Start page

Valentyn Stetsyuk (Lviv, Ukraine)

Personal web site


Onomastic survey in Eurasia

It is difficult to overestimate the importance of place names for the restoration of historical events, not reflected in written sources or oral traditions. In this sense, toponymy is not only a linguistic but also a historical science that helps to uncover the secrets of peoples living on some territory and their economic and cultural activities. Taking into account the great stability and survivability of geographical names, their careful study and linguistic analysis can provide us with, particularly reliable information.

People and their languages can disappear from the face of the earth, but toponymic names as a kind of proper names, not otherwise designating anything other than the object behind which they are entrenched, are easily assimilated by other peoples and thus can persist for thousands of years. Common words of the language are often replaced by foreign borrowings, as a result of the actions of various associations, new words arise that supplant the old ones with time. Similar processes in the field of toponymic names are not observed (SEREBRENNIKOV B.A.1959: 37).

The opinion of the Russian linguist is confirmed by the famous British typologist Bernard Comrie in an article devoted to a multidisciplinary approach to the study of the problems of human prehistory:

It is known that when some people capture territories formerly inhabited by other nationalities, the names of the localities (toponyms) used by the original settlers are most often preserved by new settlers. A striking example of this throughout history is the fact that many of the place names in North America are of Indian origin, including the names of such large cities as Chicago and Ottawa, both of Algonquian origin (COMRIE B. 2000: 5).

The ethnic identity of the peoples during the relocation was kept if it took place in droves with the preservation of family and tribal structure. Some families were moved by their own transport, together with their belongings, household appliances, and livestock. Such convoy, accompanied by armed guards, stretching for several kilometers was unable to do a great day's march. Talking about the Celts and Scythians in the chapter CAIUS MARIUS, Pluiarh pointed out that "they did not swarm out of their country all at once, or on a sudden, but advancing by force of arms, in the summer season, every year, in the course of time they crossed the whole continent". (PLUTARCH, 1987, 516). Obviously, in summer, stops of various lengths are made in convenient places to study the possibilities of settlement. They were also being used for grazing livestock, replenishing water and food supplies, repairing carts, etc. Very often, at such stops, some group of migrants remains forever. It can be people who are tired of camp life, physically and mentally tired, sick, wounded, and relatives accompanied them.

Studyig toponymy has shown that in some cases, probably due to natural conditions, a chain of settlements appears on the migration routes, the names of which are mostly assimilated by newcomers, and thus they are preserved to this day. This allows us to change the view of existing ideas about the determining factors for the emergence of permanent migration routes.

According to Radan Květ, the entire crust can be dismembered into numerous fractures – a geological phenomenon of fundamental importance. A dense network of fractures determines the configuration of the hydrological network as the main characteristic of the prevailing landscape types on the planet. The hydrological network is associated with a network of prehistoric footpaths that arose along the streams in antiquity due to the fact that after settlement a person with his involuntary efforts laid footpaths most often on the fluvial terrace nearest to the water flow. Among other things, the trails served as a means of transmitting information between distant human groups:

In the history of mankind, the original network of trails became the first information network. It did not have the main purpose of trade and military treks: all sorts of technological experience, as, of course, cultural, led to the union of thoughts, ideas, philosophical and religious beliefs, just as artistic tastes. (KVĚT R., 1998: 43).

A peculiarity of the search for the interpretation of toponymy is that the names are often found that are randomly consonant with the words of the language, whose speakers now live far from these places, but whether they have been here once or not remains unknown. Therefore, to decipher the enigmatic place names, you need to have an idea of which peoples and when they populated the territory under study. In many cases, historical information helps to find the truth, but some of the place names can come from prehistoric times and researchers make the mistake of restoring events in days of yore only on the guesswork interpretation of incomprehensible names and often in favor of their own nation. Many modern ethnogenetic theories arose back in those times when comparative-historical linguistics as a science took only the first steps, however, erroneous ideas were firmly entrenched in the scientific world, but sometimes even the most dubious of them are used to create new contrived theories. In this case, incomprehensible toponymy also fit up for a false painted picture.

