A primer on Tatar names

Tatar is a Turkic language, part of the Kipchak–Bulgar sub-branch (not to be confused with Crimean Tatar, a member of the Oghuz sub-branch). The Tatar people are a large, well-known ethnic group in Russia. Tatar is also spoken by the Finno–Ugric Maris (who live along the Volga and Kama rivers) and the Qararays of Mordovia.

Many Tatars also live in Ukraine, Kazakhstan, Azerbaijan, Uzbekistan, China, Turkmenistan, Kyrgyzstan, Turkey, Romania, Belarus, Lithuania, and the U.S. Smaller diaspora groups can be found in Canada, Estonia, Poland, Georgia, Armenia, Bulgaria, and Finland.

Some of the children in Mrs. Brezhneva’s Kyiv orphanage in my first three Russian historicals are Tatars, orphaned or taken from their parents during the terror and chaos of the Civil War and early years of the Soviet Union. When the orphanage partially, surreptitiously relocates to Isfahan, Iran, during the Great Terror in 1937, one of the fifty children selected is a 15-year-old Tatar. Matviyko Zyuganov, who lives many years in Kraków, also knew several Tatars.

Alphabet:

Prior to 1928, Tatar was written in Arabic script, with a few letters borrowed from Persian. In 1928, the Latin alphabet was introduced, and then, in 1939, Cyrillic was forced upon the Tatar people. It’s so richly ironic how Russification was forced on all these non-Russians when Stalin himself was Georgian.

Kryashen (or Keräşen) Tatars, who are Orthodox Christians, have been using the Cyrillic alphabet since the 19th century. They still use the pre-1917 letters for religious words, as well as Ä, Ö, Ӱ, and НГ (NG).

The official Tatar Cyrillic alphabet has 39 letters, including Ә (Ä), Җ (C), Ң (Ñ), Ө (Ö), Ү (Ü or W), and Һ (H). Additionally, Ч is transliterated as Ç instead of CH; Ш is Ş instead of SH; Щ is ŞÇ instead of SHCH; B can be W instead of only V; Ж is J instead of ZH; K can be Q instead of only K; У can be W instead of only U; X is X instead of KH; and Ы is I instead of Y.

Surnames:

Owing to so many years of cruel Russification policies, many Tatar surnames have endings like -in(a), -ov(a), and -(y)ev(a). However, as with all other peoples historically subjugated by the Russian Empire and USSR, they have their own native twists. Examples of surnames include Yakhin, Khismatullin, Shabayev, Gimayev, Akhatov, Ibragimov, Gizzatullin, Fayzulin, and Batyrshin.

Historically, Tatars used patronymics. Surnames appeared in the late 19th century and replaced patronymics. Under the Soviet heel, patronymics reappeared, though in the Russian style, as middle names.

Name sources:

Again owing to Russian influence, Tatars who live in Russia must have their names translated into Russian on their passports (along with their true Tatar names). Christian Tatars use their religious names on official documents, and their Tatar names in everyday life.

Besides Russian, many Tatar names are adopted from Arabic, Persian, Turkish, Mongolian, and Hebrew. After the 1917 Revolution, many people used the popular invented names such as Ninel, Novomir, Velira, and Vladlen. Other people named their kids after important political or cultural figures, like Albert Einstein and Fidel Castro.

Common suffixes in Muslim origin names include -ulla (Allah), -abd (servant of God), -din (religion), -jun (soul), -can (spells), -nisa (woman), -camal (spell), and -bikä/bibi/banu (princess, lady).

Sample names:

Male:

Ähtär (Star)
Alim (Wise)
Albert
Alfrid
Alikber (God is great)
Almas (It will not take [away])
Altynbay
Amazat (Greatness)
Amerhan (Pure)
Ämir (Prince, commander)
Ansar (Helper)
Arislan, Arslan (Lion)
Artur
Aydar (Forelock, topknot)
Aynur (Moonlight beam)
Äxmät (Ahmed) (To thank, to praise)
Ayrat (The name of a West Mongolian tribe)
Azat (Free)
Azgar (Smallest, junior)

Biktimer
Cihanşa
Çıñğız (Genghis)
Damir (Long live world revolution; separate from the Serbian, Slovenian, and Croatian name Damir)

Eduard
Elbrus (After the mountain in Transcaucasia)
Emil
Erik

Färhät (Happiness, elation)
Färit (Unique)
Fäyzulla (Victorious God)
Ferdinand, Ferdinant

