My father-in-law who spoke Russian as a youth says Tchaikovsky’ name has
its origin in the word for “tea”; is this true? I have never found this fact
and wonder if it is just a similar word or even the same word but has no relationship.
Can you please clear this up?
The Russian word for tea is "Chai" [Чай], which happens to be the first
syllable of the composer's name. But the surname Tchaikovsky comes from a
type of bird—specifically a gull—which in Russian is "Chaika" [Чайка].
The composer's great-grandfather was actually called Fedor Chaika, and his
descendants turned this noun into an adjective, making Tchaikovskii [Чайковский]
So in short, a more literal translation of the name Tchaikovsky would be
I have just read, that the Dnepr Cossacks often used boats called
Chaika" [Чайка] to travel to the Black Sea.
As Tchaikovsky's great-grandfather,
Fyodor Chaika, has himself been
described as a Cossack living Ukraine, close to the Dnepr region, his name
seems indeed to confirm his Cossack origin. Therefore, knowing that the
Cossacks in Ukraine - especially in the Dnepr region - used boats being
called "Chaika" ("gull"), the origin of Tchaikovsky's name might in fact
have less to do with this kind of bird than with these Cossack boats.
Maybe the forebears of Fyodor Chaika used to build this kind of boat or to
conduct such boats.
With best regards,