What’s in a name

Say my last name out loud in its anglicized pronunciation. Now, transliterate it phonetically into Russian. What do you get? Right – Бёрлак – which is exactly how it appears on the visa issued to Natasha by the Russian embassy in London.

I suppose I can’t imagine a Russian embassy worker in charge of visas not being a Russian national (and, therefore, speaker of the language). And even though the name has Yiddish etymology, it also happens to be a perfectly recognizable word in the Russian language. How in the world can an educated Russian make such a mistake is beyond me!

Natasha’s maiden name has been butchered many times in the past at the hands of Americans; I guess the time of her married name has come as well, at the hands of Russians…

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For my non-Russian-speaking friends, the best way to explain the correct pronunciation of Burlak is to use the somewhat unfortunate association of “poor luck” (Is that why I am fond of saying “With my luck”, normally alluding to Murphy’s Law?) Substitute b for p and make r rolling, and you got my last name in Russian. As you may or may not expect, there are different letters in Russian alphabet to denote sounds made by ‘ur’ and ‘oo’…

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