ZURICH – The International Ice Hockey Federation used the 2011 IIHF World U20 Championship to introduce a new, modified standard for the transcription of names which are originally written with the Cyrillic alphabet. The Russian transcription is also used for players from Belarus and Kazakhstan. A different standard will be used for the Ukrainian language.
The IIHF explains why a reform was needed.
Transcription table and examples for Russian
Transcription table and examples for Ukrainian
Q: Why did the IIHF decide to modify the rules of Romanization of Russian language names?
A: There was a clear lack of consistency from one tournament to the next, one country to the next. Everybody seemed to follow a different set of rules and very few of them made sense. We were looking for a global standard of transcribing, but there was none. So we worked together with the Slavic faculty of the University of Zurich and its professor in Russian language.
Q: So what has been wrong with how the names were transcribed until 2010?
A: Simply, the English transcription didn’t reflect how Russians really pronounce their names. And this is the whole point of transcription – to write Russian names with Roman letters so it comes as close as possible to the original pronunciation.
Q: Can you give some examples of that?
A: Take a name like Fyodor. It most places it was “Fedor” which is wrong. The Pittsburgh star Malkin’s first name must be spelled Yevgeni and not “Evgeni” or “Evgeny”. Very few Russian first names start with an “E-sound”. Two examples are Enver and Eduard. The first sound in the original spelling of Malkin’s first name is Cyrillic “E”, which looks like the Roman “E” but is pronounced “Ye”. Thus: Yevgeni.
Q: What prompted the reform?
A: In short-term it was the request from the Russian national team and Washington goaltender Semyon Varlamov to have his first name spelled just like that instead of the incorrect “Semen”. Long-term it was that we are three years away from the first Olympic hockey tournaments in Russia. We felt that come Sochi 2014, the names of the hosting country should be transcribed correctly. It’s long overdue already. But primarily, we wanted to get it right.
Q: What were the IIHF’s guiding principles when doing this?
A: First and foremost it was the sound-emulating aspect. It is a matter of correctness and respect to the individual. When a player from a country that uses Cyrillic spelling takes part in our events, he or she should expect that the organizer spells his or her name in a way that it reflects how it is originally pronounced. The second principle was consistency and the third simplicity.
Q: Give us some examples of consistency?
A: If we take the above example with the correct Semyon, we can’t have other players be “Artem”. The crucial Cyrillic letter here is “ë” which is pronounced “yo“. Thus: Semyon and Artyom. The recognition of this letter has far reaching consequences on many names which have been consistently transcribed incorrectly. So players who earlier were known as “Fedorov“ and “Kovalev“ will be correctly spelled as Fyodorov and Kovalyov.
Q: But that looks strange for those who are used to Kovalev.
A: It may be, but Kovalyov is correct and that’s the most important thing. People get used to things quickly if you apply the new rules in a consistent manner. Some years ago it was unthinkable to refer to the Chinese capital other than “Peking“. Today, everyone has accepted Beijing. The place we knew as “Bombay“ is Mumbai nowadays. Arguably, the most famous athlete in the world, known as Cassius Clay, became Muhammad Ali.
Q: Okay, please give an example of the third principle, simplicity.
A: We have taken away the unnecessary endings like “iy“ at the end. They just complicate things and don’t add anything as far as sound-emulating. So it will by Vitali instead of “Vitaliy“ and Sushinski instead of “Sushinskiy“. Also, we have decided not to try to transcribe the Cyrillic letter “Shcha“ (щ) - as its Russian sound simply cannot be correctly reflected with Roman letters.
So, for example, the venue which hosted the 2007 IIHF World Championship and was spelled “Mytischi” or even “Mytishchi” at that time will be simplified to Mytishi to come closer to the original sound. Names like “Troschinski” and “Borschevski” will simply be Troshinski and Borshevski. It’s not perfect, but it’s the best option.
Q: Finally, will the IIHF be the only international organization that will use this?
A: We hope not. We have already contacted Google about this and hopefully also the NHL and other sports bodies will eventually adopt this standard.