The World of the Huns. Chapter IX. Language
O. Maenchen-Helfen

4. Germanized and Germanic Names

Attila   —  Bleda   —   Edekon   —   Laudaricus   —  Onegesius   —   Ragnaris   —   Ruga


The name [83] seems to offers neither phonetic nor semantic difficulties. Attila is formed from Gothic or Gepidic atta, "father," by means of the diminutive suffix -ila. It has often been compared to batyushka, the diminituve of batya, "father," as the Russian peasants used to call the tsar. In 1962 the Uzbek poet Kāmil Nughman Yäsin addressed Nikita Khrushchev as "the dear father of the Özbek people." [84]

Attila is not a rare name. Venantius Fortunatus mentions a regulus aulae domesticus by that name. [85] Ætla, bishop of Dorchester, [86] was certainly not named after the Hun king. [87] Ætla seems to be concealed in some English place names (Attleford, Attlefield, Attleborough, Attlebridge). [88] Attila occurred as a monk's name in Switzerland as late as the twelfth century. [89]

Some scholars, impressed by the similarity of Attila to Ätil, the Turkish name of the Volga, equated the two names without caring for their phonetic and semantic relationship. [90] Rásonyi was slightly troubled by the final -a in Attila, but he thought that he could dispose of it by going back to what he took to be the earliest from. He regarded -aV in Priscus'  as the Greek ending and -a in Kéẓai's Ethela as the old Magyar diminutive. In this way he arrived at Atil = Ätil, Volga or perhaps just "big water." [91] However, the thesis that Kéẓai, who dedicated his Gesta Hungarorum to Ladislaus IV (1272-1290), preserved genuine Magyar traditions about the Huns has long been refuted. Eighty years ago Hodgkin wrote: "The Hungarian traditions no more fully illustrate the history of Attila than the Book of Mormon illustrates the history of the Jews." [92] Rásonyi's explanation of the name in Priscus is unconvincing. As Latin Attila shows,


the name ends in -a, not in -l; compare  = Ansila,  = Hunila,  = Totila,  = Vulfila, and so forth.

Pritsak [93] offered an etymology of both the name of the king and that of the river. In his opinion Atil, Adil, and so forth, meant the same as Attila. He argues as follows:

1. In theByzantine sources the name of the Volga appears as (acc), and .

2. These forms show that the Altaic name of the Volga is compounded of two words: aV and til, thl, tel. The second word could have the enlarged form til + a.

3. There are two rivers called Tal; one flows into Lake Balkhash and the other one is in the region of the Syr-Darya.

4. Common Turkish a/ä changed in Chuvash into i/ï in very early times,

5. Chuvash *as, preserved only in suffixed forms, means "great, big."

6. In Hunnish, which developed into Bulgar-Chuvash, *äs-tïl, *as-tïl-a must have meant grosse Wassermenge, grosser Fluss, grosses Meer.

7. On analogy with Čingis qa'an and dalai-in qa'an, "oceanic = universal ruler," the Uigur title köl bilgä qan, which is said to mean "the qan whose mind is like a lake," and Dalai lama, "oceanic = universal religious lord," Attila, *ättĭla < *äs-tïla means "oceanic > all embracing > universal (ruler)."

This is an ingenious but for many reasons unacceptable etymology. To begin with the arguments based on Chuvash words and forms, according to Benzing (the leading authority on Chuvash), Turkish a/ä changed to Chuvash i/ï not before the eleventh or twelfth century. [94] Even if there existed a Chuvash word *as, "big, great, large," how can we know that in the language of the Huns in the fifth century the same word existed with the same meaning? [At this point, one or two manuscript pages are missing. — Ed.]


Attila's older brother. The Greek sources have  and , the Latin Bleda. [95] The Arian bishop whom Marcian sent as his ambassador


to Geiseric, [96] and one of Totila's generals [97] had the same name. It is generally agreed that Bleda is Germanic, the short form of a name like OHG Bladardus, Blatgildus, Blatgisus. [98] Bleda of Marcellinus Comes (s.a. 442) appears in Bede's Chronicle in the strange form Blædla. [99] The English scribes "corrected" the name; they knew it as Blædla from oral tradition where the name was adapted to Ætla. [100]

One of Attila's counselors, [101] by birth a Hun. [102] Edekon is Grecized *Edika; [103] the hypocoristic form applied to a person whose true name began with Ed-, such as Edivulf. [104]


Killed in the battle at the locus Mauriacus. The Gallic chronicle of 511 calls him cognatus Attilae. [105] Laudaricus is Germanic *Laudareiks. [106]

Attila's prime minister. [107] Onegesius is evidently not Greek [108] but the Grecized form of a barbarian name. Hodgkin [109] boldly Hunnicized it into Onegesh. *Oneges seems to be Hunigis, [110] as a spatharius of Theoderic the Great was called. [111] -gis appears in Greek transcriptions as giV and ghV, [112] huni- is rendered by  and . [113] Hun- in East Germanic


names is most probably the same as hun in OHG, OE, and ON names, namely either ON húnn, "cub of a bear, young man," or proto-Germanic hūn, "high." [114] Hunila, a Gothic bishop of about 400, [115] was born and named before the Huns crossed the Don.

