Wednesday, November 25, 2009


The Naming Process in  Dedem Korkut Kitabı1
A name is the appellation and/or the etiquette of its bearer. Although it may sometimes not mean anything, and that its original meaning may have vanished or have been distorted through the diachronic process of semantic shifts, onomastics does provide for us indispensable insights into the nature of a society, its very structure and institutions. It is in this respect that onomastics of Dedem Korkut's world is crucial.
Just as in the British epic Beowulf pagan and Christian elements indiscreetly co-mingle, shamanistic and Islamic traits are welded together in the book as well. The setting for the stories covers a vast area, ranging from Central Asia to Northeastern Anatolia.  The purported or the narrated author is Dede Korkut who, as Sumer and Walker put it in The Book of Dede Korkut Kitabı,
                        ... combines the duties of wise old man,
                        religious leader and bard suggestive of the
                        Central Asian shaman.  He provides suitable
                        names for boys entering manhood, Bugach, for
                        example and Beyrek with the Gray Horse. When
                        the Oghuz are troubled by seemingly
                        irreconcilable problems, they call upon Dede
                        Korkut to solve their problems.2

            Names and naming traditions were a pivotal and integral part of the ancient Turks as they  still are in some regions of Turkey, even if with changing rituals that accompany them. Since children, especially boys are considered to be the perpetuators of the father's stock, we read in the story of Boğaç Han that "Hanlar hanı Han Bayındır... oğlu olanı ak otağa, kızı olanı kızıl otağa kondurun... Oğlu kızı olmayanı Allah Teala kargayuptur, biz dahi kargaruz, belli bilsun demiş idu." 
It is Dede Korkut or the patriarchal clergyman he is pictured to be that names children.  In all the stories he is acknowledged as the name-giver as well as advice-giver, which also indicates that he has an immense authority over the tribe(s).  In other words, like Adam in the Bible who, by giving her a name, exercises power over Eve, he exercises a religious and cultural power over the people he names.  Together with the name go some tools, animals and material paraphernalia to the recently named person. The name given to a person is almost identical and/or descriptive of its bearer. A boy of fifteen is considered an adult, and
                        Ol zamanda bir oğlan baş kesüp kan dökmese ad
                        komazlar idi, eyle olsa çağırdılar, Dedem
                        Korkut gelir oldu, oğlanı alıp babasına
                        vardı.... Bayındır Han'ın meydanında bu oğlan
                        ceng-etmiştur, bir buğa öldürmüştür, senin
                        oğlun Buğaç olsun. Adını ben verdum, yaşını
                        Allah versun, dedi.

            As the preceding example indicates, Buğaç merits a name only when he has proved his prowess, knocking down a bull with his fist.  A. İnan propounds that "Kahraman asıl adını kahramanlık gösterdikten sonra atla beraber alır. Bana öyle geliyor ki, "ad" ile "at" menşe itibariyle aynı kelimedir.  Kahraman ata binmeden ad alamıyor."3 However, this assumption overtly introduces some problems, to which Gökyay brings the following explanation:
                        Doğan çocuğa uğurlu ve yakışan bir ad bulma, boy
                        başkanına, saygıdeğer bir konuğa veya boyun şamanına
                        aittir. Müslümanlıktan sonraki dönemlerde şamanın
                        yerini derviş almıştır.... Ana-babanın verdiği ad
                        gerçek ad değildir, geçici addır. Boyun reisi veya
                        kamı tarafından verilen bu adı alan yiğit,
                        boyun üyesi ilan edilirdi.4

            Despite the illustrative information presented, it is feasible to extrapolate that there is no hint as to how the girls are named or whether they also have to carry out any action of valor or dexterity to be considered eligible for a name. Besides, some of the names in the book, which seem to have been replaced or compounded by new names, have the characteristics of the old. Therefore, the essential purport of this paper will be to do a taxonomic study on the origins of the names in the book as meticulously as the linguistic and intellectual means allow. There will inevitably be some overlapping in categorization, since some of the names fit into more than one subcategory.

