Do you know that some Russian letters are shaped exactly as some letters in the English alphabet? The shapes are the same, but the sounds of the letters are not. My Russian last name can be completely spelled using English letters: XOBAHOBA.
The adequate translation of my last name into English is Hovanova. You might ask where the first “K” came from. For many years French was considered the language of diplomacy and the USSR used French as an official language for traveling documents.
But “H” in French is silent and “Hovanova” would have been pronounced as “Ovanova.” To prevent that, Russians used “kh” for the “h” sound.
Now to my first name. I was born Tatyana, for which Tanya is a nickname. Back in Russia, Tanya is used for children and students and Tatyana for adults and teachers. As I was a student throughout my 30 years of life in Russia, I was always Tanya. When I moved to the US, I decided to keep using Tanya, which I much preferred to Tatyana.
A psychiatrist might think that I wanted to be a student forever or refused to grow up. Or I could be accused of being lazy, as Tanya is shorter. In reality, I was just trying to be considerate. Tanya is easier to write and to spell for Americans. Anyway, I already had enough problems spelling out my last name in this country.
Now that more information is getting translated from Russian into English, I keep stumbling on references to me as to Hovanova or Tatyana. For example, the IMO official website used Russian sources to come up with the names of the Russian participants. They then translated the names directly into English, instead of going through French. As a result, on their website I am Tatyana Hovanova. This is not unique to me: many Russian names on the IMO website differ from those peoples’ passport names.
By the way, if you Google my last name you will encounter other Khovanovas. Khovanova is not a particularly unusual name. Only one of the Khovanovas that came up in my search results is a close relative. Elizabeth Khovanova is my father’s second wife and a dear friend. She is also an accomplished geneticist.
Khovanova is used only for females in Russia. The male equivalent is Khovanov. Surely you have heard of my half-brother Mikhail Khovanov and his homologies.Share: