It actually wasn’t as hard as I’d thought to Russify or Estonianize the names of all of my characters (except Ginny), even after over 18 years of knowing them by Western names. The verdict I got from several fronts was that it was pretty distracting and historically and culturally inaccurate to have an Amy in a very Russian novel, unless she comes from a MAJOR Anglophile family or is a member of royalty or nobility. (Or, say, if she’d really loved the character of Amy in Little Women and had demanded she be called by that name after finding out it’s the English translation of her own name.) And as much as I love the name Amy, I just had to admit it really does seem out of place on an upper-middle-class Russian who was born in 1899. She was born in St. Petersburg, but she’s not a member of the Royal Family. It also just looks weird when everyone else has very Russian names, esp. the male protagonist, who has the most common male Russian name ever! So now:
Elizabeth has become Eliisabet, the Estonian form of Elizabeth. She’s still called Liza for short, and I did a find/replace on Lizzy for Liza as well. I thought about using one of the Estonian nickname forms, Liisa or Liisu, but I figured it has almost the same sound as Liza anyway and might seem confusing. The difference between Liisa and Liza is like splitting hairs; it’s essentially the same name, only with a slight difference in pronunciation.
Catherine has become Katrin, her nickname of choice for her full Estonian name, Katariina. Her official name is Yekaterina, but she never uses it because of what a proud Estonian she is. She’s sometimes called Katya, but other than that, she only answers to her Estonian name.
Nikolas is called Kolya instead of Nicky for short. It might get confusing when they’re also talking about the younger Kolya (Nikolay) at the same time, but it’s pretty clear from the context if they mean the older or younger one. That’s the only foreign name besides Ginny I retained, since it really would get confusing if there were TWO Nikolays, and his use of the Greek form of his name does fit in with what an intellectual he is.
Margaret, Ginny’s mother, is now Margarita. Even though she did live in East Prussia for at least ten years, Margaret still isn’t the German form of her name.
Rather painfully, Peter is now Pyotr. Peter has long been my next-fave boys’ name of all time, and the name I want to use if I have two boys (my future firstborn son will be Samuel William). But I never really liked how it looks or sounds in Russian. Petro is the Ukrainian equivalent, but they’re not Ukrainians, and there’s nothing to explain or remotely justify why he would’ve been walking around with the name Petro when he has no Ukrainian ancestry or otherwise connection.
Katrin’s surname went from Nikona to Nikonova. I pulled the surnames of my original cast of characters from the out of date 1965 encyclopedia my dad had, and at the time I didn’t even know about male vs. female endings of Russian names. I guess I was lucky I picked Furtseva as the surname for one of the secondary female characters, not knowing it really was a feminine form. I’m assuming I saw the name Nikon in reference to the Patriarch Nikon, who worked with Ivan Grozniy (Tsar Ivan Ryurikovich IV) to majorly reform the Russian Orthodox Church. That was his forename, not a surname, and so the surname formed from it would be Nikonov(a). Many Estonians kowtowed to their oppressors and adopted Russian forenames and surnames in the 19th century, so that’s well within the realm of historical accuracy.
Leon became Leontiy, and my female protagonist’s patronymic went from Leonovna to Leontiyevna.
Not as hard as I thought it’d be, Amy finally became Lyubov all the time. I decided to do a find/replace with the nickname form Lyuba (except in the cases where she’s called by her full name, or first name and patronymic). She’s still got the same name, only in a different form. Lyubov literally means “love,” and Amy means “loved.” Besides, I know Lyubov looks more like a surname than a woman’s name to the average non-Russian or non-Russophile. Lyuba also sounds and looks more feminine period.
In every chapter after her mother’s remarriage, I also changed her name from Mrs. Zhukova to Mrs. Lebedeva. I kept her name as Zhukova in the chapter where she remarries, but after that, I thought it was best to change it, since that’s not her name anymore. Leaving it as was in that one chapter is like a transition. I hated how, in the Five Little Peppers series, Mrs. Pepper is immediately referred to as Mrs. Fisher from the moment she remarries Dr. Adoniram Fisher late in the second book. I’ve thought of her as Mrs. Pepper for a long time and can’t immediately make the transition in my mind to her as Mrs. Fisher, like she never had another name! I know that’s how things were done back then, but still! Even someone going by the rules of the late 19th century would probably need some time to adjust to someone’s brand new name, and would probably get it wrong and use the old name before getting used to calling and thinking of that person by the new name!
I think I only have one more cursory sweep to make through the first six chapters, and then I’m done. I’m not even concerned about word count at this point, since I know I’ll only be targeting agents who welcome hefty books, or agents who even ask you to leave word count out, since it can be wrong so often. And when you’re dealing with a deliberately long book, there’s only so much you can cut without seriously destroying the storyline, the characters, and the world you’ve built. I cut what needed cutting, put new stuff in, and am feeling quite satisfied with the results of all of that hard work. Besides, if you worry too much about arbitrary so-called rules, like queries having to be 250 words or less or debut manuscripts having to be under 100,000 words, you’re worrying too much about form over substance. Rules are made to be broken, after all, and there are always plenty of successful exceptions to so-called rules.