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Wait, why Krzhizhanovsky?

3 June 2011 Leave a comment

OK, this is just something that struck me. Until today I wasn’t aware of the existence of this person, but what makes me wonder is the rationale behind spelling his name this way. Sigizmund Krzhizhanovsky. Sigizmund Krzhizhanovsky?! The guy was born to Polish parents. So his name is Zygmunt Krzyżanowski. Or, if you drop the single diacritical (which is common practice in English), Zygmunt Krzyzanowski. His adopted homeland was Russia, so obviously enough, he spelled his name using the Cyrillic alphabet (Сигизмунд Доминикович Кржижановский). But now suppose someone wants to mention him using the Latin alphabet. What is the point of transcribing (transliterating) the Cyrillic back to Latin using one of the several schemes available, if the name was actually spelled using Latin script in the first place? Am I missing something here?

[UPDATE: OK, I realize that referring to two “exotic” languages, Polish and Russian, may have made my point difficult to understand. So here’s what would happen in an analogous English-Russian situation: Imagine there’s someone called John Smith. John Smith moves to Russia at an early age and embarks on a writing career there (as an exclusively Russian-language author). In Russia he is referred to as Джон Смит. Now, at some point someone decides that the writings of Джон Смит should be translated to English. What name will they be published under? John Smith, I would imagine. However, that would be an inaccurate transliteration of Джон Смит. The two possible “correct” transliterations are either Džon or Dzhon Smit. But we would be getting an artificial “Dzhon Smit” in place of the original John Smith. It doesn’t make sense and goes against the tradition of “reconstructing” the original spelling of non-Russian surnames when transcribing them into Latin script. Obviously, as the Krzyzanowski example shows, that tradition is not a “rule” and, besides, it can sometimes be problematic, as in the case of those names which can be traced to several Latin spellings. But one could point out that nobody spells Шнитке as Šnitke or Shnitke. Instead, he is spelled Schnittke. Or Эйзенштейн – practically everyone spells his name Eisenstein, even though the “proper” transliteration would have been either Ejzenštejn, or Ejzenshtejn, or Eĭzenshteĭn, or Eizenshtein, or Eyzenshteyn. Perhaps both these artists influenced that “reconstructed” use themselves, but that doesn’t make it less rational.]

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