Essay: What's in a Name?

Pick up an old novel by one of the Russian masters or a new memoir by a Soviet dissident and notice how people introduce themselves -- last names first. "Good day, I am Scriabin, Alexander Nikolayevich." Notice too how often, perhaps in rebellion against those cumbrous Russian patronymics, they use only their initials. "Good day, I am Scriabin, A.N." The title of a French movie made a few years back, Lacombe, Lucien, was apparently intended to show how the German Occupation had bureaucratized and dehumanized the susceptible French. But the Russians do not have their reversed names imposed on them; they...

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