Observations about the universe, life, Lausanne and me

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

What's in a name?

For the longest time I have thought that my first name (Boris) is derived from the Slavic god Bor, a god of war. I don't even know where I got this information from - but I remember telling that to other children in kindergarten before punching them in the face.

The other day a sudden fancy pushed me to seek more information about my divine namesake. Imagine my surprise when I found out that dear old Bor does not exist! There is a nordic god named Borr, or Bor or Bur (the vikings weren't too wild on orthography) but he is not a god of war. Indeed, he is not a god of anything, because he gets only a couple of lines in the Edda:

[Búri] gat son þann er Borr er nefndr. Hann fekk þeirar konu er Bestla er nefnd, dóttir Bölþorns jötuns, ok gátu þau þrjá sonu. Hét einn Óðinn, annarr Vili, þriði Vé.

[Búri] begat a son called Borr, who wedded the woman named Bestla, daughter of Bölthorn the giant; and they had three sons: one was Odin, the second Vili, the third Vé.

Hmpf. Curse you, Snorri!
Well at least Borr was the father of Odin, that's at least something. Anyway, further judicious use of Google revealed to me the etymology of my name is unclear.

There are a couple of possibilities:

  • The real Progenitor of my proud name was Boris the I. of Bulgaria (852-889), also called Bogoris. He introduced Christianity to Bulgaria, shopping around for the best conditions in Rome and Byzantium. After switching sides for a couple of times he settled on the orthodox church, because they granted him the right to autocephaly, i.e. self-government, meaning that the patriarch of the Bulgarian church recognizes no higher authority, while still being part of the eastern orthodox church.

    Eventually Boris I. abdicated in favour of his son, and became a monk. However, when his son became apostate, Boris took a brief sabbatical to smite and blind him, and give the realm to his next-eldest, not without mildly admonishing him to stay in the arms of the church, or else.

    Boris returned to his monastery, only briefly sojourning from it one last time to smite some uppity Magyars that had invaded Bulgaria.

    During his reign he also oversaw the introduction of the Cyrillic alphabet by disciples of saint Cyril. (The Cyrillic alphabet is a derivation of the alphabet invented by saint Cyril himself, called the Glagolithic alphabet because, being a saint, Cyril was too modest to name it after himself, leaving his disciples to rectify that oversight)

    Seeing that good Boris I. was a proto-Bulgar, and therefore of Turkic origin, the name Boris probably meant Wolf originally. Or short. Or bars, depending on your interpretation and the state of intoxication of your local proto-Bulgar expert.

  • Another interpretation of the meaning of Boris a derivation of the ancient Slavic boron, "to fight" or "glory", meaning also "to become famous in battle". However, this site refutes this interpretation. Which is in turn contested in the comments.

  • A third possibility is a link with one of the the Greek Άνεμοι (Anemoi - wind gods) Boreas, whose name meant "north wind" or "the one who devours". He also was quite the proponent of bestiality, fathering 12 colts to the mares of Erichthonius, king of Troy, by taking the form of a stallion. Later on Boreas rethought the whole offspring thing, and kidnapped the maid Oreithyia, an Athenian princess, and fathered two sons and two daughters.

Well, I am confused. Shall I name myself Boris, devourer of wolves? Short wolf who sits in bars? Sodomistic north wind? Glory of the mares?

Sod it. I'll just lie and tell everyone I am Boris, god of war. It worked in kindergarten, after all.


  1. Great and amusing post, brilliant style!
    I like Wolf version for my self best.

    You are blogrolled on my blog now.

  2. Why, thank you kind sir! Allow me to return the favour...

  3. Why?! No idea, actually.
    Story is fluently written with the fine underline of the humor. Your name is Boris so must be that I'm charmed with the fact that there are more interesting and funny people with name Boris on this world. Anyway more people blogroll someone's blog higher is blog ranked so more people will read it.

    Thanks for returned favor :) See you around.