English > Transliterations

Bulgakov, Boulgakov or Boelgakov?

Bulgakov, Boulgakov or Boelgakov... how do you spell the Russian name Булгаков in western languages? The answer to this question is by transliteration. Transliteration is a term which is used for mapping words from one alphabet into another. In our case from cyrillic text into latin or roman characters. When using internet search engines like Google or Yahoo! you're likely to get more results with Bulgakov than with Boelgakov or Boulgakov. Hm... you may wonder why the hell one would use Boelgakov or Boulgakov? Well, I'm Belgian - my mother tongue is Dutch and our second language is French. Boelgakov is the Dutch transliteration of Булгаков while Boulgakov is the French transliteration. Oe in Dutch and ou in French both sound like u in English. Anyway, Bulgakov produces more results, because there are more internet pages published in English than there are in Dutch or in French.

But let's go back to the issue. There exist a wide number of systems for transliteration or romanization of the cyrillic alphabet. Which means that you can often find different English spellings for Russian names. Like, for instance, Горбачёв, which often appears in English as Gorbachev, but it is sometimes written as Gorbachov, Gorbatchev, Gorbatchov or - in other languages - Gorbatsjov or Gorbatsjev.

By the way, Gorbatchov is close to the original pronounciation of Горбачёв. It's closer than Gorbachev. It's like Khrushtchov and Khrushtchev... very often you can read the Russian names ending on -ёв written in English as -ev, while -ov would be a more appropriate form. That is because of the Russian way of printing their characters e and ë. In Russian the characters e and ë are pronounced differently (like and ), but in printed texts they often appear exactly the same as e - the dots on the ë are often omitted, which can cause confusion when you read a word for the first time without hearing its pronounciation.

Basically there are two types of systems to transliterate cyrillic words and names: an international one and many different local ones. In this table I present a short overview of the famous fricative consonants of the Russian alphabet. They are shown in three transliteration forms, an international one (ISO/R9) and two local ones - Dutch and English. The English system shown is the one used by the British Standard Institution, another English system is from the Library of Congress.









Stella Artoua, Hugaarden and Lef

Since some years transliteration is kind of a problem for the Russians too. Since there are more contacts - private as wel as business - between Russians and western people nowadays, the Russians need to get used to new, foreign words. In order to integrate the new words in their language they need to transliterate them into cyrillic. In such situations, the French wouldn't bother: they produce new, French sounding words. A Frenchman doesn't know what a computer is, they call it ordinateur, and software is logiciel. But the Russians don't do this. They use the original word and try to transliterate it as correctly as possible into cyrillic, including the original accent. Which sometimes causes hilaric situations. A businessman is a Бизнизмен (pronounced bizznizzmèn, exactly as it is in English) and on his business card he wil probably have the word Менеджер (pronounced as Mènèdzher) printed. And on the menus of many pubs in Moscow the first drinks mentioned are often the beers produced in my hometown Leuven: Cтелла артуа (Stella Artoua, transliteration of Stella Artois), Хугарден (Hugarden, transliteration of Hoegaarden) and Леф (Lef, transliteration of Leffe). So the Russians pronounce the names of our beers correctly - which the English often don't :-) The Lef is Блонд (blond) or Браyн (brown), and in one café I even saw Белле-вью крик (Belle-Vue Kriek).

Bulgakov uses such transliterations too. The funniest example in The Master and Margarita is certainly Koroviev's exclamation in chapter 12: Авек плезир! (Avek playzeer) he says or, for those who understand French: "Avec plaisir! - With pleasure!.

Bulgakov and metro stations

Since this section of the site is written in English I will, of course, use the English transliterations. In the Dutch and French section I'm generally using the Dutch and French transliteration. Well.. with one exceptions. I use the English transliteration to refer to metro stations.

This is due to the fact that you'll obviously will not find Dutch or French transliterations in the Moscow metro stations. English transliterations can be found tough. True, the names of the stations on the platforms are indicated solely in cyrillic, but on all metromaps, including the ones you'll find in the trains, they are presented in Russian followed by the English transliteration.

A small confession: when I started this website, I only used the English transliteration for Bulgakov's name, even in the Dutch and French sections. So I didn't use Boelgakov or Boulgakov, as I should have. This was inspired by pure selfishness. As I explained at the beginning of this page: when you look for Bulgakov on the internet, you will find much more results than when you use Boelgakov or Boulgakov. So I used the Enlish transliteration shamelessly, even on the Dutch and French pages. I dared to hope that the reader would think of the words of Koroviev in chapter 12: Так что же, граждане, простить его, что ли? - So, what then, citizens, shall we forgive him?. But now I don't do this anymore. The search engines know this site now, and I try to apply the correct transliterations consistently.

To the complete transliteration table

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