I find it curious that (arguably) one of the easiest to pronounce English/Scottish surnames -- Shaw -- is consistently reappearing on the Russian soil as Шоу.

This spelling/pronunciation applies to some of the best known figures in the literary world (Бернард Шоу, Ирвин Шоу) familiar to the Russian public for a better part of the century, as well as very recent celebrities like hockey players and flash-in-the-pan supermodels. Furthermore, the English historian Ian Kershaw is known to the Russian readers as Ян Кершоу.

I wonder if this scheme is simply a result of a historical accident, or (considering how stable it is) there is more to it than that?


3 Answers 3


When I studied at the university, here, in Ukraine, in the late 90s, our professor of English and American literature was outraged by that spelling, and even in our examination cards in his subject he spelled "Bernard Shaw" as "Бернард Шо". Moreover, he also spelled "Edgar Poe" as "Эдгар Поу", although the standard Russian rendering of that name is "Эдгар По". < we had a joke that the two writers, Shaw and Poe, were mirror spelling twins :D >

I am sure, that the Шоу spelling is just a result of a historical accident. Since the 19th century several ways of rendering of the English names were used, almost every quarter of a century they changed, creating lots of variants of the same English name. For example, "William" is Вильям, but also Уильям. The famous biologist Thomas Henry Huxley is Гексли, but his grandson, a famous writer Aldous Leonard Huxley, is Хаксли. James used to be Джемс, but now it is almost always Джеймс.

There is also a long tradition of rendering the names of the English and British monarchs not the way they sound in English, but in their Latin form adapted to Russian phonetics and morphology:

  • Alfred is Альфрéд
  • Harold is Гарóльд
  • Henry is Гéнрих
  • John is Иоáнн
  • Charles is Карл
  • James is Яков or Иáков
  • Mary is Мария
  • Louis is Людóвик
  • Stephen is Стефáн
  • Anne is Áнна
  • George is Геóрг
  • Edward is Эдуáрд
  • Elizabeth is Елизавéта

The point is, when it goes about the names of celebrities, one has to know exactly how the person's name is rendered in Russian. There is no set of rules you can use to render those names yourself. The easiest way is to find the Wiki article about the person and then switch it to Russian, but still, you should be ready to see several Russian variants of the person's name there.

  • although the standard Russian rendering of that name is "Едгар По" - "Эдгар" actually =)
    – vines
    Dec 5, 2013 at 4:21
  • @vines - My God! That's interference with Ukrainian... Thank you, I'll correct it.
    – Yellow Sky
    Dec 5, 2013 at 6:04
  • British monarch Louis?
    – Quassnoi
    Dec 5, 2013 at 6:54
  • 1
    @Quassnoi - Why not? =) "Louis VIII of France briefly ruled about half of England from 1216 to 1217 at the conclusion of the First Barons' War against King John."
    – Yellow Sky
    Dec 5, 2013 at 8:29
  • @YellowSky: ummm... ok!
    – Quassnoi
    Dec 5, 2013 at 8:40

IMHO, "Shaw" is actually not that easy to pronounce to a Russian speaker (I am going by the American pronunciation here.) It is not really "Шо", and not really "Ша", but somewhere in between, which is typical of English vowels. Not to mention, that the "sh" sounds more like a щ than a ш.

Furthermore, "шо" is a Ukrainian colloquialism meaning "what", while "ша!" is a colloquialism derived from Yiddish, meaning "be quite". "Шоу", on the other hand, sounds very English.

In any case, there seem to be patterns for transliterating foreign names which do not necessarily make sense, and which change over time. I have read about a bilingual child wondering why the name Sherlock (as in Holmes) is transliterated as Шерлок, when it sounds so much more like Щёлок.


While I agree there are issues with translating names from certain languages, another point could be that you have to make sure they don't sound too odd, which is the case with Шо. Just a wild guess.

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