Name of Ukraine

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Italian map of «European Tataria» (1684). Dnieper Ukraine is marked as «Ukraine or the land of Zaporozhian Cossacks (Vkraina o Paese de Cossachi di Zaporowa)». In the east there is «Ukraine or the land of Don Cossacks, who are dependent on Muscovy (Vkraina ouero Paese de Cossachi Tanaiti Soggetti al Moscouita)» .
Map of Eastern Europe by V. Coronelli (1690). Lands with Kiev are shown as VKRAINE ou PAYS DES COSAQUES (Ukraine or the land of Cossacks). In the east the name OKRAINA (Borderland) is used for Russia's southern border.

The name "Ukraine" (Ukrainian: Україна Ukrayina [ukrɑˈjinɑ]) has been used in a variety of ways since the twelfth century. Today, it is the official name of Ukraine, the country in Eastern Europe. Prior to Ukraine's independence from the USSR, the country was generally called "the Ukraine" (with the definite article appended before the name) in English, but this usage is on the wane[1] and officially deprecated by the Ukrainian government and many English language media publications.[2][3][4]


The oldest mention of the word ukraina dates back to the year 1187. In connection with the death of the Vladimir Glebovich, the ruler of Principality of Pereyaslavl which was Kiev's southern shield against the Wild Fields, the Hypatian Codex says “ukraina groaned for him”, ѡ нем же оукраина много постона (o nem že ukraina mnogo postona).[5] In the following decades and centuries this term was applied to fortified borderlands of different principalities of Rus' without a specific geographic fixation: Halych-Volhynia, Pskov, Ryazan etc.[6]:183[7][8][unreliable source?]

Ukraina[9] under King Władysław Jagiełło of Poland

As Brockhaus and Efron Encyclopedic Dictionary tells, after the South-Western Rus' was subordinated to the Polish Crown in 1569, a particular part of its territory from eastern Podolia to Zaporozhie got the unofficial name Ukraina due to its border function to the nomadic Tatar world in the south.[10] The Polish chronicler Samuel Grądzki who wrote about the Khmelnytsky Uprising in 1660 explained the word Ukraina as the land located at the edge of the Polish kingdom.[11] Thus, in the course of the 16th-18th centuries Ukraine became a concrete regional name among other historic regions such as Podolia, Severia, or Volhynia. It was used for the middle Dnieper territory controlled by the Cossacks.[6]:184[7] The people of Ukraina were called Ukrainians (українці, українники).[12] Later, the term Ukraine was used for the Hetmanate lands on both sides of the Dnieper although it didn't become the official name of the state.[7]

From the 18th century on, the term Ukraine becomes equally well known in the Russian Empire as the official and colonial term Little Russia.[6]:183–184 With the growth of national self-consciosness the significance of the term rose and it was perceived not only as a geographic but also as an ethnic name. In the 1830s, Nikolay Kostomarov and his Brotherhood of Saints Cyril and Methodius in Kiev started to use the name Ukrainians. Their work was suppressed by Russian authorities, and associates including Taras Shevchenko were sent into internal exile, but the idea gained acceptance. It was also taken up by Volodymyr Antonovych and the Khlopomany ('peasant-lovers'), former Polish gentry in Eastern Ukraine, and later by the 'Ukrainophiles' in Galicia, including Ivan Franko. The evolution of the meaning became particularly obvious at the end of the 19th century.[6]:186 The term is also mentioned by the Russian scientist and traveler Nicholas Miklouho-Maclay (1846-1888). At the turn of the 20th century the term Ukraine became independent and self-sufficient, pushing aside regional self-definitions[6]:186 In the course of the political struggle between the Little Russian and the Ukrainian identitites, it challenged the traditional term Little Russia ("Малороссия") and ultimately defeated it in the 1920s during the Bolshevik policy of Korenization and Ukrainization.[13][14][page needed]


During the period of Romantic nationalism it was popular to trace the origin of the country name to an ancient ethnonym. After this pseudo-historical view was discarded, two main versions of the etymology emerged. Naturally, the versions have different implications from a nationalist point of view. They are also based on different possible or certain meanings of the lexeme ukraina as occurring in historical sources (see above) – "borderland", "homeland", "country", "region" or simply "land".

