Gospodar, Gospodina

Many, many years ago in Romania, I had to open a bank account for reasons that I can’t remember right now. Everything was going fine until the bank employee asked me for my profession.

I tried to explain that I work from home over the internet, something that wasn’t really well understood at the time. I didn’t quite understand why I needed to declare my profession just to open a bank account, but she was insistent.

Eventually, I told her to write gospodar, which made her laugh.

In modern usage, the female form (gospodina) means something like “housewife” in English. It also has connotations of being good at (or in charge of) domestic duties inside the house, especially cooking. Therefore, probably the best translation of gospodina would be “lady of the house” or, in more modern parlance, a domestic goddess.

But what about the male version, gospodar? It’s certainly not as common as the female version. In English, you might translate it as “housekeeper”, but that’s still a bit off the mark unless you’re using the formal British meaning of the term.

Generally, though, it refers to a man who is in charge of something. Therefore, a man in charge of maintenance and the running of a train station might be the gospodar of the train station. In other words, it’s more like a property manager than anything else.

Very few Romanian men would ever consider themselves as gospodar of something as simple as a house, which is why that bank employee was laughing so hard all those years ago.

Lord and Master

Believe it or not, both gospodar/gospodina originally meant “master” or “lord” because they’re borrowed from a Slavic term that means just that. Slavic rulers from Bulgaria to Ukraine once referred to themselves as gospodar, usually rendered in English as hospodar due to the way the gamma (Г) letter becomes an “h” in many Slavic tongues where it’s “g” elsewhere.

For example, the name of the city and disputed region in Ukraine is called Lugansk in Russian and Luhansk in Ukrainian.

Once Romania started gaining independence from the Ottoman Empire in the 19th century, the term gospodar was abandoned in favor of the more Latin term domnitor, again meaning “lord” or “master” (think “dominion” in English).

Fast forward to modern times, and now the term “Mr.” in Romanian is “Domnul” and “Mrs.” is “Doamna” (plus other forms as I’ve written about previously).

Yep. Today, we’re all lords and masters!

Russian Gas

All this was brought to mind yesterday when I caught two men trying to use a screwdriver to jimmy the lock to enter our ograda (courtyard).

I’d always been curious exactly how the kid who brings the our utility bills gets into our ograda if nobody is there to let him in, and now I know. He just pops the lock! Which makes me wonder why we even bother having a lock on the gate, but that’s a story for another day.

It turned out that the two men trying to break into our ograda yesterday were from the local gas company, here to check our meters. They spoke almost no Romanian, and my Russian isn’t that good, so we performed some hilarious impromptu comedy as we tried to communicate with one another.

The gas men had a list of names and addresses, and I laughed when I recognized the terms Господин (gospodin) and Госпожа (gospazha), which mean “Mr.” and “Mrs.” in Russian. In other words, it’s the Slavic equivalent of “Domnul” and “Doamna”, even though Russians have more complicated terms of address and rarely call anyone Mr./Mrs. except for foreigners.

But in this case, I guess since we’re in Moldova, things are a bit different, especially as some of us don’t have patronymic names. Up until yesterday, I’d never heard anyone refer to me as “gospodin”, and it triggered my memories of telling that bank employee how I was a “gospodar” all those years ago.

Good times.


4 thoughts on “Gospodar, Gospodina

  1. Sam, I’m not quite sure that you got the right meaning for “gospodar” in romanian. It is actually (or more concise) “a guy that succeded with litlle money to do or build things in or around his house in a practical, ergonomic manner”. That’s why it’s odd to say about you that you are “gospodar’ (it’s kindda like you praise yourself).
    Regarding the practice of the two guys from the gas company: yes, it’s odd (I wonder what kind of lockers are old in Md if this is a standard practice?). Someone could charge them because of a property violation. The common sense is that the presence of a locker means that your access IS RESTRICTED (otherwise, why building fences if they can be escaladed?).


  2. Sam, and if I tell you not to believe all what the “moldovenists” tell you you get mad at me :) Domn/Domnitor was NOT introduced in the 19th century, but stems directly from Latin. It is documented on the Neacsu’s Letter, the earliest Romanian document (1521). It is on the second row, middle, slightly to the right: https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/8/82/Neac%C5%9Fu%27s_letter.jpg

    If I were you i would ask, whoever told you that thing with the 19th century, why he lied to you :) Ignorance or manipulation?

    And now you know! :D :D


    1. Is there a way to edit the message after it was posted? There are some typo’s in my message above that I’d like to fix… And this is not the first case.


  3. If gospodărie is “husbandry”, then gospodar should be “husband”, the dude in charge of the house (and farm) management


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