Vienna, March 10 – In yet another echo of Soviet times, Russian parents are once again giving their children politicized rather than traditional names. Instead of monikers connected with the Communist Party or the Soviet system, they are selecting names connected to the country’s security services or to new social trends such as privatization.
But scholars studying this trend are warning parents that doing so may be a serious mistake because, in the words of Moscow onomastics specialist Aleksandra Superanskaya, “people with strange names live on average five years less than do people with traditional ones” (www.mignews.com/news/culture/cis/090309_121938_21202.html).
Following the 1917 revolution, the Soviet authorities encouraged people to select new names as part of the Communist drive to break Russian ties to the Orthodox Church and its saints. And while many intellectuals, including most famously Mikhail Bulgakov, made fun of this trend, Soviet citizens responded.
In his book, “The Heart of a Dog,” Bulgakov gave one of his characters the name Poligraf Poligrafovich, a name possible only in Russian and only in the Soviet Union, and one many Russians chuckled over when that book circulated in samizdat. (It was published inside the Soviet Union only in 1987.)
Among the names Soviet parents chose were Mel(s)or (for “Marx, Engels, Lenin, (Stalin) and the October Revolution”), Ninel’ (Lenin spelled backwards), Traktor, Elektrifikatsiya, Stalina, Rem (“Revolution and the World”), and, more rarely, truly odd ones like Mirtruda (“Peace for Labor”) and Drazdpraperma (“Long Live the First of May”).
In the 1970s, Academician Vladimir Nikonov catalogued these and other names in a five-volume dictionary of Russian first names, and then just before Mikhail Gorbachev came to power, Nikonov in a famous article in “Literaturnaya gazeta” warned against the use of such names, arguing that they were a corrupting influence.
From 1985 through 2000, Russians generally stopped naming their children in this Bolshevik way, instead using more traditional names, either those connected with the saints of the Orthodox Church or in some cases with regional traditions, such as names from the Moscow merchant class of the 19th century.
But with the rise of Vladimir Putin, Moscow specialists on onomastics say, Russian parents once again began naming their children with “politicized patriotic names,” albeit ones more likely to be connected with more recent social changes like “Privatizatsiya” or “Viagra,” the security services, or completely new names like Kosmos or Veter (“Wind”).
Yevgeniya Smirnova, the press secretary of the registration bureau in Moscow, says that the taste for new names is clearly “in the air, even if so far one can speak only about a few cases. But little by little in our registries are appearing openly politicized names,” in much the same way that they appeared in Soviet times.
Some psychologists say that this trend reflects an increasing willingness of Russians to “associate themselves” with the state, but other analysts suggest the recent upsurge in new names may have another cause: the desire of parents to somehow make their children stand out in the crowd and thus have a better chance at success.
Names like Privatizatsiya or Kosmos certainly will cause the children who bear them to stand out, but they may not help them in the long run. One the one hand, many may find themselves shunned either now or in the future; and on the other, those who are given them are unlikely to live as long as those who don’t.