Names in Dostoevsky's Novels

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Fyodor Dostoevsky assigns meaning to the names of characters within his novels in order to provide insight into the general personality structures of those characters. These names often hint to the reader about what should be expected of a particular character (Brody 137). (Russian to English names translated by Yana Svatko, February 27th, 2019).

Dostoevsky's novel Crime and Punishment (1866)

The Double (1846)

The main hero in The Double (1866), Yakov Petrovich Golyadkin’s surname is taken from the Russian word for “голый” (phonetic pronunciation: goly) meaning bareness or nakedness.

Crime & Punishment (1866)

The main hero in Crime and Punishment, Rodion Romanovich Raskolnikov’s surname, derives from the Russian word “раскол” (phonetic pronunciation: raskol) meaning schism, a split, or a breakage. One theory behind Raskolnikov’s name is that Dostoevsky based the character on Honoré de Balzac’s novel Father Goriot, which contains a character who faces the same moral dilemma as Raskolnikov (Brody 121). The area between a moral and immoral action is where Raskolnikov finds himself in (Brody 121).

Sofya (Sonya) Semyonovna Marmeladov is Semyon Mardmadelov’s daughter. The name Sofya and/or Sonya are of Greek origin (σοφία, Sofia) meaning wisdom (Gibian 994). Alternatively, Sonya’s name can also signify a “love for the divine,” which is evident in her interaction with Raskolnikov, eventually guiding him through a spiritual and religious reawakening (Gibian 994).

Dmitri Prokofych Razumikhin’s surname derives from the Russian word “ум” or “разум” (phonetic pronunciation: razum) meaning intelligence. Razumikhin is the optimist within the pessimistic novel and the “intellectual shock absorber” (Brody 123). Often providing a common-sense point of view surrounding Raskolnikov and his family (Brody 123).

Avdotya (Dunya) Romanova Raskolnikov’s fiancé, Pyotr Petrovich Luzhin’s surname, derives from the Russian word “лужа” (phonetic pronunciation: luzha) meaning “puddle.” His shallow and self-centered personality is reflected in his selfish intentions to marry Dunya, who he sees as a “business asset” and an object for his own personal gain (Beebe 153).

Semyon Zakharovich Marmeladov, Sofya Marmeladov’s biological father, is the drunken official Raskolnikov meets at a bar. Marmeladov’s surname derives from the Russian word “мармелад” (phonetic pronunciation: marmelad), a preservative usually made of fruit. Arguably, the soft texture of the jam-like preservative is similar to Marmeladov’s lack of structure and stability towards his work and family life (Brody 122).

Nastasya (Anastasia) Petrovna is the maid/caretaker in Raskolnikov’s apartment. Her name is of Greek origin (ἀνάστασις, anastasis) meaning resurrection (“Anastasia”).

The Idiot (1869)

Prince Lev Nikolayevich Myshkin, the main hero of The Idiot, is associated with two different names that have contradictory meanings. His first name, “Lev,” derives from the Russian word “лев” (phonetic pronunciation: lev), meaning lion. The surname “Myshkin” derives from the Russian word “мышь” (phonetic pronunciation: mysh), meaning “mouse.” The contradiction in his name may reflect his contradictory role within the novel. Myshkin’s character is of noble origin, which is reflective of the nobility of a lion. However, within the novel, characters will constantly belittle and treat Myshkin like a child, which is behaviour not fitting towards someone of noble origin (Brody 129). Alternatively, Myshkin’s presence in Russian society can be seen as a contradiction, his “Christ-like” appearance and attitude are in conflict with the scandalous society he finds himself in (Tapp 424). Lastly, the name “Lev” is also a contradiction in itself within Christian symbolism, serving as both a representation of Christ but also for the devil (Stepanian 177).

Nastasya (Anastasia) Filippovna Barashkov also contains two meanings within her name. Her first name is of Greek origin (ἀνάστασις, anastasis) meaning resurrection (“Anastasia”). This can be seen from her re-entry into society after a life-altering experience as a child (Brody 129). Her surname “Barashkov” derives from the Russian word “барашек” (phonetic pronunciation: barashek) meaning lamb and/or sheep. This again may signal towards her traumatic childhood as a “sacrificial lamb” of the “wolf Totsky” (Brody 129).

Parfyon Semyonovich Rogozhin’s surname stems from the Russian word “рога” (phonetic pronunciation: roga) meaning “horns.” This is in reference to his “wild-like passion” and potentially violent personality (Brody 129). The name “Parfyon” also derives from the Greek word “Παρθενιος” (phonetic pronunciation: parthenios) meaning “virgin.” This may signify that his obsession with Nastasya Filippovna may be beyond a sexual obsession (Brody 129).

Aglaia Ivanovna Epanchin, the youngest daughter of three in the Epanchin family. Her first name is of Greek origin (Αγλαια, aglaia) meaning “beauty” (“Aglaia”).  

Adelaida Ivanovna Epanchin is the second daughter of the Epanchin family and Aglaia’s older sister. Adelaida’s first name is of German origin (Adalheidis) meaning “noble” (“Adelaide”).

Lebedev’s name is from the Russian word “лебедь” (phonetic pronunciation: lebed) meaning “swan.” Lebedev’s name is one of the only names that does not match his persona within the novel. An associate of Rogozhin’s, Lebedev is presented as a superficial, “egotistical, drunkard, and liar” as opposed to the gracefulness of a swan (Brody 130).

Ivan Petrovitch Ptitsyn’s surname derives from the Russian word “птица” (phonetic pronunciation: ptitsa) meaning “bird.” This is reflective of his ability to have worked his way out of poverty and his aspiration to eventually purchase a house for his family, which can be seen as a “nest” (Brody 132).

Works Cited

“Adelaide.” Behind the Name, http://www.behindthename.com/name/adelaide

“Aglaia.” Behind the Name, http://www.behindthename.com/name/aglaia.

“Anastasia.” Lexicon of Greek Personal Names, http://www.lgpn.ox.ac.uk/announcements/GreekNamesinEnglish.html

Beebe, Maurice. “The Three Motives of Raskolnikov: A Reinterpretation of Crime and Punishment.” College English, vol. 17, no. 3, 1955, pp. 151-158.

Brody, Ervin. "Meaning and Symbolism in the Names of Dostoevsky's Crime and Punishment and The Idiot." Names, vol. 27, no. 2, 1979, pp. 117-140.

Gibian, George. “Traditional Symbolism in Crime and Punishment.” Publications of the Modern Language Association of America, vol. 70, no. 5, 1955, pp. 979-996.

Stepanian, Karen. "Holy-Foolishness and Madness, Death and Resurrection, Being and Non-Being in The Idiot." The New Russian Dostoevsky: Readings for the Twenty-First Century, edited by Carol Apollonio. Slavica, 2010, pp. 165-186.

Tapp, Alyson. "Embarrassment in The Idiot." Slavic and East European Journal, vol. 60, no. 3, 2016, pp. 422-446.

Further Reading

Brody, Ervin C. "Meaning and Symbolism in the Names of Dostoevsky's Crime and Punishment and The Idiot." Names, vol.27, no.2, 1979, pp. 117-140.

Pauls, John P. "Names for Characters in Russian Literature." Names, vol. 11, no. 1, 1963, pp. 10-19.