Autumn 1996 (4.3)

Names - Part 3

History in a Nutshell
20th Century Personal Naming Practices in Azerbaijan

by Jala Garibova and Betty Blair

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Foreign Names
Examination of birth certificates of people born in the 1960s-1990s shows that Azerbaijani naming patterns remained almost the same during this period, although new names of foreign origin became fashionable, such as Dinara, Diana, Elza, Elvira, Ellada, Elina, Kamilla and Emil.

However, there seems to be a distinctiveness in the ease with which russified families in Azerbaijan began to embrace "foreign sounding names" that imitated the Russian phonological patterns. For example, from 100 names of female students in the "Russian Track" at one of Baku's central schools (1967-1980), 13 had foreign names. However, during the same period, there were no foreign names among 80 names registered in the "Azerbaijani Track." Though this sample is not very large, it indicates the tendency among Azerbaijanis who wanted to become russified to give foreign names to their children. Some of the most popular Azerbaijani "foreign-sounding names" included Samir, Samira, Sabina, and Jamila, which are all favorites among Russian-speaking people.

Opposing Russification
It's true, however, that not everyone was eager to embrace the Soviet system nor the new russified categories of names that began to emerge. As Soviet philosophy had been imposed, naturally, some Azerbaijanis did not endorse it and, as was only natural, naming became a subtle tool by which to express resistance.

While some Azerbaijanis were trying to gain social and political status by russifying their personal names, others made equally calculated efforts to preserve their national identity by deliberately choosing names of Azerbaijani origin. In search of "fresh, new-sounding" names, Azerbaijanis once again drew upon various sources, especially literary ones-Azerbaijani books, novels and plays. In fact, many new names were introduced by the early 20th century Azerbaijani poets and writers.

Child playing on statue that commemorated the coming of the Bolsheviks which brought Soviet power to Azerbaijan. In Baku, 1995.

For example, at least 14 names were incorporated into the Azerbaijani naming system from the works of Jafar Jabbarli, Azerbaijan's first major playwright of the Soviet period. These included male names such as Oqtay (one who stays with his tribe or people), Yashar (existing or living), Elkhan (pronounced el-KHAN, one of the earliest Turkic ranks), Aydin (clear), Qorkhmaz (pronounced qorkh-MAZ, fearless), Donmaz (not shifting or turning from "The Way") and Sonmaz (eternally burning or eternally lit).
Jabbarli's female names included Almas (diamond), Solmaz (unfading, always fresh), Gyultakin (pronounced gyul-ta-KIN, like a flower), Sevil (se-VIL, be loved), Gyular (smiling, laughing), Gyunduz (daytime) and Gyulush (laughter).

Sometimes an entire new Azerbaijani category was created. For example, new combinations emerged which related to the Moon. In Eastern cultures, the Moon is admired for its mysterious beauty and light and has traditionally been part of Eastern naming patterns, particularly in Arabic and Persian. It also existed in Azerbaijani naming practices in choices such as Gamar (Arabic, moon) and Mehpare (Persian, a piece of the Moon).

In the late 1940s and 50s, names for the Moon using the Turkic root "Ay" (pronounced like "eye") were introduced by the famous Azerbaijani poet Samad Vurgun [see feature in AI 4:1, 20, Spring 1996].

Vurgun created names such as Aygyun (ay-GYUN, moon-sun) and Aybeniz (ay-beh-NIZ, moon-faced). Vurgun's own daughter was named Aybeniz and his granddaughter, Aygyun.

After these names became established in the society, people began creating new names with the stems "Ay" (moon) and "Gyun" (sun), in names such as Aynur (moonlight), Gyunay (sun-moon), and Ayten (like the moon). Even today, Azerbaijanis still build upon this stem and continue to introduce new names, such as Aytaj (moon crown), Ayshan (moon-happy) and Aysel (moon-rushing waters).

Azerbaijanis incorporated names found in the works of Georgian writers, too. For example, the Azerbaijani translation of the epic "The Warrior in the Tiger's Skin," by the 12th century Georgian poet Shota Rustaveli, was very popular during the 1930s. Two characters-Tariyel and Avtandil-were especially loved by the Azerbaijanis and incorporated into the treasury of male names. However, Tinatin, the name of the heroine in the same epic, was rarely used in Azerbaijan.

