Quiz: Can you guess how former USSR immigrants changed their names?

The biggest struggle in researching relatives and ancestors from the former USSR is figuring out spellings of their various names. For so many reasons, their names changed after immigrating and trying to trace their lives is like a complicated maze.

So here is the challenge of the day. See how many of these questions below you can answer correctly. These name changes are based on people who listed their real surnames and Americanized names on their gravestones in a Russian Orthodox cemetery in New York state.

Get your pen and paper ready to write down your answers and check them against the correct answers below.

1. A woman was named Kureshova. She changed her name to:

a. Kuresh

b. Kourre

c. Korr

2.  A man named Okunev. He changed his name to:

a. Hay

b. Okin

c. Okner

3. A man was named Pukh. He changed his name to:

a. Puner

b. Pouch

c. Punerov

4.  A woman was named Kurekova. She changed her name to:

a. Koreka

b. Kurek

c. Kurenko

5. A man was named Minitsky. He changed his name to:

a. Minn

b. Minit

c. Munit

6. A man was named Kusakov. He changed his name to:

a. Kusak

b. Kusar

c. Kent

7. A man was named Lopuhovych. He changed his name to:

a. Loch

b. Lopuk

c. Lopov

8. A man was named Mikhalov. He changed his name to:

a. Michaels

b. Mikhalow

c. Mitchell

9. A man was named Masianoff. He changed his name to:

a. Mason

b. Martell

c. Massy

10. A woman was named Dukhovetskaya. She changed her name to:

a. Dukhovetsky

b. Doukhowetzky

c. Doherty

See all the correct answers below.

If you got all the answers right, you know name changes can be simple or random. If you got a few wrong, you know it’s hard to predict how names are changed. If you got all the answers wrong,  look at your answers versus the correct answers. I would hardly get any of the answers correct if I never saw the gravestones.

  1. b  2. a 3. b 4. c 5. a 6. c 7. a 8. c 9. b 10. b

If you are stuck on researching your relatives and ancestors from the former USSR, check out these posts:

Best tips on uncovering U.S. documents on mysterious Soviet Union relatives

Don’t let this easy mistake implode your family tree

Break open the “I don’t know anything” relatives for some genealogy gems (perfect for the upcoming holiday season when visiting older relatives)


14 thoughts on “Quiz: Can you guess how former USSR immigrants changed their names?

  1. Pingback: Friday's Family History Finds | Empty Branches on the Family Tree

  2. Vera: That was quite interesting. I was born in Canada, my Father came from Ukraine. My maiden name was Anthony, but when I visited my grandparents graves in Winnipeg, MB, I found out my Father had changed his last name from Antoniw to Anthony. My parents never shared anything when I was young, which was too bad.


  3. My maternal grandmother had the same name as I do. In fact, I was named after her. Her Polish documents identified her as Ksenia not Xenia. Her name was misspelled on every census record in Canada but the border crossings to and from U.S. were difficult so she changed her name to Jennie when she was crossing into and while she was in U.S. When she returned to Canada, she went back to using Ksenia. At least that is how it is pronounced ks-en-ee-ah. I guess she disliked being called Zeenea or Zeenya as much as I do but I just try to convince everyone to pronounce my name properly.


    1. rosalie demartino

      Our great-great-grandma had the same name, and they denied she was a Armenian – Russian, with a last name of Saturian or Cetorien. She married a Epham Nikolaeff, and left Chita; They went to Japan, Hawaii, and arrived in SanFrancisco, CA, about 1911. They had two boys, Alex and Vladimere, between 1910–1912; She too also went by Luna, Vera, before she died;

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Unlike me! I like to standout. Anyway, my grandmother only used Jennie in U.S. and Ksenia in Canada. My great granduncle’s wife used Jennie and Xenia in Canada but few in North America know how to pronounce the name the Eastern European or Greek way. It is a Greek name so Greek to most North Americans!

        Liked by 1 person

  4. rosalie demartino

    12/31/2017: We use to go to a lot of Greek festivals, and I went to school with people from Greece. We still eat a lot of Greek food because we like it. I too wasn’t sure how to pronounce or spell her name correctly. Probably changing her name kept her from being fearful in America. I think it is a beautiful name that has an exotic flair to it. Was she near the west coast of Canada, or did she arrive from the Atlantic shores??

    Liked by 1 person

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