Can you keep a name secret?

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Sometimes you come across a surname and think to yourself, “Goodness, I don’t think I’d be able to live with this one!” Funny surnames exist in every language and may cause some embarrassment especially in one’s childhood / green years. Russian surnames such as Безручков (Bezruchkov ~Handless), Сметана (Smetana ~Sour cream) or Заиграев (Zaigraev ~Joker) can pave the way to numerous jokes for their bearers. To speakers of other tongues, however, the only difficulty will be in pronouncing them, the funny side of them will remain unknown…

Unless… when a Russian name is transliterated into English, it becomes a little awkward to read or say. There is a fairly common Russian surname Вагина which is transliterated as Vagina. In an unlucky twist, this surname is applicable to females only, the male version is Vagin. Or… there is a very old authentic Russian male name – Семён – transliterated into English as Semen. It’s not unknown for such name bearers to request that in international passports, where their name is transliterated, their name should be spelt in a different variant, Semyon, for example.

This trick won’t help those unfortunate souls whose combination of first name and surname sounds amusing in English, as in Annette Kirton (a net curtain), Justin Case (just in case) or Jo King (joking). And some surnames alone can sound a little daft too: Grave, Poor, Longbottom or… well, Daft.

It must require certain determination and willpower to stick with a challenging surname you happen to have been born with; I am still not sure how I would cope, had I been born with a surname such as Негодяева (Negodyaeva ~Scoundrel) or Волкодав (Volkodav ~Wolfhound)…

Which interesting names have you encountered?

This article was written on 16th January 2017.

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Yelena

About the Author:

Yelena McCafferty is a professional Russian translator and interpreter based in the UK. She is a director of Talk Russian Ltd, a specialist Russian translation company. Connect with Yelena on LinkedIn.

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