Sunday, November 13, 2005

The Mongolian name game

Remembering full Mongolian names is a professional hazard, and it's a handful for Mongolia's government too.

Traditionally, they didn't have surnames, only first names. In 1997, Mongolians were asked to select a last name, so a proper population record could be maintained by the government. And what a dumb plan it turned out to be.

With only first names, records were hard to maintain. I mean, imagine India with people only named Kishan, Shankar and Phoolwati.

Chaos followed -- Mongolians were clueless -- they perhaps walked around blankly asking others what surnames they were planning to choose and which one they didn't. Chaos would definitely break out if Americans or North Indians were asked to add native villages to names, like some have in South India.

Thousands took the easy route, selecting Borjigin, after national hero Genghis Khan's clan name, among others. That created more chaos for the Mongolian government -- the last thing they wanted were thousands of similar first and last names!

But, it's come to a point where the Mongolian government would appreciate a name as annoying as Michael Bolton.


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