Mainstream interpretation as ‘borderland’

Excerpt from Peresopnytsia Gospel (1556) where word "ukraina" is used for "border/coast".

The traditional theory (which was widely supported by historians and linguists in the 19–20th centuries, see e.g. Max Vasmer's etymological dictionary of Russian) is that the modern name of the country is derived from the term "ukraina" in the sense ‘borderland, frontier region, marches’ etc. These meanings can be derived from the Proto-Slavic noun *krajь, meaning ‘edge, border’. Contemporary parallels for this are Russian okráina ‘outskirts’ and kraj ‘border district’.

This suggests that it was being used as a semantic parallel to -mark in Denmark, which originally also denoted a border region (in this case of the Holy Roman Empire, cf. Marches).

A 1648 map by Guillaume Le Vasseur de Beauplan called Delineatio Generalis Camporum Desertorum vulga Ukraina (General illustration of desert planes, in common speech Ukraine)

In the sixteenth century, the only specific ukraina mentioned very often in Polish and Ruthenian texts was the south-eastern borderland around Kiev, and thus ukraina came to be synonymous with ‘the voivodship of Kiev’ and later ‘the region around Kiev’.[citation needed] In the nineteenth century, when Ukrainian romanticism and nationalism came into existence this name was adopted as the name of the country.[citation needed]

The etymology of the word Ukraine is seen this way among Russian[15] and the most influential Ukrainian and Western historians such as Orest Subtelny,[16] Paul Magocsi,[17] Omeljan Pritsak,[18] Mykhailo Hrushevskyi,[19] Ivan Ohiyenko,[20] Petro Tolochko[21] and others. It's supported by the Encyclopedia of Ukraine[22] and the Etymological dictionary of the Ukrainian language.[23]

This version is supported by the fact that in some medieval Latin maps and documents, the word Ukraine is explained or translated as Marginalia.[24][25][26][27][28][29][30] On a map of Russia, published in Amsterdam in 1645, the sparsely inhabited region to the north of the Azov sea is called Okraina and is characterized to the proximity to the Dikoia pole (Wild Fields), a posing a constant threat of raids of Turkic nomads (Crimean Tatars and the Nogai Horde). There is, however, also a specialised map published in 1648 of the Lower Dnieper region by Guillaume Le Vasseur de Beauplan called "Delineatio Generalis Camporum Desertorum vulga Ukraina" (General illustration of desert planes, in common speech Ukraine), attesting to the fact that the term Ukraina was also in use.[31]

Alternative interpretation as ‘region, country’

Some Ukrainian scholars, such as Hryhoriy Pivtorak, Fedir Shevchenko,[32] Mykola Andrusyak,[33] Serhiy Shelukhin[34] believe that the name is derived from ukraina in the sense of ‘region, principality, country’ (an alternative etymology would be to derive this meaning from the previously mentioned one by generalization). Many medieval occurrences of the word can be interpreted as having that meaning. In this sense, the word can be associated with contemporary Ukrainian krajina, Belarusian kraina and Russian and Polish kraj, all meaning ‘country’ (see Translations, 'region of land').

Pivtorak starts with the meaning of kraj as ‘land parcel, territory’, attested to in many Slavic languages and states of having acquired the meaning ‘a tribe's territory’ from early in Slavic morphology; *ukraj and *ukrajina would then mean "a separated land parcel, a separate part of a tribe's territory". Later, as Kievan Rus' disintegrated in the 12th century, its ukrainas would become independent principalities, hence the new (and earliest attested) meaning of ukraina as ‘principality’. Still later, lands that became part of Lithuania (Chernigov and Seversk Principalities, Kiev Principality, Pereyaslav Principality and the most part of the Volyn Principality) were sometimes called Lithuanian ukraina, while lands that became part of Poland (Halych Principality and part of the Volyn Principality) were called Polish Ukrayina. Simultaneously, Pivtorak and other scholars claim that the words Okraina and Ukraine always had strictly separate meanings,[35][36] which has been countered by other historical sources.[37]