A) Morpho-Semantic Approach

a) Imperatives given as names:
            1-Bayındur (enrich, make prosperous!), from "boyutmak."  It may also be used as an adjective just to mean "prosperous, built-up."
            2-Korkut (frighten, show!).  Concerning this name Kakuk prefers the former meaning.5  However, Dede is not a frightening character in the stories; on the contrary, he is quite a lovable man.  We are convinced that the concept of someone like Dede acting as "murshid" has penetrated the book together with the other Islamic leitmotifs recurrently cropping up in the stories. In the Koran, the Prophet is said to have been sent to act as a preceptor, showing people the right way and frightening them when they deviate from the right path.  Thus, Dede does not frighten the people, but enlightens them.
            3-Doğsun (let him be born!). The name may also be a distant reverberation of "tosun" (calf), associated with some virile and youthful characteristics.
            4- Ulaş (reach, attain, run to help).
B) Adjectives given as names:6
ba) Falling under this category are the nicknames, nouns used as adjective, and attributes referring to certain characteristics of their bearers:
1. Ayna Melek (Mirror Angel).
            2. Banı Çiçek (Lovely Flower).
            3. Can Kız (Beloved Girl).
            4. Buğduz (N/A).
            5. Deli Budak (Crazy Knot).
            6. Deli Evren (Crazy Dragoon).
            7. Demür Gücü (Iron Power).
            8. Eğrek (Slanting).
            9. Eren (Saintly).
            10.Gaflet (Inadvertence).
            11.Kadılık (Judge-like, Huge).
            12.Kam (Trouble, anguish).
            13.Kanlı (Bloody).
            14.Kara Güne (To-the-Dark-Day). That is, he is helpful when one is in need.
            15.Karçar (The solidified, concretized one). Verbal adjective in the present progressive.
            16.Kazılık Koca (an old man as vigorous as Mount Kazılık or as the horses grazing at its skirts).
            17.Kısırca Yenge (Sterile Aunt).
            18.Kılbaş (Hirsute-headed).
            20.Kulmaş. Possibly a clipped from of the Arabic phrase "Kul ma şaa”                  ["Say whatever he wants"] or a variant of "kalmaş" ["herze," "yave" in Turkish].
            21.Mamak (Woman-like, hermaphroditic), from "mam+k."
            22.Salur (One who rides or preempts fast), from "sal+ar."
            23.Seğrek (One who runs, paces; fidgety), from "seğremek"
            25.Selcan (Torrent-like soul) = "sel"+can"
            26.Selçuk (Small torrent) = "sel"+diminutive suffix
            27.Ters Uzamış (Elongated in the wrong direction).
Possibly, so named because he is too corpulent in the story.
            28.Yağrıncı (Tomorrow-ist, negligent).
            29.Yalancı (Liar).
            30.Yaltacuk(One who butters up, curries favor), from yaltaklanmak"+"cuk," the diminutive suffix.
            31. Yapağılu (One with the wool just shorn of the sheep).
            32. Yünlü (One with the wool processed).
            bb) Names compounded or associated with color:
The color adjectives such as “sarı” and “kara” are frequently used, referring to the skin color of their bearers and their connotations: the former is associated with valor and difficulty; and the latter, with maturity. Observe, e.g., the following:
            1. Boz Oğlan (Gray Son).
            2. Kara Arslan (Dark Lion).
            3. Kara Budak (Dark Knot).
            4. Kara Çoban (Dark Shepherd).
            5. Sarı Çoban (Yellow Shepherd).
            6. Sarı Kulmaş (Yellow Kulmaş).
            bc) Hypochoristic names, associated with animals:
1. Arslan (Lion), signifying power and bravery.
            2. Boğaç (Bull-like), implying virility and robustness.
            3. Büre (Flea), signifying fastness, swiftness, and smallness.
            4. Evren (Dragoon, Sneak), derogatively used.
            5. İt (Dog), pejoratively used.
            6. Şir (lion), borrowed from Persian.

