With some Ukrainian surnames like ‘Shevchenko’, there is no ambiguity as to how they should be spelled even without a comment from the person involved. But when it comes to the short I or Yot, the options are almost endless. Ukraine’s Slavic neighbors that have adopted the Latin alphabet use J for the same sound to add to the confusion. Even Ukrainian authorities keep changing transliteration rules – these days people getting passports in most cases can choose their preferred version, albeit within reason.
But these are mostly private affairs. People like presidents certainly should opt for one version of their spelling that ideally would then be used universally. Volodymyr Zelenskyy has finally officially decided on his preferred one – it is the one perhaps most alien to the English language – with double Y at the end.
The decision was quietly made earlier – the president’s official website seems to have started using ‘Zelenskyy’ since May. Now his spokesperson, with an equally puzzling spelling of her first name, Iuliia Mendel, announced that ‘Zelenskyy’ is indeed “the official form of the last name that the President has in his passport.” Mendel also adds that it was Ukraine’s passport service that actually decided on the issue for Mr. Zelenskyy – no referendum was proposed in this case by the president.
However, Mendel does appreciate conservative BBC’s own ways and promises that the “president would not get offended” if they stick with the more succinct ‘Zelensky’, which is less “likely to confuse their audience”.
Hromadske’s politics is to always use the person’s preferred English spelling which in most cases can be found on their social media. It was initially easy with Mr. Zelenskyy – or 'Zelenskiy' for that matter. His Facebook page, active from 2013 is ‘zelenskiy95’, whereas his Instagram account created in February 2017 is ‘zelenskiy_official’. His most recent social media account, however, is Twitter which he joined in April 2019 – under the name ‘ZelenskyyUa’. Hence why Hromadske has used this form lately.
We hope there will be no more changes in transliteration rules that could affect the spelling of the surname of Ukraine's head of state.
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