Patriotic names recalling Soviet era make a comeback in Russia

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During Soviet rule, the Bolsheviks promoted the use of names that marked Soviet achievements, often employing dazzling wordplay to squeeze a socialist concept into a single name.

Moscow -- Where might you find someone named Kosmos (Space), Vyborina (Election) or Volya (Will)?

Why, in Russia, of course, where in Soviet days the use of names such as Elem (a combination of Lenin-Marx), Mirtruda (World of Workers) or even Dazdraperma (Long Live the First of May) were encouraged.

Sociologists say that in the post-Soviet, modern Russia of strongman Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, the use of such politicised patriotic names is making a slight comeback -- albeit with a twist.

From the early years of Communist rule in the 1920s, the Bolsheviks promoted the use of names marking Soviet achievements, often employing dazzling wordplay to squeeze a socialist concept into a single name.

Even today it is still possible in Russia to meet women named Stalina, after the wartime dictator Joseph Stalin, or Ninel (Lenin's named spelled backwards). Or men named Rem after the Russian words for revolution and peace.

While Russian parents may be reluctant now to give their children such obviously Communist names, in Putin's increasingly assertive Russia, there is every incentive to go through life proudly bearing a patriotic name.

"There is surely something in the air even if these are isolated cases,” Moscow registry office spokeswoman Evgenia Smirnova told AFP. “But little by little these politicised names are appearing on our registers."

On occasion, the use of such names has reached an extreme -- in the Urals town of Nizhny Tagil, a baby was recently reported to have been christened Privatizatsia (Privatisation).

“The state is seen by people as a symbol and the people want to associate themselves with it and be part of it,” said psychologist Olga Makhovskaya.

"The choice of names currently shows that Russians are positive about their lives," said Alexei Makarkin, an analyst at the Centre for Political Technology in Moscow. "But this is all going to change with the economic crisis."

A growing trend

After the collapse of the Soviet Union and the economic humiliation of the 1990s, "the country started to rebuild itself and this unleashed a wave of patriotism," he said.

Until the economic crisis, Russia enjoyed almost a decade of stellar growth under Putin, an increasingly assertive foreign policy and also sporting successes.

But the use of patriotic names has not always been applauded in Russia.

The practice was famously mocked by the great Soviet writer Mikhail Bulgakov in his hilarious novella Heart of a Dog (Sobachye Serdtse), which was written in 1925 but could only be published in the Soviet Union in 1987.

In the book, a dog given human organs by a misguided doctor takes on increasingly loutish proletarian characteristics, which include taking on the absurd name Poligraf Poligrafovich (Printer, Son of Printer).

The Bolsheviks in the 1920s had carried out secular "Red Baptisms" where children were given names like Traktor (Tractor) and Oktyabrina (after the October Revolution) by a commissar against a hammer-and-sickle flag.

However, it is said that the owners of such names subsequently did everything possible to have themselves called something more ordinary.

But Russians are keen to use newly-coined names, in a country with a notoriously short supply of common first names where it sometimes seems difficult to find a man who is not called Vladimir or Sergei.

Over the last year, names such as Sever (North), Veter (Wind) and Luna (Moon) have been recorded. There was even a Viagra, in recognition of the drug the parents thanked as the cause for the birth.

The severity of the economic crisis could also push Russians towards exotic names in the hope that this will help their children stand out from the crowd, said psychologist Sergei Stepanov.

"They think that while Pyotr and Ivan may not have much of a chance in life then maybe Kosmos or Privatisation will get there."

But Alexandra Superanskaya, author of the anthology Russian Names, has a stern warning for parents seeking to name their children something exotic.

"Scientists have proven that people with bizarre names on average live five years less than other people."

Marina Lapenkova/AFP/Expatica

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