About Alternative Spellings of Names

Below are some comments on the spelling of the family name and the first name

The Family Name

Multilinguistic background
Around 1900 there lived circa 100,000 Germans in Riga, a heritage from the Hanseatic League period.
The philosoher Herder (1744-1803) lived in Riga for a period, as did also Richard Wagner (1813-1883).
Latvia was a part of Tsarist Russia until the Russian revolution in 1917.
It has been estimated that 170,000 
persons moved or fled from Latvia to abroad at the end of the war. One of them was Nimzowitsch.

It is not known which language, or languages, the Nimzowitsch family used at home, whether Russian,
Latvian, Yiddish, or German.
It is however reasonable to believe that the family could speak Yiddish, 
as did most Jews at the time, but also that they had a good knowledge of German, as typical representatives 
of middle and upper classes. However, it is a fact that the kind of German that Nimzowitsch wrote is a bit
tricky even for native speakers of the German language.

Obviously the Russian language must have had a strong position in Riga, and although we cannot know to what
extent it influenced the Latvian language, our knowledge of how the Grandmaster’s name was actually
pronounced indicates that there was an influence from Russian pronunciation habits.

Die Blockade was published in 1925, simultaneously in a German edition and a Russian one. Then came
Mein System (Berlin 1925-27) and Die Praxis meines Systems (1928), both of which were only written
in German. Nimzowitsch’s least known work is the relatively short essay How I became a Grandmaster, which
appeared in Russian in 1929. We must take it for granted that Nimzowitsch also knew Latvian, but there is 
no indication of texts written in Latvian, and evidently he sometimes contributed to the Rigaer Tageblatt
a newspaper printed in German.

Anyway, we still cannot say which was Nimzowitsch’s mother tongue, but he had a good command of German
and Russian, and evidently he was a receptive learner of languages, since he also learnt to speak Danish,
and the fact that Denmark won the Silver medals at the 1927 Chess Olympics is proof of Nimzowitsch’s pedagogic
skills, exercised at various seminars etc. (He came to be called “Denmark’s Chess Teacher”.) It is probable
that he also had a certain knowledge of Swedish; at least he has published articles in Swedish papers and
magazines, and he also lectured on positional play when touring in Scandinavia
giving simultaneous shows.

The Russian spelling reform of 1917
It is not quite clear how the surname was written in Russian around 1900, but the Russian version of the
1909 St. Petersburg tournament book states
Н(*)MЦОВИЧ, where the asterisk stands for the letter ‘yat’,
which existed in the Russian alphabet till 1917 and was then replaced by ‘E’ (YE). It is not available in
modern office programs, but it can be seen from the internet if you enter "Old Cyrillic Alphabet" or
"Omniglot" in a search engine. The sound-value of ‘yat’ (sometimes given as ‘yati’) was /je/ (phonetic
symbols, representing the sound as in English ‘yet’, where /j/ is a semi-vowel) so up to 1917 the pronunciation
should have been /njemtsovitch/ (where /ch/ stands for the affricate palato-alveolar sound). In the light of
this fact it is all the more reasonable why the previous German version of the name, also used by Nimzowitsch 
himself, was Niemzowitsch.

The new letter, ‘E’ (YE), has the sound value /e/, so when ‘yat’ was replaced by ‘ye’, the name should have
been written
НEMЦОВИЧ, pronounced /nemtsovitch/, which was however not the case, as the new spelling
came to be
НИMЦОВИЧ, at least later on. In fact, the new letter /e/ was not an accurate replacement for ‘yat’,
since they had two different sound-values, so no wonder that a certain confusion followed.

Official and private name versions
Before 1920 official documents, such as passports, were probably made out in Russian, being the language
of the authorities. Russian names were rendered in French and German versions, but not in English. According
to Dr. J. Hannak [1] in Mein System (2nd edition,1965), Nimzowitsch’s parents had used a “Slavic version” in official
documents, Nêmčovič. Unfortunately, Dr. Hannak is not very clear on this point. He does not explain where
he found this spelling version, and in fact it does not seem to reflect Latvian orthography, since the letter ê was
only used in Gothic print, where the circumflex accent indicated a long vowel sound. So Hannak’s expression
“Slavisierte Form” is rather enigmatic.

