‘Moskva’ is Mongol, Duma Deputy from Buryatia Says

October 9, 2014
Statue of Genghis Khan in Mongolia

Staunton, October 7 – Russia’s close connection with the Mongols has never been doubted either as victim of the Mongol Yoke or as the continuer of many the approaches first adopted by Chingiz Khan. But now a Duma deputy from Buryatia has added a new wrinkle by suggesting very publicly that even the name of the Russian capital has Mongol roots.

Almost everyone agrees that the city of Moscow took its name from that of the river on which it sits, but researchers from various disciplines have divided as to whether than river’s name has Finno-Ugric or Slavic origins.

The Finno-Ugric argument is based on the ‘-skv” consonant cluster which is found in a variety of place names where members of this linguistic community have lived, including perhaps most famously Pskov, but that explanation, while convincing etymologically, has never pleased Russian writers.

And they have proposed what has become known as “the Slavic hypothesis” which links “the word ‘Moskva’ (Moscow) to the Slavic root ‘mosk’ or ‘mosg’ (brain)” or to Slavic words that refer to moisture, humidity and water. Because the banks of the Moskva River used to be a swamp, the supporters of this position say, this was “a proper name” for the city.

But as Yuliya Sokolova of Russian-Moscow.com notes, “there are many more versions of the origin of the name of our old city,” including those who say that the city was named as “an echo of ancient Baltic dialects related to the old Slav languages.” And she says that “over the years, versions and hypotheses only multiply because history is capricious.”

Indeed, the second comment appended to Sokolova’s article makes her point. A writer who identifies herself only as Dora says that when she was growing up in Mongolia, people there spoke about a river named “Mushgia” – “which means twisted in Mongolian” – as the source of the name of the Russian capital. She said she had no idea whether that was true or not.

Now, however, Mikhail Sipenchuk, a United Russia deputy from Buryatia who serves as chairman of the Duma’s committee on natural resources and ecology, has taken up the cudgels for that idea, suggesting not only that the Mushgia link is the correct one but that many more Russian names and words have Mongol roots.

Among these Russian place names and words are Arbat, Essentuki, Tyumen, Siberia, taiga, and Baikal. Not surprisingly, Buryat media outlets are having a field day with this because the Buryats are a subgroup of the Mongols – they were officially called Buryat Mongols until the late 1930s – and are apparently delighted by the chance to underscore their links and importance.

But in today’s overheated Russian nationalist environment, any such suggestion is likely to be less welcome among Russians, who are certain to see this just as they have viewed the Finno-Ugric hypothesis as yet another effort to diminish and denigrate the unique status of the Russian world.