Throughout Europe, there are a large number of names of settlements, rivers, mountains, which can not be explained by means of the languages of the local population and therefore can be recognized as "dark". In the conducted research, when deciphering such place-names, data on the ancestral home of peoples being got by the graphic-analytical method and the paths of their subsequent migrations restored by other methods were taken primarily. Each name that attracted attention was tested for the possibility of etymologization with the help of dictionaries of languages that are close to the language of the population that inhabited the area in prehistoric time, and in the absence of such, etymological and bilingual dictionaries of modern languages were used. The reliability of the transcripts was determined not only by a good phonetic similarity but by the possible correspondence to the local topography and the location of the place-names themselves. If they formed dense clusters or distinct chains reflecting migration paths, this already indicated that the random coincidences in them did not distort the overall picture. The investigations carried out in this way allowed deciphering 3,700 dark place names. Decoding convinces that some toponyms should have been preserved for several millennia, and therefore it is possible that are completely undecipherable names are Paleo-European substratum. Distinguishing them from the general mass will become one of the means of restoring Paleo-European languages.

The numerous toponymy in Central Europe was left by the Celts, who were the first Indo-European to settle this territory. However, a significant number of alleged Celtic toponyms, despite the efforts of many researchers, did not receive a reliable interpretation, as evidenced by disagreements in views and scientific disputes over many decades (cf. MEES B. 2001). In this paper, the study of the toponymy of Europe was carried out only within the framework of verification of the obtained data on the migration of bearer of Corded Ware culture, which were the ancient Bulgars, of the Germanic, Slavic, and Iranian tribes, one of which was the Cimmerians branch known in history as the Cimbri.

In identifying substrate toponymy in general, the so-called areal-retrogressive method of A.P. Dulzon was used i.e. discarding later stranger language layers on the substrate basis (POPOVA V.N. 2003: 50). This is trivial. Some proposed etymologies of place names in work may be erroneous. Some errors are being eliminated with time, but some of them, hopefully insignificant, still remain. The aim of the study was not a full etymologization of place names in a certain territory, but a search for patterns in their location, in particular, clumps of toponyms, decoded on the basis of the same language. The explanation of the isolated place names outside the found cluster is presented as a fact, which requires confirmation by other data. If such evidence will be not found or another, more convincing etymology found, such toponyms will be removed from consideration as irrelevant to the research topic and its time frame.

It is important to know the ancestral homeland of ethnoi for solving problems of ethnogenesis since the formation of language and culture of people is influenced by climatic conditions and other geographical factors that determine, among other things, also the language substrate and the contacts with neighboring ethnic groups, what played a great role in the whole complex of ethnogenic processes at a prehistoric time. For a long time with no other reliable data, scholars were hoping that language characteristic of place names on certain territories could give reason to consider these areas as the Urheimat of the speakers of this language. However, it is also important to know the chronological framework of the appearance of place names, but they themselves don’t give the answers to this question does and therein the difficulty of its use lies. The place-name study (toponymy), really, couldn’t have probative value and gradually doubts of its use in studies began to be expressed because "… toponymic etymology is almost always conditional since it is unproven in the vast majority of cases" (MATVEYEV A.K.,1965: 10)

In the case of the Slavs, even a paradoxical situation turned out, where, according to L. Nederle, "there is no area in Europe, in general, that could be considered a Slavic Urheimat, as no region exists where geographical terminology would purely Slavic" (NIDERLE LUBORЪ., 1956: 34).

Radan Květ did not deny the existence of other possibilities for passing the terrain in later times, for example, “along the upper terrace”. The prerequisites for the emergence of footpaths were, first of all, physical-geographical, but there were also socio-geographical aspects. This latter determined the ways of migration that are not connected with water flows, but, having arisen once, they continued to exist for many centuries and even millennia, improving as new technical capabilities developed. For example, along the modern Russian road, which runs from Moscow to the Baltic, there is a clear chain of Estonian toponyms, although the road goes through rough terrain without being tied to any water flow. The same can be said about the E30 road, which runs through the territory of Poland from the city of Brest via Warsaw to Poznan, along which a chain of Anglo-Saxon toponyms stretches.