One possible hypothesis (though not very likely) could be that Nimzowitsch’s parents used the ê in handwritten signatures,
although that letter had been abolished in print long ago, and that Dr. Hannak somehow had come to see such a
signature. At least, it seems reasonable to assume that Hannak had seen the name in print or in writing, since he
says that the family had two ways of writing the name, Nêmčovič (Latvian /?/ spelling), and Niemzowitsch
(German spelling). Indeed, the spelling Niemzowitsch is the one used by Nimzowitsch in newspaper articles before 1920,
and also by Dr. Tarrasch in Die moderne Schachpartie, 4th edition, Leipzig 1924. We have no proof that Hannak
actually met Nimzowitsch’s parents, but we know that his mother was still alive in 1935 when the grandmaster died in

The Latvian Alphabet
Latvian is described as a Balto-Slavic[2] language, and its alphabet is based on the Latin one. It is however a
complication that a spelling reform was introduced in 1922, i.e. a couple of years after Nimzowitsch had left Riga, and
Hannak does not say whether he refers to the old or the new version. As could have been expected, the old
characters were in use together with the new ones long after the spelling reform, and still in the 1930’s. However,
there is no circumflex accent in the new version either.

The present-day alphabet has a number of diacritical signs, and so did the old one, but not exactly the same. In
the earlier alphabet, the Gothic print version, a circumflex accent was supposed to indicate that a vowel was long,
thus the ê  in Nêmčovič should be long, /e:/. This is however a bit confusing, since, according to Hannak, the first
syllable was pronounced /ie/, that is to say it was diphthongised, or rather palatalised. In a Latvian word the stress
always falls on the first syllable. But according to Hannak the stress in Nêmčovič was on the penultimate, /-čo/.

Deviations from normal Latvian patterns Russian influence?
So, if we regard the word Nêmčovič  as a Latvian name, there are two untypical features regarding the vowels, the
diphthongised ê, and the stressed o. It is possible that these features reflect a Russian influence. Where the stress
falls in Russian words is to a large extent unpredictable, but there is one reliable rule: family names ending in –ovich
or –evich always have the stress on the penultimate.

However, there is also some obscurity attached to the consonant č. In Latvian, the c with an inverted circumflex
accent is and was pronounced with a palato-alveolar fricative, as in "batch". Consequently, the name should be
pronounced /niem'tcho:vitch/. But we know for sure that the first č was pronounced as /ts/, leading to the pronunciation
/niem'tso:vitch/. This was written Niemzowitsch in German, still pronounced with the stress on the penultimate 
syllable –zo, i.e. the normal way for a Russian family name.

As to the reason why the Passport Office official chose the spelling Nimzowitsch, Hannak more or less assumes 
that it was a matter of intentional misrepresentation. However, that need not be the case. In present-day Russian 
the surnameis spelled
НИMЦОВИЧ, which may be the result of a back-translation.

We do not know for sure how the name was spelled and pronounced in Russian before 1920, and it is quite possible
that the officer could not deduce the correct transcription into German when reading the Russian orthography. If that
officer had the Russian spelling Нимцович as his original, it is only natural that he wrote Nimzowitsch.
[3]  And if,
instead of the и, the original had the old letter ‘yat’, he could only guess if he should write Nim- or Nem- or Niem.

German connotation
And as if the confusion was not great enough, the meaning of the word
НИMЦОВИЧ, is "The son of a German",
with reference to the words Нeмой, meaning “mute”, and Нeмeџ, meaning “German, , with the connotation 
"The son of a mute man", or “The son of a man who cannot speak Russian”. But the Russian-born grandmaster Tartakower,
who was almost the same age as Nimzowitsch, called him ”The Baltic Grandmaster”. Anyway, assuming that the roots
of the name are Нeмой and Нeмeџ it would have been more logical the spell the name as
НEMЦОВИЧ, since, as has
been pointed out above, the letter ‘yat’ had already been replaced by ‘YE’.

Moreover, there is also a Czech name Nemec /njemets/, meaning "German". 

Final version - Nimzowitsch
After having left Latvia in 1920 under tumultuous circumstances Nimzowitsch had to use the variation entered into his 
passport by the Latvian authorities, Nimzowitsch, and from now on it should definitely be pronounced with  the stress 
on the first syllable, and a short vowel sound instead of the "ie". We can only guess whether this transfer of the stress 
to the initial syllable also reflects a concession to normal Scandinavian pronunciation patterns. However, you may find 
several instances of the version Niem- in texts after 1920, and we also know that the old pronunciation survived for 
many years as a variation of the new one.

The First Name
There are two current spellings of the first name, Aron and Aaron. The latter one was used by J. Hannak in the 1958
one-volume edition of Mein  System, where he has a
lengthy biographical introduction under the headline of
Aaron Nimzowitsch - Lebenslauf eines Pessimisten

The version with only one 'A' is widely used in English translations of texts by Nimzowitsch and in English texts 
about him, such as Raymond Keene:  Aron Nimzowitsch  - A Reappraisal  (1974). The version Aa is found in 
The Rating of Chessplayers, Past and Present
(1978) by Arpad E. Elo, the father of the Elo System. 
Dr. Elo, who was a Hungarian-American, uses the spelling version Nimzovitch for  the family name, thus with a 
kind of English phonetic spelling. (Jaques Hannak was Austrian.) On the other hand, we find the "Anglo-Saxon" 
version with just one ‘A’ in Aron Nimcovič , by Dr. Slavko Petrović (Zagreb 1973).

