(trigger warning: violent content)
Last year, November/December 2022, Lingoblog brought a quiz about a true crime. We had received a mail with the request to help to solve a crime that had been committed in 1992. The crime had not been resolved, but finally the identity of the victim has been identified, thanks to the tattoo with a text that we showed. The tattoo is not reproduced here. It can be seen in the article linked to below.
This was the story in the quiz:
In 1999 [sic] the body of a woman was found in Antwerp, Belgium (…) She had a tattoo on her body. But what does it say on the tattoo? Many people have looked at it, but nobody knows the answer. So here is a task for Lingoblog followers. Her clothes may point to (former) Yugoslavia, maybe Montenegro, maybe Hungary and her shoes were made in Italy – but whose shoes aren’t? Maybe these are clues.
On the photo, you can see the undeciphered tattoo. Some of it may have worn out through time, as the tattoo can be older (…).
Who wants to make a guess about the meaning of the tattoo’s text? We will publish all solutions, and transfer them to the detectives who are still, almost a quarter of a century after the crime, looking for the identity of the murdered woman and the killer.
We transferred the following suggestions, anonymized here, to the detectives in Belgium:
The first suggestion
For starters, since the quality of the picture is not so good, I can only have some wild guesses about the text and in particular, its letters. The first letter is most probably an R. The second letter is illegible (probably a vowel like “i”? Is it an apostrophe? Who knows!). The third appears to be a capital N (which is weird if all the letters form one word. But again, it is a tattoo, hence anything is possible!). The rest of the letters are not very legible either. I can only guess they may be “ier” (ah! how I wish the picture had a better quality!). If we consider the fact (?) that the text has two capital letters, then I suppose this could be a proper name (could it be R’ Nier?), so maybe R is the initial of a person’s first name and Nier (a French/German surname) is their surname? All in all, with the information that we have, I presume that if nothing was found in Belgium, the woman’s identity can be sought in France, Germany, or Switzerland (if nothing was found in those places, then the countries that constituted the former Yugoslavia could be looked at; Since if the text was more legible and we could have better guesses about the hiatus, the proposed word could be completely different and from the para-linguistic information that we have (the clothes), it could be written in Gaj’s Latin alphabet (used for writing Serbo-Croatian) which was used (alongside Cyrillic alphabet) in former Yugoslavia. But that has the lowest probability of them all, I believe that the clothes are more probable to be a result of a trip to Yugoslavia and the near countries like Hungary and maybe Italy?). I believe that if we had more (para-linguistic) information about the victim (…) we could make far better deductions.
The second suggestion
I believe that the tattoo shows Ranick. Most of what I write below has to do with this interpretation. The family name Ranick is not found in Germany and Belgium, but it is in ex-Yugoslavia, and in the USA (if you google it, a few names pop up). https://www.genealogy.com/forum/regional/countries/topics/serbia/1079/
Maybe as a variant of Ranic, which looks more Croatian. The C is usually pronounced ts or ch in the languages of the Balkans. Someone who can’t write and who asked a tattoo artist to write/ ranits/ wouldn’t get this tattoo. The tattoo artist wouldn’t write it as ranick. Maybe ranich.
It looks like the second letter could have been an å, a letter that you find in Scandinavian languages, but then no existing word can be found of the rest. The name Rånick may exist in Sweden:
Gift med [married to] Rånick, Birgitta. ( Född [born] 1938-10-07. ) Barn [child]: Ewaldz, Mattias.
Fodd 1966-07-26. Ewaldz, Daniel. Fodd 1968-11-09. Ewaldz, Jonas. Fodd 1970-07-03. (source)
But maybe that’s a misreading, because it’s the only hit you get when googling rånick. No one by that name lives in Sweden today.
Ranick is not a Romani word, and the -ck- combination is almost exclusively found in English (indeed, the y is not used in Balkan languages, but it is used a lot in Hungarian, but I don’t believe in the combination cy, if you read the tattoo as <ranicy>. I don’t believe there is a Roma/Sinti connection. Maybe the name exists in Roma-Sinti families in Croatia/Montenegro, but I am not aware of it. Maybe Welsh Romani, but that seems a long way from home to me. råni means “lady”, but the only variety in the world where it is spelled that way is Welsh Romani, a dialect that became extinct in the 1950s. “råni” in Welsh Romani-English Dictionary, ROMLEX – the Romani Lexicon Project, 2000.
Then there are, after råni, the next two letters that follow with no white space, and perhaps could count as initials. This seems farfetched to me. In the 1980s and 1990s, hardly anyone was aware of this. I found that there are five people with the last name Ranic in France, all in Pas de Calais. That is not far from Belgium.
News on the case
The way the identity of the victim was established can be read here in the Guardian:
See there, if you want to know more, and if you want to see the tattoo. Remember to support the Guardian.
Peter Bakker is a linguist at Aarhus University and Lingoblog quizmaster. He is looking for someone to take over, after 5+ years with original weekly quizzes – that can be repeated, and enough prizes for years to come.