Place names cannot be not always connected directly with other data, and then the question of staying of an ethnic group on a certain territory is solved by comparison with reliable data on neighboring territories. For example, the Baltic place names in the basin of the of Pripyat, Desna, and Seym clearly indicates that some time this territory was inhabited by the Balts. V Toporov and the O. Trubachiov consider such names of the Vessia, Kovna, Luniya, Mazha, Morozha, Mytvitsa, Narovla, Nacha, Nertka, Osvitsa, Tremlia, Tsna, Shacha Rivers and many others as Baltic ones. Perhaps some of these names have Slavic origin, but in the mass, these names do not look Slavic. Other data about the presence of the Balts in these places are absent, but we know that the Urheimat of the Baltic was in another place and took a much smaller area. On the other hand, there are linguistic data about the contact of the Baltic with the Thracians, the place, and the time of their settlements are known to us. Thus, we can confidently say about the migration of the Balts to the basin of the Pripyat and its chronological framework. The boundary of the Baltic and Finno-Ugric place names quite clearly delineates the boundaries of settlements of the Finno-Ugric peoples in the west of their territory before the Slavic expansion:

As a whole, the northern and eastern boundaries of the Baltic tribes of the early Iron Age in the main coincide with the boundary separating the Baltic and Finno-Ugric toponymies and hydronymies. This boundary ran from the Gulf of Riga to the upper reaches of the Western Dvina and the Volga rivers. Turning further to the south, it is cut off Riverlands of the Moscow River from the basin the Volga River and the upper reaches of the Oka River, then along the watershed of the Oka and the upper reaches of the Don came to the steppe (TRET'YAKOV P.N., 1982: 54-55)

Many information can be given by the study of Thracian or Illyrian hydronymy that is concentrated in certain small regions. To the contrary, the analysis of the Turkic place names can give only scanty material to draw conclusions. The Turkic languages are quite conservative, so in the first place, it is difficult to make the stratigraphy of the Turkic place names, knowing that Turks inhabited some areas as in ancient and in quite recent times. Secondly, the Turkic place names are spread very large area, so it is difficult to localize the primary places of Turkic settlements. Thirdly, the number of Turkic people are numerous, so sometimes it is difficult to bind a certain Turkic name to a specific ethnic group. Approximately the same, but to a lesser extent, can be said about the Iranian place names. The analysis of the Slavic place names generally wound up scientists to a standstill, as evidenced by the above words L. Niderle. However, we can get a lot of information by a comparative analysis of place names of modern Slavic territories and their Urheimat. Though such comparisons are not always possible or very difficult. For example, the comparison of the place names of present-day Poland and the former Polish Urheimat has no sense, since the Polish influences reached far into the territory of Belarus still in fairly recent times. The same applies to the Ukrainian, Belarusian, and Russian place names. The results may give a comparative study of place names of the Slavic peoples, the ancestral home of which lie far from their present-day territories. This applies to the Czech and Slovak place names and place names of the South Slavs.

Often, people have moved to new lands give the same name for geographical objects, which they are accustomed to in the old places. This is manifested particularly clearly in the comparison of modern Czech and Slovak names of settlements with place names on the Urheimat of the Czechs and Slovaks. Much to a lesser extent, this phenomenon refers to the names of rivers. As an example, for the time being only the names of the Morava rivers in Bohemia and Moravna in Volyn and the names of the Uzh rovers on the ancestral homeland of the Slovaks and on the eastern border of their present territory can be cited.

