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Ticked 'Ov': Tajik Officials Unhappy Russian Surnames Back In Fashion

Tajik President Emomali Rahmon used to be known by the Russified version of his name, Emomali Sharifovich Rahmonov.
Tajik President Emomali Rahmon used to be known by the Russified version of his name, Emomali Sharifovich Rahmonov.
The spelling of one's name was once a point of patriotic pride in Tajikistan, where people rushed to drop Russian-style suffixes just a few years ago.

After the country's president, in a nod to Tajik identity, dropped his Russified name Emomali Sharifovich Rahmonov for Emomali Rahmon in 2007, name endings like "-ov," "-ev," and "-ovich" began to disappear.

But now they are creeping back, in what one Tajik official has warned is a sign of "the low level of national and patriotic identity of the younger generation."

The alarm bell was sounded by Tajik Prosecutor-General Sherkhon Salimzoda in an opinion piece he penned for the government newspaper Chumkhuriyat ("The Republic") on January 21.

Describing a trend he says began two years ago, Salimzoda said Russian-style spellings of surnames and patronymics are again in vogue, particularly among young men.

As proof he presented figures culled from the country's three largest universities, where he said only two students specifically requested that their names be changed to their Tajik form in 2013, whereas 513 requested that their names be spelled with Russian-style endings.

But while Salimzoda has called the reversal a blow to Tajik national pride, many young Tajiks argue that this is no name game -- it's a necessity.

The main reason to go back to the Russian-style spellings of their names, they say, is to avoid trouble in Russia. More than one in seven Tajiks travel to Russia every year for employment as migrant workers, for which they are often the target of discrimination and even racially-charged violence.

"It's easier to have a Russian name if you live and work there," says Hasan Sadulloev, a student at the Tajik National University in Dushanbe who works in Russia during his summer holidays.

Shifting Name Trends

Two years ago, Sadulloev was officially known as "Hasani Abdullo," but he now goes by "Sadulloev Hasan Abdulloevich."

"Because of my Tajik-style name I encountered many problems with paperwork in Russia. I was told my full name consisted of only two names -- my first name and my father's name -- instead of three names as required in Russia," Sadulloev said.

" Apparently it wasn't clear which one was the surname and which one was the patronymic . As a result of this name confusion, I was deported."

Sadulloev's concerns echo those expressed by other Tajiks in mainstream and social media in the wake of Prosecutor-General Salimzoda's remarks.

But official circles have apparently taken his words as a call to action. On January 24, just days after Salimzoda's article was published, Agriculture Minister Qosim Qosimov announced that he had applied for a formal name change.

Qosimov said he will soon be known as Qosim "Rohbar" -- which means "leader" in Tajik. Previously the agriculture minister employed "Rohbar" -- his father's name -- as his Russian-style patronymic "Rahbarovich."

Tajiks began dropping Russian-style suffixes in the early 1990s, amid a wave of national pride and efforts to restore Tajik identity following the fall of the Soviet Union.

Many formally changed their names and ensured that the idea would stick with the next generation by giving newborns Tajik-style names.

Names and surnames in Tajikistan can be seen as an indicator of societal trends and preferences.

In the 1980s and 1990s names from Tajik-Persian history and literature became increasingly popular for children. Thousands of babies were named after Persian royals and heroes, or characters from Persian literature.

In the past decade, however, Tajiks have become fond of Islamic names, reflecting the growing influence of Islam in society.
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    Farangis Najibullah

    Farangis Najibullah is a senior correspondent for RFE/RL who has reported on a wide range of topics from Central Asia, including the impact of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine on the region. She has extensively covered efforts by Central Asian states to repatriate and reintegrate their citizens who joined Islamic State in Syria and Iraq.

RFE/RL has been declared an "undesirable organization" by the Russian government.

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