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I have a need to Latinise a surname (details about that name are provided further down in my question) rather urgently, but with my miniscule knowledge of Latin I cannot do that myself well. I hope experts from this site who know Latin style, naturally sounding combinations of letters, traditions of names Latinisation in Classical and Medieval times, could give me invaluable advice on this task.

What I've learned so far is that modern rules for personal names Latinisation recommend making very little changes to the original name. Mainly it's just adding a suffix -us, -ius (in case of a male name) and optionally replacing j and y with i, w with v, k with c. It seems that the latest piece of advice even discourages making any changes to the non-Latin letters (as in the rules of the International code of botanical nomenclature, revised in 1990, where in the new plants names constructed from personal names: "the syllables ... retain their original spellings, even with the consonant k or w or with groupings of vowels and consonants not used in classical Latin; examples: Wolbachia and Kurthia.")

That's very simple, but it's not what I need. I'd like the surname in question to be Latinised properly, how it would have been done in Classical times or in the Medieval period and up until about the 17 century. I understand that back then the Latinised names were modified in some way or another in order to sound more authentic, natural to Latin speakers/readers. Some intrusive, non-Latin sounds might have been removed, order of letters could be changed to make the name sounding more 'Latin', as if it had had Latin origin (even if that wasn't really so). Properly Latinised in that way name didn't sound (to a Latin speaker/reader) as a meaningless random sequence of sounds/letters, but they would see some meaning in that word (name); or at least the combinations of sounds/letters would be familiar to them; the Latinised name would sound to them pleasing/normal, not irritating/alien/illiterate. For example a British surname Rice was Latinised as Rheseus in 1607 in Oxford University's registry, while surname Morris was written there in Latin as Mauritius - some sounds remained similar to the original but other sounds were added to make the name better sounding in Latin. Another example is the transformation of the surname de Chauvin to Calvinus and the surname Van Herman into Arminius:
Picture of a text with sample of names Latinisation
I seek that style of Latinisation of the surname in question that is not a simple transliteration.

Now for the surname which needs Latinisation. It is of Eastern-European /Slavic origin (regions outside the Roman Empire), so historically there can be no connection of that name with Latin. There is no reason to look for potential Latin words out of which it hypothetically (but historically improbably) could have been created in the first place. However there can well be a few unrelated Latin words which just incidentally sound similar to that surname.

There are variations of its spelling in different countries/languages depending on what letters of their alphabet are used to represent certain sounds there. Some of the variants of writing it are:
Cavalciuc
Covalciuk
Cavalciuk
Covalczuk
Kowalczuk
However in English speaking countries it is most often spelled as
Kovalchuk.

The actual correct pronunciation of the name's sounds is as follows:
K - “k” as in “kite”, "kit"
O - short “a” as in ”call”; or "o" as in "off"
V - “v” as in "viper", "valve"
A - “ah” as in “say ahhh”, "father"
L - “l” as in “listen”, "lab"
CH - “ch” as in “church”, "chip"
U - “oo” as in “cool”, “rule”, "boot"
K - “k” as in “kite”, "kit"

It is made up of a main part KOVAL meaning "blacksmith", "smith", "forger", "one that makes things from iron" in many Slavic languages; while suffix -CHUK denotes belonging/relation, as "of", "son of", or "one who learns skills from".

I would rather avoid direct translation of the original meaning of the name's main part (smith) into Latin because then the Latinised name would sound completely different to the original. I prefer the Latinised name to retain at least some of the original sounds (or having sounds close to the original).

A change of the original meaning of the name in its new Latin form, if done for the purpose of good naturally sounding Latinised name, would be alright (as long as it won't be silly, derogatory or obscene).

I suppose the Slavic suffix -chuk can be omitted altogether and replaced with Latin -us, -ius (or maybe you have other suggestions), which would have practically the same meaning "of" as in the original. However if some sounds from the original suffix could be reused for constructing a nicely sounded Latinised name, I suppose there wouldn't be harm doing that, what do you think?

I'd be very grateful for your suggestions of a Classic or Medieval style Latinisation of that surname. Your expertise will be much appreciated.

