Eastern Slavic naming customs
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The Eastern Slavic naming customs are the traditions for determining a person's name in countries influenced by East Slavic linguistic tradition. This relates to modern Russia, Belarus, Ukraine, Macedonia, Bulgaria, and Kazakhstan. For exact rules, differences and historical changes, see respective languages and linguistics-related articles.
In such locations, it is obligatory for people to have three names: a given name, a patronymic, and a family name (surname). They are generally presented in that order, e.g. Владимир Семёнович Высоцкий (Vladimir Semyonovich Vysotsky), where "Vladimir" is a given name, "Semyonovich" is a patronymic (after his father's given name Semyon), and "Vysotsky" is a family name. The ordering is not as strict in languages other than Russian.
Given first name
As with most cultures, a person has a given name chosen by the parents. First names in East Slavic languages mostly originate from two sources: Orthodox church tradition (which is itself of Greek origin) and native pre-Christian Slavic lexicons, although some also come from Turkic languages.
If two variants of a name are given, generally the first variant is Russian, and the second is Ukrainian.
Diminutive forms (e.g. Danny for Daniel in English) exist for almost every popular name. Some common names and their diminutive forms are:
- Aleksandr (Александр) - Sasha (Саша), Sanya (Саня), Sashok (Сашок), Shura (Шура), Shurik (Шурик), Sashko (Сашко, Ukr.), Sanyok (Санёк), Oles (Олесь, Ukr.)
- Aleksandra (Александрa) - Sasha (Саша), Shura (Шура), Olesia (Олеся, Ukr.)
- Aleksey (Алексей) - Lyosha (Лёша), Lyokha (Лёха)
- Anastasiya (Анастасия) - Nastya (Настя), Nastyuha (Настюха), Nastyusha (Настюша)
- Anatoliy (Анатолий) - Tolya (Толя), Tolik (Толик), Tolyan (Толян)
- Anna (Анна) - Anya (Аня), Anyuta (Анюта), Anechka (Анечка)
- Boris (Борис) - Borya (Боря)
- Dar'ya (Дарья) - Dasha (Даша)
- Dmitriy (Дмитрий) - Dima (Дима)
- Galina (Галина) - Galya (Галя)
- Gennadiy (Геннадий) - Gena (Гена)
- Georgiy (Георгий) - Gosha (Гоша), Goga (Гога), Zhora (Жора)
- Grigoriy (Григорий) - Grisha (Гриша), Hryts (Гриць, Ukr.)
- Il'ya (Илья) - Ilyusha (Илюша), Ilyukha (Илюха)
- Irina (Ирина) - Ira (Ира), Irisha (Ириша)
- Ivan (Иван) - Vanya (Ваня)
- Konstantin (Константин) - Kostya (Костя), Kostik (Костик)
- Kseniya (Ксения), Oksana (Оксана) - Ksyusha (Ксюша)
- Larisa (Лариса) - Lara (Лара)
- Leonid (Леонид) - Lyonya (Лёня)
- Lev (Лев) - Lyova (Лёва)
- Lidiya (Лидия) - Lida (Лида)
- Lyubov' (Любовь) - Lyuba (Люба)
- Lyudmila (Людмила) - Lyuda (Люда), Lyusya (Люся), Meela (Мила)
- Mariya (Мария) - Masha (Маша)
- Mikhail (Михаил) - Misha (Миша), Mikha (Миха)
- Nadezhda (Надежда) - Nadya (Надя)
- Natal'ya (Наталья) - Natasha (Наташа), Nata (Ната)
- Nikolay (Николай) - Kolya (Коля)
- Ol'ga (Ольга) - Olya (Оля)
- Pavel (Павел) - Pasha (Паша)
- Polina (Полина) - Polya (Поля)
- Pyotr (Пётр) - Petya (Петя)
- Roman (Роман) - Roma (Рома)
- Sergey (Сергей) - Seryozha (Серёжа)
- Sof'ya (Софья) - Sonya (Соня)
- Svetlana (Светлана) - Sveta (Света)
- Stanislav (Станислав) - Stas (Стас)
- Svyatoslav (Святослав) - Svyat (Свят)
- Tamara (Тамара) - Toma (Тома)
- Tat'yana (Татьяна) - Tanya (Таня)
- Valentin/Valentina (Валентин/Валентина) - Valik (Валик)/Valya (Валя)
- Valeriy (Валерий) - Valera (Валера)
- Valeriya (Валерия) - Lera (Лера)
- Vasiliy (Василий) - Vasya (Вася)
- Viktor (Виктор) - Vitya (Витя)
- Viktoriya (Виктория) - Vika (Вика)
- Vladimir (Владимир) - Volodya (Володя), Vova (Вова)
- Vyacheslav (Вячеслав) - Slava (Слава)
- Yakov (Яков) - Yasha (Яша)