No Official Policy
Though russification of names was a logical outcome of the Soviet national policy, the government did not issue any official decrees or ultimatums relating to personal names. The choice remained highly expressive of the inherent values within the society. As deviation from established norms and practices in any society could possibly subject a child to rejection and discrimination, few parents would deliberately risk their own child's future at the expense of their own egos. In that sense, under such circumstances, names can become a vehicle of negotiation and compromise.

Choosing names from literature or shaping Azerbaijani names around Russian phonological patterns allowed people to identify with current status trends while maintaining their own ethnic identity. It allowed them to participate in the new power structure without actually crossing the line to embrace it-at least, in their own minds. In the selection of a great many of these names, the argument could be made for either Azerbaijani identity or Soviet identity depending upon the pragmatic need of the moment.

At the same time, one of the most dramatic changes in naming practices that occurred in the Soviet Azerbaijan Republic was the tendency to get rid of Islamic personal or first names.

Although names such as Ali, Mohammad, Husein, Hasan, and Mahmud still do exist in the Republic today, they are not as frequent among Azerbaijanis in Iran, whose population is estimated to be three or four times (25 to 30 million) that of the Azerbaijani population in the Republic (7.5 million).

Curiously, though personal names tended to be "secularized" in the Republic after 70 years of Soviet rule, surnames (family names) still maintained their religious association. As ironic as this may sound, it can be explained.

The practice of the general public adopting official family names began during the 1920s after the Soviets had come into power in Azerbaijan. Until that time, the majority of people did not have official surnames throughout the region, including Turkey and Iran. Of course, there were exceptions.

But for the majority of people who did not have official surnames, Soviet bureaucrats often resolved the problem simply by taking the name of the individual's father and adding traditional suffixes, such as "-yev" / "-yeva" or "-ov" / "-ova", meaning "born of." Examples: Ali becomes Aliyev (male) or Aliyeva (female), Husein becomes Huseinov or Huseinova, Mammad (short for Mohammad) becomes Mammadov or Mammadova.

Azerbaijanis in the Republic had great difficulty officially clinging to traditional suffixes of Azerbaijani surnames, such as "-zade" (Persian origin, meaning "born of" as in Pashazade or Alizade) and "-li" / "-lu" (Turkic origin, meaning "with" or "belonging to" as in Khanli or Koprulu).

The irony of this process is that, despite the tendency during this period towards secularization, the Soviet officials handled everything in such a bureaucratic fashion that, despite their official atheistic position towards religion, nearly every family name in Azerbaijan retained a religious association. This pattern, created nearly 80 years ago, has fossilized today, despite the fact that the personal names which reflect more of the nuances of political and social trends do not convey religious affiliations nearly as often.

During this same period of the early 1920s, the same process of secularization was occurring in Iran. However, the policy of the government of Reza Shah Pahlavi penetrated even to the choice of surname. Reza Shah forced women to take off the chador; he legitimized Western clothing for both men and women. Intellectually, the Shah sponsored linguistic and literary studies to search for the historic roots of the Persian and Pahlavi identity (as opposed to religious identity).

In such a social environment, people were encouraged to be more experimental and creative in choosing surnames and not simply to take on the names of their fathers (with the Islamic overtones), as was done in Azerbaijan. Some religious surnames were chosen. As well, some family names were selected that ended with "-pour" and "-zadeh," meaning "born of," which would generally have required the adoption of the name of one's father (in most cases a religious name). in general, a much broader range of categories came into existence because of the Shah's policy. Some family names related to topography, others to professions, and some borrowed abstract concepts which enveloped positive human characteristics.

For example, many Azerbaijanis in Iran acquired family names from the cities in which they were living (Tehrani, Tabrizi, Isfahani, Shirazi, Meshadi). Some took on the names of their occupations (Kaffash-shoemaker, Ipakchi-silk trader, Faturachi-rope maker, Damirchi-blacksmith, Chorakchi-bread maker, Attar-spice seller). Others defined abstract terms (Omid-hope, Roshan-enlightenment, Azad-freedom, etc.)

Once again, there is a certain historical twist that today many surnames of Azerbaijanis living in the Islamic Republic of Iran do not carry any religious association while the majority of surnames in the Republic of Azerbaijan do, despite the long term domination of an atheistic governing body.

The opposite holds true for personal names of Azerbaijanis living in each of these countries. In the Republic, there is a tendency for most personal names to be secular; while in Iran, most personal names carry religious connotations. MORE . . .

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From Azerbaijan International (4.3) Autumn 1996.
© Azerbaijan International 1996. All rights reserved.

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