2023, Volume 20, Issue 3

Back to the Table of Contents

Igor A. Dambuev
Institute for Mongolian, Buddhist and Tibetan Studies
of the Siberian Branch of the Russian Academy of Sciences
Ulan-Ude, Russia

Unstressed a/o Vowels in Russian Toponyms: Sources of Variation

Voprosy onomastiki, 2023, Volume 20, Issue 3, pp. 222–240 (in Russian)
DOI: 10.15826/vopr_onom.2023.20.3.039

Received on 15 March 2023
Accepted on 1 September 2023

Abstract: The article examines the sources of the unstressed a/o variation in Russian toponyms spelling. This type of variation is known from the works of previous researchers of Russian toponymy and is also presented in Russia’s State Index of Place Names (SIPN), namely in the category of toponyms requiring spelling clarification. The material of the study is constituted by toponyms from the SIPN with variation in the spelling of unstressed a/o. The sources of the study are normative legal acts of the subjects of the country and municipalities, reference books of political divisions, lists of settlements and topographic maps of the 18th–21st centuries. Using different methods of onomastic research such as the analysis of name variants, etymological analysis, geolinguistic analysis, etc., the following sources for spelling variation of toponyms are identified and illustrated with examples: the influence of local dialects, de-etymologization of toponyms, hypercorrection of toponyms, the use of practical transcription rules, oral adoption of borrowed toponyms, phonetization of toponyms. The main prerequisite for variation is the unstressed position of the a/o vowels. The influence of local dialects may affect the spelling of a toponym, particularly in the case of de-etymologization, but it is not mandatory. De-etymologization manifests itself in the loss of connection with a specific appellative or anthroponym the toponym derives from. Toponymic variation is aggravated in the case of a known variation in the spelling of the corresponding appellative or anthroponym. Hypercorrection results from the urge to render a toponym in some form that feels intuitively correct. Hypercorrection and phonetization ignore both the traditions of the use of the toponym and its linguistic origin. The use of practical transcription leads to variation in the toponyms borrowed into Russian, particularly if these have traditional spellings. In the case of oral adoption of borrowed toponyms, variation occurs because of the adaptation of unfamiliar phonemes. It is noted that variation is often complex, and de-etymologization plays a crucial role.

Keywords: toponym; toponymy of Russia; unstressed vowels; spelling variation; deetymologization; local dialects; hypercorrection; phonetization; practical transcription


The research was carried out within the framework of the state assignment (project The World of Man in the Mongolian Languages: Analysis of the Means of Expressing Emotiveness, No. 121031000258-9).


Akhmanova, O. S. (1966). Slovar’ lingvisticheskikh terminov [Dictionary of Linguistic Terms]. Moscow: Sovetskaia entsiklopediia.

Butanaev, V. Ya. (1995). Toponimicheskii slovar’ Khakassko-Minusinskogo kraia [Toponymic Dictionary of the Khakass-Minusinsk Region]. Abakan: Khakasiia.

Gnilovsky, V. G. (1954). Slovar’ nekotorykh geograficheskikh imen Stavropol’ia [Dictionary of Some Geographical Names of the Stavropol Region]. Stavropol: Stavrop. kn. izd-vo.

Karpenko, Yu. A. (1965). Problema variantov v toponimike [The Problem of Variants in Toponymy]. In Vsesoiuznaia konferentsiia po toponimike Sovetskogo Soiuza [The All-Union Conference on Toponymy of the Soviet Union] (pp. 17–20). Leningrad: Geograficheskoe obshchestvo SSSR.

Kozinets, S. B. (2013). Toponimicheskii slovar’ Saratovskoi oblasti [Toponymic Dictionary of the Saratov Region]. Saratov: Saratovskii istochnik.

Matveyev, A. K. (2001). Substratnaia toponimiia Russkogo Severa [Substrate Toponymy of the Russian North] (Vol. 1). Ekaterinburg: Ural University Press.

Murzaev, E. M. (1984). Slovar’ narodnykh geograficheskikh terminov [Dictionary of Folk Geographical Terms]. Moscow: Mysl’.

Podolskaya, N. V. (1988). Slovar’ russkoi onomasticheskoi terminologii [Dictionary of Russian Onomastic Terminology] (2nd ed). Moscow: Nauka.

Rubtsova, Z. V. (1993). Var’irovanie i norma v belorusskoi i russkoi toponimii [Norm and Variation in Russian and Belarusian Toponymy] (Doctoral dissertation). The Institute of Linguistics of the RAS, Moscow.

Superanskaya, A. V. (1978). Teoreticheskie osnovy prakticheskoi transkriptsii [Theoretical Bases of Practical Transcription]. Moscow: Nauka.

Superanskaya, A. V. (1984). Chto takoe toponimika? [What is Toponymics?]. Moscow: Nauka.

Superanskaya, A. V. (2007). Obshchaia teoriia imeni sobstvennogo [The General Theory of Proper Name] (2nd ed.). Moscow: Izd-vo LKI.

Superanskaya, A. V. (2010). Slovar’ narodnykh form russkikh imen [A Dictionary of Folk Forms of Russian Names]. Moscow: LIBROKOM.

Unbegaun, B. (1989). Russkie familii [Russian Surnames]. Moscow: Progress.

Vasmer, M. (1986). Etimologicheskii slovar’ russkogo iazyka [Etymological Dictionary of Russian Language] (2nd ed., vols. 1–4). Moscow: Progress.

Vorobyeva, I. A. (1973). Russkaia toponimiia srednei chasti basseina Obi [Russian Toponymy of the Middle Part of the Ob River Basin]. Tomsk: Tomsk University Press.

Zakharova, E. V., Kuzmin, D. V., & Mullonen, I. I. (2022). Karel’skaia toponimiia v Gosudarstvennom kataloge geograficheskikh nazvanii: rabota nad oshibkami [Karelian Toponymy in the State Index of Place Names: Mistakes Correction]. Voprosy onomastiki, 19(3), 256–281. https://doi.org/10.15826/vopr_onom.2022.19.3.040