Among the aristocracy of Imperial Russia, as of course among the landed gentry in other places, some men of title fathered children by mistresses, of high and low birth, and by female serfs in their households and on their estates in accordance with the droit du seigneur. Those of the illegitimate children recognised by the father, and perhaps supported by him, would sometimes take a truncated version of his surname (as well as his patronymic) so as to acknowledge paternity but at the same time prevent confusion with the legitimate bloodline.  

It seems that recourse to the dropping of the leading syllable of the surname was the practice most often adopted. For example, the surname Pnin, today most associated with Vladimir Nabokov’s novel, was borne by the poet Ivan Petrovich Pnin and was an abbreviated version of the surname of his father the statesman Nikolai Vasilyevich Repnin. 

Similarly, the 18th century educationalist Ivan Ivanovich Betskoy was the illegitimate son of Ivan Yurievich Trubetskoy. Other examples include Golitsyn shortened to Litsyn, and Putivlev to Ivlev.

Filed under: Genealogy Research

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