Names and nicknames of Siberian Estonians

Keywords: community, fieldwork, name giving tradition, Siberian Estonians

In the article, I discuss the name giving tradition of Siberian Estonians. The material has been collected from various Estonian communities in Siberia during the fieldwork of the Estonian Folklore Archives in the period 1991–2013. Most of my informants were descendants of those who emigrated to Siberia more than a century ago, and in some villages, I also met the descendants of those deported during the Tsarist period.

In the last decade of the 20th century and the beginning of the 21st, there were only a few villages in Siberia that remained more or less Estonian speaking. Most of the former Estonian or Lutheran settlements had become multi-ethnic villages, where Estonians formed one ethnic group.

The language and customs of the homeland were preserved abroad for a long time. When giving a name to a child, familiar names brought along from the home country were used as an example. Estonians defined themselves as Lutherans in Siberia. The children were baptized as soon as possible after their birth, and after the ban on religious activities, the children were secretly baptized at home.

In the Siberian Estonian community, the child was often given the name of a grandparent, whereas the name of the mother or father was generally avoided. Children were sometimes given exceptional names, for example after some literary heroes, but more often the child was given a well-known name used in the village. Although Estonian communities are spread over a fairly large territory in Siberia and only Estonians in neighbouring villages communicate with each other, there are no noticeable differences in the names between Estonian communities located in ­different regions or using a different (either North-Estonian or South-Estonian) dialect. However, favourite names vary from region to region and change over time.

Russian names began to be given to children in the second half of the 20th century. This is related to the growth of the prestige of the Russian language. With the growth of the national consciousness of small nations living in Russia, starting from the end of the 1980s, the self-esteem of Siberian Estonians also began to change. In search of roots, the names of ancestors have risen to glory again.

In addition to the official name, Siberian Estonians use nicknames and additional names. Most often, the genitive case of a surname is used to distinguish people of the same first name, but a nickname can also be given to people due to their appearance, a specific event, etc.

Of course, all official documentation was in Russian. Most of the names of Siberian Estonians have been registered by officials who do not speak Estonian. Names in documents are often deformed, also, standardization of name variants may occur.


Anu Korb (b. 1950), PhD, Estonian Literary Museum, Estonian Folklore Archives, Senior Researcher (Vanemuise 42, 51003 Tartu),