            bd) Names associated with plants;
1. Çiçek (Flower).
            2. Soğan (Onion), maybe derived from "soğnak."

            be) Names associated with things, objects, esp., of war and nature because of the latter's intrinsic qualities:
1. Arşun Oğlu (the Son of the Firmament).
            2. Ayna Melek (Mirror Angel)
            3. Çeşme Ağ Melek (Fountain Gray Angel).
            4. Kara Budak.
            5. Demür Gücü (Iron Power).
            6. Han Kazan (Khan Cauldron). Concerning this name Kakuk writes that,

                        L'etymologic de I'anthroponyme Kazan etant
                        deja discutee, il n'est pas certain qu'il
                        rentre dans cette categorie.... Il s'agiraitdu
                        derive du verbe kaz- "errer," tandis que selon
                        Rasonyi en revanche... il proviendrait du nom
                        commun kazan "chaudron".... Kazan (russe
                        kazanj) a acheve de rendre generalament connu.
                        Dans les sources historiques turques osmanlies
                        il est atteste sous la forme de Kazgan, Kozan,

            7. Kapak Han (Lid Khan), may also mean "let us grasp, snatch away, Khan."
            8. Turalı (one with a knotted handkerchief or shield or imperial monogram).
            9. Yapağılı Koca.
            10. Yayhan (Arrow Khan).

            B- Socio-Phenomenological Approach
These names reflect or arise from certain phenomena or social patterns as evidenced by the stories themselves:
            1- Boğaç: He has got his name after carried out a heroic action, killing a bull.
            2- Boğazca Fatma: She is a woman never satisfied with sex, a "yerikli," as Boğaç himself divulges. The name means "pregnant, crazy about sex."  Addressing her, Beyrek himself alludes to this fact:

                        And içeyim bu kez boğaz kısrağa bindiğim yok...
                        Hay ben seni hob tanıram...
                        Senin adın kırk oynaşlu Boğazca Fatmacık değül midür?
                        Yürü var yerüne otur oynamagıl.
                        Yohsa dahi ayıbun açarım bellü bilgil.

            3- Bamsı Beyrek: His case is similar to Boğaç's.
            4- Eğrek (Slanting or illegitimate): When Kazan Bey's house is plundered by the Becheneks, his mother is raped by İt Beçene. Later on, then child she bears is given this name.
            5- Kısırca Yenge.

            C) Phrasal names with certain characteristics:
1- Bin Büğdüz Başları (A thousand hunchback-heads).
            2- Düzen Oğlu Alp Rüstem (Alp Rüstem, the son of order or trick).
            3- Ense Koca-Oğlu (Son of neck, the old man).
            4. Gaflet Koca-Oğlu Şir Şemseddin (Lion the sun of religion, the son of oblivion, the old man).
            5- Eylik Koca-Oğlu Alp Eren:
            6. Eylik Koca-Oğlu Dönebilmez Dönek.
            7. Eylik Koca-Oğlu Saru Kulmaş.
            8. Kam Gan-Oğlu Han Bayındır.
            9. Kızıllık Koca-Oğlu Bey Yeğenek.
            10. Kıyan Selçuk-Oğlu Delü Dündar.
            11. Yağrıncı-Oğlu El Almış.
            12. Yalancı-Oğlu Yaltacık.

            D) Technonymous names:
Until after the surname law was passed in 1934 by the Turkish Grand National Assembly, the Turks did not have any surnames in the sense we consider them today.8  They were usually using technonyms in lieu of surnames, which is a consequence of the   Islamo-Arabic traditions. As a matter of fact, before Islam penetrated the world of Dedem Korkut,

            The Altai, including the Cheen, or Black
            Forest Turks... The Kirei and the
            Kumandists... were almost wholly shamanists,
            though the Teleut were nominally converted to
            Islam... and The Kire... were Nestorian
            Christians from the eleventh century...
            Their conversion has been a gradual process...
            Islam was introduced at an early date among
            the southern tribes.9

