Posted in Names, Russian culture, Russian history, Russophilia

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.

Posted in 1920s, Fonts, Historical fiction, Katrin, Russian novel, Writing

Ellis Island (Euphemia)

Font: Euphemia (wanted Edwardian Script, but it was too hard to read for an extended period, even in 30-point type)

Chapter: “Ellis Island”

Book: You Cannot Kill a Swan: The Love Story of Lyuba and Ivan

Written: Spring 1999 or 2000

Computer created on: It was a Mac that must’ve been made in ’96 or ’97, or a new ’99 one.

File format: Word98 (first and only time I wrote any chapters of my first Russian novel in Word!)

This is Chapter 22 of my first Russian historical novel, the first chapter of Part II, “America.” I had so much fun doing the research for this, because I’ve always been fascinated by the history of immigration to the United States, and Ellis Island. More recently, I went back and did some editing on this chapter, after finding out some new information (like how single women and unmarried couples weren’t allowed to leave alone, and how immigrants had to do puzzles to test their mental powers).

Our characters arrive on 3 May 1921, after having left from the port of Tallinn on 15 March. They were very lucky to get in, as restrictions on immigration began tightening that year. In early 1924, it became even more difficult for anyone from Eastern or Southern Europe to immigrate, thanks to all those racist, xenophobic laws. People from Asia couldn’t immigrate even with a miniscule quota (which was never even met in all those years it was on the books). America is made of immigrants, even the Native Americans themselves. These laws severely restricting certain races and ethnic groups from entering are one of the biggest black eyes in our nation’s history. Many people died because they weren’t allowed to leave dangerous situations, like Nazi Germany or Stalinist Russia. Rant over.

Lyuba’s party traveled second-class, but they end up having to go through the processing station with steerage, instead of inspected right on the boat like they were promised. Along the way, there are a couple of problems, but eventually everyone is allowed to enter the mainland. I now realize that a large White Russian immigrant community was established uptown in Hamilton Heights, but I’m too used to having them in the Lower East Side to undertake significant rewriting to change the setting. I think the downtown setting works better for the storylines of the first two books than putting them uptown would anyway.

The chapter ends with Kat and Nikolas’s wedding and Nikolay’s baptism at the Kissing Post.

Some highlights:

“The Americans in government now are racists,” Katrin proclaims. “Don’t you remember what Pyotr said?  They’ll send back people with a little birthmark on their neck if it looks like it’s contagious.  I even heard they once sent an old woman back because one of her fingernails was black, even though it wasn’t from disease.”

“Does anybody here have relatives to take them in?” Katrin asks. “I also heard they routinely send people back if they don’t furnish proof of employment or family waiting for them.”

“Time to be checked out by customs,” Katrin’s young suitor tells them after the three hours are up. “Don’t say anything incriminating.  And be warned, single women aren’t allowed to leave the island without male escorts, and they don’t let unmarried couples leave together.”

Anastásiya screams as the eye doctor flips her eyelids back with a buttonhook.  Katrin begins to whimper when her turn comes up.  That indignity, however, is soon overtaken when various jigsaw puzzles are set before everyone.

“I’m twenty, not five,” Katrin huffs. “If you’re giving us these puzzles for us to pass our time, you could at least do to give us puzzles with a hundred or more pieces.”

Anastásiya has switched from crying to her old bad habit of biting her nails since she’s gotten discharged by the doctors.  She’s biting them harder and more desperately than ever before because she’s afraid of spending the night here, on Ellis Island, surrounded by strangers.

Lyuba watches with tears in her eyes as the priest marries Kat and Nikolás.  Kat is wearing a purple silk gown and holding a nosegay of flowers she’s bought from one of the vendors.  Nikolás is wearing the only suit in his possession.  Kittey stands by, wearing a pink velvet dress and holding a second nosegay, serving as the bridesmaid.  For the first time since the Revolution, everyone in the wedding party is able to take Communion.

Posted in Writing

Buccaneer Blogfest—Wrapping It Up

The topic of the final day of the Buccaneer Blogfest is: “Share your experience from this blogfest. What are the next steps you want to take with your blog?”

Probably not too unexpectedly, I didn’t get a huge influx of followers from this blogfest, nor scores and scores of comments. While I’ve worked hard to make my average post under a thousand words, there are still times when a post has need to be longer than that. And I don’t think I could ever regularly have super-short posts that are under 300 words or so. That’s just not who I am.