However, despite the efforts made, no convincing parallels were found between Slavic toponymy in the Balkans and in the historical ancestral homeland of the southern Slavs in the basins of the left tributaries of the Dnieper River. Contrary to expectations, in an article with a promising title, only one hydronymic parallel of Ukraine and Yugoslavia was given in its various versions – Pinya, Pinch, Penya, Pina, Pena, etc. (ZHELEZNYAK I.M. 1976: 39-49). In one of his works, J. Zaimov examines the etymology of about 9,000 units of Balkan toponymy but does not provide parallels for them from the territories of southern Slavic settlements on their ancestral homeland (ZAIMOV JORDAN, 1967). Attempts to find something similar on the map of the Dnieper basin brought very scanty results. Several parallel place names of the same root were found, but they all had a different form of creation, so we can assume that these are just random coincidences: Babynino – Babino, Banichi – Banichan, Zhigayevo – Zhigantsy, Zhiglyantsy, Kokorevka – Kokorensky dol, Kokortsi, Kursk – Kuryani, Lyubazh – Lyubanci, Meshchovsk – Meshchan, Rzhanitsa – Rzhanichany, Rzhanik, Rzhenitsa, Selechnya – Selchani, Selce, Star – Staren. arise in different months max Slavic settlements independently of one another. The roots of most of these toponyms are quite common, so similar names could arise in different places of Slavic settlements independently of one another.

Investigating the names of large (longer than 100 km) and middle (50–100 km long) Balkan rivers, Georgiev came to the conclusion that out of the 27 large 16 or 19 have names of Thracian origin, 2 or 6 are Slavic. Out of 58 middle rivers, 33 have Slavic names, 13 – Turkish and 9 – Thracian (GEORGIAN VALADIMIR, 1960: 65). These results seem to confirm the widespread view that large rivers rarely change their name when a territory is being populated by newcomers, while smaller rivers receive mostly new names. However, the study of hydronimy in Eastern Europe has shown that there is no definite pattern in the preservation of the names of large and small rivers. There are small rivers whose names go back thousands of years (for example, the Tarapunka River, rt of the Lyutenka, lt of the Pslo, lt of the Dnieper) and there are big rivers whose names have changed many times (Dnieper, Don, Dniester).

The fact of the practical absence of toponymic coincidences between the Balkans and the ancestral home of the southern Slavs in the Desna and Diet basins suggests that they cannot be found in large numbers in any territories, even if they are inhabited by Slavs. In this case, the significance of the existing coincidences in the toponymy of the Czechia and Volyn, Slovakia, and the interfluve of the Slucha and Teterev rivers, however, an explanation should be sought for the absence of such a phenomenon among the southern Slavs. There may be several reasons. The first – the migration of the Slavs to the Balkans continued for several generations. This is a long period of time therefore children could forget the names of the ancestral settlements and the rivers closest to them. The second is that in the new lands the Slavs settled in the already existing settlements. Third, on the old ancestral homeland, they either did not have permanent settlements, or these settlements had no names. The latter reason is at first glance absurd in the light of the existence of earlier Germanic toponymy. The second reason can be discarded because there are a lot of Slavic names in the Balkans and some of them undoubtedly originate from the times of the first settlers, although they have no analogs in the Dnieper region. Taking into account the large distance from the ancestral homeland of the southern Slavs to the Balkans, we can confidently say that their relocation there lasted several generations. During this resettlement, the Slavs could have been left for a long time in Transnistria, in the Carpathians, but eventually, they ended up in the Balkans. On the contrary, the resettlement of the Czechs and Slovaks should have been short-lived – at least for the life of one generation. Obviously the same can be said about the relocation of the Poles. It is even possible that their invasion beyond the Vistula led to the relocation of the Goths to the Black Sea.

After becoming acquainted with the published works on the toponymy of Eastern Europe, the idea arises that hydronyms are an older and more stable layer in the total volume of toponymy but place names belong to historical times. However, it turned out that this was not the case – at first glance, unpromising studies presented us with big surprises. Traces of their stay left on their ancestral lands Germanic tribes. In addition, toponymy gives us the opportunity also to trace migration routes of tribes of different ethnicity.

