Long names in different countries

If you have to cover news from India (particularly South India) or Sri Lanka, you may think you have an unfair burden in having to deal with long names. In cricket alone there are long single names (Venkataraghavan, Sivaramakrishnan) and several initials (VVS Laxman, CPS Chauhan, RMH Binny and MSK Prasad). Sri Lanka has some long surnames (where Sinhalese such as Wijegunewardene and Warnakulasariya score over Tamilians like Muralitharan), but they beat India hands down in initials, with the world’s number one UWBMCA Welegedera and number two WPUCJ Vaas. Worse still, this pair has played together in several matches.

But other states of India should not be neglected. Bengal has had CMs like Buddhadev Bhattacharya and other notables like Bibitibhushan Bandopadhaya.

India has had PMs such as Pamolaparti Venkata Narasimha Rao and Haradanahalli Doddegowda Deve Gowda, much to the dismay of foreign journalists. When Chandrashekhar flashed by as PM, the New York Times correspondent for India made it a point to always mention him as “Mr Chandrashekhar (who uses only one name)”. This became a sort of joke for Indians living in the US, so they referred to the correspondent as “Barbara Crossette (who uses only two names)”.

And if our previous PM used the normal Sikh naming system, he would probably be Manmohan Singh Gah which somehow doesn’t sound as impressive as, say, Prakash Singh Badal or even Harbhajan Singh Plaha or Kapil Dev Nikhanj. But for really long names we have to go a long way-first, to the ex-Soviet country of Georgia (not the place where Jimmy Carter grew peanuts). Here is a list of its Presidents after it became independent after the collapse of the Soviet Union: (from Wikipedia):

List of presidents of Georgia

# Name Picture Term Took office Left office Political Party
1 Zviad Gamsakhurdia Zviad Gamsakhurdia, Tbilisi, 1988.jpg 1 14 April 1991 (Appointed) 26 May 1991 (Inaugurated) 6 January 1992 (Deposed) Round Table – Free Georgia
2 Eduard Shevardnadze Eduard shevardnadze.jpg 1 26 November 1995 (Inaugurated) 30 April 2000 Union of Citizens of Georgia
2 30 April 2000 (Inaugurated) 23 November 2003 (Resigned)
Nino Burjanadze (acting) Nino Burjanadze (Tbilisi, December 5, 2003).jpg 23 November 2003 25 January 2004 United National Movement
3 Mikheil Saakashvili Saakashvili76589.jpg 1 25 January 2004 (Inaugurated) 25 November 2007
Nino Burjanadze (acting) Nino Burjanadze (Tbilisi, December 5, 2003).jpg 25 November 2007 20 January 2008
3 Mikheil Saakashvili Saakashvili76589.jpg 2 20 January 2008 (Inaugurated) 17 November 2013
4 Giorgi Margvelashvili Giorgi Margvelashvili, President of Georgia.jpg 1 17 November 2013 (Inaugurated) Incumbent Georgian Dream

As you can see, the average length of their surnames is probably higher than that of any other country. As we will see, one African country does give them some competition. Georgia also had a long-time women’s chess champion named Nona Gabrindashvili. She was succeeded as world champion by another Georgian with the equally challenging name of Maia Chiburdanidze.

The first president, Zviad Gamsakhurdia faced a revolt which led to him being deposed and finally to his assassination and suicide or murder. Comedians in the US show “Saturday Night Live” joked that the revolt was linked to the Georgians wanting a leader with a name which could be pronounced more easily.

Arguably, the most powerful Georgian ever was Joseph Stalin or Iosif Vissarionovich Stalin (Russian: Ио́сиф Виссарио́нович Ста́лин, pronounced [ˈjɵsʲɪf vʲɪsɐˈrʲɵnəvʲɪtɕ ˈstalʲɪn]; born Ioseb Besarionis Dze Jugashvili, Georgian: იოსებ ბესარიონის ძე ჯუღაშვილი, pronounced [iɔsɛb bɛsɑriɔnis dzɛ dʒuɣɑʃvili]; 18 December 1878 – 5 March 1953) who was the leader of the Soviet Union from the mid-1920s until his death in 1953. Also note the Georgian script which is quite unlike the Roman or Cyrillic script, though it might remind you of South Indian scripts.

India still has a Stalin who, with a lot of luck, might become Chief Minister of Tamil Nadu one day. He appears to have been born just before the original Stalin passed away.