The same meaning, being ‘region, principality, country’, can additionally be understood to be derived from another meaning of the word *kraj-, namely ‘to cut’ — as in Church Slavonic кроити (kroiti), краяти (krajati) — that is, ‘the land someone carved out for themselves’.[35]

Claims of Pivtorak, Shelukhin and other promoters of Ukraine's alternative etymology have faced critical feedback for methodological inaccuracy, exclusively by modern Russian historians.[38][unreliable source?][39][unreliable source?]


"Ukraine" versus "the Ukraine"

Since the Ukrainian language does not use definite articles, the question of whether the "official" name for Ukraine includes the definite article is difficult to answer, since it's not even a meaningful question in Ukranian. "Ukraine" and "The Ukraine" are both possible translations of the Ukranian "Україна" .

Since the Declaration of Independence of Ukraine the English-speaking world has changed its usage from "the Ukraine" to "Ukraine".[40][41][4][42] From November 1991, several American journalists began to refer to Ukraine as Ukraine instead of the Ukraine.[4] The Associated Press dropped the article 'the' on 3 December 1991.[4] This approach has become established in journalism and diplomacy since (other examples are the style guides of The Guardian[43] and The Times[44]). In 1993 the Ukrainian government requested that the article be dropped.[45]

Referring to Ukraine as the Ukraine (instead of Ukraine) is considered insulting by Ukrainians.[46]

The use of the definite article is standard in some other languages such as French (l'Ukraine) or German (die Ukraine), but this is not a marked feature, since the article in French is required for all countries (except Singapore and Israel), and in German, for all non-neuter countries.

Conventional name

Ukraine is both the conventional short and long name of the country. This name is stated in the Ukrainian Declaration of Independence and Constitution. Before independence in 1991, Ukraine was a republic of the Soviet Union known as the Ukrainian Soviet Socialist Republic.

Preposition usage in Ukrainian, Russian and other Slavic languages

Plaque on the wall of the Embassy of the Slovak Republic in Ukraine. Note the preposition na in Slovak, and the preposition v in Ukrainian.

In the Ukrainian language, there was an official change in the way of saying "in Ukraine" following the country's independence. Traditional usage is na Ukrajini (with the preposition na, "on"), but recently Ukrainian authorities have begun using v Ukrajini (with the preposition v, "in") and highly politicize the issue. Linguistic prescription in Russian dictates usage of na.[47] Russian-language media in Ukraine are increasingly using the parallel form v Ukraine. However, the media in Russia continue to use the standard na Ukraine. The difference between two preposition is not clear and mostly rely on tradition. There are number of examples for both preposition use. A number of countries like Cuba, Philippines and Madagascar are used with na in Russian language. And despite some rumours about their island nature it is not a general rule too. In Russian language some island countries are traditionally used with v preposition like Iceland and Ireland. The preposition na continues to be used with Ukraine (and with Rus') in other Slavic languages, including Polish, Czech, and Slovak. This is a usage typically found with lands that have not always been considered distinct political entities (for example, Polish also uses na with its names for Hungary, Slovakia, Latvia, Belarus and Lithuania, but also the regions of Masovia, Masuria or Podlasie). However, Serbo-Croatian and Slovene never use na Ukrajini, u/v Ukrajini being the proper form - despite the fact that in Slovene, a great number of other countries are used with the preposition na.

Phonetics and orthography

Among the western European languages, there is inter-language variation (and even sometimes intra-language variation) in the phonetic vowel quality of the ai of Ukraine, and its written expression. It is variously:

  • Treated as a diphthong (for example, English Ukraine /juːˈkrn/) or /ˈjuːkrn/)
  • Treated as a pure vowel (for example, French Ukraine [ykʁɛn])
  • Transformed in other ways (for example, Spanish Ucrania [uˈkɾanja])
  • Treated as two juxtaposed vowel sounds, with some phonetic degree of an approximant [j] between that may or may not be recognized phonemically: German Ukraine [ukʀaˈiːnə] (although the realisation with the diphthong [aɪ̯] is also possible: [uˈkʀaɪ̯nə]). This pronunciation is represented orthographically with a dieresis, or tréma, in Dutch Oekraïne or Ukraïne, an often-seen Latin-alphabet transliteration of Україна that is an alternative to Ukrayina. This version most closely resembles the vowel quality of the Ukrainian version of the word.

