Ph Imbalance Hair-raising Experience

A phew idle thoughts while waiting phor Moscow's 850th anniversary to arrive (and what a phine celebration it will be!): What's with the Ph imbalance, you ask? First, let me ask you: What's in a name? Or rather, what's in my last name?

Well, for one thing, there's no "Ph." But that hasn't stopped half of creation from spelling it "Philipov."

Oh, I assure you, I've seen a little bit of everything. Filipon. Filipox. Filpax (O.K., the other two are obvious typos, but 'Filpax?'). Flipipov, Filidip, Phil E. Pauve, Phil E. Peaux ("Oh, I'm sorry, Mr. Peaux. It's without the 'x', right?").

But none of these are quite so common as "Philipov." Growing up in suburban Massachusetts, I had to correct people all the time.

And it didn't stop there. It seems that there's a gene in many humans that makes them want to put a "Ph" in whenever they hear the "f" sound.

How else to explain the conphederacy of pholk who always write "Philipov?" A hotel clerk in Amsterdam. A hotel clerk in Vilnius. The guy who did my accreditation to the now-eliminated presidential palace in Grozny. All Italians to date.

To the latter, I always say, "Ma guarda, dai! There is no 'Ph' in Italian!" (I know this, being half Italian.) To which my Italian acquaintances shrug, as if to say, Dispiace, Signor Philipov. Non c'e` niente da fare.

And truly there is nothing they can do. This is clearly a matter of interplanetary pull. How else to explain the alarming number of Russians -- you know, the people for whom Slavic last names are native -- who spell my name with a Ph!!!???

I don't mind "Filippov," the predictable Russification of my name's Serbian origins. But "Philipov?" And yet, chillingly, I get that all the time here.

One highly reputable Russian source -- my wife -- told me that people stick the unfamiliar Ph glyph on all last names that look or sound foreign.

Yes, it's true. It appears that at Moscow's prestigious Maurice Thorez (does his name get an 'h'? On second thought, I don't care) Institute of Phoreign Languages, now the Moscow State Linguistic University, they actually teach you to put in the "Ph" when dealing with phoreigners.

I can just picture the instructor, whispering in conspiratorial tones as he scrawls the offending moniker on the blackboard.

"O.K., class, these people aren't like us, see ..." The Russian Foreign Ministry offers another explanation. It seems the "Ph" is left over from back when everybody's second language was French.

Oh, that makes perfect sense.

About now, some Greek scholar is going to write a letter to the editor and say "Historically, of course, the 'Philipov' spelling is closer to the original Greek."

To which I say, hey buster, I know all about history. I know that 850 years ago, when Moscow was being founded (and what a hallowed date that was!), most Russians who could write couldn't decide how to spell their own language. I know that every few 850 years, lots of things change.

But that doesn't help me in the here and now. Nor does it explain how and why some guy in the Russian passport department hauled off and rechristened my wife, at least for the next four years, "Mrs. Yelena Philipov."

A filipox on him.