Thursday, January 12, 2017

Since 1991, Kyrgyz Reviving National and Muslim Names

Paul Goble

            Staunton, January 12 – One of the most insidious consequences of those forced to live within an empire is the way in which the subjugated react by naming their children not according to their own national traditions but according to those of the culture of the dominant power. And one of the most significant indications of their escape from empire is a return to national names.

            But sometimes, Yekaterina Ivashchenko of the Fergana news agency says, the relationship between these periods is more complicated and results in unusual names that weren’t part of the national or subjugated past and presumably won’t be part of the again independent national future (

            She recounts her encounter with a young Kyrgyz woman in a Moscow café whose first name was Akmoor. The first syllable “ak-” of course, she said, means “white” but the second she didn’t know. The young woman said that it meant “print” and that her parents gave her that name because there were so many “white spaces” or “blanks” in Kyrgyz by the end of Soviet times.

            Ivashchenko, who has studied the Kyrgyz language, says that Kyrgyz names say a lot about the status of those who bear them. They have “a sacred significance and influence fate.” Indeed, she adds, there is a widespread opinion that “a name can protect its bearer from evil spirts or even help give birth to an heir.”

            During the Soviet period, many Kyrgyz adopted traditional Russian names or Soviet-inspired ones and came up with names for boys like Sovetbek, Soyuzbek, Mels (for Marx, Engels, Lenin and Stalin, Oktyabr and Stalbek and for girls like Roza (in honor of Rosa Luxemburg), Oktyarbrina, and Rem (for revolution, electrification, and mechanization).

            But especially in the 1940s and 1950s, many Kyrgyz while giving their children Russian names for use outside the family also gave them Kyrgyz names for within; and those names thus continued a national tradition at a time when it was under greatest threat, the Fergana News journalist says.

            Her Kyrgyz instructor points out several of the common patterns: names linked to numbers referring either to the order of birth within a family or the age of the father at the time of birth, names pointing to the need for a male heir, or ones like the Kyrgyz for “long expected” which is self-explanatory.

            After 1991, many Kyrgyz dropped the Russian endings of patronymics and used instead either the traditional Kyrgyz variant or quite often simply their father’s first name as their second names, a kind of informal patronymic and one that caused less confusion if they travelled abroad.  An attempt to compel Kyrgyz to drop the Russian endings failed in 2015.

            In recent years, there have been three other developments as far as  names are concerned: a tendency to name children for politicians, including foreign ones – there is the famous case of a young Kyrgyz born in 1993 who was called “Billklintonbek” and another who was named “Ravulkastro Fedelovich Samiyev”—and increasingly the adoption of Arab ones. 

            Indeed, according to Kyrgyzstan’s State Registration Service, at the end of 2016, only two of the top ten names Kyrgyz parents are giving their children are traditional. The rest are of Arabic origin, reflecting the Islamization of that nation (

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