Chess friend Phil Hughes has found a document signed Aron Niemzowitsch in handwriting. It was dated 
7th October 1905, when Nimzowitsch, aged about 18, was admitted into the University of Z
ürich for studies in 
mathematics. A strange fact in this "Immatrikulation" is that his date of birth is stated as 9 November, whereas 
it has generally been believed to be the 7th.

AN's articles in Sydsvenska Dagbladet  in 1913 are just signed with the initial, thus A. Niemzowitsch, and this 
seems to be his usual way of representing his first name afterwards in magazines etc., as in 
A. Nimzowitsch: Mein System, 1. Lieferung, (Berlin 1925). In contemporary texts he is mostly referred to as 
"Herr Nimzowitsch". Alexander Aljechin/Alekhine was inconsistent in his use of both the first name and the surname.

As to other English-speaking persons bearing the same name, we find both those with one A and such with Aa, for 
Elvis Aaron Presley.

In present-day Russia the name Aron/Aaron is used very seldom, due to changes of fashion in naming. To whatever 
extent it occurs, the version with only one A would be normal, since it is very rare to find doubled letters in Russian, 
with exceptions such as the famous name of Spassky. However, we find the version Aa in the Orthodox Bible, the 
version approved by the Holy Synod (1721-1917), where the brother of Moses has his name spelled “Aaron”.

The normal Yiddish spelling was with one ‘A’. Present-day Jewish writing habits do not uphold any symbolic or 
traditional differences between the two versions.

In German names we find both the ‘Aa’ and ‘A’ versions, but the name is not frequent. The editor of  the 
one-volume version of Mein System, Verlag “Das Schach-Archiv”, only puts the initial, leaving us in uncertainty. 
So did the original “Lieferungen” 1925-27, published by Verlag Bernhard Kagan, Berlin.

Aljechin's versions of A. Nimzowitsch's names.
Alexander Aljechin had an ambiguous relationship to Nimzowitsch, example of which is that he was inconsistent
in his spelling principles, both of the first name and the family name. 
See The Relationship between A. Nimzowitsch and A. Aljechin/Alekhine

While the author assumes responsibility for any flaws in the above account of versions of names, 
he would like to thank the following persons for their kind help and advice:
Andris Jakobsons, Vineta Freimane, Elmar Purin, Sthig Jonasson, Bernard Cafferty, Phil Hughes.

[1] Hannak, Jacques, b. Vienna, March 12, 1892, d. Vienna, Nov. 14, 1973, socialist author, journalist ("Arbeit und Wirtschaft", after 1946 "Arbeiterzeitung"), in 1938/39
interned in Dachau and Buchenwald concentration camps, 1939 emigrated to Belgium and France, 1941 to the USA where he was employed by the Office of War Information
(radio broadcasting department). In 1946 return to Vienna. (Encyclopaedia of

Dr. Hannak is above all known for his comprehensive biography Emanuel Lasker - Biographie eines Schachweltmeisters
(Berlin 1952), which also contains interesting information of other players of the time, among other things an account of the
tragic relationship between Lasker and Aljechin during the Nazi period, which led up to a series of articles in 1941 in
"Deutsche Schachzeitung", in which Aljechin described Lasker's game as a typical example of "Jewish decadence".

[2] Linguists are not unanimous as to the classification of the Latvian language. While there are similarities between Latvian
and Slavic languages, some scholars maintain than such similarities do not go back to the Indo-European period. The Czech
author Jarošlav Hasek in his famous book “The Brave Soldier Svejk” (1924) makes the following astonishing remark:
“Nothing has changed since the time when the pirate Vojtech, who was later given the epithet “The Holy”, with the sword
in one hand and the cross in the other, took part in the annihilation of  Baltic slavs.”

[3] Chess friend Bernard Cafferty points out that there was a well-known Polish writer called Julian Niemcevicz (1758-1841), so the name, or something very close to it, 
did exist in another Slavonic language. In the Russian spelling of this Polish name, verified in a pre-1917 Russian encyclopaedia, the first vowel was rendered by the letter
'yat' which is number 30 of the 36-letter older Russian alphabet. That letter yat' was replaced in the 1917 spelling reform by letter number 6 of the current 33-letter Russian
In Polish  fixed stress is normal, so the name is pronounced with the stress on the middle syllable.