What’s in a name?

What’s in a name?

Oct 01
What’s in a name?

Red Square, just the mention of that name conjures up images of troops marching in massed formations, military vehicles and tractors pulling the latest Soviet rockets past the Soviet leadership standing atop Lenin’s tomb, the Kremlin wall with the turrets surmounted by giant lighted red stars, and banners, red banners, everywhere.  We associate the color red with Socialism and Communism and have been doing so since the mid nineteenth century.  So of course Red Square is so named to commemorate Communism in the Soviet Union.

Wrong.  The name of Red Square has nothing to do with Communism.  Indeed, red as a color does represent Socialism and Communism.  During the Revolutions of 1848, the color red was chosen to symbolize the blood of the workers who had died either in the drudgery imposed on them by, or in the struggle against, Capitalism.  All major Socialist and Communist alliances and organizations, including the First, Second and Third Internationals, used red as their official color.  Funny when you consider that in the United States, the color red has come to represent those states that vote Republican, about as far from Communism as one can get.

So why is it called Red Square?  Especially considering that at various times in Moscow history, the bricks of the Kremlin were whitewashed.  It appears to be a confusion as to the correct Russian word for the name of the square.  The word, prekrasnaya, become over time shortened to krasnaya, and can mean either the word “red” or the word “beautiful”.  The square was originally called “pozhar”, or “burnt out place”, and the krasnaya, or “beautiful”, was applied to the famous St. Basils (or Vasily in Russian) which is a familiar sight with its lovely and colorful onion domes.  Over time, the name krasnaya became associated with the beautiful square that arose from the ashes of the burning of Moscow after the Napoleonic invasion, occupation, and eventual retreat.  And so the Krasnaya Ploshchad, or Beautiful Square, became mistranslated as Red Square.  In fact the Krasnaya Ploshchad of Moscow is not the only such named square in Russia, with squares name thus in Suzdal, Yelets, Pereslavl-Zalessky, and other cities.  So while some Soviet Era names have stuck, such as the GUM Department Store which makes up one side of Red Square, the name Red Square predates the Soviets and has stuck.

Victory Day Parade 2008

Red Square

 

Red Square

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *