Ladoga is a freshwater lake located in northwestern Russia just outside the outskirts of Saint Petersburg. It is the largest lake in Europe and is fed by River Ladoga (also known as Volkhov) from which the lake gets its name. The only river that flows out of the lake is the Neva, and despite its modest length (74 km) it is the fourth largest river in Europe in terms of average discharge after the Volga, the Danube and the Rhine.

The Neva River gets its name from Indo-European
or Sanskritic ‘nava’ (नव) or new.

In one of his papers published posthumously in Studia Etymologica Cracoviensia, author Eugene Helimski deals with the etymologies of the names Ladoga and Neva. He states that the river Neva, which was formed about 3000 years ago got its name from an Indo-European-speaking population who observed the birth of the ‘New’ river. (Quoted from Juha Janhunen’s Some Additional Notes on the Macrohydronyms of the Ladoga Region). Neva is the same as the Sanskritic ‘nava’ (नव), with has the same meaning of ‘new’ in both the languages.

A Swedish fortress called Nyenskan stood at the mouth of the Neva river on the site of present St. Petersburg, Russia. Cities that stand on fort-sites in Europe often have names that end with the suffix -burg, said to be a variation of the Sanskrit ‘durg’ (दुर्ग) or fort. The -burg suffix in the name St. Petersburg is a reference to the Nyenskan fort.

Col. Tod states in his Annals and Antiquities of Rajasthan’, “I have often been struck with a characteristic analogy in the sculptures of the most ancient Saxon cathedrals in England and on the continent to Kanaiya and Gopis. Both maybe intended to represent divine harmony. Did the Asi and the Jits of Scandinavia, the ancestors of the Saxons, bring them from Asia?” He further adds, “The Aswas (Asi) were chiefly of the Indu race, yet a branch of the Suryas also bore this designation. In the Edda we are informed that the Getes or Jits who entered Scandinavia were termed Asi, and there first settlement was Asigard (Asi garh, fortress of the Asi).”

In Some Additional Notes on the Macrohydronyms of the Ladoga Region Juha Janhunen, Professor of East Asian Studies at University of Helsinki states, “The etymology of Neva is potentially important in that it shows that the
historical presence of the Finnic branch of Uralic on both sides of the Gulf of
Finland is secondary to an earlier Indo-European expansion to the regio
n….This conclusion is confirmed by the well-known fact that the entire marine terminology of the Finnic languages is of an Indo-European origin. In some cases, as in that of the very word for ‘sea’, Finnic *meri : *mere- : *mer-, the exact identification of the Indo-European source language is controversial.” It is evident that Proto-Indo-European *meri is the same as the Sanskrit ‘mir’ (मीर) meaning ‘sea’.

Juha Janhunen further states that Helimski’s proposal of a Scandinavian etymology for Ladoga is problematic. Although it is clear that its modern name Laatokka is based on Russian, it is far less obvious whether the Russian name can really be derived from Scandinavian *Ald-aug-ja ‘Old Eye(d)’ – which would have been the name of Ladoga had it been derived from Scandanivian languages. ‘Old-Eyes’ is not a convincing name for a lake or a river. Once again it is more likely that Ladoga has Proto-Indo-European or Sanskritic roots.

It might be added here that of all the Indo- European languages, Sanskrit is the oldest and best decodes the names of ancient sites and rivers and mountains of Europe. Here is a look at some of the names mentioned above through the Sanskrit lens. But first an observation: 

Many river names in Russia end with the suffix -ga, much like the Ganga of India. Such river names in Russia include Volga, Pinega and Onega. The ancient names of Volga include Jilga and Julga.

Roman Jakobson, Russian linguist and literary theorist, quoted Nikolai Trubetzkoy’s research thus, “In primitive eastern Slavic, un-rounded front vowels changed into rounded back vowels before a tauto-syllabic ‘l’, so that ‘jilga’ must have changed tojulga; the initial j was lost before rounded vowels in eastern Slavic, and the initial u acquired an obligatory prothetic ‘v’. Thus the form ‘vulga’ arose, and short ‘u’ changed in the 12th–-13th centuries into ‘o’. So through a long series of changes Jilga became Volga“. Nikolai Trubetzkoy was a Russian linguist and historian whose teachings formed a nucleus of the Prague School of structural linguistics.