- Yelena (Елена) - Lena (Лена)
- Yelizaveta (Елизавета) - Liza (Лиза), Iveta (Ивета)
- Yekaterina (Екатерина) - Katya (Катя), Katyusha (Катюша)
- Yevdokiya (Евдокия) - Dusya (Дуся), Dunia (Дуня)
- Yevgeniy/Yevgeniya (Евгений/Евгения) - Zhenya (Женя)
- Yuliya (Юлия) - Yulya (Юля)
- Yuri (Юрий) - Yura (Юра),
Most names have several diminutive forms. Some diminutive forms can include colloquial variants (e.g.: Vanya — Van'ka, Sasha — Sashka, etc.). Diminutive forms of feminine names mainly have either an "a" or "я" ("ya") ending (e.g.: Kseniya — Ksyusha, Mariya — Masha, Yekaterina — Katya, Ol'ga — Olya). The distinguishing feature of diminutive forms of Russian names is the affectionate suffix "-еньк" ("-yen'k") or "-юн" ("-yun") (e.g. Kolya — Kolen'ka, Kolyunya, Sasha — Sashen'ka, Masha — Mashen'ka).
The patronymic of a person is based on the first name of the father and is written in all legal and identity documents. As an example, the patronymic name of Soviet leader Никита Сергеевич Хрущёв (Nikita Sergeyevich Khrushchev) indicates that his father was named Сергей (Sergey). However, an adult person is entitled the right to legally change their patronymic in order to alienate with the biological father (or show respect for the adopted one) as well as to decide the same for their underaged child.
If used with the first name, the patronymic always follows it.
A suffix (meaning either "son of" or "daughter of") is added to the father's given name—in modern times, males use -ович -ovich, while females use -овна -ovna. If the suffix is being appended to a name ending in й (y) or a soft consonant, the initial o becomes a ye (-евич -yevich and -евна -yevna). There are also a few exceptions to this pattern; for example, the son of Ilya is always Ilyich, not Ilyevich (likewise the daughter of Ilya is Ilyinichna).
Historically, the -ovich (-ovna) form was reserved for the Russian aristocracy, while commoners had to use -in, -yn, -ov, -ev, etc. (for a son; e.g., Boris Alekseev, Dmitri Kuzmin) and -eva, -ova, -ina, etc. (for a daughter; e.g., Sofiya Alekseeva, Anastasiya Kuzmina). Over time, the -ovich (-ovna) form spread to commoners favored by the tsar, high-ranking bureaucrats, and during the 19th century, to all segments of Russian society.
In Ukrainian language the female patronymic always ends with -ivna and the male always ends with -ovych. Exceptions: the Ukrainian patronymic for Ilya is Illich, names ending with -slav can end on both -slavovych and -slavych.
When translating Russian-style names into English, it is important to remember that the patronymic is not equivalent to an English middle name and follows different abbreviation conventions. The patronymic can be omitted (e.g. Vladimir Putin or V. Putin); both the first name and the patronymic can be written out in full (Vladimir Vladimirovich Putin); or both the first name and the patronymic can be abbreviated (V. V. Putin). However, writing out the first name and abbreviating the patronymic (e.g. Vladimir V. Putin), although something that one occasionally encounters in translations, is incorrect.
Family name (surname)
Family names, like Путин (Putin), Ельцин (Yel'tsin) or Горбачёв (Gorbachyov), generally function in the same manner that English family names do. They are generally inherited from one's parents. On marriage, women usually adopt the surname of their husband (as with English names), or (very rarely) vice versa; both choices are voluntary. Another uncommon practice for married women is to create a double surname (for example, Mr. Ivanov and Miss Petrova in their marriage may take family names Ivanov-Petrov and Ivanova-Petrova, respectively).
