Russian transliteration and the NHL

The International Ice Hockey Federation (IIHF) has set out a new standard for transliterating player names from the Cyrillic (Russian) alphabet to English. You can read a post about it here, but it’s about time.  The myriad ways of transliterating Cyrillic into English have baffled me since I had to learn to spell “Tchaikowski” instead of “Tchaikovsky” in my days as an assistant at a music library.

I’m not all that up on hockey fan practices outside of the NHL, and I can’t really even say I know much about the NHL, but it is my opinion that fans would not like it if the NHL adopted this standard. The prestige of owning jerseys among fans seems to be a lot higher than with other sports — my boyfriend often plays a game of “spot the unusual jersey” while we are at games, which is frequently lost on me because I haven’t been a hockey fan all that long, but is still amusing to see the connotations of each player’s jersey and each style of jersey. People own jerseys of great (and not-so-great) players who are long-retired, and it is a mark of pride among the fanbase. Adopting a new transliteration custom might cause unrest at the jerseys being “out of date” — among some fans. Others would probably proudly embrace their old jerseys as being “pre-transliteration”. For some iconic Russian players — Sergei Fedorov (Fyodorov), for example — the spelling of the name will change, but the player is extremely popular. Of course, the logistics of changing the spelling everywhere would be overwhelming, but I’m wondering if using a new spelling of such a popular player would cause confusion about who is being referred to.  Would North American fans be confused about who “Sergei Fyodorov” is, or are the names similar enough that they would still understand the referent? So many questions for such a seemingly simple issue of spelling people’s names correctly.

Would this make a linguistic issue a mark of a certain kind of fan? Would “real fans” be able to discuss the fine points of Cyrillic transliteration? Perhaps only in a linguist’s dreams.



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