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Russian naming conventions and your quick and easy guide to diminutives.


Diminutives

You're reading a Russian-written and/or set novel in which there's a hot Soviet spy (with blonde highlights, natch) called Ekaterina Ivanovna Smirnova. She hangs around Moscow and goes to Moscow Centre to do her work, where she's called Comrade Major Smirnova or Ekaterina Ivanovna. Then she goes to visit her friends, who start calling her Katya. Then she visits her parents at their Dacha (they're senior CPSU members, so they have a dacha) and they call her Katen'ka.

No, you haven't gone mad. Nor has the author engaged in a stunning display of inconsistency. You've just entered the world of the Russian diminutive.

Russian diminutives are kind of like standardised nicknames in the US, where a character called Joseph would often be called "Joe". Except there's three different types of them:

  • The regular one, in this case "Katya" (Kate). Used among friends and work colleagues. It is worth stressing that in Russian-speaking countries people are almost never given the diminutive names officially (and even then they are only names that have their Western counterparts, like "Max" or "Alex"). So, even if two friends call themselves "Fyedya" and "Vanya", they will be invariably called "Fyodor" and "Ivan" by anyone else.
  • The intimate one, in this case "Katen'ka" (roughly equal to the Japanese "-chan" honorific, or the English "-kin" or "-kins" suffix, so "Katen'ka" would be roughly "Katiekins"). Used by close family members, very close friends and lovers, for small children, and generally a suffix to indicate something the user finds 'cute', or again, is speaking to a small child.
  • The derogatory one, in this case "Kat'ka" (basically Stupid Kate). Used when you're being insulting or for nonchalant familiarity, whether in actual display thereof or to take someone who obviously doesn't apply down a notch or two. Except in some contexts this form isn't offensive (most often, if the person who accepts it is trying to present hirself as simple, down-to-earth person). Or sometimes Russians use this form when talking about themselves, ironically.

There are other, non-standardized forms of Russian names, often occurring in slang and among the gopniki. They are not described here.

(She could also be called "Katyusha"- Katie, a name best known since it was applied to truck-mounted rocket launchers used by the Red Army during the Second World War and still used today).

There are examples for virtually every common Russian name. No, they aren't predictable. Note that unlike in the West, dimunitive names are never used in formal situations -- only full ones.


Naming Conventions

So we're back to our hot female spy. Her full name is Ekaterina Ivanovna Smirnova. Her first name is obvious- the Russian form of Katherine. But what about the other two:

  • Ivanovna means "daughter of Ivan". The male version is "Ivanovich"- "son of Ivan". The technical term is patronymic.
  • Smirnova is the feminine form of Smirnov, a very common Russian surname. Women (often) add an "a" to the surname.

Surnames

Russian, Ukrainian and Belarussian surnames have a variety of different types, usually tallying with ethnic origin. The Russian ones:

  • -ov/ova
  • -ev/eva
  • -in/ina
  • -sky/skaya: More of a Jewish or Polish name today, but before 1917, there were many noble (comital or princely) Russian families with names like this.
    • Plus there's the whole "add a -ski and it's Russian" thing for nicknames (not Reporting Names), for Soviet/Russian military tech, such as "Konkordski" (the Tu-144 "Charger", the Soviet rival to Concord, which entered service first, but was retired far earlier and much cruder, if faster), "Harpoonski" (Kh-35/SS-N-25 "Switchblade", due its resemblance to the US Harpoon missile) and
  • -iy/iya: Also in Ukraine.

Ukrainian ones, no gender changes here:

  • -enko
  • -ko
    • Which means there's a chance that Irina Derevko is actually not a Russian in ethnic origin, but Ukrainian.
      • Not necessary, as Russians, Ukrainians and Belorussians are, regardless of what nationalists on all sides would tell you, still very much parts of a same ethnicity, or at least not consider each other foreign enough, so the surname ethnicity doesn't really reflect a person's ethnicity in any way.
  • -lo
  • -uk
  • -ych
    • This one is often of Belarusian origin, where it is rendered as -ich.
  • Names that are just nouns without familial endings are more common among Ukrainians and Belarussians than Russians. E.g. Koval (smith), Shpak (starling), Kuchma (woolly hat) (all Ukrainian), Filin (owl), Moroz (frost) (more likely to be Belarussian), etc.

