In the Central Asian nation of Tajikistan, a person's name is no longer a private matter. The country's authorities insist that a name is also an indication of the degree of patriotism of its bearer.
When the Soviet union disintegrated in 1991, the majority of people in Tajikistan had Slavic-style surnames ending in “ov” and “ev” (or “ova” and “eva”) and patronymics ending in “ovich” and “evich” (or “ovna” and “evna”). In 2007, however, in an attempt to emphasize a break with the Russian cultural dominance, Tajikistan's president Emomali Sharipovich Rahmonov dropped the patronymic and the “ov” from the end of his surname, becoming Emomali Rahmon. He also urged the country's parents to register their children with “proper” Tajik names. Many officials followed Rahmon's suit, dropping patronymics and Slavic endings from their last names.
Many ordinary Tajiks, however, have been reluctant to part with the Slavic-style surnames. Some people did not see the need to change their names. Others felt that changing a name required too much bureaucratic hassle and under-the-table payments.
Besides, many of those who dropped their surname endings soon regretted doing so. One to 1.5 million Tajiks work in Russia, sending home money that is essential for keeping at least half of the country's population out of poverty. As competition for vital jobs in Russia increased and harassment from police and immigration officials became a norm, Tajik workers did not fail to notice that those of them who kept the Slavic “ov” endings were treated better [ru] than those who changed their names. This prompted [tj] many Tajiks to go back to their Slavic-sounding names.
It appears that the Tajiks’ unwillingness to embrace the “authentic” national surnames continues to worry the authorities. In a recent report, Tajikistan's Prosecutor General Sherkhon Salimzoda claimed [tj] that people's reluctance to drop Slavic endings in their surnames demonstrated “low levels of national consciousness and patriotism”. Salimzoda's report, published in the official government newspaper Jumhuriyat on January 18, notes that during the past three years, more than 500 students in three Dushanbe-based universities went back to Slavic-style surnames, while only two students chose to drop Slavic-sounding names. It is worth noting that Salimzoda himself was known as Salimov before be changed his surname in 2007.
The official's statement caused a stir among the country's social media users. Most netizens felt that Salimzoda went too far by suggesting that a surname cleansed of an “alien” ending is a sign of patriotism. Blogger Rishdor wrote [ru]:
Кто-то может ему наконец объяснить чем именно должен заниматься прокурор и чем он не должен заниматься? Вообще куда эти чиновники лезут? Как называть детей это решают родители и семья. У государства никто не спрашивает. Они итак все на свете регулируют. Может еще издадут приказ со списком патриотичных имен из которых родители должны выбирать? Не будет такого никогда. Выбирать имя себе и ребенку это наше право.
Если ты поменял свое имя и стал вместо Салимов Салимзода то это не значит что ты стал патриотом. С чего ты взял что условный Салимов или даже Иванов не может быть больше патриотом, чем Салимзода? Фамилия не показатель ничего. Поставь себе фамилию хотя Хайям хоть Рудаки хоть Сомони от этого ты как человек не изменишься. Дерьмо остается дерьмом даже без окончания “-ов”.
Will someone please clarify for him [Salimzoda] what a prosecutor's job is and what he should not get involved in? What are these officials trying to mess with anyway? It is up to parents and families to decide how they name children. Nobody asks the state for advice on this. They regulate everything anyway. Would they perhaps issue a decree listing all patriotic names that parents must choose from? This will never happen. It is our right to choose names for ourselves and our children.
Changing your name from Salimov to Salimzoda does not make you a patriot. What makes you think that someone named Salimov or even Ivanov cannot be a truer patriot than someone named Salimzoda? A surname does not really indicate anything. You can change your surname to Khayam [Persian scholar and poet] or Rudaki [Tajik-Persian poet] or Somoni [founder of the first Tajik empire] but this will not change you as a human being. Shit remains shit even without an “ov” ending.
Many Internet users were surprised by the fact that the statement came from an official whose responsibilities have little to do with naming. In the comments section on ozodi.org, Rustam asked [tj]:
Прокурори генерали ба номгузори чи кор дошта бошад ??? Охир ин ба салохияти прокурор ягон рабте надорад ку ? Ва баъдан бигзор хар фард чи тавре, ки ба худаш махкул аст хамон тарз номгузори намояд, чаро мо ба кори шахсии у дахолат кунем?..
What does the prosecutor general have to do with naming??? This matter is totally unrelated to his scope of work, isn't it? Besides, every individual can choose whatever name he or she likes. Why should we interfere with an individual's private matter?..
Meanwhile, many netizens appeared to sympathize with the official's dislike of “alien”-sounding surnames. Responding to Rishdor, Kholiknazar opined [tj]:
гапатон дуруст аст, ин кор кори прокурор нест. лекин ман уро мефахмам, у гами миллатамон аст. мо иван нестем ва худо хохад хеч вакт иван намешавем. номхои кухнаву зебо дорем, ва бояд аз ин номхо истифода барем, на аз номхои рус. фамилия хам айнан хамин тавр. точике ки худашро ихтиром мекунад ва аз таърихи хазорсолаи миллатамон фахр мекунад фамилияи ки буи рус дорад намегирад.
Your are right, it is not a prosecutor's job [to be concerned with naming practices]. However, I understand him. He is worried about our nation. We are not Ivans [a common Russian name] and, god willing, we will never become Ivans. We have ancient and beautiful names of our own, and we should use these names rather than the Russian ones. The same applies to surnames. A self-respecting Tajik who is proud of our thousand-years-long history will not carry a surname that has a Russian smell.
Naimjon added [tj]:
Ватандустони асил номхои ватандустона интихоб мекунанд.
Real patriots choose patriotic names.
And on ozodi.org, D. Dovudi suggested [tj]:
Бояд Конун дар бораи номгузори бароварда шавад, ки барои хамаи навтавалудшудагон хатми бошад. Меъерхои номгузори муайан карда шаванд, онхо бояд точики бошанд ва пасовандхои ов ва вич конунан манъ карда шаванд. Ин ягона рохи чори кардани номгузории точики аст.
They should write a naming law which would be mandatory for all newborns. They should design naming standards based on Tajik names and prohibit the endings “ov” and “vich”, This is the only way to put in place a system of Tajik naming.
The discussion about “proper” naming practices continues on two popular news websites, news.tj [ru] and ozodi.org (here and here) [tj]. It reflects larger debates within the country about what an “authentic” Tajik national culture should look like and what it means to be Tajik in general. Some Tajiks believe that the country should make a clear break with the Soviet past and its Russian-influenced culture, including by returning to a Persian alphabet and cleansing the Tajik language of all “impurities” adopted during the Soviet period. Others suggest that the country should keep the elements of Soviet or Russian culture that characterize the modern Tajik nation. There are also many other nuanced opinions about what a new Tajikistan should look like. These opinions often surface in social media discussions about holidays (both old and new), monuments, history, and national symbols.