In Ukrainian itself, there is a "euphony rule" sometimes used in poetry and music which changes the letter У (U) to В (V) at the beginning of a word when the preceding word ends with a vowel or a diphthong. When applied to the word Україна, this can produce the form Вкраїна (Vkrajina), as in song lyric Най Вкраїна вся радіє (Let all Ukraine rejoice!).[48]

See also


  1. usage of article
  2. Ukraine or the Ukraine: Why do some country names have 'the'?, BBC News (7 June 2012)
  3. Why Ukraine Isn't 'The Ukraine,' And Why That Matters Now, Business Insider (9 December 2013)
  4. 4.0 4.1 4.2 4.3 The "the" is gone, The Ukrainian Weekly (8 December 1991)
  5. PSRL , published online at Izbornyk, 1187.
  6. 6.0 6.1 6.2 6.3 6.4 Пономарьов А. П. Етнічність та етнічна історія України: Курс лекцій.—К.: Либідь, 1996.— 272 с.: іл. І8ВМ 5-325-00615-0.
  8. Гайда Ф. А. От Рязани и Москвы до Закарпатья. Происхождение и употребление слова «украинцы» // Родина. 2011. № 1, доступ к тексту: [1]
  9. The term Ukraina, or Kresy, meaning outskirts or borderlands, was first used to define the Polish eastern frontier. The borderlands referred to the eastern frontiers of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth.
  10. Украина // Энциклопедический словарь Брокгауза и Ефрона: В 86 томах (82 т. и 4 доп.). — СПб., 1890—1907.
  11. [2]«Margo enim polonice kray; inde Ukrajna, quasi provincia ad fines regni posita».
  12. Русина О. В. Україна під татарами і Литвою. — Київ: Видавничий дім «Альтернативи», 1998. — С. 278.
  13. Миллер А. И. Дуализм идентичностей на Украине // Отечественные записки. — № 34 (1) 2007. С. 84-96
  14. Martin T. The Affirmative Action Empire. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 2001
  15. Vasmer Etymological Dictionary
  16. Orest Subtelny. Ukraine: A History. University of Toronto Press, 1988
  17. A History of Ukraine. University of Toronto Press, 1996 ISBN 0-8020-0830-5
  18. From Kievan Rus' to modern Ukraine: Formation of the Ukrainian nation (with Mykhailo Hrushevski and John Stephen Reshetar). Cambridge, Mass.: Ukrainian Studies Fund, Harvard University, 1984.
  19. Грушевський М. Історія України-Руси. Том II. Розділ V. Стор. 4
  20. Історія української літературної мови. Київ — 2001 (Перше видання Вінніпег — 1949)
  21. Толочко П. П. «От Руси к Украине» («Від Русі до України». 1997
  22. Енциклопедія українознавства. У 10-х томах. / Головний редактор Володимир Кубійович. — Париж; Нью-Йорк: Молоде життя, 1954—1989.
  23. Етимологічний словник української мови: У 7 т. / Редкол. О. С. Мельничук (голов. ред.) та ін. — К.: Наук. думка, 1983 — Т. 6: У — Я / Уклад.: Г. П. Півторак та ін. — 2012. — 568 с. ISBN 978-966-00-0197-8.
  24. Старинные карты России из фондов Государственного Исторического Музея. Из собрания А. Д. Черткова. — Москва, ГИМ, отдел картографии, 2000 год.
  25. Постников А. В. Карты земель российских: очерк истории географического изучения и картографирования нашего отечества. — Москва, «Наш Дом — L’Age d’Homme», 1996.
  26. Рыбаков Б. А. Русские карты Московии XV- начала XVI века. — Москва, Наука, 1974.
  27. Чекин Л. С. Картография христианского Средневековья VIII—XIII вв. — Москва,аи Восточная литература, 1999.
  28. Rerum moscoviticarum commentarii. Basiliae, 1556.
