My Name

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.



  1. Chava:

    I thought the reason the Russian ‘x’ is transliterated as ‘kh’ was more to do with Eastern European languages that use the Latin alphabet and how they denote that guttural sound. Does ‘kh’ not sound like the ‘ch’ in Bach?

    My transliterated Hebrew name is impossible for Americans to pronounce. Not only does it have the ‘ch’, but my full name also has a ‘j’ that is pronounced ‘yo’.

  2. Jonathan:

    There are multiple systems for transliterating Russian to English, including some that use many dots on letters, some that try to match other Slavic languages that use the Latin alphabet (for the most part not Polish)… One problem is the transliteration of German-origin family names from Russian to English producing phonetic spellings in English at odds with traditional spellings in English. Shteyner is the result of a transliteration system that ignores history. (Steiner)

  3. Boris:

    Hi Tanya,

    You may want to add a note regarding the location of the stress in your name. Surely Americans try a variety of different stress patterns?

    Incidentally, the IMO-official people are very responsive to suggestions in changing transliterations. I know that a few Russian names have been changed to the spellings that the participants themselves use in English.

  4. Shari:

    Have you ever analyzed your name using numerology? I can’t say I’m a believer in numerology, but I discovered something interesting with my names.

    Shari is my nickname, but it is also the name I was most called when I was young. My official first name is Sharon, and that is what I was called at school and at most of my jobs. When I compared the numerological results for my two names, the character traits matched how I feel about the names. “Sharon” is more serious, business-like, methodical, organized…left brained. While “Shari” is more creative, expressive, happy-go-lucky…right brained. I feel I do have both sets of traits and I tended to use the name that goes with the activity I’m doing…without knowing it.

    It is probably just coincidence, but I found it very interesting.

Leave a comment