A Red by Any Other Name


Wondering what to call your newborn?

Poster, Govorkov V.I., 1936

Vladimir Alexandrovich Bazarov

Born Vladimir Alexandrovich Rudnev. Bolshevik Party member known for pioneering economic planning. The pseudonym Bazarov comes from the main character of Turgenev’s Fathers and Sons.

Willy Brandt

The young socialist Herbert Ernst Carl Frahm took the name Willy Brandt in 1933 to avoid detection by Nazi agents. In 1969, he became the first social-democratic German chancellor since the Weimar Republic.

Alexander Bogdanov

A doctor who became an early Bolshevik, he was born Alyaksandr Malinovsky. Malinovsky took his party name from the middle name of his wife, Natalya Bogdanovna Korsak.


Short for “Long Live May First!” Needless to say this comically unpronounceable name didn’t stick.


An old name of Germanic origin that got reinterpreted in the Soviet Union as a shortening for “Geroj Truda” (“Hero of Labor”).

Mike Gold

Itzok Isaac Granich, the American Communist editor and writer, took the name Michael Gold during the first Red Scare from a Jewish Civil War veteran he admired.

Maxim Gorky

Originally Alexei Maximovich Peshov. Highly regarded chronicler of Russia’s working class and associate of the Bolsheviks. He signed off his articles, which were usually about poor working conditions in Russia, with the name “Gorky,” which means “bitter.”

Irina Cherichenko as Iskra Polyakova

The RSDLP’s newspaper, whose staff included Lenin, Plekhanov, and Trotsky, as well as a common female name in the early Soviet Union. Iskra Polyakova is the name of the main character of a 1984 novel and its film adaptation about the tragic fate of the war generation.

Nikolai Lenin

Sometimes, Vladimir signed as N. Lenin. People mentally filled in the gap with Nikolai, a common Russian name. The N. didn’t, in fact, stand for anything.

Vladimir Lenin

One assumption is that Vladimir Ilyich Ulyanov took the pseudonym Lenin after workers on the river “Lena” went on a strike. But even Nadezhda Krupskaya, his wife, didn’t know for sure.

Julius Martov

Also L. Martov. First Yuliy Osipovich Tsederbaum, this Menshevik founder settled on the name Martov in 1901. He took the “L.” to honor his sister Lydia and “Martov” because he thought March (mart) was a “particularly revolutionary month.” It was in March 1848, after all, when The Communist Manifesto was published and revolt spread across Europe.

Still from Stilyagi (“Hipsters”) by Valeriy Todorovsky featuring Anton Shagin as Mels Buryukov (2008).

A popular Soviet name, made up of the initials for Marx, Engels, Lenin, and Stalin. In a recent Russian musical about 1950s youth subculture one of the main characters (Mels Biryukov) leaves out the last letter of his name as a part of his cathartic transformation.

Ho Chi Minh

Born Nguyen Sinh Cung. Using characters signifying “will” and “bright” — “chi” and “minh” respectively — the name forms the phrase “He who has been enlightened.”

Ninel’ Myshkova born in 1926 was a prominent actress during the late forties.

One of the many names derived from Lenin’s nom de guerre. While others came in and out of fashion this one stuck.

Karl Radek

Polish Comintern representative and writer whose birth name was Karol Sobelsohn. Pseudonym is taken from his favorite character in Stefan Żeromski’s The Labor of Sisyphus.

Victor Serge

As a young anarchist, Victor Lvovich Kibalchich went by “Le Rétif” — meaning a mule that refuses to be broken. He later took the name “Victor Serge” in a March 1917 Tierra y libertad article, for unknown reasons.

Joseph Stalin

Before the world called him Stalin, to his mother he was just “Soso,” Georgian for “Little Joey.” His first pseudonym was “Koba,” meaning “raven,” the name of the Robin Hood- esque hero of Alexander Kazbegi’s 1882 novel, The Patricide. Then, after experimenting with the names “Stefin,” “Salin,” and “Solin” — he was searching for a name like “Lenin” — he settled on “Stalin,” “steel-person,” in a 1912 Pravda article.

Josip Broz Tito

Given name Josip Broz. He took up a number of pseudonyms before settling on Tito due simply to its popularity in his home district. (Tito means “saved” in Latin — Titus was the Biblical Greek missionary to whom Paul wrote a canonical letter.)

Leon Trotsky

Lev Davidovich Bronstein took his famous pseudonym when he fled to London from Siberia.

Trotsky — the name he wrote in his fake passport — belonged to a prison guard he knew from a stint in an Odessan jail.

Vilen (“Willi”) Tokarev is a Soviet singer- songwriter born in 1934 who rose to fame after emigrating to New York City in the eighties.

An acronym of Vladimir Ilyich Lenin and is the given name of Willi Tokarev, a Russian-American singer-songwriter who became famous in the 1980s for his songs about life as a Russian émigré in New York’s Brighton Beach.


Slavoj Žižek’s Call of Duty handle.

Grigory Yevseevich Zinoviev

Originally Hirsch Apfelbaum, the important Bolshevik stole “Zinoviev” from a rich Russian family. That family had its assets confiscated after the revolution.