People have known since elementary school that I’m a bookish intellectual. I was known as a walking encyclopedia, the kid who was always reading and writing, reading several grade levels above me, who never exactly had a gigantic, swelling social circle. In comparison to my characters, I think the ones who most closely resemble me are:

Nikolas of my Russian novels, a bookish intellectual with his head in the clouds much of the time. He’s such an intellectual bookworm, so enamoured of previous eras and their wisdom, that he’s been going by the Greek form of his real name, Nikolay, since he was twelve years old. I know the real Greek form is Nikolaos, but even my Kolya isn’t that out of touch with reality! He prefers reading, discussing and debating ideas, and studying to things like sporting, dancing, socializing, and working any blue-collar job. When I last saw him, in December 1930, he was studying towards finally going to university and realizing his longtime dream of being either a philosophy professor or a lawyer. When the third book opens, perhaps I’ll make him a double major in philosophy and law.

Emeline of my contemporary historical family saga. I out and out strongly based her on myself when I took Little Ragdoll out of hiatus and began again from scratch and memory. She too is a bookish intellectual reading several grade levels above her, born out of her time, interested in authors, actors, and other people and things of bygone eras. Emeline loves philosophy, languages, religions, history, all the things that keenly occupy my mind. She embraces vegetarianism some years before most of her fellow hippies get into it, and was interested in things like Eastern religions and Hermann Hesse way before they caught on with the countercultural movement. Only unlike Emeline, I only wish I could’ve gone to Vassar!

I’ve been trying to reply to more comments I get, though I still don’t reply to each and every single one. I also visit other blogs and comment on them, but so far that hasn’t resulted in a huge influx of new followers. At this point, it’s probably best to just continue what I’ve been doing, and slowly pick up followers and more regular comments. I know some people don’t have the time or patience to read posts that can be as long as mine, but it’s not like I’m rambling. I just often write about things that need more than a few paragraphs to be fully developed. Given the lengths of my books, I don’t think anyone’s ever going to accuse me of being short on words!

I’m going to try to continue connecting with other writers of historical and literary fiction, where my writing heart has always been. I’m also going to continue frequenting YA blogs, even though by this point I’ve pretty much come to the conclusion that my books with younger characters might not be considered true YA in today’s market. I’m not happy with the direction a lot of current YA historical seems to be taking, but I still write about preteens and teens.

How have all of you managed to find and keep a lot of followers?

Posted in Adicia, Names, Russian novel, Russian novel sequel, Third Russian novel, Writing

Renaming characters revisited

(This is the full length of the post I’d originally had scheduled for May.)

I’ve long been a name nerd, but before the advent of the Internet, I was pretty limited in the places I could find interesting, unique, lesser-used names. I also wasn’t helped by how my family’s encyclopedia were from 1965 and extremely out of date. Even the “updated” yearbooks we had with that set only went up to the very early Seventies. And factor in how I was the classic kid who read too much and understood too little.

Case in point: Since I’d read a lot about the Romanovs and the closely-related other Russian royals and nobility, I knew that many of them went by Western versions of their names. Thus, it followed that I believed it would be perfectly normal and historically and culturally accurate for some non-royal Russians to also prefer the Western versions of their own names. As such a passionate Russophile, I’m rather shocked it took me till last year to finally realize how silly that was. Even an upper-middle-class Russian who was fairly Westernized would still have had a normal Russian name, unless there were some extraordinary, compelling reason to use a foreign version of his or her name.

At first it was difficult, after my find/changes, to get used to seeing and thinking of my offending characters as Lyubov (Lyuba), Katariina (Katrin), Pyotr, and Eliisabet, instead of Amy, Catherine, Peter, and Elizabeth. Even Lyuba’s lovely aunt Margaret finally had her name changed to Margarita. In my earliest period of working on the book, in fact, I was even worse. Nikolas was called Nicholas (changed to Nickolas during the transitional period of writing supplemental stories in a notebook), Nikolay was Nikolai, Tatyana was Tatiana, Alya (Aleksandra) was Al, and Ivan’s mother (who becomes the mother-in-law from Hell in the sequel) was Anne.

Now I can’t think of them as anything but. The only characters who got to keep their non-Russian names were Nikolas and Lyuba’s cousin Ginny. Now it’s explained that Nikolas, a head in the clouds intellectual who prefers reading philosophy books to social events and sporting, has been going by the Greek form of his real name Nikolay since he was 12 years old and fell in love with the ancient Greek philosophers. (Yes, I know the real Greek form is actually Nikolaos, but even Nikolas isn’t that out of touch with reality!) And his nickname went from Nicky to Kolya. For Ginny, whose real name has always been Mikhail, it was explained that it was his childish mispronunciation of his parents’ baby nickname for him, Genie.

Other characters who changed their names were Malchen (Amalia) von Hinderburg, Julie Spirnak (now Laska), and Elizabeth Roblenska. The fourth-oldest Roblensky sibling is still called Elizabeth, and has been since she came to America in 1945, but in the scenes set in Europe during the war, I’m slowly changing her name to the real Polish form, Elzbieta. She’ll definitely be called Elzbieta and only Elzbieta during the book I’m going to write about her experiences during the war in Poland, Denmark, and Sweden, Righteous Unorthodoxy.

