• Yelena McCafferty

How King Charles III became King Karl III in Russia

Updated: Oct 26

Having said good-bye to HM Queen Elizabeth II, we are slowly getting used to the slightly amended version of the UK’s national anthem: God Save the King.


In Russian however, there is a bigger thing to get used to: the former Prince Charles has acquired a new name as king: Karl (or Carl) III.


This follows a tradition in translating names of English monarchs into Russian from their Latin equivalents, King Charles I and King Charles II were also known in Russian as King Karl I and Karl II respectively.


It’s understandable that if we were to move away from this principle and call Charles by his first name we used to call him when he was a prince, in Russian it will become illogical as there would be no king number I or II named Charles.


This inconsistency didn’t stop German or Ukrainian official record-makers though: in archives they have English kings Karl I and Karl II and now... Charles III.


I would rather we did the same in Russian. The current heir to the throne Prince William is known to us as William, however, if we were to continue this centuries old Russian tradition, when he inherits the throne, he will be re-named Wilhelm (Вильгельм).


In the fast-moving world we live in language is changing rapidly too and this whole king-renaming tradition appears to have exceptions anyway: the names of Queen Elizabeth I and Elizabeth II were translated into Russian (Елизавета), they were not adapted from the Latin version. Compare the rule to other monarchies and you’ll find that the name of the reigning Danish Queen Margrethe II is transliterated as Маргрете. No one thought of adopting its Latin version of Margarita.


Even the Royal Mint has moved away from the tradition and on the new coins will inscribe the monarch's name in English - Charles, and not Carolus in Latin. A Royal Mint spokesman told The Telegraph this was to ensure the coinage was accessible to a modern audience: "for over 70 years people have become used to seeing ‘Elizabeth’ on coins, which traditionally is spelt the same in Latin and English".


There’s a good expression in English: call a spade a spade. In Russian it goes by “call things by their proper names”. Rightly so.


[Tip: Russian names can be transliterated differently in passports too, get in touch with us on 0207 0436940 or email enquiry@talkrussian.com if you wish to change the way your name is spelt in your Russian international passport.]


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