Saturday, September 01, 2012

Surname Saturday: Demoskoff

At first glance, “Demoskoff” appears to be a Russian surname, but it didn’t start out that way. My husband Michael knew that his father was born “Demosky” and that he changed his name to “Demoskoff” during World War II. (Bill and his elder brother George changed their surname at the time of the 1940 National Registration in Canada, because as he explained, “We weren’t Polish.”)

That was all Michael knew of his name until his father paid us a visit in the 1990s. Bill liked to reminisce about his past, his childhood and his family, and he didn’t fail to do so on this trip. After supper one evening, he told us the story of his family name.

Some years previously, Bill’s brother Pete met a man who had the same name as he did – Peter Demosky. This Peter Demosky said that Pete’s surname “Demosky” was previously “Konkin”. It seemed that while in Russia, Pete’s grandfather Mikhail met an officer who told him he could avoid military conscription by changing his Russian name Konkin to that man’s Polish name Dymovsky. Being a Doukhobor and a pacifist, Mikhail took his advice.

Bill didn’t know any other details, such as the soldier’s identity, when and where the name change took place, or how this other Peter Demosky knew Mikhail. It might be difficult to prove the elements of this story, but they seem based on precedent. It was not uncommon for Doukhobors in 19th century Russia to change their surnames. For example, Doukhobor leader Savely Kapustin’s son, Vasily, was deliberately declared illegitimate at his birth and given his mother’s surname Kalmykov in order to protect him from being “automatically liable for conscription” because his father (Kapustin) had served in the army. (For more information, see “Guide to Doukhobor Names and Naming Practices” at Doukhobor Genealogy Website.)

In 1899, Mikhail and his family left Russia along with other Doukhobors who sought religious freedom in Canada. Once here, Mikhail’s surname became Demofsky, and later Demosky. Some of his descendants are Demosky, while others like his grandsons Bill and George (and their families) are Demoskoff.

Copyright © 2012, Yvonne Demoskoff

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