Grammatically, most Russian surnames are possessive adjectives; surname-nouns (Lebed' - literally "the swan") or attributive adjectives (Tolstoy - literally "fat" in an archaic form) are infrequent, and are mainly adopted from other languages. Surnames ending in -ov, -ev, -in are short forms of possessive adjectives; ones ending in -sky are full forms.
As with all Slavic adjectives, family names have different forms depending on gender — for example, the wife of Борис Ельцин (Boris Yel'tsin) is Наина Ельцина (Naina Yel'tsina). Note that this change of grammatical gender is not considered to be changing the name received from a woman's father or husband (compare the equivalent rule in Czech or Polish). The correct transliteration of such feminine names in English is debated: sometimes women's names are given in their original form, sometimes in the masculine form (technically incorrect but now more widely recognized).
Note that only Slavic names (possessive adjectives) are changed this way. Noun-family-names like "Lebed'" and German-style family names like "Feldmann" (nearly only used by Russian Jews, not by Slavic Russians) are not changed based on gender - the feminine form is the same as masculine.
Russian surnames usually end in -ov (-ova for female); -ev (-eva); -in (-ina). Ukrainian surnames generally end with -enko, -ko, -uk, and -ych (these endings do not change based on gender and are not subject to case declension). The ending -skiy or -sky (-skaya) is also common in both Russia and Ukraine.
Adjective-style family names are declined based on the Slavonic case system: nom.masc. "Ivanov" gen.masc. "Ivanova"; gen. fem. "Ivanovoy", etc. Ukrainian-style names ending with "-enko" are never declined in Russian (but declined in Ukrainian - "Yuschenka"=genitive of "Yuschenko", "Timashenku"=accusative of "Timoshenko"). Noun-based names like "Lebed'" and German-style names like "Feldman" are only declined if they belong to a man, but not to a woman, like "Borisu Feldmanu" (to Boris Feldman), but "Tane Feldman" (to Tanya Feldman).
The reason is that the Russian feminine nouns cannot end with an unpalatalized consonant, while masculine nouns can. Thus not only German or noun-based family names, but also foreign given names are declined if they are masculine: "Dzhonu"=genitive of "John", but not denclined if they are feminine: the genitive of "Suzan" (Susan) is still "Suzan" while that of "Susanna" is "Suzanne" due to the -a ending being a declinable feminine ending.
The majority of Russian surnames are derived from personal names (Sergeyev — Sergey's son; Vasilyev — Vasiliy's son; etc.). Many surnames originate from names of animals and birds (Lebedev — the possessive of лебедь, "swan"; Korovin — the possessive of корова, "cow"; etc.), which had long ago been used as additional personal names or nicknames. Many other surnames originate in people's professions and crafts (Kuznetsov — Smith's son). In the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries -off was a common transliteration of -ov when spelling Russian surnames in foreign languages such as French (e.g., the Smirnoff brand).
Forms of address
Although everyone in Russia, Ukraine, and Belarus is required to have three names, the full three-name form is virtually never used in direct communication and is generally reserved for documents and public speeches. In the media, the three-name form could be used for highly respected persons (e.g. leaders of the Soviet Union and Russia). In most circumstances, one or two names are usually omitted. Different combinations of names denote varying levels of respect.
The choice of addressing format is closely linked to the choice of second-person pronoun. Russian language distinguishes between informal ty (ты) and formal vy (вы), the latter also being the plural of both forms, used to address a pair or group. (Respectful Vy may be capitalized, while plural vy is not.) Excluding the usage of patronymics, forms of address in Russian are very similar to the English ones.
Second person forms
Forms used with ty, formalness increasing:
- <First name, diminutive form> — very informal. There are wide range of hypocorisms in Russian. As opposed to full and short forms, they are emotional. They can demonstrate warm and tender attitude towards addressee, although some diminutive forms can bear slighting or pejorative emotions. Neo-vocative case can be used for certain names and forms. English analogue for Ronald Reagan: Ronnie.
