LINGUIST List 13.637

Fri Mar 8 2002

Sum: Origin of "Chechnia"

Editor for this issue: Karen Milligan <>


  1. Maher Bahloul, Replies related to 'Chechnia'

Message 1: Replies related to 'Chechnia'

Date: Fri, 08 Mar 2002 13:09:04 +0400
From: Maher Bahloul <>
Subject: Replies related to 'Chechnia'

Re: Linguist 13.601

Dear All,

Thanks to the following colleagues, the etymology of the Ethnynom
'chechen' is, to some extent, no longer a puzzle. These are the
answers I've got so far:

Ben Fortson
The word is supposed to come from Kabardian sheshen. I would check
Max Vasmer's etymological dictionary of Russian for further info.

Donald S. Cooper
A starting point is probably given by Max Vasmer's Russisches
etymologisches Woerterbuch III Heidelberg 1958. The Russian word
cheche'nets is considered:
"'Tschetschene, Angehoeriger des oestl. Zweiges des Nordkaukasischen'
(Finck). Nach Finck Sprachstaemme 34 ist der Name dem Russischen
entnommen und geht vielleicht auf kabard. sheshen zurueck. Anders Dirr
Namen 207 der from ON Chachan am unteren Argun ausgeht. Der Stammesname
findet sich in osset. cacan., dido chachanzi; awar.chachan (dirr. c.l.).
Vgl. auch osman. Chaechaen 'Tschetschene' (Radloff Wb. 3, 1988 ff.)."
I expand umlauted letters V to Ve. Consonant letters C with hacek are
expanded to a sequence Ch, e.g. ch, sh. If you have a FAX, I can send
you the plain copy.

Donald F. Reindl
The ethnonym and general toponym apparently come from the name of a
village where the Russians had early contact with the Chechens. I
don't have my Chechen materials with me (I'm temporarily living
abroad), so I'm sorry that I can't look it up and tell you exactly
which village it was. Supposedly the Czech designation for Austria
(Rakousko) has a similar origin, connected with the town of
Retz/R�tz. I've also seen the Greeks refer to the Republic of
Macedonia as "Skopje" and I think they have a Skopje-based name for
its citizens, although this is a deliberate politically-motivated
choice. There are probably quite a few other examples of ethnic groups
being designated by the name of a salient settlement.

Paul Fallon
"The Chechen self-name is (singular) _Nwoxc^uo_, (plural) _Nwoxc^i:_,
the language is _nwoxc^i:n mwott_ (lit. 'language of the Chechens'). The
Russian and general European term Chechen comes from the name of a
lowlands village." note: _word_ = underlined word, c^ = c-wedge, final
/n/ is superscript (in Chechen). Source: Nichols, Johanna. 1994.
Chechen. North East Caucasian Languages, Part 2, ed. by Rieks Smeets,
1-77. Delmar, NY: Caravan Books. quote from p. 3.

I was working on the Chechen language for a while. The word 'Chechnia'
is taken from a little village where the Russians first met Chechens
when they went south more than 2 centuries ago. I forgot whether the
village is still called Chechnia but in fact it is a Russian name
which was taken into nearly all languages apart from Caucasian
languages which are neighbouring Chechnia.

Magnus Liw
As I've gathered it, the name Chechen actually's the name of a frontier
village, the first to be visited by russians.'

Marc Picard
According to Webster's Third International, Chechen is a modification
of Russian chechenets which is probably from chechenit' sya 'to talk
mincingly', which is of imitative origin.

The Ethnynom 'chechen' is probably related to the name of a small
village in Northern Chechnya, which had been reached by Russian troops
in 1708 and which was famous for the scene of the first heavy clashes
between Zarist and Chechen troops. In a treaty between the Russians
and the Kalmuq-Chief AyukiKhan of the same year, the ethnonym
'chechen' had been mentioned for the first time. From this we can
induce that it was the village name that gave rise to the the ethnonym
(Russian 'chechency' = 'those from 'Chachen' - a typical way how
'foreigners' develop a name for an ethnic group hitherto unknown to
them). But this probably isn't the whole story. We have to bear in
mind that there once was a 'taypa' (clan) called the 'cechoy' or
'cecoy' who dwelt in the village of Cechoy or Keshen-Aul at the
Yaryk-Su. Finally, there is a village in Northern Avaristan called
Burti which is named Chechni by its inhabitants. A connection is a bit
unlikely, because the term 'chechen' is obviuously related to radition
north(west) of Chechnya. Note that the Kabardians call the Chechens
'shashan', the Ossetians have the name 'cacan'. Most likely, both
peoples have taken the term from Russian.

Local names for the Chechens are normally derived from other place
names such as Okoki ~ Akazy (< Akki), Misikizy (< Michik, a river
name) etc. etc. Hence, a derivation from the village name Chechen is
rather probable.

All does not naturally explain 'what' 'chechen' historically meant.
But it's always the same mystery with place names: sometimes they go
far beyond what we can trace linguistically.

The 'native' term (a rather recent formation, by the way', is - as you
say - no:chiyn, a genitive plural from 'na:x' 'people'. But note that
already in old Armenian sources (600 AD), there is an ethnonym
naxch`amatyan which could be read 'no:chyn muott' '[people of the] Nax
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