What rhymes with Melnitchenko?
And more importantly, where do names like “–enko” come from?
With names swirling around in my head, I couldn’t be sure about dismissing any that I had recently found online, in my search for my godmother’s Melnitchenko family. I had made headway in discovering my godmother’s mother’s name (Lydia) and at least the first initial of her father’s name (“M,” which I strongly suspect should represent “Michael”). However, I had also uncovered the fact that not only was the name I knew her by (Genia) a nickname for the more formal Eugenie, but it represented her middle name, not her first name.
Her first name, as we saw yesterday, was Olga.
Upon finding that out, I had to go back to several files I had previously dismissed out of hand. One—with the names Olga, Eugenia and Michael in an index of Declarations of Intent filed with the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York—I had presumed, earlier, to be the smoking gun revealing Genia’s mother’s name. (After all, I was already pretty sure her father was Michael, so that must mean her mother’s name was Olga—right?)
When I found the passenger list that showed me Genia’s mother was Lydia, I decided to trash the lead from the naturalization index—until I found that border crossing file yesterday, showing Olga and Genia to be one and the same person.
Now, I want to revisit all those index files I had found, both at FamilySearch.org for Genia and for Lydia, and at Ancestry.com for Michael.
But before I do, I need to take you on a detour through some naming traditions in a culture I’ve never researched before: that of eastern Europe and Russia.
This detour was originally inspired, thanks to a comment posted by a reader a few days ago. Sharing a link to a book written by a man surnamed, coincidentally, Melnitchenko, Intense Guy had gotten me thinking about the origins of surnames. In particular, I began musing about where the suffix “–enko” might have come from. Could it be—like the book title Iggy had just sent me—a surname having its origin in the Ukraine?
I Googled that very question. The result was a short education in not only the origin of surnames rhyming with Melnitchenko, but of the use of patronymic naming patterns in eastern Slavic ethnic groups.
I had learned about patronyms before, mainly from research focusing on those of Scandinavian heritage—not that I have any Swedish or Norwegian ancestors, myself, just that I learn a lot from fellow genealogical researchers. But I had never known anything about the use of patronymic naming systems for those of Russian or Slavic heritage, either.
Reading the material I had just found—right after the section that confirmed that Melnitchenko was a Ukrainian surname—I learned that a person’s patronymic name was obtained from the father’s first name (nothing surprising there) and inserted in the middle of the child’s name, between the given name and the surname.
The only caveat was: the father’s name, itself, wasn’t inserted in the child’s name. A form of the name was entered. That form included a suffix indicating “son of” or “daughter of” the father. So, for instance, in Russian, the suffix “–ovich” would be added to the father’s name. Likewise, the Ukrainian counterpart would end in “–ovych.”
Now, take that little thought and wrap it around the all-too-common experience of immigrant meeting English-speaking government bureaucrat. The fine details of “–ovich” for Russian and “–ovych” for Ukrainian likely became lost upon those Anglo-Saxon attuned ears.
Could the result ever become "–ivitch"?
Now for the last stop on my detour: revisiting yet another previously discarded find in my search for the Melnitchenko family. This time, we have to rewind the clock to 1924, and check back with the passenger list I had found—and then discarded—for the crew of the S.S. Hirondelle, sailing from Marseilles to New York.
Could the "Ivanivitch" in sailor Melnitchenko’s name actually be a patronymic name? Could this twenty seven year old Russian sailor be the same as seaman Michael I. Melnitchenko I had found in later years here, and here?
When I then go back to those index cards I re-collected from my discarded finds in the index to New York naturalization records, I now think I know what the entry was really saying for immigration applicant Michael Ivan Melnitchenko.
“Ivan” wasn’t his middle name. “Ivan” was an Americanized way of signifying who Michael’s father was.
And, having learned that simple naming lesson, we now can push back another generation…
Above: "Fair in the Ukraine" painting by Basil Sternberg (1818-1845); courtesy Wikipedia; in the public domain.