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.


Names tally from my alternative history

Since I’ve finally finished my alternative history (at an estimated 405K, not including front and back matter), I thought it’d be fun to have a post totaling up how many times each name and nickname is used, as well as English and French forms used by non-Russophones. This includes titles used in place of personal names. Since the Imperial Family, and their extended relatives across Europe, used many of the same names over and over again, these don’t always refer to the same people.

Aleksandr: 172
Aleksandra: 25
Aleksey: 1,497
Alexis: 37
Alyosha: 185
Anastasiya: 95
Andrey: 48
Arkadiya: 1,404
Arya: 144
Aryechka: 16

Baby: 64
Beatrisa: 4
Bimbo: 73
Boris: 79
Bubnov: 9

Carol: 33
Churchill: 19
Cyril: 10

Denis: 10
Denya: 3
Dina: 67
Dinochka: 4
Dmitriy: 8
Dominik: 3
Dora: 3
Dowager Empress: 109
Dr. Dragomirov: 27
Ducky: 14
Dzhugashvili: 7

Eichmann: 60
Elena: 8
Eleonora: 51
Elisabeth: 24
Ella: 4
Emperor (as a proper noun): 95
Empress (as a proper noun): 235

Frederik: 20

Galina: 9
Galya: 1
Gavriil: 4
Georgiy: 59
Golubchik: 24
Gorm: 15
Günther: 10
Gurik: 1
Guriy: 19

Harald: 8
Helena: 9
Her Majesty: 37
His Majesty: 258

Igor: 157
Ileana: 89
Ingrid: 50
Ioann: 14
Ioannchik: 8
Iosif: 34
Irina: 13
Isidora: 71

Joy: 22

Kamenev: 16
Dr. Katz: 23
Kazimir: 19
Kirill: 59
Klarisa: 17
Kolya: 46
Konstantin: 146
Dr. Koshkin: 19
Kostya: 22
Kotka: 8
Dr. Kronberger: 6
Kseniya: 66
Ksyusha: 7

Lara: 8
Larisa: 47
Lenora: 12
Leonid: 15
Lyonya: 15

Manci: 27
Margit: 7
Margrethe: 9
Marie: 22
Marina: 82
Mariya: 277
Marusya: 7
Masha: 11
Mashka: 5
Matvey: 44
Dr. Merkulov: 126
Michael: 9
Michel: 25
Miechen: 164
Mihai: 26
Mikhail: 509
Rabbi Milhaud: 22
Misha: 151
Missy: 3
Mistress of the Robes: 19
Motya: 16

Nastya: 13
Nastyenka: 3
Natalya: 83
Natasha: 19
Nicholas: 69
Nicky: 28
Nicolae: 13
Nicolas: 4
Nikita: 29
Niki: 5
Nikolay: 47
Nina: 44
Ninusha: 4
Novak: 9
Novikov: 3

Odetta: 11
Oleg: 27
Olga: 138
Olik: 7
Olishka: 9
Olya: 6
Oskar: 18
Osya: 10

Pasha: 26
Pavel: 113
Pavlik: 1
Pecherskiy: 26

Rafail: 27
Rafik: 6
Roman: 68
Romashka: 4
Romik: 12
Roosevelt: 20
Roza: 9
Dr. Rybakov: 15

Sasha: 19
Savva: 17
Savvochka: 5
Seidl: 4
Dr. Shirikov: 23
Shura: 50
Shurochka: 2
Sokolnikov: 10
Stefan: 8
Stella: 19
Sunbeam: 55

Tanya: 20
Tata: 22
Tatyana: 174
Their Majesties: 27
Théodore: 70
Tikhon: 10
Tishka: 4
Trotskiy: 13
Tsar (as a proper noun): 547
Tsaritsa (as a proper noun): 44

Ulyanov: 43

Varvara: 42
Varya: 12
Vasiliy: 8
Vera: 24
Victoria: 40
Viktor: 12
Vladimir: 112
Volodya: 21
Vsevolod: 8

Wisliceny: 5
Woolly: 5

Yarik: 113
Yaroslav: 36
Yelena: 96
Yekaterina: 15
Your Highness: 18
Your Imperial Highness: 25
Your Majesties: 46
Your Majesty: 194
Your Serene Highness: 2
Yulian: 10
Yuliana: 36
Yulik: 5
Yulya: 5

Zakhar: 58
Zhukov: 16
Zinaida: 6
Zinovyev: 14
Zlata: 15
Zosha: 7
Zosik: 7
Zosim: 13
Zoya: 58
Zubrovka: 6

WeWriWa—Elegance after elegance


Welcome back to Weekend Writing Warriors and Snippet Sunday, weekly Sunday hops where writers share 8–10 sentences from a book or WIP. I’ve been sharing from my alternative history, And Aleksey Lived, which is scheduled to be released in exactly a month, if all goes according to plan. I’m currently experiencing computer problems, but I thankfully still have an 11-year-old computer as backup if the issues aren’t fixed in time. It runs a bit slower and isn’t so up to date, but the most important thing is that it works!

