Install

Get the latest updates as we post them — right on your browser

. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

In Minsk, Any Other Name Is Often Sweet

Thousands of Belarussians make a name for themselves every year.

Waiting in lines at the Justice Ministry's registry office in Minsk and at the six regional offices stand Belarussians embarrassed about their first names, patronymics and last names; or simply eager to correct a linguistic error or to unite a family separated in name.

More than 2,000 Belarussians change their names each year, a ministry spokesman said in a telephone interview. A common reason given is neblagozvuchniye or disharmonious names -- odd ones, in other words.

Officials at the Belarussian Justice Ministry refused to give examples of unpopular names, but Interfax reported that them are Mr. Urod (Mr. Freak), Miss Kozyol (Miss Goat) and Mr. Zayats (Mr. Hare).

The least liked names in Belarus seem to be Zayats and Kozyol, both of which are more offensive than their literal meanings. But they were closely followed by Mogila (Little Grave) and Baran (Sheep).

And then there are the names that strike Belarussian ears as funny. For example, Opochka sounds a lot like popochka (bottom), Golopupkin like goly pupok (naked belly button) and Pukker like pukhat (farter) -- not exactly the same as the real words but close enough to make for a miserable time at school.

One registry official said Belarus seems to have more than the usual number of strange names, but he was at a loss to explain why.

Another official told Interfax that he suspected there would be a rush to change names in a few years, when children with nontraditional first names like Isaura and Luis-Alberto grow up. Latin American names became very popular in the early 1990s when soap operas hit the former Soviet Union.

People saddled with odd names, however, only made up 10 percent of the year's applicants for new names, Interfax reported.

The majority of changes are for more prosaic reasons, said Alexander Shushanets, a professor at the Language Knowledge Institute in Minsk, which provides the forms needed to apply for a different name.

Some Belarussian names can be spelled in dozens of different ways. Often people will have several spellings of their names on their documents. One reason for the variety is the difference between the Catholic and Orthodox ways of spelling names. Belarus, which borders Catholic Poland, has a number of Jans as well as Ivans.

The institute issues a document saying the names are the same, and then the Jan or Ivan in question can get his name changed. Most people adopt the Orthodox variety, Shushanets said.

Russia also has its fair share of amusing last names. One former personnel employee at a Russian company collected every single amusing surname that came to her office by fax, letter or telephone. Her list, grouping 265 names, has a certain poetic quality to it.

Sopilnik, Skutelnik, Tsegelnik, Sedelnik, Manenok, Ogranenok, Remenink, Strchak, Pyatak, Cheban, Chumak, Mamuk, Larik.

The list is missing names like Urod and Baran, so could easily stretch to 500.