Many surnames are derived from animal names. For example, Dmitry Medvedev (get used to that name since he is in control of Mnogo Nukes) has a surname that means "Bear's Son". Others derive from professions, i.e. Kuznetsov, "Smith's Son".

When the Soviet Union took over Central Asia, the Muslim Turkic and Persian locals generally adapted their names (which already used Patronymics) to the Russian system. Thus you get lots of people with Arabic, Turkic, or Persian names attached to "-ov(a)," etc., like the Uzbek strongman Islam Karimov ("karīm" being Arabic for "generous") and his Vice-President Shavkat Mirziyoyev ("mirza" meaning "child of the prince" in Persian). A peculiar example would be Azeris, who actually managed to introduce their Patronymic system into the Russian language, so Azeri patronymics would be written not in the Russian way, but with native Azeri suffixes "-ogly" ("son of") or "-kyzy" ("daughter of").

Common surnames: Ivanov, Smirnov, Kuznetsov, Petrov, Sidorov

First Names

Common first names in those three countries (with English equivalents where they exist).

Male:

  • Aleksey/Alexei (Alexis)
    • The basic diminutive for this name is "Lyosha". Not to be confused with "Alexandr" below.
  • Aleksandr/Alexander (Alex)
    • The basic diminutive for this name is "Sasha". Has an equally popular female version - "Aleksandra" which diminutes to "Sasha" as well. Sometimes gets shortened to "Alex" just as "Aleksey" above.
      • The gender of Heavy's main weapon is, therefore, still up in the air.
      • Thus is explained the stage name of welsh trance producer Alexander Coe, DJ Sasha.
    • Sasha Alexander, from NCIS, is in fact using a stage name.
    • Another diminutive is "Shura" or "Shurik". The latter is male-only and is also a popular Soviet comical stock character - an awkward and clumsy Soviet student, reeking of geekiness and intelligentsya.
    • "Alik" is another popular nickname for Aleksandr, and also serves as a nickname for other, rarer names that start with "Al-" (including foreign names such as Albert).
    • Also "Sanya", "San'" or "San" the latter being commonly used in abbreviation of "Alexandr Aleksandrovich" to diminutive "San Sanych".
  • Anatoly
    • Diminutives include "Tolya" and "Tolik".
  • Andrey/Andrei (Andrew)
  • Boris, a pre-Christian diminutive of Borislav- "Fighter for Glory", but now a full first name
    • Diminutive is "Borya".
    • For some reasons the name, while undeniably Slavic in origin, is now perceived as mostly Jewish, probably because it always was more popular in Western Russia, in the Pale, and many Ashkenazi Jews adopted it.
  • Dmitry (Demetrius) - two forms of diminutive, from Dima and from Mitya
  • Daniil/Danila (Daniel)
    • "Danya"
  • Eduard (Edward)
    • "Edik"
  • Emil (Emil Blonsky, aka The Abomination, from The Incredible Hulk)
    • "Milya"
  • Evgeny/Yevgeny (Eugene)
    • The female equivalent, Evgenia/Yevgenia, is also common. Both shorten to Zhenya.
  • Feodor/Fyodor
    • "Fedya"
  • Grigori (Gregory)
    • "Grisha"
  • One possible exception is the male name "Gleb". Has no diminuitive forms, only the pet names, as this name hails from Scandinavia.
    • Pet forms of it, for example, "Glebushka", or "Glebka", can only be used by the closest relatives or loved ones. Otherwise, it's pretty damn offensive. This Troper knows what he's talking about..
  • Igor
  • Ilya (Eli)
    • Diminutive is "Ilyusha".
  • Ivan (John)
    • "Ivanushka" or "Vanya" (as in Uncle)
  • Kirill (Cyril), borne by the 9th century saint who did missionary work among the Slavs with his brother, St. Methodius.
    • "Kirya"
  • Konstantin (Constantine)
    • "Kostya"
  • Maksim (Max), originally a diminutive of Maksimilian, but now a given name in its own right.
  • A bunch of recurrent -slavs (all of pre-Christian Slavic origin. Note that other Slavic peoples may have their own -slav names, for example, Bronislav is a Polish name).
    • Yaroslav
    • Mstislav
    • Svyatoslav
    • Stanislav (originally a Polish name too, but now common in Russia as well. Diminutive is Stas)
    • etc.
      • Most of the -slav names can be diminutized to "Slava".
  • Leonid (Leonidas, a Greek name known to Westerners thanks to '300', but which was also borne by several saint)
    • "Lyonya"
  • Mikhail (Michael)
    • "Misha"
  • Also, Nikita. Yes, it is a boy's name.
  • Nikolay (Nicholas)
    • Basic diminutive is "Kolya". "Nikolasha" is a more intimate form. "Nika" is a babyish version of this name. "Kolyan" is a slang form used by male friends.
  • Pavel (Paul)
    • Diminutive is "Pasha".
  • Pyotr (Peter)
    • Diminutive is "Petya".
  • Roman
    • "Roma"
  • Sergei
    • Diminutive being Seryozha.
  • Vadim
    • Diminutives are Vadik and (less commonly) Dima. Note that while the stress in "Vadim" is on the second syllable, it is on the first one in both diminutives.
  • Vasily (Basil, from the Greek 'basileus' "king")
    • Diminutive is "Vasya".
  • Vladimir- "The Lord of the World", or "Owner of Peace," another pre-Christian name. Occasionally anglicised to "Richard", a Germanic-derived name of similar meaning but otherwise unrelated. ("Frederick," which also means "lord of peace," would be a better calque.) This name was also Germanized as "Waldemar".
    • The diminutive can be either "Vova" or "Volodya", but never "Vlad" - Russians associate that diminutive with other names, like "Vladislav" or "Vladilen" (an abbreviation of "Vladimir Ilyich Lenin").
  • Vsevolod
    • "Seva"
  • Yakov (Jacob/James)
    • Diminutive is "Yasha".
  • Yuri (George)
    • As in Yuri Dolgoruki, aka George I, a Grand Prince of Moscow and name of the new Russian boomer, first of the "Borey" class.
    • Note that there are three different forms of "George" in Russian: Georgi, Yuri and Yegor.
    • Diminutives are Yura (for Yuri) and Zhora (for Georgi). Yegor is its own diminutive (there's also the unbearably cutesy "Yegorek", only used by close family members).


