Remove the Kolbasa? Tajiks De-Russify Family Names

In Tajikistan, a process of official de-Russification is underway.  This includes appeals to the citizenry to change Slavicized family names.

A feast of Tajik cuisine – no more kolbasa?

The lede to the VZGLIAD story (which does not have a byline) is that the citizens of Tajikistan, upon receiving new official identity cards, must spell their family names using only morphemes from the Tajik language.  Russian morphemes have been banned.  This law was passed back in March, and was signed by the country’s president.  Who had previously changed his name from the Russified Emomali Sharipovich Rahmonov to the more Tajik-sounding Emomali Rahmon.

Emomali Rakhmon. His friends call him “Email”.

According to the article, raditional Tajik family names end in such morphemes as –zod, –zoda, –i, –idn, and –far.  From now on, these are the only permitted morphological entities on official registration papers.  As was announced by the Deputy Chief of the Tajik Service for Registration of Citizens, an office under the Ministry of Justice.  Whose name happens to be Jaloliddin Rakhimov.

Or should I call him, Jaloliddin Rakhizod ? (heh heh- sounds like somebody that Superman should be bowing down to).

In googling Rakhimov, I found this English-language piece about the story, which provides more information about the background to this decision.  And here is another link, Paul Goble also covered this story.

The campaign to de-Russify names dates back to 2007, when the President changed his name to Rakhmon.  Ever since then it has been an uphill battle to de-Russify names.  This is part of an also uphill battle to form a national identity among Tajiks, and to inculcate more conservative (and Muslim) values among the youth.  According to the VZGLIAD piece, university students are particularly resistant to the persistent attempts to Tajikize names.  President Rakhmon has also criticized young women for wearing “modern dress”, and has criticized the youth in general for their constant use of cell phones in public places.

Tajik Language and Morphology

I did a bit of online research.  Here is a list of typical Tajik first names for boys:


Girls names:


Here is a more complete list of Tajik first names, which I found on this website.

Tajikistan: In the heart of Central Asia

Now, as for last names, a quick search doesn’t reveal much.  Googling “Tajik last names” just brings up this same story, about the de-Russification process.  But I couldn’t really find a decent list of Tajik surnames, the way they are now, and the way they are “supposed” to be.

As for the Tajik language itself, here is the wikipedia entry.  Apparently — and this is something I never knew before, it is actually an Indo-European language, from the Persian branch of languages.  It is also known as “Dari”.

Tajik’s origins as an Indo-European (or Indo-Aryan, as it is sometimes called) dialect are shown by such core vocabulary cognates as:

mādar (“mother)
māh (“month”)
nav (“new”)

Quick catalogue of inventory of this language:

The official dialect of the language possesses 6 vocalic phones, and 24 consonantal phonemes.  This is a reasonable number.

Grammar:  Word order is what linguists call SOV (Subject-Object-Verb).  For example, if this was English, we would say, “The dog the man bit.”  Starting with the biter, then the bit-ee, then the action of biting.  Here is the Tajik example from the wiki:

Man maktub navišta istoda-am.

(“I am writing a letter.”)

“I (man) letter (maktub) write (navišta)

[followed by some kind of participial form istoda-am, similar to English “am -ing” type verb construction, apparently]


Tajik has apparently lost the Indo-European markers for grammatical gender.  For number, it has only single and plural (as opposed to Proto-Indo-European and even Old Russian, which had singular, plural, and a special marker for dual).

Putting on my Linguistics cap, and just from my very very cursory skimming of the attributes of this language, I would have to say that its simplified grammar is not what one would expect from an isolated language, say one which developed all alone and lonesome up on the mountain tops; but rather shows the ear-marks of a language which was widely distributed geographically and employed by a diaspora across several territories.  Which is, in fact, what apparently happened with this language.  Tajik speakers dwell throughout Central Asia, there are pockets in Uzbekistan, Russia, Kazakhstan, and even a significant ethnic minority in Afghanistan.  It is the very process of a diaspora and slight creolization of a language (as new speakers are brought onboard through settlement or inter-marriage) that grammar tends to simplify and rid itself of ornamental frills.  This is a logical and even benign process of language development.