This week’s snippet comes a few lines after last week’s, when soon-to-be Empress Arkadiya had lunch with her future sister-in-law Tatyana and Tatyana’s three surviving children at Yelagin Palace. Everything about this palace and its menu impresses Arkadiya with its unfailing elegance. Now, dessert is served.

Menu for the Romanov Tercentenary, 1913

The cooks had prepared miniature hazelnut and chocolate mousse cakes, a cheese platter, plum tartlets, nectarine pudding, lemon and chèvre cheesecake with rhubarb and wine gelées, and chocolate raspberry roll cake. Arkadiya couldn’t imagine ever becoming used to such high-class dining. It always seemed far too much for one meal, particularly given how many leftovers these meals produced. Common sense would dictate the cooks only prepare as much as was expected to be eaten, instead of making too much and not keeping leftovers for the next day. Giving away the extras was wonderful charity, but the same could be accomplished by deliberately making food to be given to hungry locals and important visitors.

After luncheon concluded, Pavel and Varvara went back to their classroom, and Arkadiya followed Tatyana and Galina to the Poppy Red Salon. They entered through tall double doors of mahogany covered with delicate, gilt bronze decorations and engravings, flanked by very polished white pilasters, and topped by a pediment. As its name suggested, the room was full of poppy red furniture and silk tapestries. The deep red commingled with white, dark mahogany, and gold. In contrast to all the other finery in the room, the floor was plain parquet.

WeWriWa—Inside Yelagin Palace


Welcome back to Weekend Writing Warriors and Snippet Sunday, weekly Sunday hops where writers share 8–10 sentences from a book or WIP. This week’s snippet comes a bit after last week’s, when soon-to-be Empress Arkadiya arrived at Yelagin Palace, on St. Petersburg’s Yelagin Island, to visit her future sister-in-law Tatyana to discuss the wedding dress.

The servants have had to gently explain to Arkadiya that it’s not a good idea to call Tatyana by her title and style, in spite of what protocol dictates. First name and patronymic will do just fine, since Tatyana and her siblings want to be treated like normal people.


“Tatyana Nikolayevna is waiting in the dining hall with her children,” the oldest servant said. “I imagine she’ll take you to the Poppy Red Salon afterwards.  She usually entertains guests there.”

A majordomo led Arkadiya to the dining hall, which was outfitted with light walnut wood contrasting with white marble pilasters.  A row of windows on three sides of the room brought in beautiful, bright sunlight which bathed the room in illumination.  The bronze, gilt, silver, and gold carvings, statues, and busts arranged throughout the room sparkled in particular.  Facing the windows were mirrors giving reflections of the palace gardens, which weren’t completely hibernated yet.  It gave the impression of the lush greenery and bright flowers being right there in the dining hall.

WeWriWa—Arrival at Yelagin Palace


Welcome back to Weekend Writing Warriors and Snippet Sunday, weekly Sunday hops where writers share 8–10 sentences from a book or WIP. This week, I’m returning to my alternative history, which, if all goes according to plan, should be released on 17 July, my primary protagonist’s real-life 100th death anniversary.

And Aleksey Lived is set from 1918–45 (with a brief Epilogue some decades later), and tells the story of a restored Russian monarchy. One of the many unusual things about the new Tsar is his choice of a bride, a morganatic princess instead of an equally-ranked princess from a ruling house. Radical revisions to the draconian House Laws have made this engagement possible. Arkadiya is also seven years his senior instead of a few years younger.

It’s now late autumn 1929, and Arkadiya, the soon-to-be Empress, has been invited to visit her future sister-in-law Tatyana at Yelagin Palace, on St. Petersburg’s Yelagin Island, to discuss the wedding gown.

Copyrigh Nmgphoto, Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 4.0 International

Forty minutes later, the Duesenberg drove through the gates of the looming white edifice.  Arkadiya took a few moments to take all this in, before slowly ascending the massive white marble staircase leading to the main entry.  Identical urns were on either side of it, depicting Tritons and Nereids.  Since winter was approaching, there were no plants or flowers in them.  The air was rich with the scent of oranges from the trees in a nearby greenhouse.

The main vestibule was richly adorned with artwork on the ceiling and cornice, along with four stern statues of maidens holding bronze candelabras.  All the simple furniture was dark mahogany.  Several servants in red livery stepped forward to greet her.