Of all the results of these studies, localization of the Turkic Urheimat in Eastern Europe excites special aversion and, in particular, the stay of the Proto-Bulgars in the Western Ukraine, and their correlation with the Scythians. But, as it was already shown, a lot of the place names of Ukraine can be etymologized by means of the Chuvash language, though the vast majority of them do not contain any relation to natural and geographical features, which could be reflected in the proposed common names. In such circumstances, when random phonetic coincidence in the whole set of the alleged Scythian place names cannot be eliminated, statistics help substantively. The concentration of etymologized names by means of Chuvash on certain areas helps to determine as a primary habitat of the ancient Scythians and ways to the later migration. Herewith, place-names located in isolation may be regarded as random. In order to avoid, if possible, the influence of the subjective factor, while etymologizing place names, their territorial affiliation remained unknown. Already while the first attempt whole about 350 place names were etymologized on the territory of Ukraine by means of the Chuvash language. Then they were divided into regions and it was found that most portion of them are located in the Lviv Region, that is 60. This is more than half of all place names of the Lviv region taken for analysis, despite the fact that more than a quarter of them are not etymologized at all. Cherkasy Region comes next- 38, Vinnytsia – 32, Khmelnytsky – 32, Ternopil – 24, Poltava – 24, Zhytomyr – 17, Ivano-Frankivsk -15. Thus, the assumption about the location of the primary habitat of the ancient Scythians to the south of Volhynia was confirmed by statistical data. In the course of further work, additional toponyms of Bulgarish origin were repeatedly accidentally discovered but mostly in the same areas and the above number does not correspond to reality, although in general reflect the relative distribution of place names.

When analyzing the got toponymies, it turned out that some of the names have correspondences not only throughout Ukraine but also in Germany, the Baltic States, and southern Scandinavia in the territory of the distribution of the Corded Ware culture, the creators of which were ancient Turks. There was no intention to make such searches since this culture existed five thousand years ago and there was not even a thought that the names of settlements could remain so long after repeated changes of a multilingual population. However, random finds led to targeted searches and they gave rich material. In general, at present, in Continental Europe, about 950 toponyms of alleged Bulgarian origin have been identified.

Despite the fact that the distribution of place names between administrative units gives us a certain idea of ​​their concentration, the presence of toponyms of different origin in the same region, sometimes in approximately near proportion, misleads us, as if the speakers of two or three different languages ​​lived here simultaneously mixed with each other. In fact, it is not so. If you put on the geographical map, for example, the place names of Bulgarish, Kurdish, Teutonic, and Old English origin and do not take into account those of them that are located in isolation among the place names of another origin, then the boundaries between clusters of toponyms look quite clear and, of course, they do not match with borders of administrative regions.

Of all the toponyms of days of yore in continental Europe, Anglo-Saxon make up more than one quarter. Their search has been promoted by the Google Map search engine, which suggests the location of similar place names in different parts of the world. Such assistance initiated the expansion of the area of ​​toponymic surveys to the territory of Asia. The indicated Asian doublets of the Anglo-Saxon toponyms in Europe stretched out in the form of a chain, which displayed a certain regularity in their location. Searches for other Anglo-Saxon toponyms in this chain gave new additional material. In total, 125 Anlosaxon toponyms were discovered from the Urals to Sakhalin. Without a hint of technology, I would never have the idea to look for Anglo-Saxon toponyms in Asia. Therefore I take this opportunity to thank Google Inc. for promoting scientific progress.

There are on the map rhombic signs mark place names of Bulgarish origin. Violet signs refer to the time of CWC created by the Bulgars. The sites of CWC are shown by blue asterisks. Green asterisks mark sites of Fatyanovo culture. Rosa signs refer to Scythian time. Azure circles mark Bulgarish names of rivers and lakes. Yellow space – Trypillian culture. Its most western sites are marked by orange asterisks. Brown space – the territory of the Indo-Europeans. Green space – Fatyanovo and Balanovo culture.

Despite the fact that the distribution of names by administrative units gives us some idea of their concentration, presence in the same region of names of different origins sometimes in approximately equal proportions, has misleading, as the speakers of two or three different languages lived here simultaneously mixed among themselves. In fact, it is not. If we apply to a map, for example, the place names of the Bulgarian, Kurdish, Teutonic and Old English origin and do not take into account isolated among another origin of place names, the boundaries between clusters of names are pretty clear and, of course, they are not the same as regional boundaries.

Anglo-Saxon Place names in Google Map

Iranian Place Names in Google Map
Bulgarish Place Names in Google Map

Kostenlose Zähler und Statistiken für Ihre Website bei