The Acronym “OTMA:” Fact or Fiction?

I had said before that Pierre Gilliard’s memoir Thirteen Years at the Russian Court is one of my favorites. Overall, I think that Gilliard is one of the most objective and reliable first-hand sources on the Romanovs. However, there is one thing in particular I take issue with. In Thirteen Years Gilliard mentions that the Grand Duchesses referred to themselves under the composite name “OTMA.” He claims that under this acronym, the girls gave gifts and wrote letters on behalf of all of them. 

Personally, I have never seen any letter signed by the Grand Duchesses under this acronym. In every case I have seen, even when it is written by one on behalf of all, each of the girls’ names is signed in full. Furthermore, Gilliard is the only contemporary of the Grand Duchesses to mention this in his memoirs. Gibbes, Buxhoeveden, Dehn, Vyrubova, and perhaps most notably Olga Alexandrovna, the Grand Duchesses’ aunt never make any reference to this. 

All of these people were just as close to the Imperial Family as Gilliard was, with the exception of Anna Vyrubova and Olga Alexandrovna, who were closer. It seems bizarre to me that all of these people would fail to mention something so distinctive about the Grand Duchesses. 

Alexandra Feodorovna often refers to her daughters in her diary and her letters by the first letter of their names, but never as the composite “OTMA.” In individual letters, particularly those from captivity, the girls often sign themselves by the first letter of their names, but again, never as “OTMA.” 

I am not necessarily suggesting that Gilliard invented this story. He really had no reason for doing so. What I do think is that this may have been something that was specifically between Gilliard and the Grand Duchesses. Perhaps they signed their letters to him as “OTMA,” and gave him gifts under the name “OTMA,” but this was by no means, in my opinion, the way they referred to themselves on a regular basis. 

Sources: Thirteen Years at the Russian Court by Pierre Gilliard, The Life and Tragedy of Tsaritsa Alexandra and Left Behind by Baroness Buxhoeveden, The Real Tsaritsa by  Lili Dehn, The Last Grand Duchess: Her Imperial Highness Olga Alexandrovna by Ian Vorres, Twenty-Five Chapters of My Life by Olga Alexandrovna, The Last Diary of Tsaritsa Alexandra :1918, The House of Special Purpose by John C. Trewin, Memories of the Russian Court by Anna Vyrubova, The Later Memoirs of Anna Vyrubova, A Lifelong Passion by Andrei Maylunas and Sergei Mironenko, and The Diary of Grand Duchess Olga Nikolaevna: 1913

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