            Therefore, the Turkish equivalents of the Arabic technonyms such as "ebu, eba, ebi" (the father of), and "ibnu, ibne, ibni" (the son of) and similar formations were adopted by Turks as observed in the following:
            1- Gaflet Koca-Oğlu Şir Şemseddin.
            2- Eylik Koca-Oğlu Alp Eren (Heroic saint, the son of goodness the old man).
            3. Eylik Koca-Oğlu Dönebilmez Dölek (The-never-coming-safe, the son of goodness the old man).
            4. Yağrıncı-Oğlu El Almış (The one who the others have taken, the son of tomorrow-ist).
            5. Yalancı-Oğlu Yaltacuk (Yesman, the son of liar).

            E) Names with Arabo-Islamic origins or connotations:
1- Ayna Melek
            2- Bay Bican (Rich one-souled, or soulless).
            3. Eren.
            5. Kutlu Melek.
            6. Zübeyde (Possessor of whiteness, shining).

            F) Names used with or showing status and dignity:
1- Alp Eren.
            2- Alp Rüstem.
            3- Bay Büre.
            4- Bay Bican.
            5- Bayındur Han.
            6. Beğ Yeğenek.
            7. Burla Hatun.
            8. Can Paşa.
            9. Sarı Çoban.
            10 Han Kazan.
            11. Kadılık Koca-Oğlu
            12. Kara Çoban...

1.Unless otherwise stated, all the references to the book are from O.Ş. Gökyay, ed., Dedem Korkut Kitabı (İst.: M.E.Basımevi, 1973).
            2.F.R.Sümer, A.E. Uysal, and W.S. Walker, eds and trans., Introduction, The Book of Dede Korkut (Austin and London: U of Texas P, 1966) X-XII.
            3.For more information, see A. İnan, "Göçebe Destanlarında Kahramanlar: Doğumları, Ad Almaları ve Hüviyetleri" in Yücel 66 (Aug. 1940) 274.
            4.Gökyay CCXXVI-II.
            5.See Susan Kakuk, "Quelques categories des noms de personne Turks," Acta Orientalia Hungarica. 18 (1974): 1-35.
            6. The meanings of the names are to be given only once to avoid tautology.
            7.Kakuk 15.
            8.See İlhan Başgöz, "The Meaning and Dimension of Change of Personal Names In Turkey," Turcica Revue D'etudes Turques. 16 (1983): 210-18.
            9.For more information on this process, see N.K., Chadwick and Zhirmunsky, Introduction, Oral Epics of Central Asia (Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 1969) 1-15.


            1. Atalay, Besim. Türk Dilinde Ekler ve Kökler. İst.: Matbaa-i Ebuzziya, 1948.
            2. A commission of TDK on Humanities, eds. Divan ü Lugat-it-Türk Ankara: TDK P, 1972.
            3. A commission of TDK on Humanities. Türkçe Sözlük, 6th ed. Ankara: Bilgi P, 1974.
            4. Caferoğlu, Ahmet. Uygur Sözlüğü. İst.: Burhaneddin P, 1934.
            5. ---, Eski Uygur Türkçesi Sözlüğü. İst.: Ed.Fak., 1968.
            6. Clausson, Sir Gerard. An Etymological Dictionary of Pre-13th Century. Oxford: The Clarendon P, 1972.
            7. Emre, A. Cevat. Türkçede İsmin Temelleri. İst. Burhaneddin P, 1943.
            8. Ergin, Muharrem. Dede Korkut Kitabi. Ankara: Ank. UP, 1964.
            9. Kutlu, Şemseddin. Türkçede Kadın ve Erkek Adları. Ankara: Ank. UP, 1969.
            10. Püsküllüoğlu, Ali. Seçilmiş Çocuk Adları. Ankara: Maya P, 1981.
            11. Rasonyi, Laszlo. Tarihte Türklük. Ankara: Ayyıldız P, 1971.


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