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“Parents Wanted a Son.” Why Kyrgyz Women Have Superstitious Names?

Kyrgyzstan gradually gets rid of the tradition to give superstitious names to girls in order to have a son. However, it does not mean that girls become as wanted children as boys, according to some psychologists.

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Today, October 11, is the International Day of the Girl Child, which was declared by the UN General Assembly in December 2011 (resolution 66/170) to recognise girls’ rights.

This day was declared to attract attention to social challenges and inequality of girls all around the world related directly to the attitude towards females. It also focuses on the opportunities to get education, healthy food, medical services, social rights, protection against discrimination, violence and forced marriage in childhood.

In addition to the above issues, Kyrgyzstan has one more issue – some parents, most often father and his relatives, do not want to have girls. If a mother delivers a girl, they blame her for not being able to deliver a male heir to the husband.

In Kyrgyzstan, when girls are born in a family in succession, the family recourses to superstitions. One of the most widespread ones is to give a name of Zhanyl, Burul or Uulzhan to a girl in order to have a boy afterwards.

“Zhanyl” means the verb “make a mistake” in Kyrgyz. “Burul” means “turn over”, and also the variations of the name are “Burulsun” and “Burulcha”.

The parents who wanted a boy gave a name to a girl with the prefix “uul”, which means “son”. The women’s names with root “myrza” appeared in the language. The title “myrza” is used in the Kyrgyz language towards respected men. Now it is used in women’s names.


Stigma for life

My name is Zhanyl. I don’t know who gave me this name. My parents wanted a son so much, and I was their fourth daughter.

My older sisters have beautiful names. Father and mother said the superstition did work and they finally had my younger brother. When I was a child, I was proud to have some influence on the birth of my brother, but now I understand I didn’t play any role in that.

Moreover, it’s offensive to have a name that tells everyone you were the unwanted child. I would never give such a name to my daughter, no matter how many I would have.

Psychologist Maria Samsonova thinks such names can strongly affect the life of the girl. According to her, such girl feels her family rejects her and is not happy with her, and the child carries a burden of guilt for her gender identity.

“It is like a stigma for life for a girl. The name will always remind her she is the unwanted child, she is not the one her parents wanted, she disappointed the parents, didn’t equal to their expectations,” she said.

The journalist of the youth educational project Bilesinbi.kg, Asel Zholdoshbek kyzy, said they had many questions from women about how to conceive a boy.

“Usually, they are interested if there are any special medical, folk or religious methods to conceive a boy. They often tell their husbands and relatives put pressure on them. Some are even surprised to know that the child’s sex depends biologically on the man,” Zholdoshbek kyzy said.

She shared one of the stories they received:

As soon as I got pregnant, my mother-in-law started repeating I had to deliver a grandson to her. She used to repeat the all-too-common phrase that can be translated as “bad women deliver only girls”.

Every time my mother-in-law said the man needed to continue the family line. My husband didn’t make a secret that he wanted a son, not a daughter. I was scared of getting pregnant and knowing the gender.

I didn’t care if it would be a son or a daughter. I was scared to have a daughter because she wouldn’t be loved by her father and grandmother. Then I delivered a son. Everyone was so happy, but not for a long time.

Now they tell me the boy should not be alone, he needs a brother.

According to Asel Zholdoshbek kyzy, girls born in such families suffer just the same as their mothers.

“Adult women turn to us; they have psychological problems and self-rejection as they felt they were unwanted children since childhood. Usually they tell their father or his relatives humiliate them because of their gender identity. Some tell stories when a long-awaited boy is very spoiled and parents demand a lot from his sisters,” she said.

Photo courtesy of Maria Samsonova

According to psychologist Maria Samsonova, this is a very traumatic situation for girls’ psychology, which can affect the whole life ahead.

“The pattern for life is “I don’t have a right to my life, I am guilty, I should not have been born, they are not glad with my birth.” At best, this pattern will motivate a girl to succeed and to prove parents she’s not worse than the boy and has a right to live. At worse, it will lead to self-destruction,” Samsonova said.

According to her, in future, a woman who was born in a family that wanted a boy could reject her femininity, gender identity, i.e. herself.

“It affects her self-esteem, her self-confidence. It’s bad to be a girl, but I cannot be a man either. This is a sad situation that requires psychological assistance,” psychologist said.

Суеверные имена на новый лад

If a son is born, they make a feast, if a daughter is born, they don’t have to.

The coordinator of the UNDP country gender programme, Aisuluu Kamchybekova, said the situation of girls in the country is also influenced by the general socioeconomic situation, which is getting worse every year. Parents leave the country to earn money and leave their children with their relatives, which creates conditions for violating children’s rights, particularly, among girls. Therefore, families are happier to have a boy as they expect him to feed them when they are old.

“However, there are no guarantees. In modern society, girls can help their old parents even better. These stereotypes are strongly developed in rural areas, where such norms, customs and cultural peculiarities still exist. For example, if a son is born, they make a feast, if a daughter is born, they don’t have to,” Kamchybekova said.

In recent years, the Kyrgyzstanis make up new names with a touch of superstition. New names appeared like Asylmyrza, Uulbiyke, Uulzat, Uulkumar, Uulmyrza, Uuldanai, and Burulaiym.


According to gynaecologist and head of consultancy unit of family medicine centre No. 2 of Bishkek, Aisalkyn Dzhunushalieva, parents in the capital have equal attitude towards both girls and boys because today they have another problem – to conceive.

“It’s a problem today to conceive. So  today young people, especially husbands, don’t care much about the gender. They only wish their child is healthy,” Dzhumushalieva said.

However, the situation in the regions may be quite different from the one in Bishkek, the gynaecologist said.

Researcher and sociologist Reina Arturova said such superstitious women’s names are gradually going extinct because they are rather outdated.

“This is because now names are given based on other social beliefs. For example, Muslim names became more widespread because Islam is getting more popular. International names become popular because of the internet , mass media. However, it doesn’t mean that there is less of patriarchate and girls are  valued just like boys,” Arturova said.

According to her, there is still a trend that boys are more wanted children.

 “Three years ago we surveyed all regions of Kyrgyzstan and asked, “who would you prefer to give education to: a boy or a girl?” And still the majority of parents answered the boy because the boy would stay with them, because the boy needed it more, because the girl would get married and would have her own children. It doesn’t mean they don’t love their daughters, but priority is given to sons anyway,” Arturova said.

Marlen Mamataliev. Photo: kenesh.kg

The deputy of the parliament Marlen Mamataliev has four daughters and a son was born recently. He said he got a little upset when the fourth girl was born but now he understands it was a miracle.

“I am thankful to God endlessly because I have four girls. And all look like their beautiful mother. As for the rest, the temper etc. they are my copies. Almost every day I try to do homework with them. I am telling them to be honest and open. I don’t create any barrier between us but I am strict with them. They take taekwondo and judo classes. My oldest daughters study very well,” the legislator said.

Some nations have the unequal attitude towards the sex of a child and it doesn’t have anything to do with religion, said Baktiyar Toktogazy uulu, employee of fatwa department of DUMK. According to him, in Islam Muslims must be content with what they have from Allah, either a boy or a girl.

“It’s no sin to ask for a certain gender from Allah before pregnancy. There is also the Prophet’s saying “Fear Allah and treat your children fairly.” So I would like to address all the Kyrgyzstanis and tell them they should treat their children equally. If Allah wants it to be a girl, so it should be. The duty of parents is to give her all the love, care, attention and good education,” Toktogazy uulu said.

This publication was produced under IWPR project «Forging links and raising voices to combat radicalization in Central Asia»


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