Malchen was originally called Honey, and her and Lazarus’s surname was Gray. Um, what? At least their friends the Brandts have the excuse of changing their surname to Small temporarily to avoid anti-German sentiments in their new country during wartime! And as I discovered while going through the miraculously resurrected file of the first part of the discontinued first draft of Adicia’s story, my sweet little Julie was originally called Karin. I didn’t even remember her having a name, or if I’d planned to use her after her initial, typically over the top, Grimm’s fairytale on acid-like scene. When I was renaming her and getting plans in my head to make her into an important secondary character, the name Julie just came to me. Names usually don’t just pop into my head and seem that perfect.

And in my future third Russian novel and the as-yet-mostly-unplotted fourth volume, the names of some of Tatyana and Nikolay’s children will have to change. Back in ’93, I wrote some scene set in 1991, of a very elderly Lyuba and Ivan coming back home and seeing a young couple who remind them of themselves during the Civil War. It’s mentioned that Tatyana and Nikolay have 7 kids, Yelena, Vera, Shura, Vova, Valya, Iosif, and Nadezhda.

Now I can’t use Yelena, Vera, and Nadezhda, since those are two of Lyuba’s dear stepsisters and her dear stepcousin. Their family also has a dear friend who lives in Toronto named Lena. I don’t like duplicating names within the same family. Way too confusing. I of course wrote that long before those characters were a gleam in my eye. But it’s a lovely tribute to older/deceased relatives to use the names Shura, Vova, and Iosif. Tatyana’s biological paternal grandma is named Aleksandriya and called Shura, Lyuba’s maternal grandfather was Iosif, and Nikolay’s paternal grandfather was Vladimir (Vova).

Posted in 1920s, Kat, Nikolas, Russian novel, Russian novel sequel, Writing


Name: Nikolay Andreyevich Vishinskiy

Date of birth: Autumn 1899

Place of birth: Moskvá, Russian Empire

Year I created him: 1993

Role: Main character, Not Protagonist

Nikolas is the first of two children of Andrey Eduardovich Vishinskiy and Lyudmila Bogdanovna Surikova. His little sister Katerina, called Kittey, was born in September 1906. In April 1917, in the wake of the February Revolution, Bolsheviks broke into their house, killed their parents, and sent him and Kittey to a labor camp in the Urals. Their friend Anna Pavlovna Furtseva (Anya) was in the camp with them. Upon their return to Moskva after the October Revolution, as part of a prisoner exchange, Nikolas became betrothed to Katriyana Dmitriyevna Vrangel, the last of fifteen sisters. Though Kat initially was very unhappy about the match, she eventually realized what a nice guy she was set up with, and that her potential husband could be much, much worse. Kat and Nikolas finally get married in May 1921, at the Kissing Post on Ellis Island.

When he was twelve years old, he fell in love with the ancient Greek philosophers, and began going by the Greek form of his real name. While he’s not some egghead or geek, Nikolas is still a serious intellectual, preferring to read philosophy books and discuss ideas instead of engaging in pursuits like sporting or dancing. Partly because he’s so detached from the real world, he’s not aware of all the trouble that starts in his home when he adds to his family against Kat’s wishes. She gets her hands on a book about safe and unsafe times too late, and feels she can’t violate Russian Orthodoxy by having an abortion or using artificial birth control. She’s eventually saddled with three sets of twins, and resents the younger two sets deep down in her soul. She never wanted to turn into her mother, who almost lost her mind on account of having 15 kids, and yet now she’s headed down that same path.

When Nikolas finally receives a serious wakeup call about how seriously his marriage and home are in trouble, he slowly starts trying to turn things around. He’s devastated when Kat later sneaks away to get sterilized, but ultimately comes to accept that maybe six kids are enough for them, and that Kat truly couldn’t handle even more kids. When the exodus from Manhattan to Minnesota begins, Nikolas takes his family there first. Once in Minnesota, he starts studying to go to university, a dream he’s had to defer for years. He wants to either go to law school or be a philosophy professor, while Kat and Kittey run a general store next to the house.

Some representative Nikolas lines:

“Don’t you think you’ve once and for all finally proved your love for each other after everything that’s happened?” Nikolás inquires. “I hate this job.  I wish I could get moved to the book-keeping department or some other managerial task instead of simply standing all day over scalding hot liquid iron.  I’m an intellectual, not someone who likes to do manual labor!  I had a hard enough time as it was when I was enslaved in that labor camp!”

“My wife was in your hotel room of sin and corruption to innocently borrow a dress to wear to a dance tonight, a dance we never departed for. She was made late when you came in unexpectedly and she had to hide in the closet.” Nikolás can hardly believe he’s asserting himself when so often he’s been more passive than even Iván usually is.  “Kat overheard and oversaw some things that upset her very much.  Are you going to give us an explanation for your deviancy, repent and go back to preferring men, or claim my wife is a liar?”