P.S. Despite researching intensely I have failed to find any historical precedent of proper Latinisation of this particular surname so far. The closest old forms of the surname in question of persons migrated to different Western European countries possibly from Slavic lands are
Cavalot, Covello, Covalea, Coveller, Covelley, Coveley.
It is just possible that these surnames had derived from a Latinised name (which is lost now) to conform to the local traditions/languages (for example the last three ones were Anglicised). Can this be a clue for the possible earlier Latinised form of the name Kovalchuk?

P.P.S. After WWI Italy gained some territories from the former Austria-Hungarian Empire (Adriatic borderlands). In 1927 - 1943 there was a campaign for Italisation of Slavic names of native people living in those lands. The rules for the Italisation devised by scholars/linguists/historians were well documented and actually were similar to the old style Latinisation rules: a non-Italian sounding suffix had to be replaced with an Italian one (usually with -i or -o) and the main part of the surname had to be either modified (letters added, removed, swapped places) in order to sound more Italian, or alternatively the meaning of a surname was translated. Surnames close to the name in question were Italised as
Covelli, De Covelli, Cova, Covacci, Covi, Cavalli, Cavallini, Cavalieri.
Fabbroni, Fabbro, Fabretti, Fabbretti, Fabbrini, Fabbri.
(It was not Latinisation, but Italian is not entirely unrelated to Latin, so I've provided these results of my research just in case they could give you some clue. If you think it is irrelevant to the task of Latinisation then just ignore it.)


Added on 11 February 2020:

Meanwhile I've found a series of comical historical stories in which a Polish man with surname Kowalewski mentions achievements of his numerous ancestors, many of whom lived in Classical and Medieval times in southern and western Europe. In those fictional stories the Latin/Latinised surnames of the ‘ancestors’ were these:
Covallos
Covallor
Covallias
Covallus
Covalus
Covalius
Covalliusz
Covalliasz
Covaliusz
Covallodoros

The protagonist’s surname Kowalewski is practically the same as one which is in my question, the versions of the Latinisation which the author of those stories had done might be candidates for a latinised name for Kovalchuk just as well. I am just not sure if that Latinisation had been done correctly. Can somebody who knows Latin advise me which of these Latinised names sound/look natural/correct (if any)?

Besides in different books and documents I've found several real-life people with Latinised names similar to what I think (it's my unqualified guess) might be a Latinasation of the surname Kovalchuk too.

Marcel Covalius, Lucas Covalius, Silviano Covalius (possibly living in present time)
“The head of the American delegation Ambassador Covalius” (in mid 20 century)
Jacobus Covalius (17 century)
Covallus - latinised name of Tomek Kowal (living in present time)
George Covalcium (20th century)
Cavallius - a surname of several persons in Sweden from 17 century to the present day.
Cosmas Damianus Cavallus (18 century)
Some book (of 19 century) on Medieval history: "...with a burning spirit of so much anger, he rearmed, and returned to the fierce battle: The Libanoro King in this medium, and the Frank King Arloriaus ferociously fighting with Covalius, killed him under the horse..." Picture of the original text

Do you have any thoughts on these Latinised names?
What associations do they call to mind?
I suppose Cavallus might have derogatory connotation as 'son of a horse', is it not?
The version Covalus might also have unpleasant associations with a loser, a parasite, a robber or murderer. (from a 19 century dictionary: COVALUS, Qui lusu assimulato fallit, vel parasitus, vel blatero, hallucinatorque vel prædo, vel sicarius.) Is that right?
Are versions Covalius, Covallius less offensive? Do they sound natural?

Please advise.