Female, they all end in a or ya(which is a compound letter):

  • Nina
    • "Ninochka"
  • Svetlana (although it looks like a pre-Christian Slavic name, it was actually invented in the early 1800s, and was popularized by a ballad. It means "clear" or "one of light")
    • "Sveta"
  • Natalia (Natalie)
    • "Natasha"
  • Mariya (Mary)
    • "Masha"
      • Mariya has a lot of diminutives actually, such as Marya, Marusya, and Manya in addition to Masha.
  • Yekaterina, alternatively romanized Ekaterina (Catherine)
    • "Katya"
  • Yuliya (Julia)
    • "Yulya"
  • Irina (Irene)
    • "Ira", "Irishka"
  • Elena (Helen)
    • "Lena"
  • Aleksandra/Alexandra
    • "Sasha
  • Karina (Karen)
    • "Karinka"
  • Marina
    • "Marishka"
  • Anzhela (Angela)
  • Anastasia (read Uh-nuh-stuh-see ya), also unique in having complete sets of diminutives formed from three alternative roots: Asya, Nastya, Stasya
  • Anna (notice its diminutives are seperate from those of Anastasia, above)
    • "Anya", "Nyura"
  • Tatyana
    • Tanya
  • Agrafena (Russian variant of the ancient Roman name Agrippina, borne by the wife and niece [same person] of the Emperor Claudius)
  • Zinaida
    • "Zina"
  • Vera (meaning "faith", this is the first in a trio of female names based on Christian virtues).
    • "Verochka"
  • Nadezhda (meaning "hope", another from the same series)
    • "Nadya"
  • Lyubov (meaning "love", also one of these three; this is one of the rare Russian female names that doesn't end in an 'a' or 'ya')
    • "Lyuba"
  • Lyudmila
    • "Lyuda"
  • Varvara (Barbara)
    • "Varya"
  • Polina
    • "Polya"
  • Yevdokiya (Eudocia/Eudokia)
    • "Dunya"

Trope Son of Trope

What to call Russians.