- <First name, full or short form> — the most widely used informal address. Full form is used for some, usually one- or two-syllable, names like Andrey, Gleb, Igor, Oleg, Vera, Inna, Nina; for most names, short form is used. Colloquial neo-vocative case can be used instead of standard nominative case, but there are names for which it does not exist. English analogue for Ronald Reagan: Ron, Ronald.
- <Patronymic, full or short form> — can be used among close friends (usually of not-so-young, mature age), shortening of the next form. The diminutive is formed by turning -ovich into -ych for males, and -ovna into -na for females. For example, if Vasiliy Ivanovich Chapayev is a good friend, one can call him just Ivanych (from Ivan[ov]ich). Some patronymics are abbreviated even further: Pavlovich becomes Palych and Aleksandrovich turns into Sanych, while some are never abbreviated, like Petrovich and Ilyich. This form is now considered somewhat old style and used very rare, mostly among elderly people. One widely known example is Lenin, who in Soviet propaganda was often referred to as Ilyich.
- <First name, full or special short form> <Patronymic, full or short form> (at least one is short). Some names have special short form, used only in this form of address. Aleksandr Aleksandrovich (Александр Александрович) may be called San Sanych (Сан Саныч) and Pavel Pavlovich (Павел Павлович) may be called Pal Palych (Пал Палыч). For example, in Chapaev movie, Vasiliy Ivanovich Chapayev was called by his subordinates Vasiliy Ivanych or Vasil' Ivanych. It is a colloquial variation of formal address with full names, and can be used with either ty or vy. It is also considered old style.
- <Last name>. It is usually used by the elders when addressing subordinates (for example, teachers addressing students, or sergeant addressing soldiers), while it is not considered very polite, showing that the speaker doesn't bother remembering the first name; rarely used among friends in informal situations (often used in situations like the army barrack, school class or student campus where the people do for sure know the surnames of one another, often hearing them in official situation). Sometimes it can be considered rude or aggressive. In third person, its usual form in journalism and colloquial speech about someone without family or business relations to the interlocutors but known to them. English analogue for Ronald Reagan: Reagan.
Forms used with vy, formality increasing:
- <First name, full form> — formal use. This form emerged in last 20 years due to Western influence; it is now gradually superseding the next one, especially in business practice. English analogue for Ronald Reagan: Ronald.
- <First name, full form> <Patronymic, full form> — formal and respectful, could be used to address an older colleague or a mentor. The most widely used formal address. English analogue for Ronald Reagan: Mr. Reagan (not the same in structure, but used in same situations).
- <Prefix> <Last name> — highly formal. During the Soviet era, a prefix 'tovarishch' (comrade, gender-neutral when used as a prefix) was universally used; since then it fell out of general use. Nowadays, common prefixes are gospodín (господин, Rus.) or pan (пан, Ukr.) for sir, and gospozhá (госпожа, Rus.), or páni (пані, Ukr.) for ma'am. In some situations (e.g. by police officers) grazhdanín/grazhdánka (citizen) has been used since Soviet time, but now it is considered rude by many people (the criminals and inmates were prohibited from using "tovarisch" when addressing the police or correction officers, and vice versa, so this style has a connotation of one being addressed as a jail inmate). Gospodin/gospozha can be used in business conversations, but given the negative connotations these words had in Soviet period (as it means master/mistress or lord/lady), politically neutral <First name> <Patronymic> form is usually preferred.
Third person forms
The third person in speech can be referred to in any form used with second person, if all the interlocutors know him/her. Naturally, the form used in personal conversation with mentioned individual person is used; if the interlocutors are in different levels of relations with him/her, they often resort to the most formal name.
Third person only forms, formalness increasing:
- <First name, short or diminutive form> <Last name> — very informal, used exclusively for children or persons much younger than speaker. Also, modern performers, such as Dima Bilan and Natasha Koroleva, sometimes adopt that form as their stage name. English analogue for Ronald Reagan: Ron Reagan.
- <First name, full form> <Last name> — formal. English analogue for Ronald Reagan: Ronald Reagan.
