Kazakhstan Embraces Nazarbayev Naming Craze

What’s in a name?

Plenty, for the 99 people who share a full name with the strongman president of Kazakhstan.

This is the number of citizens who have been named in honor of Nursultan Nazarbayev in the 24 years since Kazakhstan gained its independence, statistics released on the occasion of First President’s Day on December 1 show.

The 99 are just the tip of the iceberg. That is the number of children given the president’s first name and his surname too.

But many more share his first name alone  — a total of 37,077 children born since 1991 have been named Nursultan, TengriNews reports, citing the Statistics Committee.

The name, combined of the Arabic-origin words “nur” (meaning “light”) and “sultan” (“king” or “ruler”), has long been used by Kazakhs, and the name Nursultan was chosen for Nazarbayev by his paternal grandmother. That factoid is one of 12 offered by state news agency Kazinform, which also informs readers that in his youth Nazarbayev joined in with construction work on his neighbor’s house to raise the funds to buy a harmonica.

A trend for naming children after the president has developed since independence, with parents no doubt hoping that some of Nazarbayev’s luster will rub off on their offspring.

Critics point to the naming craze as part of a burgeoning personality cult surrounding the 75-year-old president, who is eulogized in Kazakhstan and has been immortalized on the silver screen, on stage, as a children’s fairytale hero, and in statues.

Some of the adulation for Nazarbayev has come to reach orgiastic intensity. A documentary airing on state television on December 1 tells with breathless excitement of the life-changing properties of encountering the leader, who has been reelected to office several times, albeit never in votes deemed fair by international observers.

Nazarbayev’s detractors see First President’s Day as all part of an unhealthy obsession with the man known in Kazakhstan as Leader of the Nation, but supporters counter that the public holiday is a tribute to his contributions to Kazakhstan.

The holiday was first celebrated in 2012, and has come to rival Independence Day  — which was marred in 2011 when striking oil workers were shot dead in unrest in western Kazakhstan  —  in importance.

And for 51 of Kazakhstan’s 99 Nursultan Nazarbayevs. it is a special day indeed. It is also their birthdays, according to the Statistics Committee.

But not for the president himself. Nazarbayev celebrates his birthday on July 6, which is also a public holiday in Kazakhstan.

Kazakhstan Embraces Nazarbayev Naming Craze

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