Mitrius, in his (Russian-language) blog, has a nice post on “сакральные имена в советском тексте” [sacred names in the Soviet text]. I thought the rules were interesting enough I’d provide a summary for English-speakers:
Politburo members’ names were pronounced without the normal reduction of final -o: Chernenko pronounced -/ko/, not -/k@/.
Important names could not be broken between lines.
In the ’40s and early ’50s they could not be abbreviated as were other encyclopedia entries (after the first mention): always I.V. Stalin, never simply S.
There were similar rules for Soviet institutions; eg, Вооруженные Силы [Armed Forces] with two capital letters when referring to the military of the USSR, Вооруженные силы with one capital when referring to other socialist countries, and plain old lower-case вооруженные силы for capitalist countries. Another interesting point is that the adjective from Bolshevik is большевистский [bol’shevistskii] rather than the morphologically expected большевицкий [bol’shevitskii]; apparently the -цкий ending was felt to have a negative tinge. (Thanks go to Avva for the link.)


  1. Michael Farris says

    Similarly, I have a Korean language textbook printed for Polish speakers but with materials from NKorea (printed in the early 80’s).
    The name Kim Il Seng is always in bold, and I’ve read that schoolchildren were specifically taught a way to read the works of the Kims out loud (all I can remember is that it was slower than usual) and the names of the Kims were always supposed to be said slower and louder than other words.

  2. That’s interesting. When I was in Taiwan in the ’70s I got an illicit thrill out of listening to Radio Pyongyang even though I knew no Korean, and I noticed they kept saying what sounded to my ears like “Comic Il-Sung.” I wonder if that first word was the reverential pronunciation of Kim?

  3. How authoritative the Soviets were, even going to the extent of altering the language. We remember how they doctored pictures when leaders were out of favor, but the Russian language too? When I visited the former Soviet Union, I met Russian Jews who told me how lucky my grandparents were to have gotten out and moved to the States.

  4. That memory about Kim Il-Song reminds me of the famous Communist wordplay on Chiang Kai-shek/Jiang Jieshi’s name during the Civil War: Jiang gaisi (“Jiang must-die”).

  5. This is somewhat off-topic, but it took me a while to get used to the fact that Sun Yat-sen is known in Taiwan as Chong-shan (pinyin Zhongshan), a Chinese translation/reading of his Japanese pseudonym Nakayama ‘middle-mountain.’

  6. Yes, and anyone going to Taiwan has to know (or will learn anyway) that Zhongzheng 中正 is Chiang’s posthumous honorific name (shi).
    A fun fact about Mr Zhongshan 中山 is that he is the only historical figure a University is still named after in the Mainland (Zhongshan daxue, known as Guangdong daxue until 1924, in Guangzhou). The stratagem being that, since his birth place (today’s Zhongshan shi, not far from Zhuhai) has also been renamed after him, one can pretend that only the toponym has been considered (Zhongda is like my alma mater number two, but that’s another story).
    Confucius was not so lucky. Apparently, the Normal University at Qufu was going to be named after him , but that wasn’t allowed, so Qufu shifan daxue it is. The result is that about everything is Qufu is “Kongzi-something”, except the only place of higher knowledge.

  7. A good thing I came back:
    1924 is the year the University was founded by Sun Yat-sen (Yixian 逸仙); the name was changed two years later, in 1926, in honour of Sun, who died in 1925.
    Sorry for the temporary confusion.

  8. According to Andrei Lankov,

    Even if the names of Kim Il Song or Kim Chông Il are not mentioned specifically, every North Korean knows what titles go with whom and would never mix the “Great Leader” (Kim Il Song) with the “Dear Ruler” (Kim Chông Il). Special words and even grammar forms have been established which may only be used in relation to these two personages. Their names along with any quotation from their writings are always printed in a special bold font. Starting from the primary school, North Koreans are taught how to make correct sentences in which the leader and his son are mentioned. According to this “court grammar”, these two sacred names must not be put in the middle or, God forbid, at the end of a phrase, but always at the beginning.

    I was reminded of this passage by Bill Poser’s recent reference to the spelling of Egyptian royal names containing the names of gods.

  9. Sorry for the temporary confusion.
    Nice pun! 🙂

  10. Heh. Let’s pretend it was intentional.

  11. In Taiwan \, 1983, Chinese speaking in English (the orthodox ones anyway) had a special way of saying “The President” and “The General” for Chiang Ching-kuo and Chiang Kai-shek. They paused slightly before enunciating the honorific.

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