  29. Katalog dawnych map Rzeczypospolitej Polskiej w kolekcji Emeryka Hutten Czapskiego i w innych zbiorach. — Wroclaw, Warszawa, Krako’w, Gdan’sk: Wyd. Polskiej Akademii Nauk. Instytut Geografii i Przestrzennego Zagospodarowania. Ossolineum. 1978. N.1. Mapy XV—XVI wieku.
  30. Аннинский С. А. Известия венгерских миссионеров XIII—XIV веков о татарах в Восточной Европе. //Исторический Архив. Институт Истории АН СССР. Изд-во АН СССР. Москва-Ленинград, 1940.
  31. General illustration of desert planes, in common speech Ukraine
  32. Ф. Шевченко: термін "Україна", "Вкраїна" має передусім значення "край", "країна", а не "окраїна": том 1, с. 189 в Історія Української РСР: У 8 т., 10 кн. — К., 1979.
  33. Андрусяк, М. Назва «Україна»: «країна» чи «окраїна». Прага, 1941; Історія козаччини, кн. 1—3. Мюнхен
  34. Шелухін, С. Україна — назва нашої землі з найдавніших часів. Прага, 1936
  35. 35.0 35.1 Григорій Півторак. Походження українців, росіян, білорусів та їхніх мов.
  36. Олександр Палій. Стаття для періодичного видання «Обозреватель»
  37. As an example can serve С. М. Середонин. Наказ кн. М. И. Воротынскому и роспись полкам 1572 года, “Записки имп. Русского археологического общества”, т. VIII, вып. 1 и 2, полая серия. “Труды отделения русской и славянской археологии”, кн. первая, 1895, СПб., 1896; см. предисловие, стр. 49 - 53, публикация, стр. 54 - 62.
  38. Fyodor Gaida (2013-08-25). "Why Ukraine is "borderland", not "country"" (in Russian).CS1 maint: unrecognized language (link)<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  39. Alexander Fidel (2013-04-24). "Ukraine: "country" or "borderland"?" (in Russian).CS1 maint: unrecognized language (link)<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  40. Ukraine or the Ukraine: Why do some country names have 'the'?, BBC News (7 June 2012)
  41. Why Ukraine Isn't 'The Ukraine,' And Why That Matters Now, Business Insider (9 December 2013)
  42. "Ukraine". Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary. Retrieved 2011-01-07.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  43. "The Guardian Style Guide: Section 'U'". London. 2008-12-19. Retrieved 2011-01-07.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  44. "The Times Style Guide: Section 'U'". London. 2005-12-16. Archived from the original on April 11, 2007. Retrieved 2011-01-07. Unknown parameter |deadurl= ignored (help)<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  45. Граудина, Л. К.; Ицкович, В. А.; Катлинская, Л. П (2001). Грамматическая правильность русской речи (in Russian). Москва. p. 69. В 1993 году по требованию Правительства Украины нормативными следовало признать варианты в Украину (и соответственно из Украины). Тем самым, по мнению Правительства Украины, разрывалась не устраивающая его этимологическая связь конструкций на Украину и на окраину. Украина как бы получала лингвистическое подтверждение своего статуса суверенного государства, поскольку названия государств, а не регионов оформляются в русской традиции с помощью предлогов в (во) и из... Unknown parameter |trans_title= ignored (help)CS1 maint: unrecognized language (link)<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  46. Trump discusses Ukraine and Syria with European politicians via video link, The Guardian (11 September 2015)
  48. See for example, Rudnyc'kyj, J. B., Матеріали до українсько -канадійської фольклористики й діялектології / Ukrainian-Canadian Folklore and Dialectological Texts, Winnipeg, 1956


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