valeriya and her second husband, Grigoriy Golitsyn (a prince by birth). Their guests are Valeriya and Mr. Golitsyn’s oldest child together, Vasya; his wife Dusya; and their children, 6-year-old Stella and 2-year-old Nora. Also present is Valeriya and Mr. Golitsyn’s daughter Vasilisa, who’s seriously dating another prince by birth.


After the Troparion, Mr. Golitsyn takes out a blue and white bowl of honey and makes the sign of the cross on each person’s forehead in turn, starting with Valeriya and ending with Nora.

“In the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost, may you all have sweetness and many good things in life and in the new year,” he pronounces after Nora has been anointed.

Valeriya lights a large yellow candle in the center of the table, contained in a red and white porcelain dish, symbolizing the star of Bethlehem.  Then Stella stands up on her chair and reads the Nativity story from the Gospel of Matthew.  The youngest child is traditionally supposed to read it, but Nora doesn’t know how to read anything yet.  Finally, Mr. Golitsyn asks for God’s blessings on the wine, bread, and food, breaks the round, twisted kalach bread, and distributes it to the other eight people.

The first proper meal of the supper is kutya, cooked barley kasha sweetened with chopped walnuts, honey, dried cranberries, and poppy seeds.  Also around the table are caviar, mushroom soup, fish soup with dumplings, cabbage soup, pickled mushrooms, pirozhki, stuffed carp, baked trout, draniki, pickled cabbage, boiled potatoes with dill from Vasya and Dusya, raspberry tea, wine, blueberry vareniki, walnut pudding, and assorted dried fruits.


Draniki are potato pancakes; pirozhki are baked or fried buns stuffed with things like mushrooms and beef; and vareniki are kind of like blintzes or crêpes, dough pockets stuffed with either savory or sweet foods. The Troparion is a one-stanza hymn, with many different forms.

What’s Up Wednesday


What’s Up Wednesday is a weekly hop/meme with four simple headings. Anyone can write a post and add the link to Jaime’s blog.

What I’m Writing

I spent the majority of the last week writing my final paper for Organization of Information. It ended up at 15 pages, with a bibliography a bit over one page. My title page was in Monotype Corsiva, while the main text was in the gorgeous, classy, venerable Janson. Palatino will always be my font soulmate, after 20 years together, but it’s fun to mix it up with other typefaces for papers. Janson is one of the fonts I had to seek out for download, as it didn’t come with my computer.

My topic was the Barnard Archives, coupled with discussing college and university archives as a whole, and how they organize information, use metadata, grant access, appraise their collections, etc. On Tuesday afternoon, I had a Skype interview with one of the archivists. If there’d been more time, I would’ve loved to have taken her up on her invitation to come there in person. I’m still planning a visit there for some research for the future second draft of my WIP.

I’ve managed to find some time every day to work on my WIP as well, though not nearly as much as in the past. Currently I’m up to 527,000 words, still Chapter 67. Fedya and Vasya have officially been sworn into the Army, and have just left on the train to boot camp in Virginia. Vasya’s bride of three months, Dusya (who had the free spirit and guts to wear a black dress for their Halloween wedding), comforted his mother Valeriya by saying her first grandchild may be on the way.

Dusya has been around since Part II of the first book, when she appeared as one of the youngest of antagonist Boris’s students at the religious school. When Tatyana got her job at the church camp in Part II of this book, I decided to make Dusya one of her co-counselors and to make them best friends. I also brought back now-adult alumni Rodya and Patya for this purpose, and made them into main characters too.

Valeriya is Ivan’s aunt, related to him twice over. In her first marriage, she was married to his father’s brother, but she remained his aunt after his father murdered his brother in a drunken rage. She’s also the older sister of Ivan’s now-estranged mother. The only child of her first marriage, Liza, was murdered in 1913 at age about fourteen. Valeriya remarried a former prince, Grigoriy Golitsyn, in 1920, and they had two children when she was in her early forties. Mr. Golitsyn started out as the manager of one of the boarding houses Lyuba and her friends stayed at during the Civil War. Both of them should’ve been grandparents a long time ago, if they hadn’t each lost their first children.

I’m really looking forward to writing Valeriya as a young woman when I eventually write the prequel. She was the first woman in her family to attend university, though she was also married and had a child during those years. She’s also been a big advocate of women’s rights and progressive causes for probably her whole life, in the way someone born in 1877 would be. Valeriya isn’t nearly as radical as Katrin!

What I’m Reading

The journal articles I found for my paper on the Barnard Archives. Not really time for much other reading at this point in the semester.

What Inspires Me

I recently celebrated my 13-year anniversary with my favouritest album, Quadrophenia. It’s such an emotional, sublime, majestic, beautiful, moving, poignant experience that never wears out. Jimmy’s journey is just as meaningful every single time.

What Else I’ve Been Up To


I bought this adorable potato-scrubber when my new (sane!) roommate and I were at Bed, Bath, and Beyond recently. You can’t be a real Hunky (Slovakian) and not love potatoes!


My first attempt at making baked potato wedges. They didn’t taste or look as perfect as my parents,’ but they were edible, and not too firm. Practice makes perfect. Now that I have a potato masher, from the Madison Avenue Price Chopper that’s about five minutes away from the downtown campus, I’m going to try making mashed potatoes! (The Madison Avenue Chopper is respectably proletarian. The so-called “Ghetto Chopper” is over on Delaware Avenue, near my old junior high.)


I was trying to load my little stapler I’ve had since fifth grade with the extra staples my parents gave me. They were too big to fit. I looked in the pencil case I wove during camp when I was twelve, and lo and behold, I still have the original box of staples, with quite a few still left. This box is seriously vintage. And that’s how I found out I have a mini stapler and that it’s apparently hard to find staples this size at most stores.