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Correspondence with Dr. Dimnik

From: Nick Tchernikov
Date: 05/04/04 17:15:28
Subject: Chernikov

Dear Dr. Dimnik,

My name is Chernikov. I am an economist living in Luxembourg.

Recently I started a new project to discover the origin of my family name and its derivatives. Please visit to understand the idea.

Genealogical sites put the name - Michael of Tschernikov (your first publication) with a K instead of a G. Can you please explain why medieval Russians were changing letters so easily? Why do you use the modern name of Chernigov instead of the original Chernikov? Do you have some information on the origins of name?

Can you help me in finding out the origins of the Russian ship, Tschernikoff, shipwrecked in 1746 near Trinity Island?

Please see
I think, above name was given either in the memory of town or prince.

My e-mail is

Please send me a short mail with your thoughts on above subject.

All chernikovs around the globe will appreciate this.

Best Regards,

PS: Please inform me how to buy The Dynasty of Chernigov 1054-1146. Does it exist in Russian language?

From: Martin Dimnik
Date: 05/04/04 23:24:27
Subject: Chernigov.

Dear Mr. Tchernikov,

I was intrigued to receive your email with your spelling of Chernigov or Chernihiv. You say that genealogical sites spell the name Chernigov with a K rather than with a G. I am not familiar with the genealogical sites, but I do know the medieval chronicles.

To my knowledge, no medieval chronicle or other medieval source spells Chernigov with a K. Even Chernihiv, the modern Ukrainian form of the name for the city, is a later form. The spelling originally was not Chernikov, although your form, Tchernikov, is obviously a variant and perhaps merely a Latinized transliteration of the Cyrillic spelling of Chernigov.

As for the origins of the name, this is a mystery to historians. Some historians have suggested that the settlement or town of Chernigov (the root Chern as you know means black) may have obtained its name from a local prince (Chern?) who may have belonged to the local tribe of Severyane and whose grave may be the one that was discovered in Chernigov. But there is no documented evidence for the name Chernigov. It obviously came into use before written records were kept.

As you may suspect, I know nothing about the shipwreck of the "Tschernikoff" (the name is a very early Latinized form of Chernigov; before Latinization became systematized), but it would seem that the name refers to the city of Chernigov rather than to a person.

My book "The Dynasty of Chernigov 1054-1146" was published by our publications department and can be obtained from:

Publications Department
Pontifical Institute of Mediaeval Studies
59 Queen's Park Cr. E.
Toronto, Ontario
Canada M5S 2C4

Perhaps you are not aware that my latest book. "The Dynasty of Chernigov 1146-1246" appeared last July and was published by Cambridge University Press in England. It is available in academic bookstores.

I do not know if these comments will be of any assistance, but wishing to reply quickly to your email, (I noticed the stamp URGENT on it) I have told you what I know from memory.

Best wishes
Martin Dimnik

From: Nick Tchernikov
Date: 05/05/04 02:26:10
Subject: Chernikov/Chernigov

Dear Dr. Dimnik,

Thank you very much for your prompt reply. Your comments are very valuable to me. Do you mind if I put your letter on the site, so all chernikovs can appreciate your input?

Your two main assumptions were:
1. Chernikov name is a derivative from original Chernigov. (Latinized version of Cyrillic spelling).
2. Chernigov name origins has no documented evidence, and came into use before written records were kept.

Re 1: If you are interested, I can ask an opinion of Russian linguist, Olga Berelidze. She is sure about possibility of free usage in 10th-11th centuries of the letters G and K in Russian words. Although I appreciate your comment, that, contrary to internet sites, you have never seen Tschernikov spelling in relation to names of princes of Kiev.

Re 2. I liked very much your assumption and have found some evidence of divine origins from pagan times:
1) Dolengo-Hodakovsky, beginning of xix century, muster of divine toponymic (sakralnaya toponimika) was writhing that all geographical sites having the root Chern were pagan sanctuaries;
2) Lomonosov, sited appreciation by Russian tribes of two Gods - Chern God (kind by nature), and Bel (White) God (cruel by nature);
3) Chern'oknizhnik - reader of black books (magic, witchcraft, sorcery, quackery); Chern'etz - monk. That is clear, that monks robe were not of black color during pagan times. The Black Sea, not far from Chernigov, bears the same root -Chern'oe.

Regarding Prince Chern, I have found some interesting things:
His name was also mentioned as Prince Cern, Tzern; his daughter Tzarna, Cherna, Cerna. 1) Chara in Russian means divine; 2) The word TZAR appeared in Russia in 10th-11th century. So I thought that the origin of TZAR, originally meaning all-powerful ruler, sent by God, came from those people! Maybe it's crazy, but looks more convincing than Cezar, or Kaisar, sited in dictionaries as origin for meaning Tzar. If so, that is additional proof of the might and importance of the Principality of Chernigov.

Your Book The Dynasty of Chernigov 1146-1246 is already on my desk. Wonderful reading! Now I will try to get the first one. Can you please give me e-mail address of Publications Department?

Best Regards,
Nick Chernikov (Tchernikov is French spelling)

From: Martin Dimnik
Date: 05/06/04 14:10:28
To: Nick Tchernikov
Subject: Chernigov

Dear Mr. Tchernikov,
In reply to your email I can confirm that my two main assumptions as you
put them are correct. As for placing my letter on your web page, I have
no objection but please keep in mind that I made casual observations and
not a formal statement.

I would also agree that the letters G and K were freely interchanged in
the 10 and 11 century. More frequently, however, it was the vowels that
were interchanged because in writing a word a person would often write
mainly the consonants and leave out the vowels. Those were put in while
the word was being pronounced orally.

You obviously know more about the gods Chern and Bel than I do. However,
as you probably know and I can confirm, Chernigov was a pagan sanctuary
because when the builders were digging the foundation for the church of
SS Boris and Gleb on the detinets, they found a silver pagan idol. That
had been the site of a pagan shrine. And as you also probably know, the
town of Belgorod (named after Bel?) is located some 20 miles to the
southwest of Kiev.

Finally, the European distributor for my book are Brepols Publishers in
Belgium who can be contacted at:

Best wishes,
Martin Dimnik

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