Moscow doesn't have many new Elektrinas or Radars anymore

What's in a name? In this country, quite a lot.

It seems that the new Soviet man -- that ideal archetype that communism promises to engender -- may not have a new Soviet name.

In fact, old Russian names are making a comeback in this country.

Names here, as in the West, fall in and out of fashion. Sometimes the choices reflect the times -- or are in reaction to them.

No one in authority has offered a cogent reason for the current resurgence of traditional names here.

But a young Moscow father, faced with a nameless male infant, visited an official name registration office in Moscow and documented the phenomenon. His findings were printed in the government newspaper, Izvestia.

Alexander -- or Sasha, in its shortened form -- is now the most common male name, Ekaterina (Katya) its distaff counterpart.

Other popular names for boys are Ivan, Alexei, Sergei, and Dmitri. For girls, Anna, Maria, Yelena, Olga, and Tatyana are the most frequently registered.

A decade ago, saddling an infant with some of these names was equivalent to naming an American child Horace or Hortense.

Is there a political message in all of this?

Perhaps. In more zealous times, communist parents were prone to mirror the country's optimism in the names of their offspring.

Thus were born Tractors or Elektrinas. Or even Melsors -- an acronymn for Marx, Engels, Stalin, and October Revolution.

When Joseph Stalin forged a nonaggression pact with Hitler in 1939, Adolfs began to multiply.

Many had their names changed during and after World War II. And when Stalin became a nonperson in 1956, the Melsors quietly became Melors.

The postwar promise of rapid scientific advance gave birth to little Radars and Electrons. And the Soviet space program, of course, spawned a spate of Sputniks.

But communism, as a hoary joke here goes, became like the horizon -- the closer one got, the further off it became.

In 1961, the Communist Party program promised that by 1980 an idealized communist state would be in place in the Soviet Union.

Now the party says the country is in a period of developed socialism -- the ``historically long period'' before communism.

About the time that promise was made, Arthur and Zhanna (a Russianized ``Jane'') were popular names.

Now, it's back to Ivan and Tanya.

What to make of it all? Perhaps not too much.

Says the proud father of a young Ivan, ``We just liked the sound of it.''

But perhaps it is an implicit recognition that politics and surnames don't necessarily mix.

When the young father went to a name registration office, the person he spoke to said that official applications to change names are still being received.

And, the official said, one didn't have to look far for examples.

One of the women working in the office had changed her patronymic name -- the middle name taken from the father's surname -- to ``Valentinovna.''

Before, she had been ``Revsovna'' -- which came from the Russian words for ``revolutionary military council.''

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