Place Names of Early Doukhobor Settlements in Saskatchewan, 1899-1907

by Jonathan J. Kalmakoff

The following is an abstract of the paper “Place Names of Early Doukhobor Settlement in Saskatchewan, 1899-1907” presented by Jonathan J. Kalmakoff at the Toponyny Session of the 76th Annual Congress of the Humanities and Social Sciences, held at the University of Saskatchewan in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan on May 26 to June 2, 2007.  It examines the Saskatchewan Doukhobor village names from this period and classifies them according to their meanings and mechanisms of origin.

The map of Canada is a rich tapestry of place names. These names reflect the diverse history and heritage of the nation. They embody stories about the people and places to which they are attached and give us valuable insights into history and provide clues about the country’s cultural and social development. In this regard, a study of the origin and meaning of the early Doukhobor village names in Saskatchewan reveals the astonishing diversity and depth of the Doukhobor contribution to Canada’s historic cultural geography.

The Saskatchewan Doukhobor village names from this period can be classified into eight basic categories based on their mechanism of origin: commemorative, commendatory, connotative, transfer, descriptive, incident, possessive and language transfer names.

Many of the village names arose from the desire to preserve a memory or do honour to someone or something and are said to be “commemorative”. Some paid homage to revered Doukhobor leaders: Kapustino (Savely Kapustin), Kalmakovka (Kalmykov dynasty) and Verigino (Peter “Lordly” Verigin). Others memorialized the names of village founders, elders and historic figures: Nikolayevka (Nikolai), Alexeyevka (Alexei), Kirilovka (Kirill), Semenovka (Semyon), Rodionovka (Rodion), Efremovka (Efrem). Many celebrated saint’s days and other religious festivals observed by the Doukhobors: Mikhailovka (Michaelmas), Pavlovo (St. Paul’s day), Pokrovka (Intercession), Uspeniye (Assumption), Vosneseniye (Ascension), Petrovka (St. Peter’s day), Troitskoye (Trinity) and Voskriseniye (Resurrection day). Still others extolled religious virtues, values and ideals cherished by the Doukhobors: Vera, Verovka (faith), Blagodarnoye (thanksgiving), Smireniye (humility), Nadezhda (hope), Sovetnoye (counsel), Terpeniye (patience), Truzhdeniye (industry), Pozirayevka (vigilance), Ubezhdeniye (conviction) and Trudolyubovo (love of work).

Doukhobor village near Veregin, Saskatchewan, c. 1911.   Library and Archives Canada PA-038515.

A number of the village names can be classified as “commendatory” in that they ascribed some pleasant, appealing or providential quality to a particular place or location: Bogomdannoye (God-given), Lyubomirnoye (lovely and peaceful), Khlebodarnoye (gifted with grain), Tikhomirnoye (quite and peaceful), Slavnoye (nice, splendid), Blagosklonnoye (benevolent, favourable), Osvobozhdeniye (deliverance) and Utesheniye (consolation). Names of this type were intended to praise or recommend a place or location; they did not actually describe the place physically.

A related category of village names are those which ascribed some quality or characteristic to the people of a place – rather than to the place itself. Such names are said to be “connotative”. Some carried a positive or complimentary connotation about the people of a village: Vernoye (faithful), Lyubovnoye (loving) or Khristianovka (Christian). Others carried a negative or pejorative connotation about the people of a village: Nedokhvatnoye (insufficient), Prokuratovo (deceitful) or Razbegalovka (running off in all directions). Still others described the spiritual and emotional state of the villagers: Stradayevka (suffering), Vossianiye (spiritually shining forth), Poterpevshiye (having suffered/endured) or Otradnoye (joyful).

Many of the village names were “transfer names”, names which were borrowed and reused from one location to another. The Doukhobors used this method of naming extensively in Saskatchewan, borrowing names from their former villages in the Caucasus which, in turn, had been borrowed from the Molochnaya. Most were reused repeatedly in different locations: Spasskoye/Spasovka (5 times), Goreloye/Gorelovka (4 times), Troitskoye (4 times), Pokrovka (4 times), Kirilovka (4 times), Terpeniye (3 times), Bogdanovka (3 times), Tambovka (2 times), Slavyanka (2 times) and Rodionovka (2 times). Through transference, the Doukhobors in Saskatchewan preserved and perpetuated cherished, symbolic place names which had been firmly etched in the Doukhobor consciousness for generations.

Several village names were “descriptive” in that they identified and distinguished a place by noting some characteristic that separated it from other places. Some directly described the place: Khutor (farmstead). Others described the surrounding topography: Vozvysheniye (elevation, rise).

A special class of names described places in relative terms. Many described relative age: Novoye (new), Novo-Petrovo (New Petrovo), Staro-Goreloye (Old Goreloye), Staro-Bogdanovka (Old Bogdanovka), etc. Some described relative size: Bolshaya Gorelovka (Large Gorelovka), Malaya Gorelovka (Small Gorelovka). Others described relative location: Verkhnaya Kirilovka (Upper Kirilovka), Serednaya Kirilovka (Middle Kirilovka) and Nizhnaya Kirilovka (Lower Kirilovka). Still others described relative origin: Petrovo Orlovsky (Petrovo of the Orlovka Doukhobors) and Terpeniye Karskoi (Terpeniye of the Kars Doukhobors).

Village of Mikhailovka, North Colony, c. 1908.  Library and Archives Canada PA-021116.

A few village names were “incident” names which referred to unusual incidents and historical events that occurred at that place. For example, Besednoye (conversational) was so named because the villagers frequently engaged in lively, spirited discussions. Perekhodnoye (transitional) was so named because the villagers had made a spiritual and spatial transition to a more communal-based lifestyle.

Several village names indicated the presence of a large, prominent family at that place and are said to be “possessive” names: Usachevka (place of the Usachev family) and Holubovo (place of the Holubov family). Names of this type were not used by the Doukhobors to indicate ownership, but rather occupation.

Finally, several village names were Russian translations of existing English place names. Through the process of “linguistic transfer” these names were transferred from the original language, English into the receiving language, Russian: Gromovoye (thunder – from nearby Thunder Hill), Kamenka (stony – from nearby Stony Creek) and Lebedevo (swan – from nearby Swan River). Occasionally, non-Russian words were Russianized in form and spelling to produce village names: Burtsevo (Wurtz’s Farm).

Based on the above, it can be concluded that the early Doukhobor village names in Saskatchewan were intended to do considerably more than merely “distinguish one place from another”. They were deliberately and systematically named in order to reinforce group values, religious belief and philosophy and a common world-view. They were also intended to establish a Dukhoboria in Canada, a veritable “Land of the Doukhobors” within which everything – including place names – had its own distinctly Doukhobor place, meaning and purpose.

This article was reproduced by permission in the following journals and periodicals:

  • ISKRA No.1996 (Grand Forks: USCC, 2007).
  • The DOVE No. 76 (Saskatoon, DCSS, 2007)
  • The Bulletin Vol. 38, No. 3 (Regina, SGS, 2007).