As a passionate Russophile of over 22 years, I’m really glad to see more translators and writers starting to use the letter-for-letter transliteration I do, or at least a close enough substitute. It’s more and more common nowadays to see proper Russian spellings like Aleksandr, Nikolay, Andrey, Mariya, Yekaterina, and Natalya. Hopefully, we’ll soon see more proper spellings like Vasiliy, Yuriy, and Zubrovskiy, but even someone as nitpicky as I am can admit those spellings might look odd to non-Russophiles. I personally have long since gotten used to them, but I can at least understand how they can look strange at first.
Let me also stress that I don’t really have a problem with certain folks being much better-known by Anglo versions of their names outside of Russia. Even I won’t argue against referring to historical figures like Peter the Great, Catherine the Great, Nicholas II, or Empress Elizabeth, at least in English. Obviously, though, a Russian-speaking character should refer to them by their proper Russian names.
But it’s really frustrating to see fairly recent books written by people who still haven’t gotten the hint. I understand it was the common style as recently as 20–30 years ago to “translate” foreign names, but that’s no longer considered appropriate, outside of referring to certain crowned heads of state. It’s like nails on a chalkboard to see almost everyone’s name being “translated,” even when referring to regular folks who were only ever called by Russian names.
To think I got raked over the coals for having had rather un-Russian names in my first Russian historical before I started getting it ready for publication. I was rightly told it was ridiculous to have a character named Amy, even if her real name is Lyubov and she’s sometimes called Lyuba and other diminutives. I was also told I shouldn’t have characters with names like Margaret, Peter, Elizabeth, Catherine, and Leon, no matter how upper-class and Westernized they might be.
And yet certain non-fiction writers are allowed to get away with referring to real people with English names like Anthony, Nicholas, Elizabeth, Marie, Alexis, Michael, Helen, and Andrew? Seriously, “Nicholas Gogol”? Show me one modern, mainstream book where he’s referred to as Nicholas! That’s the height of cultural insensitivity, enforcing Anglo norms on foreign names. Wikipedia is also very bad about this.
Though I personally always refer to Russia’s capital as its native name, Moskva, I’m not going to argue against calling it “Moscow” in the Wikipedia article. Like it or not, that’s how most Westerners refer to it. But it’s beyond arrogant to keep insisting against changing the name of their article on Ukraine’s capital to Kyiv. “Kiev” is an Anglicized version of a Russified name, whereas Kyiv is its proper Ukrainian name, the transliteration the Ukrainian people have asked us to use. Its true transliteration is actually Kyyiv, but even I think that looks awkward. Guess what, no one will ever learn and adjust to the proper name if you keep insisting on using the wrong name! If they can change the names of other cities, like Mumbai and Kolkata, they can change from “Kiev” to Kyiv.
Anyway, Wikipedia insists on “translating” almost all royals’ names, and people in the Talk pages obnoxiously harp on about how “This is the ENGLISH Wikipedia.” These people weren’t English, and didn’t have English names. Beyond offensive and archaic how they think it’s appropriate to refer to them by names they never went by, like calling Grand Duke Ernst Ludwig of Hesse and by Rhine as “Ernest Louis.” Yes, he went by Ernie among his family, but his name wasn’t Ernest Louis!
Another huge annoyance is how they call the murdered Prince Ioann Konstantinovich “Prince John.” Seriously, WTF? His parents called him Ioann. Not Ivan, not John, not Johan. IOANN. It’s so goofy and culturally insensitive to call him John when that wasn’t his name. When was he ever called John? Even the worst offenders among the name translators don’t call him John! By that logic, why don’t they call the six Tsars named Ivan “John” as well? Ioann is the older form of Ivan, the most quintessentially Russian name (even if it’s a bit old-fashioned anymore). Insisting on calling him John is beyond out of place and bizarre.
Obviously, we should respect someone’s chosen transliteration of his or her own name, even if I personally wouldn’t use a spelling like, e.g., Tatiana or Ekaterina. We should also respect someone’s choice to change one’s name when immigrating, like going from Aleksandr to Alexander or Natalya to Nathalie. But it’s not up to you to make that choice for another person, nor is it acceptable to decide all foreign royals “need” English names. There’s something seriously wrong when you can’t even use the spelling Elisabeth, which is hardly a foreign or unusual spelling in the English-speaking world.