A Tajik family

In conclusion, I have to say, though, looking through the lists of Tajik names, it seems like there is more of an Arabic than a Russian influence. And in fact it is quite normal for cultures, when they come in contact, to affect each other in this manner. People should not worry too much, if other people are borrowing words and even names. If a boy’s first name is Muhammad, does it really matter if his last name is Volk-ov or Volk-Zod?
We are all human beings, after all. Like Shakespeare once said, “What’s in a name?” Does it matter if we call a rose a “rose” (English) or a “roza” (Russian) or a “barkhosta” (Tajik) ??

This entry was posted in Friendship of Peoples and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

4 Responses to Remove the Kolbasa? Tajiks De-Russify Family Names

  1. Cortes says:

    This book has a chapter on theories about the existence of a proto-global language in the Neolithic period. I found it quite credible.


    • yalensis says:

      Yeah, I’m sort of a believer myself, in the “proto-human language” theory.
      Not that there’s much factual evidence.
      It just seems to fit logically that there might have been a single proto-language which evolved into all the human languages of the world.
      That’s assuming that we all evolved from a relatively small group of people, say, a group of just a few hundreds or couple of thousand people. Then it is logical that they would have come up with some common words and invented a symbolic language that was handed down to the children through education.
      Of course, now the scientists think that Neanderthals had their own language too, so it’s not clear how that “fact” fits into the hypothesis.
      One of the theories which I like is that the human proto-language had clicking phonemes, like the African Bushmen. The clicks were acoustically of such a nature, that they could be heard far away. They could have started out as just vocal “calls”, which came to be incorporated into the catalogue of meaningful sounds in the first truly symbolic human language.
      Just a theory. Nobody knows how this miracle of language actually happened..


  2. Jen says:

    I think (and I am just trying to check on Google now) that “-zod” in Tajik is equivalent to “-zad” and “-zadeh” in Persian, and means “born of” or “descended from”.

    For example the girls’ name Parizada = fairy-born, Farrokhzad / Farrokhzadeh = descended from Farrokh.

    The children’s names in the Tajikam Portal you linked are also typical Persian names. (They’re also popular among Afghans because Afghans speak Dari as well.) The Persian epic Shahnameh (the Persian equivalent of the Iliad and the Odyssey for Greeks, or the Kalevala for Finns) is a popular source of names. Some names go right back to pre-Zoroastrian times eg “Anohito” is the Tajik form of “Anahita”, a pre-Zoroastrian fertility goddess.

    “Googoosh” might be popular because it happens to be the stage name of a female pop singer who was famous in Iran during the 1960s – 70s, was forced to stop singing after the 1979 revolution and only resumed her music career in the last 16 or so years. I have a double CD compilation set of old Persian pop and rock music and Googoosh features with her version of the Aretha Franklin song “Respect”.

    Googoosh at her peak as a singer in the late ’60s / early ’70s

    I have no idea of what are typical Tajik surnames but if they’re like most surnames in other cultures, they’ll be a mix of patronym-type surnames, occupation-based or placename-origin surnames. For example, the Persian surname Khomeini means someone from the town of Khomein and Rafsanjani means someone from Rafsanjan. And of course you get surnames like Farrokhzadeh, Rezazadeh and Mohammadzadeh.

    Incidentally the famous British rock star Freddie Mercury was originally born Farrokh Bulsara and his background was Parsi Indian. Parsi Indians originally came to western India as Zoroastrian refugees fleeing Muslim persecution in Iran in the 700s AD. The surname Bulsara appears to come from the name of a town in India.

    I am guessing that President Rakhmon wants to stress Tajikistan’s Persian heritage vis-a-vis the Turkic heritage of the republics that border Tajikistan.


  3. yalensis says:

    Thanks for comment, Jen, fascinating info!
    That’s an interesting point about the Persian/Turkic angle.
    The Western press is stressing the supposed “anti-Russian” nature of Rakhmon’s project, because that’s the sort of thing that gets THEIR rocks off. The reality is, that Russians and Persian people have never been enemies, to my knowledge. They may have scuffled at times in the past, but not recently. As far as I know, they usually get along pretty well, and I doubt if many Russians are upset by Tajiks changing their names.

    And Ossetians, who are also of Persian heritage, way back, are among the most pro-Russian tribes of the Caucasus.

    Well, after your comment I cannot NOT post a Freddie Mercury video. And by the way, I think that Freddie’s exotic heritage shows not only in his face, but also in some of his music and lyrics. But here is one that The Great man didn’t write himself, but performs OH so well!


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s