Monday, February 3, 2014

Window on Eurasia: Name Changes Show National Self-Consciousness on the Rise in Sakha Republic

 Paul Goble

                Staunton, February 3 – Ever more members of the Sakha nation are de-russianizing their names, a step that suggests they have concluded that they can display their national identity more openly as the ethnic Russian proportion of the population of their enormous, natural-resource-rich but sparsely populated republic, formerly called Yakutia,” declines.

                According to official government registrars in Sakha, 1053 residents of the republic changed their first names, last names and even patronymics so that they would be less Russian and more Sakha and thus conform to the sense among that nationality that their republic is increasingly theirs (

                     Such changes became possible with the adoption of a Sakha law allowing those who would like to restore traditional Sakha names or modified ones using Sakha elements in place of Russian, such as “uola” in place of the Russian “-ovich”  or “Kyya” in place of “-ovna”. Thus, someone who had called himself Yegor Ivanovich will now be known as “Uybaan uola Yegor”

                As notes in reporting this story, “Russian names came to Yakutia together with baptism.” The Russian names long dominated in official documents but they have never displayed the traditional ones in everyday speech.  Those who are electing to use only Sakha names are simply bringing the two into correspondence.

                One who has changed his name back told the Russian agency that however “paradoxical” it sounds, he elected to restore his Sakha name while he was living outside the republic in Khakasia. Until last year he called himself Petr Vorogushin. From now on, he will be known as Doroon-Dokhsun Vorogushin, he said.

                It would be a mistake to reflect this as an ethnographic curiosity. It reflects some deeper demographic and political shifts in that republic, which is larger than the EU countries – by itself, it would be the eighth largest political unit in the world --put together, has enormous natural wealth but a population of just under a million.

                But the real driver of this change in names is the underlying change in demography: members of the Sakha nationality are becoming more numerous and members of the Russian nationality are becoming less so, the result of differences in fertility, age structure, and the departure of ethnic Russians moved their by Soviet power.

                As recently as 1989, ethnic Russians formed a majority of Sakha’s population, while the Sakha represented only 33 percent.  Today, the Sakha form half of the population, while ethnic Russians have declined to only 37 percent, almost a reversal in position in about a generation and one with obvious consequences.

                One of them is the new self-confidence among the Sakha reflected in their decision to de-russianize their names. But another is that Moscow is concerned that the political leadership in Yakutsk is moving in a nationalist direction and has begun to attack it for that, possibly in order to change the top officials (

                Moscow still has the ability to do that, but changes in names underscore that Sakha identity is strengthening. And some in Moscow might want to remember that the first mass protests against Gorbachev’s efforts to impose ethnic Russians in place of non-Russians in the republics in 1986 took place in distant Yakutsk and not as many now think in Alma-Ata.

No comments:

Post a Comment