I think Thompson is right in identifying Onegesius with Hunigasius, Attila's interpreter and spokesman in the Vita s. Lupi. [116] Rásonyi, taking -sios for the Greek ending, suggests a Turkish etymology: oneki, "twelve." [117] However, among the hundreds of transcriptions of foreign names listed by Moravcsik there is not one ending in -esios. Oneki would have been transcribed *Onekios. Onegesius is spelled like  and so forth.

Leader of the Ostrogoths in the last campaign against the East Romans in 552-554. [118] He was not  with them but a Hun from the  [119] Ragnaris is a Germanic name. [120]


The Eastern sources call Attila's uncle  and , [121] the Western Ruga, [122] Roas, [123] and Rugila. [124] These forms lead to Ruga > Rua and, with the suffix -ila, to Rugila > Ruila. Compare Rugemirus, Rugolf, and similar names. [125] The connection with Turkish uruq, favored by Markwart, [126] is phonetically unsound.

With the possible exception of Laudaricus and Ragnaris, these names were not the true names of the Hun princes and lords. What we have are Hunnic names in Germanic dress, modified to fit the Gothic tongue, or popular Gothic etymologies, or both. Mikkola thought Attila might go back to Turkish atlïg, "famous"; [127] Poucha finds in it Tokharian atär,


"hero." [128] The first etymology is too farfetched to be taken seriously, the second is nonsense.

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83. To the forms listed by Moravcsik, BT 2, 79-80, add Nordic Atli and Old English Ætla, Etla. See F. Kluge, Englische Studien 21, 1895; A. Heusler, ZfDA 52, 1910, 104; Malone 1962, 128.

84. CAJ 7:2, 1962, 148.

85. Vita s. Germani in MGH AA IV:II, 23, 25.

86. Beda, Hist. eccles. IV, 23.

87. For other examples, see Radin 1919, 147.

88. Ström 1939, 62, n. 1.

89. Das Necrologium des Cistercienser Priorales Münchenweiler in Collectanea Friburgensia, N.F. 10, 1909, 60, 61.

90. Moravcsik, BT 2, 80. The first was Bergmann, quoted by Inostrantsev 1926, 20.

91. Rásonyi 1953, 349.

92. Hodgkin 1898, 20. For a masterful analysis of the Gesta Hungarorum, see Macartney 1951, and 1953, 89-109.

93. Pritsak 1956, 404-419. His article takes some liberties with Priscus' text. In order to weaken the thesis of the Gothic origin of the name Attila, Pritsak maintains that Priscus negotiated with the king through the Roman Rusticius. But Maximianus, not Priscus, negotiated with Attila, and the interpreter was not Rusticius but Bigila who, as his names indicates, was most probably a Goth.

94. Fundamenta I, 705; ZDMG 98, 1944, 24-27.

95. Moravcsik BT 2, 91; Schönfeld 1911, 51.

96. Priscus, EL 15126, 1521 ().

97. Procopius VII, 5, 1 ().

98. Schönfeld 1911, 51.

99. CM III, 303.

100. E. Schröder, ZfDA 41, 1897, 28.

101. Moravcsik, BT 2, 121.

102. Priscus, EL 1247.

103. Cf. Stilika, Stilikon.

104. There is no more reason to identify the Hun Edekon with Idikon or Edico, Odovacar's father (cf. Maenchen-Helfen 1947, 836-841) than with Edica, primas of the Sciri (Getica 277). The latter has nothing to do with Odovacar's father, as O. Vanshten (Istorik marksist 6, 143-146) convincingly demonstrated. According to Klebel (1957, 70, 118), the Bavarian name Etich, attested for the tenth century, is a later form of Edica.

105. CM I, 66615.

106. Schönfeld 1911, 277.

107. Moravcsik BT 2, 218.

108. B. Krusch (MGH, Scr. rer. Merov. 7, 286) derived the name from .

109. 1898, 2, 74, n. 1.

110. First suggested by K. V. Müllenhoff, ZfDA 10, 1855, 159.

111. Cassiodorus, Variae III, 42.

112. Schönfeld 1911, 145, 183, 269.

113. Honoriopolis, Hunuricopolis, Unuricopolis, the former Hadrimetum, was named after Humeric. Cf. L. Schmidt 1942, 41, n. 2; Courtois 1955, 243, n. 6.

114. See Maenchen-Helfen 1955b, 106.

115. John Chrysostom, Ep. 14, PG 72, 618.

116. Thompson 1948, 223. This is also the opinion of Malone, who, however, denies that the name is Germanic (1959, 106).

117. Rásonyi 1961, 64.

118. Procopius VIII, 25, 4; Agathias II, 13-14.

119. So Agathias; Procopius calls him a Goth.

120. Schönfeld 1911, 184; the name is not listed by Moravcsik.

121. Moravcsik, BT 2, 260.

122. CM I, 659587, 661589.

123. Getica 1054 (roac in YZ). The ending points to a Greek source, possibly Priscus.

124. CM I, 658112, 660116.

125. Schönfeld 1911, 279.

126. TP 11, 1910, 664.

127. JSFOU 30, 1933, 24.

128. CAJ 1, 1955, 291.