It is interesting to note that most Chess pieces in Russian have different names. By this I do not mean that their names sound different -- that is quite obvious, considering that it is after all an entirely different language. No, more than this, they mean different things as well. It's quite likely that these names are closer to the Indian and Persian original names given to these pieces.

  • Pawn -- пешка(Peshka), meaning footsoldier. Pretty similar to normal talk, right?
  • Rook -- башня(Bashnya) or ладья(Ladya), meaning tower. Since I haven't yet met someone who has a satisfactory explanation of what the word rook means, we'll assume that tower is a pretty close translation -- that is, after all, what the piece looks like.
  • Knight -- конь(Kon), meaning horse.
  • King -- король(Korol), meaning King. This is perhaps somewhat illogical, considering the Russian equivalent of the king is the czar.
  • Bishop -- слон(Slon), meaning elephant. This is where the meanings begin to diverge. Elephant is, of course, what the name of the piece was in the original incarnation of the game, and certainly makes more sense than Bishop; you don't see the Pope commanding an army (well, not anymore, at least; in medieval times, them Popes were go-getters).
  • Queen -- ферзь(Pherz), which has no Russian meaning other than the name for the chess piece itself, but sounds an awful lot like Vizier. The Vizier is, of course, the advisor to the king in Persia. Again, this is likely closer to the original meaning, and makes more sense than having the Queen of a country being the most powerful military figure in it (Unless you're living in 16th century England).

There are other, differing names for the pieces. The Queen is often just called the Queen, but this is considered incorrect and in poor taste. The Bishop, according to my grandmother, may have been called the officer at certain times.

Also noteworthy is the name for check in Russian. Check is called Shakh, checkmate Shakh-Mat, and the game is consequently called Shakhmaty. Shakh is also the Russian for Shah (i.e. the title of the king of a Middle-Eastern country). Coincidence? I think not, though I can't come up with a logical explanation for why this is what check would be called. On the other hand, there is also no logical explanation for why check is called check, either.


Chess Etymology! What could be cooler?

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