Monday, 17 December 2007

Russian Names

I'm currently working my way through reading the Heron book set of the Greatest Masterpieces of Russian Literature. Throughout I have found the Russian system of names confusing. Having looked into the matter it appears that there are a number of rules, which unfortunately have changed over time, but I'll attempt to describe the most important ones here.

The complete Russian name is formed of a given name, patronymic, and a family name. Russian given names are often taken from the names of saints, especially those from Eastern Orthodox tradition, which are often of Greek origin. In the last century traditional Slavic names have again come into use.

One of the earliest means of differentiating one person from another person with the same name was the use of a patronymic.

If the father's given name ended in "-a" or "-ia," the basic patronymic ending is "-in" or "-yn," respectively (with the "a" or "ia" dropping out). Otherwise, the patronymic ended in an "-ov" or "-ev." The basic rule is that an "o" occured after a hard consonant, while an "e" occured after a soft consonant or in place of a vowel (i.e., with the vowel dropping out).2 If the name ends in "-ii" or "-yi," both vowels tend to drop out. They are replaced with a soft sign (') and the "-ev" ending (e.g., Vasilii becomes Vasil'ev).

So... Aleksei fathers Alekseev, Anton fathers Antonov, Mikhail fathers Mikhailov Boroda fathers Borodin, Malina (a man's name!) fathers Malinin, Sviatoslav fathers Sviatoslavov Vasilii fathers Vasil'ev, Iakov fathers Iakovlev, Iev fathers Ievlev.

Patronymics ending in "-vich" were popular in Novgorod and Pskov amongst the upper classes. However, by the 16th and 17th centuries Moscow had restricted the use of the "-vich" suffix to only the highest dignitaries. Simply add an "-ich" to the basic patronymic construction above, with the exception of given names that end in "-av" (in which case, the "ov" used in the aboveconstruction drops out to ease pronunciation): Alekseev becomes Alekseevich, Antonov becomes Antonovich, Mikhailov becomes Mikhailovich Borodin becomes Borodinich, Malinin becomes Malininich, Sviatoslavov becomes Sviatoslavich (note the missing "ov"!) Vasil'ev becomes Vasil'evich, Iakovlev becomes Iakovlevich, Ievlev becomes Ievlevich.

In most cases, women used the same types of patronymics as men. However, their bynames had to agree with the gender of the subject, which, in Russian, means that they had to add an "a" on the end. Therefore: Alekseev becomes Alekseeva, Antonov becomes Antonova, Mikhailov becomes Mikhailova, Borodin becomes Borodina, Malinin becomes Malinina, Sviatoslavov becomes Sviatoslavova Vasil'ev becomes Vasil'eva, Iakovlev becomes Iakovleva, Ievlev becomes Ievleva The same applied to patronymics written with a "-vich," which also had an "a" added to them e.g. Alekseevicha, Antonovicha, Mikhailovicha, Borodinicha, Malininicha, Sviatoslavicha, Vasil'evicha, Iakovlevicha, and Ievlevicha.

The given names can each have several different diminutives. Those of you familiar with Doctor Zhivago, for example, will know that Larissa was known to the majority of the other characters as Lara and her husband Pavel was known as Pasha. Here are some of the other diminutives that I've come across in my reading...


Aleksandr = Sasha, Shurik

Andrei = Andryusha

Fyodor = Fedya

Grigoriy = Grisha

Ivan = Vanya

Konstantin = Kostya

Mikhail = Misha

Pavel = Pasha

Pyotr (Petr) = Petya

Vladimir = Vova, Volodya


Anastasiya = Nastya

Anna = Anya

Antonina = Tonya

Larisa = Lara

Nadezhda = Nadya

Nataliya = Natasha

Tatiyana (Tatiana) = Tanya

Yekaterina = Katya, Katyusha

Yelena (Elena) = Lena

1 comment:

Doc said...

No wonder they drink.