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Why Joseph Dzhugashvili called himself Stalin
Why Joseph Dzhugashvili called himself Stalin

Joseph Dzhugashvili had more than 30 pseudonyms. Why did he stop at this?

Joseph Dzhugashvili, an ordinary teenager from a poor Georgian family, entered a theological seminary in 1894 and was supposed to become a priest. But at the age of 15, he became acquainted with Marxism, joined underground revolutionary groups and began a completely different life. Since then, Dzhugashvili began to invent "names" for himself.

Years later, the choice settled on the most successful - Stalin. This pseudonym is known more than his real name; under it, he inscribed himself in history. How did it happen that Dzhugashvili became Stalin and what does this invented surname mean?


Pseudonyms in Russia were common and widespread, especially among the intelligentsia and among revolutionaries. All party members and Marxists from the underground had several of them, which made it possible to confuse the police in every possible way (Lenin, for example, had one and a half hundred). Moreover, it was a widespread custom to form pseudonyms from the most used Russian names.

“It was simple, devoid of any intellectual pretentiousness, understandable to any worker and, most importantly, looked like a real name for everyone,” noted the historian William Pokhlebkin in his book “The Great Pseudonym”. For example, for registration at the IV Congress of the party, Dzhugashvili chose the pseudonym Ivanovich (on behalf of Ivan).

Such a derivative from the name is the pseudonym of Vladimir Ulyanov - Lenin (on behalf of Lena). And even those party members whose real surnames were derived from a Russian name also took pseudonyms - derived from a different name.

Stalin in the company of revolutionaries in 1915

Stalin in the company of revolutionaries in 1915. - Getty Images

Perhaps the second strongest tradition was to use "zoological" pseudonyms - from the breeds of animals, birds and fish. They were chosen by people who wanted to somehow reflect their bright personality in a false name. And, finally, people from the Caucasus - Georgians, Armenians, Azerbaijanis - stood apart.

They neglected the conspiratorial rules quite often, choosing for themselves pseudonyms with a Caucasian "tinge". Koba - this is what Dzhugashvili most often called himself in the party until 1917. This was his most famous pseudonym after Stalin.


For Georgia, the name Koba is very symbolic. In the ranks of foreign biographers of Stalin, there is an opinion that he borrowed it from the name of the hero of one of the novels of the Georgian classic Alexander Kazbegi, "The Patricide." In it, the fearless Koba from among the mountain peasants fought for the independence of his homeland. This image was probably close to the young Stalin, but it should be borne in mind that Kazbegi himself has the name Koba for a second time.

Koba is the Georgian equivalent of the name of the Persian king Kobades, who conquered Eastern Georgia at the end of the 5th century and made Tbilisi the capital for 1500 years. And it was this historical prototype, as a political figure and statesman, that impressed Dzhugashvili much more. Even their biographies were strikingly similar.

Koba is the Georgian equivalent of the name of the Persian king Kobades, who conquered Eastern Georgia

Koba is the Georgian equivalent of the name of the Persian king Kobades, who conquered Eastern Georgia. - Getty Images

However, already in 1911, it became necessary to change the main pseudonym - this was demanded by historical circumstances. The fact is that Dzhugashvili's activities began to go far beyond the borders of the Transcaucasian region, his ambitions, as well as ties with Russian party organizations, grew, and Koba, as a pseudonym, was convenient only in the Caucasus.

A different linguistic and cultural environment demanded a different treatment. For the first time he signed the pseudonym Stalin in January 1913 under the work "Marxism and the National Question".

Where did the pseudonym Stalin come from?

For a long time, the answer to this question was not known for certain.During Stalin's lifetime, everything related to his biography could not be the subject of discussion, research, or even a hypothesis on the part of any historian.

The Institute of Marxism-Leninism, which included the Joseph Stalin fund with a particularly classified storage of materials, was involved in everything that concerned the "leader of the peoples". In fact, while Stalin was alive, no research was carried out on these materials. And even after his death, for a long time, none of this was investigated due to the condemnation of the personality cult of Stalin.

Nevertheless, after the revolution, in the early 1920s, it was widely believed in the party environment that “Stalin” was simply a translation into Russian of the Georgian root of his surname “Dzhuga”, which supposedly also means “steel”. The answer seemed trivial. It was this version that was repeatedly mentioned in the literature about Stalin, and the question of the origin of the pseudonym was considered “removed”.

Stalin's real surname had nothing to do with the origin of the pseudonym

Stalin's real surname had nothing to do with the origin of the pseudonym. - Getty Images

But all this turned out to be an invention, or rather, just a common (and erroneous) opinion, including among the Georgians. In 1990, Kita Buachidze, a Georgian writer-playwright and former prisoner of Stalin's concentration camps, wrote in this regard: “Juga does not mean“steel”at all.

“Jugha” is a very ancient pagan Georgian word with a Persian connotation, probably widespread during the period of Iranian rule over Georgia, and it simply means a name. The meaning, like many names, is not translatable. The name is like a name, like the Russian Ivan. Therefore, Dzhugashvili means simply “son of Dzhuga” and nothing else”.

It turns out that Stalin's real surname had nothing to do with the origin of the pseudonym. When this became apparent, various versions began to emerge. Among them was even the story that Stalin took a pseudonym based on the surname of his fellow party member and mistress Lyudmila Stal. Another version: Dzhugashvili chose for himself the only nickname consonant with the party with the pseudonym Lenin.

But the most curious hypothesis was put forward by the historian William Pokhlebkin, who devoted his research work to this. In his opinion, the surname of the liberal journalist Yevgeny Stefanovich Stalinsky, one of the prominent Russian publishers of periodicals and a translator into Russian of Rustaveli's poem "The Knight in the Panther's Skin", became the prototype for the pseudonym.

Stalin was very fond of this poem and admired the work of Shota Rustaveli (his 750th anniversary was celebrated on a grand scale in 1937 at the Bolshoi Theater). But for some reason, he ordered to hide one of the best publications. The multilingual edition of 1889 with Stalinsky's translation was withdrawn from exhibitions, bibliographic descriptions, and was not mentioned in literary articles.

The historian concludes:

"Stalin, giving the order to conceal the 1889 edition, was concerned first of all that the" secret "of his choice of his pseudonym would not be revealed."

Thus, even the “Russian” pseudonym turned out to be closely associated with Georgia and with Dzhugashvili's youthful memories.

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