The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.



(Russian, etnonimika), the division of onomastics that studies the origin and function of ethnonyms—that is, the names of nations (natsii, nations in the historical sense), peoples, nationalities, tribes, tribal alliances, clans, and other ethnic communities.

Ethnonymics studies the history, use, distribution, and contemporary status of ethnonyms. Ethnonymic data are especially important for the resolution of problems in ethnic history, ethnic group formation, and the emergence of languages. The study of ethnonyms makes it possible to trace the evolution of a name and explain its origin.

Ethnonymic data are useful to historians, cultural and physical anthropologists, demographers, linguists, and archaeologists. Such specialists study, from various standpoints, ethnic communities, routes of ethnic migration, and cultural and linguistic contacts. Because they are ancient terms, ethnonyms contain valuable historical and linguistic information. Ethnonyms are divided into macroethnonyms, which are the names of large ethnic communities, and microethnonyms, which refer to small ethnic associations. A special group is formed by the self-designations of peoples or tribes, as opposed to the names by which the peoples or tribes are called among their neighbors. The Slavs, for example, referred to German tribes as nemtsy, and the term “Finns” is in general use; the peoples themselves use the terms Deutschen and Suomalaiset, respectively.

Similar to ethnonyms are names for local inhabitants that are formed from toponyms; for example, the term “Muscovite” derives from “Moscow,” and “Novgorodan” comes from “Novgorod.” Also similar are unofficial designations and nicknames of population groups, such as kazaki (cossacks), moskali (Muscovites), khokhly (Ukrainians), and chaldony (Siberians). Ethnonyms generally correspond to macrotoponyms (names of large geographic areas), as in russkii (Russian) and “Rus”’ and in “Pole” and “Poland.” In some cases the name of a country is formed from an ethnonym; examples are “Franks” and “France,” “Czechs” and “Cechy,” and “Greeks” and “Greece.” In other cases the ethnonym is derived from the name of the country; examples are “America” and “American,” “Australia” and “Australian,” and “Ukraine” and Ukrainian.”


Etnonimy. Moscow, 1970.
Etnografiia imen. Moscow, 1971.
Popov, A. I. Nazvaniia narodov SSSR. Leningrad, 1973.
Trubachev, O. N. “Rannie slavianskie etnonimy—svideteli migratsisii slavian.” Voprosy iazykoznaniia, 1974, no. 6.


The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.