By Any Other Name

CONSTANCE LANEhas held various publishing jobs and is now married and living with her family in Rutherford,New Jersey.

Probably I’m the last person in America to finish Doctor Zhivago. But I’ve had my troubles. Even with that cast of “principal characters” in the front, it was rough going.
So to me the high point in the book is in chapter eight, where someone remarks: “. . . by the way, if you don’t mind my saying so, Anfim Efimovich (Samdeviatov), your name is a real tongue-twister.”
That, in a book with a Vedeniapin, a Kubarikha, a Fuflygin, a Kologrivov, a Shchapov, and an Osip Gimazetdinovich Galiullin (Yusupka) — the last group of names being all one person.
But the real difficulty with names like these is not that they are unpronounceable. It’s not so much that the Russians love to bunch up consonants. And that they are never really happy with a full name of less than ten syllables. It’s not so bad that they have to give two characters out of every three the same patronym. (Just try to find a novel with fewer than five Ivanoviches.)
No, the big trouble with these books is the number of names for each character. No writer can be content with two or three apiece. He just cannot resist adding nicknames, terms of endearment, and even aliases. It’s enough, for heaven’s sake, to remember Pavel Pavlovich Antipov (Pasha, Pashenka) without having him pop up later as Strelnikov. And as for Osip Gimazetdinovich Galiullin-Yusupka, just Osip is enough. For all time.
But Tolstoy has the other Russian novelists beat a mile at this game. In Resurrection, one character alone could take the championship — the girl Maslova.
After introducing her by this name as a defendant in a murder trial, Tolstoy recapitulates her early life. We learn that she was called Katusha, a sort of compromise between Katka and Katenka. Thereafter, for a while, she is again Maslova, and we return to the courtroom scene for the following interrogation:
“ ‘Your name,’ amiably inquired the susceptible Presiding Justice, addressing the third prisoner. . . .
“Maslova promptly rose . . . but she spoke not a word.”
(Making up her mind, no doubt, between Katka, Katcnka, and Katusha.)
“ ‘What do they call you?’
“ ‘Lubov,’ she replied without hesitation.”
(Who calls her?)
“. . . ‘How can it be Lubov?’ he asked. ‘That is not the name entered here.’ ”
(Even the other characters in Russian novels can get confused.)
“The prisoner was silent.
“ ‘I am asking for your real name. The one given you in baptism. What is that?’ inquired the indignant Judge.
“ ‘They called me Katerina.’ ”
(Well, that’s close, anyway.)
“ ‘What is your father’s name?’
“ ‘I am illegitimate,’ she replied.
“ ‘Well, then, tell us your godfather’s name.’
“ ‘Mikhailovna.’ ”
(This is only her godfather’s, but don’t take it too lightly. She is called Mikhailovna again during the book, and there are still more than six hundred pages to go.)
“ ‘What is your family name; your last name?’ repeated the Presiding Justice.
“ ‘They called me Maslova, like my mother.’ ”
(Now we’re back full circle.)
Then the indictment is read, and we find that the prisoner is called, throughout this record (I counted ten times), by the name of Lubka. This makes no sense whatever.
Later in the book, we suddenly come upon testimony about a certain girl, Lubasha. Of course, this is none other than our own Katusha Lubka Maslova, et cetera—just her nickname, that’s all.
Considering that this one girl is surrounded by Maryas: a Marya Vassilievna, a Marya Pavlovna, a Marya Korchagin, and a Marya Ivanovna (and a Sophia Ivanovna and a Natalya Ivanovna and a Evfemia Ivanovna and a Katerina Ivanovna), by a Marya called Missy and a Marya called Matrena, by more Katerinas and another Katusha and a Piotr Baklashof and a Piotr Gherassimovich, and by dozens of Ivanoviches. . . .
Considering all this, it’s a great relief to learn that one central character, Nekhludof, has no family name. For him, we have only to remember that he’s sometimes called Nekhludof, sometimes Dmitri, sometimes Prince Dmitri, sometimes Dmitri Ivanovich, and sometimes Mitya.
Now, Boris Pasternak, Count Leo Tolstoy, and company, if you don’t mind my saying so. . . .