2019, Volume 16, Issue 3

Back to the Table of Contents

Irma I. Mullonen
Institute of Linguistics, Literature and History,
Karelian Research Centre of the Russian Academy of Sciences
Petrozavodsk, Russia

Motivation vs Remotivation as a Source of Ethnocultural Information (Based on Place Names of Karelia)

Voprosy onomastiki, 2019, Volume 16, Issue 3, pp. 61–77 (in Russian)
DOI: 10.15826/vopr_onom.2019.16.3.031

Received 26 March 2019

Abstract: The article analyzes the correlation between remotivation a toponym acquires in the course of its existence and its initial motivation, as well as the ways these processes reflect the ethnolinguistic, historical, and cultural contexts they were driven by. The lost original motivations have been restored for a number of toponymic stems, which rooted in the object’s inherent physical traits that mattered for the nominator. The process of place name rethinking by local people is most systemically manifested in toponymic legends. Thereby, the author distinguishes three cases illustrating the key interaction strategies for the linkages between the motivational meanings of place names and folklore pieces. The first one occurs in legends about primary inhabitants, which generally proceed from the same motifs that are engraved on in the primary place name, but capture the historical memory through the prism of mythological interpretation. The second one applies where the true sources of the name are undetectable, and a ready-made folklore motif is used to interpret the place name. This strategy is studied using the material of three Karelian toponymic stems with ‘female’-related meanings: Neičyt- / Neicyt- / Neitsyt- ‘maiden’s,’ Akka- : Akan- ‘mature woman’s,’ Nainen : Nais(en)- ‘woman’s, female,’ whose primary toponymic motivation is blurred. The third case is where motivation rethinking results in a replacement of the toponymic stem for a different one, which sounds similarly, but is driven by a folklore plot. As a result, the folklore text and the place name carry fundamentally different information. In Central Karelia, the islands traditionally used for drying fishing nets have turned into “treasure islands,” and the toponymic stem Uarto- : Uarro- ‘net drying stands’ acquired the form Uarreh- : Uartehe- ‘treasure, hoard,’ due to its folklore rethinking. The article shows that legend plots allude to the borderland position of Karelia, which refers to the area of Russian motifs or motifs associated with rethinking the events of Russian history on the one hand, so as it falls in the attraction zone of the mythological and historical texts that have arrived from the West, typically from Finland, on the other.

Keywords: Balto-Finnic languages, language contacts, toponymy, toponymic legends, motivation, remotivation, Karelia.

The research is financed from the federal budget under state order to KarRC RAS (№ АААА-А18-118012490344-5 “Finnic Languages of Northwest Russia: Linguistic Studies in the Sociocultural Context”).


Berezovich, E. L. (2000). Russkaia toponimiia v etnolingvisticheskom aspekte [Russian Toponymy in Ethnolinguistic Aspect]. Ekaterinburg: Ural University Press.

Berezovich, E. L. (2010). Russkaia toponimiia v etnolingvisticheskom aspekte: Mifopoeticheskii obraz prostranstva [Russian Toponymy in Ethnolinguistic Aspect: Mythopoetic Image of Space] (2nd ed.). Moscow: KomKniga.

Gorbanevsky, M. V. (1996). Russkaia gorodskaia toponimiia: Metody istoriko-kul’turnogo izucheniia i sozdaniia komp’iuternykh slovarei [Russian Urban Toponymy: Methods of Historical and Cultural Study and Creation of Computer Dictionaries]. Moscow: Obshchestvo liubitelei rossiiskoi slovesnosti.

Krinichnaya, N. A. (1991). Predaniia Russkogo Severa [Legends of the Russian North]. St Petersburg: Nauka.

Kuzmin, D. (2014). Vienan Karjalan asutushistoria nimistön valossa [Settlement History of White Sea Karelia in the Light of Onomastics]. Helsinki: Unigrafia OY.

Kuzmin, D. V. (2017). Zarubezhnye vykhodtsy v Belomorskoi Karelii XVII–XVIII vv. v svete dannykh narodnykh predanii, dokumentov i toponimii [Immigrants from Finland in the 17th–18th Centuries White Sea Karelia in the Light of Local Oral Tradition, Documents and Toponymy]. Al’manakh severoevropeiskikh i baltiiskikh issledovanii, 2. https://doi.org/10.15393/j103.art.2017.765

Mallat, K. (2007). Naiset rajalla. Kyöpeli, Nainen, Naara(s), Neitsyt, Morsian, Akka ja Ämmä Suomen paikannimissä [Women at the Border. Kyöpeli, Nainen, Naara(s), Neitsyt, Morsian, Akka and Ämmä in Finnish Place Names]. Helsinki: Suomalaisen Kirjallisuuden Seura.

Mullonen, I. I. (2001). Istoriia Segozer’ia v geograficheskikh nazvaniiakh [History of Segozero in Geographical Names]. In V. P. Orfinsky (Ed.), Derevnia Jukkoguba i ee okruga [The Village Jukkoguba Area] (pp. 12–38). Petrozavodsk: PetrGU Press.

Mullonen, I. I. (2008). Toponimiia Zaonezh’ia: slovar’ s istoriko-kul’turnym kommentariem [The Toponymy of Zaonezhye: A Dictionary with Historical and Cultural Comments]. Petrozavodsk: KRC RAS.

Nissilä, V. (1975). Suomen Karjalan nimistö [Toponyms of Finnish Karelia]. Joensuu: Karjalaisen kulttuurin edistämissäätiö.

Novak, I. P. (2016). Tverskie dialekty karel’skogo iazyka: Fonetika. Fonologiia [Tver Dialects of the Karelian Language: Phonetics. Phonology]. Petrozavodsk: KRC RAS.

Petriliainen, O. (2018, March 20). Zagadka nazvaniia Matrosy [The Mystery of the Name Matrosy]. Meijän elaigu — Nasha zhizn’. Retrieved from http://elaigu.ru/content/zagadka-nazvaniya-matrosy.

Trubachev, O. N., Zhuravlev, A. F., & Varbot, Zh. Zh. (Eds.). (1974–). Etimologicheskii slovar’ slavianskikh iazykov: praslavianskii leksicheskii fond [Etymological Dictionary of the Slavic Languages. Proto-Slavic Word Stock] (Vols. 1–). Moscow: Nauka.

Virtaranta, P. (1961). Tverin karjalaisten entistä elämää [Former Tver’s Karelian Life]. Porvoo; Helsinki: WSOY.