Muthuvel Karunanidhi Stalin (Tamil: மு.க. ஸ்டாலின் Mu.Ka. Sṭāliṉ) (born 1 March 1953) is an Indian politician, better known as M. K. Stalin. He is the third son of famous politician of Tamil Nadu, Karunanidhi, and was born to his second wife, Mrs. Dayalu Ammal and was named after Joseph Stalin (who died later that week).

Stalin serves as Youth Wing President of the DMK. On 3 January 2013 M.K. Karunanidhi named him as his heir apparent, thus ending a long time confusion about who would take over the party reins after Karunanidhi’s death.

Georgia, however, faces strong competition from Madagascar, which has sometimes gone under the name of the Malagasy Republic. Here is what their Presidents have to offer:

Presidents of Madagascar (1960–Present)

(Dates in italics indicate de facto continuation of office)

Tenure Portrait Incumbent Affiliation Notes
Malagasy Republic Autonomous
1 May 1959 to 26 June 1960 Bundesarchiv B 145 Bild-F013783-0033, Berlin, Staatsbesuch aus Madagaskar-2.jpg Philibert Tsiranana, President PSD
Malagasy Republic
26 June 1960 to 11 October 1972 Bundesarchiv B 145 Bild-F013783-0033, Berlin, Staatsbesuch aus Madagaskar-2.jpg Philibert Tsiranana, President PSD Resigned and handed power to Military
11 October 1972 to 5 February 1975 Bundesarchiv B 145 Bild-F011092-0001, BPA, Generalstabschef aus Madagaskar.jpg Gabriel Ramanantsoa, Head of State Mil Resigned
5 February 1975 to 11 February 1975 Richard Ratsimandrava, Head of State Mil Assassinated
12 February 1975 to 15 June 1975 Gilles Andriamahazo, Chairman of the National Military Leadership Committee Mil
15 June 1975 to 30 December 1975 Didier Ratsiraka (cropped).jpeg Didier Ratsiraka, Chairman of the Supreme Revolutionary Council Mil 1st Term
Democratic Republic of Madagascar
30 December 1975 to 4 January 1976 Didier Ratsiraka (cropped).jpeg Didier Ratsiraka, Chairman of the Supreme Revolutionary Council Mil 1st Term
4 January 1976 to 12 September 1992 Didier Ratsiraka, President FNDR
Republic of Madagascar
12 September 1992 to 27 March 1993 Didier Ratsiraka (cropped).jpeg Didier Ratsiraka, President AREMA 1st Term
27 March 1993 to 5 September 1996 Albert Zafy, President UNDD Resigned
5 September 1996 to 9 February 1997 Norbert Ratsirahonana, Interim President AVI
9 February 1997 to 5 July 2002 Didier Ratsiraka (cropped).jpeg Didier Ratsiraka, President AREMA 2nd Term; from 25 February 2002 in Toamasina
22 February 2002 to 17 March 2009 Appl0405.loselesslycropped.jpg Marc Ravalomanana, President TIM In rebellion to 5 July 2002; deposed in the 2009 crisis
17 March 2009 to 25 January 2014 Andry Rajoelina 6 December 2011.png Andry Rajoelina, President of the High Transitional Authority TGV In rebellion from 7 February 2009
25 January 2014 to Present Hery Rajaonarimampianina 2014.jpg Hery Rajaonarimampianina, President HVM

Note the sad story of Colonel Richard Ratsimandrava who was assassinated just six days after taking over the presidency. But his successors have had even longer surnames. Only Albert Zafy (1993-96) is an outlier. They have French first names because of the colonial influence. There are several famous names in soccer like Didier Six and Didier Deschamps.

Let’s face it, we will have to be satisfied with our moderate contribution in the form of Narendra Damodardas Modi – and that is a triple only because of the Gujarati and Maharashtrian tradition of inserting the father’s name as a middle name. This is not generally followed in Eastern and Northern India, though generic middle names like Kumar and Chandra may be used. My father and his brother had middle names, my generation didn’t.

And I think that North Korea might as well follow a simple rule such as changing the current President’s name to King Kim III. Perhaps he will meet King Charles III or King William V one day-if no one comes from the US to interview him till then. But that trick did work with Ahmed Shah Masoud, one of Osama bin Laden’s rivals who was assassinated two days before 9/11.

(Thanks to Michael Jones, Abhishek Mukherji and others for more ideas. Some of them will appear in a sequel).

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