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!
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.
AND NOW YOU KNOW!