Here is the actual quote from Ramon Jakabson’s ‘The Balts- Ancient Peoples & Places’:

‘ 205 Notes CHAPTER I 1 Tacitus (90), XLV. 2 Orosius (87). 3 Adam of Bremen (82), 199. 4 G. Gerullis, Die altpreussischen Ortsnamen, Berlin-Leipzig, 1922; A Salys, “Prūsai,” Lietuvių Enciklopedija, XXIV (Boston), pp. 146-57. 5 L. Kilian, “Baltische Ortsnamen westlich der Weichsel,” Altpreussen, IV, 3 (1939), pp. 67-68; H. Krahe, “Baltische Ortsnamen westlich der Weichsel?,” Altpreussen, 1943: I, pp. 11-12. 6 V. N. Toporov, “Dve zametki iz oblasti baltijskoj tomonimii,” Rakstu krājums veltījums audd. J Endzelīnam, Riga, 1959, pp. 251-66. 7 A. Kamiński, Jaćwieź, Terytorium, ludnosć, stosunki gospodarcze i spoleczne (Jatvingia. Territory, population, economy and social structure), Ĺódź, Societas Scientiarum Lodziensis, sectio II, No. 14, 1953. 8 Polnoe sobranie russkikh letopisej, I, 1, Petersburg, 1908. 9 Būga (1). 10 Vasmer (6). 11 The etymology of Volga as proposed by the linguist Trubetzkoy — in his lectures at the University of Vienna — was as follows: in primitive eastern Slavic, unrounded front vowels changed into rounded back vowels before a tauto-syllabic l, so that jilga must have changed to julga; the initial j was lost before rounded vowels in eastern Slavic, and the initial u acquired an obligatory prothetic v. Thus the form vulga arose, and short u changed in the 12th-13th centuries into o. So through a long series of changes Jilga became Volga. (Oral information by Roman Jakobson.) 12 Thomsen (4) 13 B. A. Serebrennikov, “O nekotorykh sledakh izcheznuvshego indoevropejskogo jazyka v centre Evropejskoj chasti SSSR, blizkogo k baltijskim jazykam” (Traces of an extinct Indo- European language related to the Baltic in the centre of the European part of the USSR), Lietuvių Mokslų Akademijos Darbai (Trudy AN Litovskoj SSR), serija A, vyp. 1 (2), Vilnius, 1957. 14 M. Vasmer, “Die alten Bevölkerungsverhältnisse Russlands im Lichte der Sprachforschung,” Vorträge and Schriften der Preussischen Akademie, No. 5, 1941. ‘ IN

It is more likely that the original name of Volga was ‘Julga’ rather than ‘jilga’ if one were to look at the name through the Sanskrit lens. ‘Jala’ (जल) is ‘water’, both in Sanskrit and in Hindi. The suffix ‘ga’ () means ‘going’ or ‘moving’. Hence ‘Julga’ means ‘moving water’. 

Once the suffix -ga is explained one may look at the prefix Lado. The root word ‘laD’ in Sanskrit means ‘play’ and the adjective ‘laDit’ derived from it means ‘moving here and there’.  La (ला) has the meaning of ‘begin’ or ‘undertake’. ‘Uda’ (उद), Udra (उद्र) and ‘daka’ (दक) all mean ‘water’. Any of these combinations may explain the name Ladoga.

The older Finnish name of Ladoga was Nevajarvi. Jarvi is lake in Finnish, while ‘jhari’ (झरी) is Sanskrit for ‘river’. The Finnish ‘joki’ or river may be a variation of ‘jhari’ where the ‘r’ changes to ‘k’.

Juha Janhunen observes that several macrohydronyms in different parts of Scandinavia cannot be explained from any known language. In the Ladoga region an example of such a hydronym is the name of Lake Saimaa (Finnish Saimaa, Swedish Saima or Saimen), the largest lake of today’s Finland. But Sanskrit does explain this name. Saimma or Sahima (सहिम) means ‘with snow’ or ‘with ice’.

The river draining Lake Saimaa into Lake Ladoga has the name Vuoksi. It is also called Vuoksen in Swedish, which is the same as Sanskrit ‘vakshan’ (वक्षण) meaning ‘river’!

The etymology of Volkov, which is another name of Ladoga, is unknown, but since ‘v’ and b’ are often used interchangeably in Sanskrit derived languages, Vokhov changes to Balkhov. Bolkhov and Baltic may have the same root and maybe a variation of the Sanskrit ‘balaksh’ (बलक्ष) meaning ‘white’ which is one of the interpretations of the name ‘Baltic’ as made by western linguists.

Suggested Link:

1. Some Additional Notes on the Hydronyms of the Ladoga Region by Juha Janhunen 


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