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How not to get my name wrong

English and French speakers should note that “Mischa” (pronounced “Mee-Shah,” not “Miscah” or “Mis-chah”) is a male first name, originally a diminutive form of the Russian name “Михаил” (Mikhail), a cognate of “Michael.”

There is only one correct way to spell my first and last name in English or any other language that uses the Latin alphabet:

Mischa Gabowitsch

I.e. “Mischa” with a “sch” (not “Misha,” and not “Mikhail”)
and “Gabowitsch” with a “w” and a “tsch” (not “Gabovich” or the like)

Also, there is no “r” in my name. *

Once you get the spelling right, pronounciation is easy. Feel free to put the stress in “Gabowitsch” on the first syllable (the German way), the second syllable (the Russian and Polish way), or the third syllable (the French way).

In Russian, on the other hand, the only corrrect form is Михаил Габович.

Let me explain.

The “Western” spelling of my name reflects my biography and the fact that I grew up in Germany. (In German, “sh” is rendered as “sch,” “w” is pronounced “v,” and “ch” is spelled “tsch.”) That part of my identity is not secondary to my origins, and thus you are no more free to use different transliterations of the original Russian “Михаил Габович” than you would be to substitute “Johanna” for “Giovanna” or “Haygel” for “Hegel” against the wishes of the person you are referring to.

At the same time, my identity as an author writing in Russian is just as important to me, and there is no reason to change my Russian birth name (Михаил) just because my offiicial name in Latin characters is Mischa.

None of this will surprise native speakers of (or those fluent in) multiple languages. Transliterated forms such as “Mikhail” or “Michail” are not, of course, typically pronounced the same way as the Russian “Михаил,” and I have absolutely no desire to be known as “Mee-kah-eel” or to hear a soft German “ch” in my name. Conversely, in Russian, “Миша” is a diminutive form of “Михаил” and thus not typically used in formal settings (although this convention is gradually eroding), whereas in Western languages “Mischa” is a first name in its own right.

Making the effort to spell and pronounce a person’s name correctly is important (see here and here for some of the reasons), even if it looks or sounds strange or unfamiliar. However, if you decide to ignore all of the above and think you know a better way to spell my name, I challenge you to come up with one that is not yet included in my collection of misspellings.

My name is not:

  • Alexander Gabowitsch
  • Gabobitsch
  • Gaborwitsch
  • Gabowicsch
  • Gabowisch
  • Gabowski
  • Gabowitch
  • Gabrowitsch
  • Garbowitsch
  • Garbowitz
  • Grabowitsch
  • Grabowitzsch
  • Grabowski
  • Grabowsky
  • Masha
  • Micha Gabowitsch
  • Micha Grabowitsch
  • Michael Gabowitsch
  • Michael Grabowski
  • Michel
  • Michelle
  • Mikhail Gabovitsch
  • Mikhail Gabowirsich
  • Mikhail Gabowitsch
  • Mischa Gabdwisch
  • Mischa Gabovitsch
  • Mischa Gabowirtsch
  • Mischa Gabowitsc
  • Mischa Gabowitson
  • Mischa Gabowitz
  • Mischa Gabowski
  • Mischa Gavowidsh
  • Mischa Mabowitsch
  • Misha Gabonsky
  • Misha Gabovich
  • Misha Gabovitsch
  • Misha Gabowitshi
  • Mishcha
  • Misia Eabowitsch
  • Mitcheln
  • Zabowitsh

(“Gabowitsch” comes from “gabbay,” a synagogue sexton, whose duties include correcting misreadings of the Torah. As you can see, I’m not being difficult, just following family tradition.)