Russians take on advantageous Estonian names

  • 2001-06-14
  • Aleksei Gunter
TALLINN - Many Russians living in Estonia are eager to change their names to Estonian ones, claiming the new names will make their lives better, the daily newspaper Eesti Paevaleht reported June 10.

Eesti Paevaleht interviewed Maria, a student from Tartu University who adopted an Estonian surname this spring. She said a wave of name changes that occurred in spring was connected with the start of graduation exams in April.

The student, who did not want her full name to be published, said that graduation from high school signified the beginning of adult life, which led to enrollment as an undergraduate or the start of a career.

"If a person changes his name before the graduation exams, he will be able to get a graduation certificate with the new name on it," Maria said. "The old name gets left behind in the school archives. The new one will help in making a career."

Many people who decide to change their names refuse to disclose their reasons. But it is clear that having an Estonian name opens up job opportunities, particularly in the professional arena, which tends to exclude people with Russian names, said the paper.

The story in Eesti Paevaleht echoed a similar one published in the same newspaper two years ago. Written by prominent Estonian journalist Rein Sikk, who has been awarded for covering integration matters, the article pointed out that the standard of living for Russian speakers, many of whom are non-citizens, usually improved after they changed their name.

But Sikk also repeated an old Estonian proverb, which says that he who gives up his name, gives up his soul.

Russian businessman Peter Sedin, co-owner of the insurance company Nordica, changed his first name from the Russian Pyotr to the internationally acceptable Peter.

He declined to comment on the matter to The Baltic Times, saying it was a personal thing for anyone whether to change his name or not. He said he had not changed his family name. Some people just call him Peter, and some Pyotr, which is the correct one in Russian.

Viktor Vesterinen, a famous press photographer, used to have a different surname, Rudko. He told The Baltic Times that Vesterinen was his Estonian mother's name. "I went to school as Vesterinen, but then my mother married again and I took her new family name, (the Russian) Rudko, from the second grade."

Vesterinen admitted that having an Estonian name in Estonia does help to achieve more, if only indirectly.

"If a person has taken to his heart the culture and mentality of the Estonian people, it doesn't matter what name he or she has," said Vesterinen.

Even Ivar Must, a musician and the composer of "Everybody," Estonia's winning song at the recent Eurovision song contest, used to carry a Russian name, Igor Tsyganov. He was unavailable for comment.

According to the Estonian sociologist Ivi Proos, making a name sound more like an Estonian one is one way to ease social tension for a foreign person living in an alien society.

Some 200 people change their Russian names to Estonian ones annually, according to the Estonian Registry Office. From January to May this year, 29 people have done so.