The cognation of "Rusyn", "Ruthenian", and "Russian"

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Etymological aficionado that I am, as I suspected "Ruthenian" is related to "Russian".

Some notes:

Related to Ruthene, Ruthenian, Ruthenic, from Medieval Latin Rutheni, Ruteni, related to Russi, Ruzi as Prutheni, Pruteni is to Prussi, Pruzi (Prussians). Compare Rus, Russ, from Old East Slavic Русь (Rusĭ), compare Byzantine Greek Ῥῶς (Rhôs).


Ditto for "Rusyn":

From Rusyn руси́н (rusýn), from Old East Slavic Русь (Rusĭ, Rus). Compare Ruthenia.


Ruthenian Ethnohistory

Ruthenian and Ruthene (Latin: Rutheni) are exonyms of Latin origin, formerly used in Eastern and Central Europe as common ethnonyms for East Slavs, particularly during the late medieval and early modern periods. Latin term Rutheni was found in medieval sources to describe all Eastern Slavs of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania, as an exonym for people of the former Kievan Rus', thus including ancestors of the modern Russians, Ukrainians, Rusyns, and Belarusians. The use of Ruthenian and related exonyms continued through the early modern period, developing several distinctive meanings, both in terms of their regional scopes and additional religious connotations (such as affiliation with the Ruthenian Greek Catholic Church).

(source) — includes much more detailed information about Ruthenian terminology in Poland,  Carpatho-Ruthenian ethnonyms, speculative theories emerged regarding the origin and nature of medieval and early modern uses of Ruthenian terms as designations for East Slavs, and geography pertaining to the Ruthenians.


Ruthenian language (Latin: lingua ruthenica, also see other names) is an exonymic linguonym for a closely-related group of East Slavic linguistic varieties, particularly those spoken from the 15th to 18th centuries in East Slavic regions of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania and the Polish–Lithuanian Commonwealth. Regional distribution of those varieties, both in their literary and vernacular forms, corresponded approximately to the territories of the modern states of Belarus and Ukraine. By the end of the 18th century, they gradually diverged into regional variants, which subsequently developed into the modern Belarusian, Ukrainian and Rusyn languages.

(source) — includes plentiful detailed information about linguistic matters relating to the Ruthenians, nomenclature in contemporary and modern use (ethnonyms and exonyms), dialectal matters, and periodization of the literary language

Rusyn Ethnohistory

Rusyns (Rusyn: Русины, romanized: Rusynŷ), also known as Carpatho-Rusyns (Rusyn: Карпаторусины or Карпатьскы Русины, romanized: Karpatorusynŷ or Karpaťskŷ Rusynŷ), or Rusnaks (Rusyn: Руснакы or Руснаци, romanized: Rusnakŷ or Rusnacy), are an East Slavic ethnic group from the Eastern Carpathians in Central Europe. They speak Rusyn, an East Slavic language variety, treated variously as either a distinct language or a dialect of the Ukrainian language. As traditional adherents of Eastern Christianity, the majority of Rusyns are Eastern Catholics, though a minority of Rusyns still practice Eastern Orthodoxy. Rusyns primarily self-identify as a distinct Slavic people and they are recognized as such in Croatia, Hungary, Poland, Romania, Serbia, and Slovakia, where they have official minority status. Alternatively, some identify more closely with their country of residence: as Polish, Slovak, or Ukrainian.

(source) — includes much additional information about the history of the Rusyns, their ethnonyms (such as Rus' and Rusyn, which were used widely by the East Slavs of Kievan Rus' during the medieval period), and their religious affiliations


The Rusyn language (/ˈrsɪn/; Carpathian Rusyn: русиньскый язык, romanized: rusîn'skyj jazyk; Pannonian Rusyn: руски язик, romanized: ruski jazik), also known by the older term, руснацькый язык, rusnac'kyj jazyk, 'Rusnak language', is an East Slavic language spoken by Rusyns in several parts of Central and Eastern Europe, and written in the Cyrillic script. The majority of speakers live in an area that spans from Transcarpathia, westward into eastern Slovakia and south-east Poland. There is also a sizeable linguistic island in the Vojvodina, Serbia and a Rusyn diaspora throughout the world. Per the European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages, Rusyn is officially recognized as a protected minority language by Bosnia and Herzegovina, Croatia, Hungary, Romania, Poland (as Lemko), Serbia, and Slovakia.


Considering all of these ethnic, linguistic, demographic, and other complexities of just this one cluster of Eastern Slavs, it is no wonder that people — including the Eastern Slavs themselves — can get  confused about who they are and what languages they are speaking.


Selected readings



  1. Peter B. Golden said,

    April 2, 2022 @ 6:20 pm

    In the Arabic geographical tradition found in al-Balkhī, al-Iṣṭakhrī and Ibn Ḥawqal mention is made of three groups of Rūs: those with their center in Kūyāba (Kiev/Kyiv), Ṣl.wīya (Slavia associated with Словяне of Novgorod) and Arthāniyya ( ارثانية) about which there has been much speculation. I was tempted to see in it a rendering of "Rothania/Ruthenia", following the patter of Armānūs (ارمانوس ), the regular rendering of the Byzantine Emperor Romanos's name ( Ρωμανος). However, where and how would the Latinate "Ruthenia" enter10th century Arabic geographical works?

  2. Andrew Usher said,

    April 3, 2022 @ 7:45 pm

    Would not 'cognacy' be better than 'cognation' if a Latin derivative with that meaning were called for?

    It seems that it is not explained exactly why there got to be two Latin names (Ruthenia, Russia) for (originally) the same thing, and descended from the same word.

    k_over_hbarc at

  3. R. Fenwick said,

    April 6, 2022 @ 8:15 pm

    @Andrew Usher: There's no reason why proper names couldn't be subject to the common practice of etymological doubling from a single origin. In this instance it's owed to distinct borrowings from Byzantine Greek Ρωσσία vs. Latin Ruthenia ~ Rutenia.

    (I wonder if the latter may perhaps render an archaic thorn pronunciation surviving from the original Norse source of the toponym, viz. Old Norse Roþslandi.)

  4. Andreas Johansson said,

    April 7, 2022 @ 3:41 am

    Hm. Given the Finish form Ruotsi (meaning "Sweden" but cognate with the Russia words) and that the -z- of Ruzi may reflect an affricate, I wonder if Ruthenia may reflect a misextracted root where the /s/ was taken as automatic affrication before /i/?

    Is there any reason to suppose an original affricate in the root of Prussia, Pruthenia?

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