- <Title> <Last name> — usually used for soldiers, like general Lebed, scientists, like akademik (academician) Pavlov, or, formerly, noblemen, like knyaz (prince) Potemkin. For monarchs, usual title-name-number-nickname was used, like tsar Aleksandr II Osvoboditel (Alexander II the Liberator), sometimes with addition of patronymics after number.
- <First name> <Patronymic> <Last name> — used either to provide full name of not previously mentioned person (e.g. to introduce him/her to the auditory), or to show very high respect (this is quite rare now even for the President of Russia). English analogue for Ronald Reagan: Ronald Wilson Reagan. Preposition with titles makes it as formal as possible; used in grand ceremonies like state holidays and inaugurations.
Finally, there is the <Last name>, <First name> <Patronymic> (or without patronymic) form, which is used for alphabetical sorting purpose or not, in legal and official documents, databases, government paperwork, and the like. Such form is commonly referred to as FIO (short for familiya, imya, otchestvo, i.e. "last name, first name, patronymic"). Although also found in English, this form is much more common in Russia. For example, the Russian Wikipedia uses this form for titles of all articles about persons. English analogue for Ronald Reagan: Reagan, Ronald Wilson.
In Russian, adjectives before name are generally restricted to written forms of communication. Adjectives like lyubimiy/lyubimaya (beloved) and miliy/milaya (sweet or darling) are informal, while uvazhayemiy/uvazhayemaya (respected) is highly formal and is used to prepend <First name> <Patronymic> in formal addresses and personal appeals. Some adjectives, like dorogoy/dorogaya (dear), can be used in both formal and informal letters.
Slavicized names of non-Slavic people
In the Russian, Ukrainian and Belarusian languages, non-Slavic patronymics and family names may also be changed according to the above-mentioned rules. This is widespread in naming people of ethnic minorities and citizens of Central Asian or Caucasian republics of the former Soviet Union, especially if a person is a permanent resident and speaks the local language. For example, Irina Hakamada, a popular Russian politician whose father was Japanese, has a patronymic "Mutsuovna" (strange-sounding in Russian) since her father's first name was Mutsuo. The ethnicity of origin generally remains recognizable in russified names.
Bruno Pontecorvo, after he emigrated to the USSR, was known as Бруно Максимович Понтекорво (Bruno Maksimovich Pontekorvo) in the Russian scientific community, because his father's given name was Massimo (corresponding to Russian Максим (Maksim)). Pontecorvo's sons have been known by names Джиль Брунович Понтекорво, Антонио Брунович Понтекорво and Тито Брунович Понтекорво (Dzhil/Gil Brunovich, Antonio Brunovich, Tito Brunovich Pontekorvo).
In several Tom Clancy novels, Sergei Nicolayevich Golovko calls his American counterpart, John Patrick Ryan, "Ivan Emmetovich," because his father was Emmet Ryan: as an Irish-American, Ryan had not had a patronymic before.
Such conversion of foreign names is unofficial and optional in many cases of communication and translation.
Foreign name forms
Doubled first names (to a French style) are a very rare foreign-influenced instance. Russian filmmaker Valeriya Gai Germanika was registered at birth as just Valeriya by Soviet authorities but legally demanded her first name to be changed to Valeriya Gai upon reaching adulthood in the new Russia (contrary to the popular view that this is her pseudonym). Most doubled first names are spelled with the dash (e.g., Mariya-Tereza).
Exceptions for some post-Soviet countries
In the local languages of the non-Slavic CIS countries, Russian rules for patronymics were either never used or abandoned after gaining independence. Some Turkic languages, however, also use patronimics, formed using the Turkic word meaning 'son' or 'daughter'. For example, Kazakh ұлы (ûlâ; transcribed into English as -ulı, as in Nursultan Äbishulı Nazarbayev) or Azeri oğlu (as in Heydər Əlirza oğlu Əliyev); Kazakh қызы (transcribed into English as -qyzy, as in Dariga Nursultanqyzy Nazarbayeva). Such kinds of patronymic for Turkic peoples were officially allowed in the Soviet times.
Some surnames in those languages have been russified since the 19th century and remain so; e.g. the surname of Kazakh president Nursultan Nazarbayev has a Russian "-yev" suffix, which literally means "of Nazar-bay" (where "bay" is a Turkic native noble rank - compare Turkish "bey", Uzbek "beg", and Kyrghyz "bek"). This surname russification practice is not common, varying greatly by country.