“Had I known you were a deviant then, I never would’ve allowed my little sister within a hundred kilometers of you!” Nikolás thunders. “I would’ve found some other girl in the women’s section of the labor camp to watch out for her!”

“Now that’s crazy talk!  You’ve been hanging around Katrin far too long, I can tell.  But I’ll retrain you.  You’re not supposed to be prepared for more children, even if you know you wanted one anyway.  Children ideally are supposed to just happen as little miracles from God!  We’ve got two already; what’s one more or even a second set of twins if God so wills it?  We’ll love having more children!  Think of it as a little playmate for Lyuda and Ráya!” Nikolás takes her luggage and carries it back to their tenement.

“I know everyone thinks of me as this purely philosophical guy who likes to spend all his free time reading, debating, and thinking, but I just couldn’t resist myself when your parents matched us.  And obviously you saw something in me.  Otherwise you wouldn’t have stayed with me for so long.  I know you wouldn’t have if you’d only felt sorry for me like you initially did.”

“He’d keep us here for several weeks at a stretch if he could,” Nikolás agrees. “That little mudak is all about profits, not people.  He doesn’t care we’re human beings and not stones.  Even the pathetic money we make for all this overtime is nothing next to all the money he’s wallowing in.  What a traitor to his people.  Now I understand why Katrin resented the Estonians who curried favor with the Tsar’s appointed rulers, since they weren’t acting in the best interests of their own people.”

“And you have been paying an awful lot of visits to your parents lately,” Nikolás says. “You’re twenty-six.  Guys your age can function without their parents.  And don’t give us that line about how you have six and a half missing years with your mother to catch up on.  You can catch up with a weekly get-together or phonecalls a few times a week.  If I didn’t know any better, I’d think you have an Oedipal complex.”

“Why are you calling our babies brats?” Nikolás asks as he cuddles Andréy. “I thought you’d be over this selfish, lethargic attitude by now.  Keep taking all those pills until you’re back to thinking and behaving like a normal woman.  Maybe you’ll be all better by our younger twins’ first birthday party later this month.  I’m so glad their birthday coincides with the two paid vacation weeks I get!”

“What nonsense.  All decent women love having children!  You’ve just been hanging around Katrin too long.  You’re starting to get some of her radical ideas.  You’ll change your mind and want more within the next few years.”

“Kat’s home all the time,” Nikolás says. “I know it looks a bit messy and dirty, but I’m gone at work almost as long as Iván and don’t really care what it looks like when I get home.  I’m too tired to care.  So long as there’s food waiting for me on the table, Kat looks pretty, and our four kids are fed, bathed, clothed, and happy.”

“Nonsense.  How could she not love having four children and having the luxury of working from home so she can raise them?  In fact, it might be a good idea to take this time to work on creating a fifth child.  Once a new baby is born, Kat won’t be able to even assemble those silk flower bouquets from home anymore.  Perhaps working has distracted her mind from putting her all into being a fantastic mother and housekeeper.  I’m sure another baby will set her straight, and I’ll never hear another peep out of her again.”

“You need to work on your attitude,” Nikolás says. “I’m sure you’ll be as cheerful and helpful as you used to be once the baby gets here.  You must just be having some kind of bad hormone overload from pregnancy, coupled with an overload that never properly resolved itself after your last pregnancy.”

“That’s nonsense,” Nikolás scoffs. “We need to leave Kat’s womb open for any future babies we might desire.  Why prematurely close it when she’s not even thirty years old yet?  She just turned twenty-six in September!”

Nikolás rolls his eyes. “Kat won’t have the time or interest to even make silk flower bouquets from home once she’s got five or six kids to look after.  Kittey works at the florist’s part-time now, so we’ve still got some extra money.  As soon as she gets home from the hospital with the new baby or babies, she’ll finally come back to her senses and lovingly embrace being a full-time wife, mother, and housekeeper.”

“Can you ever forgive me for what I’ve done to you, my little flower?  I drove you into madness and almost ended up a widower at only twenty-seven years old, because I just wouldn’t listen to you and was convinced I was the one in the right!”

“Yes, of course I know what a uterus is!  But you just turned twenty-seven last month!  You had a good twenty or more years of fertility left!  How could you let anyone take away the essence of your womanhood!  Please tell me this was a tragic mistake and the doctor really meant to remove something else!”

Nikolás hangs his head in his hands. “I suppose the most important thing is that you’re safe and back where you belong.  My most dear wife means more to me than some internal organ.  I still love you, not your ability or inability to have children.  I would’ve chosen you even if you had been barren or had problems like Lyuba.”