Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbayev doesn’t like the name Kazakhstan.
“Kazakhstan has the ‘stan’ ending like many other nations of Central Asia. At the same time, foreigners take an interest in Mongolia, the population of which makes up only two million, but its name does not end in ‘-stan,’” he told onlookers while visiting a school in Atyrau, according to his official website. “Perhaps, eventually it is necessary to consider an issue of changing the name of our country into the ‘Kazakh Nation’, but first of all, it should necessarily be discussed with people.” (His proposed name would be rendered as “Kazakh Eli” in English.)
This isn’t Nazarbayev’s first foray into nomenclature. The president, a septuagenarian autocrat who has led Kazakhstan since the Soviet Union’s dissolution in 1991, has built up quite a cult of personality after years of one-party rule. In 1997, he moved the nation’s capital from Almaty, the country’s largest city, to Akmola, a small town deep in the Kazakh steppe, and renamed it Astana—literally “capital” in Kazakh. The generic name is suspected to be a placeholder for Nursultan, his own name, but Nazarbayev has graciously delayed naming the city after him until he dies.
Renaming an entire country is an even bolder move by Nazarbayev, but it isn’t uncommon worldwide.
Read more. [Image: Phil Noble/Reuters]
It was approximately 8:55 am last Friday morning when a stranger asked for my name. I was in a long line at Starbucks, and our conversation started with raised eyebrows from her—the barista—followed by my drink order: “I’ll have a Grandé mocha.” There might have been a hint of uptalk at the end of that statement, but there was nothing uncertain or wavering about my response to the next question. She asked for my name, and I shouted, without missing a beat, “Kristen.” Articulating my real first name would have been awfully inconvenient, given the noise level around us and the need for efficiency. “Svati” always warrants repeating. My middle name, Kirsten, is also unfamiliar, so I modify it slightly to Kristen, which everyone recognizes. I am one of many "uncommonly named" people who do this all the time, at Starbucks and elsewhere.
An hour later, at the Atlantic headquarters, a senior editor saw me sipping my mocha and surmised that I’d stolen someone else’s drink. This, too, happens all the time: Drinking out of disposable coffee cups scrawled with “Kristen”—or “Cristin,” “Christen,” and the like, because baristas are notorious for putting creative twists on even the most ubiquitous names—invites questions and teasing remarks. “Guess Kristen didn’t get her coffee today.” I had barely begun to explain—”Ha ha, actually, this is just the name…”—when our site’s executive editor John Gould interrupted and self-identified as a member of the fake-Starbucks-name club.
For instance, are people named “Tall” actually tall? This, and other questions, are examined through cartography.
Mary Margaret Fletcher had a flutter of worry recently. She’s getting married next spring, and plans to change her last name to her husband’s. But one day it dawned on her: “I was like, ‘wait,’” she said. “My last name is in my email address.’“
Fletcher, an archivist who lives in Vermont, is one of the roughly 80 percent of brides expected to drop her maiden name upon marriage. That decision has always been a mix of the personal and the practical. It requires a lot of legwork, including interaction with multiple federal agencies and a trip to the dreaded DMV. But it also forces women to think about how they’ll be perceived with a new name and, at some level, a new identity.
The proliferation of online profiles and the growing demand for digital presence has managed to complicate both aspects.
Read more. [Image: A screenshot of The Atlantic’s very own Eleanor Britton nee Barkhorn’s Facebook profile]
“Before I came out and was still on a path of planning to marry a man,” says Victoria, “I was pretty radical and said I’ll never change my name.” But when Victoria Cunningham married Lita Grossman, in Washington D.C. in 2006, three years before same-sex marriage was legally recognized in the District, she was forced to reconsider. Finally, both wound up changing to a third surname.
Personal and professional considerations aside, for women entering heterosexual marriages, the last name decision often comes down to ideology. But for newlywed same-sex couples navigating their way through the thorny question of family nomenclature, there’s no tradition in place to buck or to follow. With the overturn of DOMA and an expanding geography of states legalizing same-sex marriage (nine plus the District of Columbia), it remains to be seen what naming trends will emerge as same sex-couples decide whether or not to use shared names to formally identify as units, and why.
Read more. [Image: Artur Bainozarov/Reuters]
So what does the Mary trend mean? First, it’s the growing cultural value of individuality, which leads to increasing diversity. People value names that are uncommon. When Mary last held the number-one spot, in 1961, there were 47,655 girls given that name. Now, out of about the same number of total births, the number-one name (Sophia) was given only 21,695 times. Conformity to tradition has been replaced by conformity to individuality. Being number one for so long ruined Mary for this era.
Read more. [Image: 20th Century Fox]