  • Take a look at latin.stackexchange.com/questions/5051/… – Alex B. Jan 27 at 16:19
  • @Alex B, thanks for the link. It's interesting but it's all about transliteration of names (I understand it's how names are written in Latin in modern times e.g. from 18-19 c. onward). It's about the correct choice of Latin letters for representing precisely the same sounds (all of them and in the same order) as they are present in the original name (how it sounds normally in the native language). But I’ve been seeking advice on something different. – Alex Jan 28 at 1:14
  • (continued) I was actually asking about the style of Latinisation of non-Latin names used in earlier times, where the sounds of the original name were not necessary preserved, but could be freely altered in order to make a naturally Latin sounding name, resembling familiar (to an educated Latin-speaker) old Latin names, words, hints of familiar Latin word roots (e.g. Morris to Mauritius). Can anybody help me with such Latinisation of the surname Kovalchuk? – Alex Jan 28 at 1:19
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In classical times, foreign names (except Greek ones) were adopted into Latin based on their sound, not spelling. Suppose Caesar conquered a tribe in Gallia living on an island they called something like Betuwe (I don't know the exact sound/spelling); this word would be related to him in speech by messenger or a local inhabitant. He would hear it well or not so well, and make up an image of what it sounded like in his mind. Then, when writing, he would find letters that might best approximate the sound he had in mind. So an inhabitant became a Batavus. There is nothing in Latin that rules out bet-, but it was still changed. The same applies to the -u-. The ending -we was decidedly un-Latin, though.

In summary: I don't think you could expect much consistency in classical Latin, it was all done ad hoc. Only in contact with cultures having well known writing-systems, like Greek and possibly a few in the Near East, would they usually apply a consistent transformation. But it can be seen that Greek names adopted by prae-classical Latin were transformed using different rules (or few at all), despite close contact between Greek and Latin in the archaic age.

In Early Modern times, the culture of writing had been established much more amongst the vulgar languages in Europe, so I would expect a bit less chaos and deformation. Even so, the names of simple migrants were probably often still transformed ad hoc, based on the sound. A farmer from the region of Kiev migrating to Italy might not know how to spell his name, or, if he did, not how to translitterate it into Latin letters. And the Italian scribe taking his name might not be happy with the translitteration anyway, and turn it into something that was pronounceable.

That said, for a most historically plausible Latinisation, it might be best to look at those historical names you found:

Cavalot, Covello, Covalea, Coveller, Covelley, Coveley

The consonant cluster -lch is un-Latin. Even -ch is un-Latin except when archaic. A noun ending in -uc would normally be un-Latin as well, as is the letter k except in archaic words. Only Covello and Covalea might conceivably sound Latin because of the endings: -ot (French?) and -ey (French/English?) are not possible. But the stems themselves of all forms would be possible (caval/coval/covell/covel). Now, in the late Early Modern period, it was common practice to Latinise surnames using the ending -us, at least around the North and Baltic Seas. As you said, the Slavic suffix -chuck is probably best removed. I believe common suffixes in Early Modern Latinisation were -n-, -in-, -ini-, and -i-, also because I think those often denote parentage or local origin. You could compare the particles de and van with Chauvin and Herman to those suffixes qua meaning, and thus also to -chuk. But, again, even in that period, there was probably still a lot of chaos and Latinisation ad hoc.

So what combination of stem + suffix + ending to choose? I would probably Latinise Kovalchuk as (caval/coval/covell/covel) + (i/in/ini) + us, and I think one choice would be as good as the others. So Covalius would sound as authentically 17th-century as would Covellinus. If you want to go classical style, you can basically pick anything that sounds nice in Latin (including these forms here).

P.S. I suspect you hadn't received an answer yet only because your text, while all relevant, is very long.

P.P.S. In Morris → Mauritius, this was done because, in many cases, the real origin of the name Morris is actually Latin Mauritius (related to the Moors, Mauretania). So, if you can find a Proto-Indo-European root for Slavic Koval, and if you can find a Latin or possibly other European reflex (word derived from the root), you might use that for a stem. It would be a very elegant solution, though the ones based on actual historical usage like Covalius could still compete with it, simply because of their historicity. If you have an etymological dictionary of Slavic, you could probably find this Proto-Indo-European root.

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  • I think you mean that a noun ending in -uc sounds un-Latin. For an adverb it's fine, viz. "huc". – C Monsour Feb 17 at 17:53
  • @CMonsour: And we have lac and allec, too! So I have qualified that sentence. – Cerberus Feb 17 at 20:45
  • Those don't end in -uc – C Monsour Feb 18 at 5:12
  • Although lux effectively ends in -ucs, meaning its stem ends in -uc. – C Monsour Feb 18 at 5:13
  • @CMonsour: No, indeed, what I meant is that words ending on c are rare of any kind. // Yes, stems on -c are fairly common! – Cerberus Feb 18 at 15:54

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