Ğabdulla (Abdullah) (Servant of God)
Ğädel (Justice)
Ğäskär (Soldier)
Gaziz (Beloved, respected, powerful)
Ğizzätulla (Majesty/honor/might of Allah)

Ildar (Ruler)
Ildus (Friend of the Motherland)
Ilfat (Friend of the Motherland)
Ilgiz (Traveller)
Ilşat (Gladness of the Motherland)
Ilyas (Elijah)
Irek (Free)
Iskändär (Alexander)
Isxak (Isaac)

Kamil (Perfect)
Kärim (Noble, generous)
Kazbek (After one of the major mountains in Transcaucasia)
Lenar, Linar (Lenin’s army)

Mäjit (Glorious)
Marat (After Jean-Paul Marat of the French Revolution)
Marsel (After French politician Marcel Cachin)
Mintimer (I’m iron)
Möbin (Distinct, clear)
Möxämmät (Mohammed)

Näcip (Intelligent, noble)
Nail (Attainer)

Radiq, Radik, Radiy
Radmir (Happy peace or Happy world)
Rafaäl, Rafael, Rafail
Rail
Ramil
Räşit (Rightly guided)
Rawil
Rinat
Rişat (Richard)
Robert
Röstäm, Rustam (A great hero in Persian folklore)
Rudolf
Ruşan
Ruslan

Sabircan
Şähit (Witness)
Şamil (Either the Tatar form of Samuel or the Arabic name Shamil, which means “comprehensive, inclusive, thorough, extensive”)
Şärif (Virtuous, eminent)
Söläyman (Solomon)

Tahir
Talgat (Sight, face)
Timer, Timur (Iron)
Timerxan
Toktamiş

Xäbib (Darling, belovèd)
Xäbibulla (Friend of Allah)
Xäbir
Xäliulla
Xämzä (Steadfast, strong)
Xasan (Handsome)
Xäydär (Lion)

Yaşer (Will live)
Yosyf (Joseph)
Zagip (Beautiful)
Zahit (Devout, pious)
Zäki (Pure)
Zinetula
Zöfär (Chirping)

Female:

Adelina, Adelä
Aida (After Verdi’s opera)
Albinä (White)
Älfiä (Thousand)
Alfiya, Alfira (Long-lived, supreme)
Alinä
Alisä
Alsu (Scarlet water)
Altynçürä
Äminä (Truthful)
Änisä (Friend, friendly)
Asiä
Aybanu (Moon lady)
Aygöl (Moon flower)
Ayninur (Light of the eyes)
Aysilu (Beautiful as the Moon)
Aznagul (Tender flower)

Bağazat (Delight, joy)
Bibiğäyşä
Bikä
Çaçak (Blossom)
Çulpan (Venus)

Dana
Dilbar (Sweetheart, charming)
Dinara (Treasure; taken from the name of the golden Persian coin)
Elina
Elvirä (All true)
Elza

Fäniya
Färidä
Fatima
Firaya
Firdausa (Paradise)
Firüzä (Turquoise)
Flyura (Possibly the Tatar form of Flora)

Ğäliä, Äliä, Aliya (Sublime, lofty)
Galim (Scholar, expert, learnèd)
Ğäyşä (Aisha) (Alive)
Ğäyşäbikä
Gölçäçäk (Flower flower)
Gölnara (Pomegranate flower)
Gölnaz (Flower pride)
Gölsem
Gölzada
Gusel
Güzäl, Güzäliä (Beauty)

Indira (After Indira Gandhi)
Iririya
Kamilla
Lälä (Tulip)
Läysän (April)
Leniza (Lenin’s testaments; also a separate Arabic name)
Liä
Liana
Liliä

Mädinä (The city)
Maftuxa (Open [personality, face])
Mälikä (Queen)
Märyäm (Miriam)
Märziya
Mavzida
Miläwşa (Violet)

Nailya (Attainer)
Nurbanu (Lady of light)
Nurdjamal (Light of beauty)

Regina
Renata
Rezidä, Rezeda
Roza

Şamsinisa
Söyembikä
Tañsilu (Beautiful as evening red [the sunset])
Urazbikä
Väsilä (Queen)

Wenera
Xabibcamal
Xäbirä
Xäliulla
Yana (Jeanne)
Yuliä (Julia)

Zahidä (Devout, pious)
Zäynäp (Beauty)
Zemfira
Zifa (Beautiful)
Zilya (Light)
Zinara (Vivid, bright, radiant)
Zöhrä, Zuxra (Bright, brilliant)
Zöläyxä (Brilliant beauty)

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