Some ethnic groups use more than one name, one official, another unofficial. Official names are made with Russian patronymics, unofficial names are noble or tribal names, which were prohibited after the revolution. After the fall of the Soviet Union, some people returned to using these tribal or noble names as surnames (e.g. Sarah Naiman — a Kazakhstan singer, whose surname means that she is from Naimans). Some Muslim people changed their surnames to an Arabic style (e.g. Tungyshbay Zhamankulov — famous Kazakhstan actor who often plays role of Khans in movies, changed his name to Tungyshbay al-Tarazy).
News and other information regarding CIS states is frequently written in Russian (and then translated to English) with names using the Russian patronymics, regardless of the person's preference or common usage.
Early Soviet Union
During the days of revolutionary enthusiasm, as part of the campaign to get rid of "bourgeois culture" (and, specifically, of religious heritage, manifest in many Russian first names), there was a drive to invent new, "revolutionary" names. This produced a large number of Soviet people with bizarre names. Commonly the source were initialisms, as "Vil", "Vilen(a)", "Vladlen(a)" and "Vladilen(a)" for Vladimir Ilyich Lenin. A common suffix was -or, after the October Revolution as seen in "Vilor(a)" or "Melor(a)" (Marx Engels Lenin). Sometimes children were given names after aspects as Barrikada ("barricade") or Revolutsiya ("revolution"). Some of these names have survived into the 21st century.
This tendency was referenced in Polar Star, the second book of the Arkady Renko series by Martin Cruz Smith. The character Dynama (from dynamo) was so named by her father to celebrate the 1950s electrification of her native Uzbekistan. By the 1980s, however, this name was colloquially used refer to opportunistic women who cultivated serial lovers for financial gain - a practice utterly alien to the faithfully married and traditionally-minded Dynama of the novel.
A number of books about this tendency mention some other unusual names such as Dazdrapertrak for Da Zdravstvuet Pervy Traktor ('Hail The First Tractor!'), Dazdraperma Da Zdravstvuet Pervoe Maya ('Hail May Day!') (May Day - International Workers' Day), Revmir(a), for Revolutsiya Mirovaya ('World Revolution') and Oyushminald, for Otto Yulyevich Shmidt na Ldine" (Otto Schmidt on the ice floe').
Some parents called their children the German female names "Gertrud(a)" (Gertrude), reanalyzing it as "Geroy/Geroinya Truda" ('Hero of Labour'), "Marlen(a)" (Marlene), reanalyzing it as "Marx and Lenin", or "Sten" (Stan), reanalyzing it as "Stalin and Engels".
People with such names usually use the short form of the closest classic Russian name, and represent themselves using it - like "Vlad" for "Vladlen" ("Vladlen" is "Vladimir Lenin", while "Vlad" is also a short form of "Vladislav").
- List of surnames in Russia
- Romanization of Russian
- Russian personal name
- Slavic names
- Slavic surnames
- Ukrainian name
- (Russian) "§ 74. Доллар куда будем ставить?".
- М.А. Кронгауз (03-2001). "Новое в речевом этикете" (in Russian). Русский язык. Retrieved 2010-08-01.
- Tsarnaev Brothers: The right kind of Caucasian
- Трудный мир подростков
Further reading (in Russian)
- Балановская Е. В., Соловьева Д. С., Балановский О. П. и др. «Фамильные портреты» пяти русских регионов / Медицинская генетика. 2005.№ 1. С. 2-10.
- Таблицы и рисунки к статье «Фамильные портреты» пяти русских регионов
- Подробный популярный пересказ Report in the journal «Химия и жизнь»
- Article in «Коммерсантъ ВЛАСТЬ» № 38 от 26 сентября 2005 г. и реакция на нее авторов работы.
- Article in «Коммерсантъ ВЛАСТЬ»Лицо русской национальности. 38 (641) (Власть ed.). 2005. pp. 54–60.
- Paul Goldschmidt's Dictionary of Russian Names; discussion of patronymics; also interesting historical exceptions to the current pattern