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Tajiks Weigh Ban On 'Bad Names'

The Tajik Man With The Changing Name
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WATCH: Sangahmad Mahmadaliev, a resident of Baljuvon district, in southern Tajikistan, was originally named Janda -- which means Raggedy Clothes. He was glad when his name changed, and ponders the impact it has had on his life. (RFE/RL's Tajik Service)

Giving newborns undesirable names in the hope that it will spare them from divine wrath has attracted the attention of Tajik authorities.

Among older generations, it is not uncommon in Tajikistan to see first names like Khoshok (Fodder), Sangak (Small Stone), Istad (Should Stay), or Pocho (Son-in-Law.)

The reasoning behind the unusual eponyms can be attributed to the superstition that giving a child an unflattering name will make them less desirable, and thus prevent God from taking them away.

Under proposed amendments to Tajikistan's civil-registry law, such names are out. The Justice Ministry initiative singles out naming children after animals, products, and inanimate objects -- and they are not the only ones.

In the latest round of a Tajik name game that in recent years has seen a push away from Russian and secular names, and the promotion of Persian-rooted and patriotic names, the Tajik authorities are also trying to purge divisive and overtly Islamic, foreign names.

The amendments counter the trend among Tajiks of adding Islamic and Arabic endings to their names, by stating that "adding suffixes -- such as -mullah, -khalifa, -shaikh, -amir, and -sufi -- which lead to divisions among people, should be banned."

And authorities have apparently noticed that religious names such as Sumayah, Aisha, and Asiya, previously almost nonexistent in the country, have become the most popular names for baby girls.

Sumayah is the first martyr of Islam; Aisha is the name of one Prophet Muhammad's wives; and Asiya is the name of a Muslim noblewoman mentioned in the Koran. All would be banned, as would Muhammad, Yusuf, and Abubakr for boys.

The authorities' opposition to such names reflects their unease over the rising influence of Islam, which has led to bans on the hijab and the forced shaving of beards.

"If the amendments get approved, our offices would refuse to register babies with names that are Arabic or foreign to our culture," said Jaloliddin Rahimov, deputy head of registry department at the Justice Ministry.

"Such parents will be offered a list of Tajik names at the registry office," Rahimov said. "Their children will be registered and given birth certificates only after the parents give them appropriate names."

The rising popularity of Islamic names followed a previous trend, begun in the 1980s, in which so-called pure Tajik or old Persian names became fashionable both for girls and boys.

That trend culminated with President Emomali Rahmon dropping the Russian suffix of -ov from his surname in 2007, leaving him with the more traditional "Rahmon."

Thousands of others followed suit, de-Russifying their names and sometimes replacing the Russian endings with pure Tajik suffixes such as -zoda, -zod, or -i.

The latest proposal has not yet made it to parliament, but it has already ignited public debate.

Some swiftly condemned it as a violation of personal freedom.

"If the Justice Ministry tells people what names to choose for their children, or to drop suffixes from their names, it would amount to interference in people's private lives and restriction of people's liberties," said prominent lawyer Faizinisso Vohidova.

"And why has the ministry decided that some suffixes create divisions among people?" she asked. "This proposal is ridiculous."

Dushanbe resident Mullo-Abdul-Hamid, who gave only his first name, said that "the ministry's proposal undermines people's rights."

Mullo-Abdul-Hamid, who was named after his grandfather, said he had no problem with its religious roots.

Islamic leaders have so far distanced themselves from the debate.

Jaloliddin Khomushi, a high-ranking official at the state-backed Islamic Center, said Islam encourages beautiful and appropriate names -- regardless of their Persian or Arabic origins -- and discourages names with ugly or unpleasant meanings.

It is not known when parliament will debate the draft amendments, but some Dushanbe residents claim registry offices have already begun to implement the proposed bans.

Abubakr Haidarshoev said a city registry office refused to issue birth certificate to his nephew because the officials deemed the baby's name, Akbar, "foreign to Tajik culture."

The newborn was eventually registered and given a birth certificate, but not before his parents changed his name to Mahmud.

Written by Farangis Najibullah based on reporting by RFE/RL Tajik Service correspondents Ganjina Ganj and Mirzonabi Kholiqzod

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