In Russia, when you're referring to someone in a formal setting, you don't just use their first name, but their first name and patronymic, i.e. "Ekaterina Ivanovna" or their diminutive. ("Ivan Ilyich" is a name familiar to Tolstoy wonks, who will tell you that that's not the character's full name; Soviet history buffs will tell you the same about Ivan Denisovich.)

Oddly, even though addressing a person by the first name and patronymic is very formal, addressing them with the patronymic alone is seen as highly informal, even less formal than First-Name Basis. In this informal usage male patronymics usually get shortened by removing the "ov/ev" (e.g. Ivanovich becomes Ivanych, Sergeyevich - Sergeich, etc.), unless that syllable is stressed (e.g. Petrovich). In addition, some names have completely idiosyncratic short forms (e.g. Pavlovich - Palych, Dmitriyevich - Mitrich, etc.) As a way of emphasising his closeness to the people, Lenin was often referred to simply as "Ilyich" in speeches and Soviet media. In contrast, no one ever (except maybe general Vlasik -- they were reportedly quite close) referred to his successor as "Vissarionych".

When it comes to name orders, Russian does not stick to just one, unlike English or Japanese. The most formal order is family name first, followed by given name, followed by patronymic (e.g. Ivanov Ivan Ivanovich). However, this order is only used on official documents and when introducing or referring to people in a very formal setting (for instance, dinner at the Kremlin or a courtroom in session), never as a direct form of address. This does not differ too much from the equivalent Western usage; think of the situations someone might use the phrasing "Smith, John Michael," and you have a rough (but hardly complete) idea when "Ivanov Ivan Ivanovich" might be used in Russia. The more Western order of given name-patronymic-family name (Ivan Ivanovich Ivanov) is a less official, but more commonly used way of giving someone's full name. When the patronymic is left out both the Western (Ivan Ivanov) and Eastern (Ivanov Ivan) orders are acceptable. The media nowadays uses the Western order almost exclusively (which also means that most official anime dubs reverse the Japanese names, just like they do in the West), while in schools and colleges the Eastern order is generally preferred. The only strict rule in Russian naming orders is that the patronymic can only be placed immediately after the given name (so "Ivan Ivanov Ivanovich" is always unacceptable). The surname alone is used in some formal situations as surname and first letters of name and patronymic in many documents. It assumes authority of the caller, such as of teacher in a class.

The Russian equivalents to Mr. and Mrs. aren't really used save in older literature. Lack of an easy pronoun to call someone actually became a problem a few years ago. "Gospodin" or "gospozha" (equivalents to Mr. and Mrs. respectively) were only recently returned to use and are used mostly by businessmen or civil servants to address each other, very formally. (Don't call a Russian the equivalent of "citizen"; that's how cops address a perp, so it sounds offensive.) The address "comrade" is used only in the army and in the Communist Party, which is removed from power and is slowly dying out. The most common forms of address between common people are the Russian equivalents of "man", "young man", "woman" or "girl". Note that "girl" ("devushka") is MUCH more preferable then "woman" ("zhenshina") as the latter may and frequently will be interpreted as connoting significant age and thus offensive (in this sense, it's a lot like Ma'am for people residing outside of the Deep South). Children mostly address unfamiliar adults as "dyadya/dyadenka" and "tyotya/tyotenka". These words literally mean "uncle" and "aunt", but they do not imply family ties in this case. Similarly, in the predominately Muslim regions of Russia and the former USSR it may be customary for young and middle-aged people to address all elderly people as "father" and "mother", saying either "otets" and "mat'" in Russian, or a corresponding term in the local language.

When writing full Russian names in English, you either skip the patronymic, initial both names, or do it in full. Usually. Some people get the "Name Patronymic-initial Surname" treatment, most famously Vladimir Vladimirovich Putin, frequently called "Vladimir V. Putin" in the Western press.

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