Names in Russian Empire, Soviet Union and CIS countries

Names in Russian Empire, Soviet Union and CIS countries

This article gives the general understanding of naming conventions in the Russian language as well as in languages affected by Russian linguistic tradition. This regards modern Russia, Ukraine and Belarus. For exact rules, differences and historical changes, see respective languages and linguistics-related articles.

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, although the patronymic is sometimes omitted, just as English middle name or names are usually omitted. This ordering is not as strict as in other languages, and in certain formal cases (especially when the names are to be sorted, which is almost universally done in surname-first order, i.e. the surname comes first.

Given first name

As with most Western cultures, a person has a given name chosen by the parents. The given name comes first, the family name last, e.g. Владимир Путин (Vladimir Putin), where "Vladimir" is a first name and "Putin" is a family name.

First names in East-Slavic languages mostly originate from two sources: Orthodox church tradition and native pre-Christian (pagan) lexicons.

Common male first names

If two variants of a name are given, generally the first variant is Russian, and the second is Ukrainian.
* Иван/Іван (Ivan, equivalent to John)
* Николай/Микола (Nikolay or Nicolai, equivalent to Nicholas)
* Борис (Boris, a pre-Christian Slavic diminutive of Borislav, meaning "Fighter for Glory")
* Владимир/Володимир (Vladimir, a pre-Christian Slavic name meaning "The Lord of the World")
* Пётр/Петро (Pyotr/Petro, equivalent to Peter)
* Андрей/Андрій (Andrey or Andrei, equivalent to Andrew)
* Александр/Олександр (Aleksandr, equivalent to Alexander)
* Дмитрий/Дмитро (Dmitry or Dmitriy, of Greek origin)
* Сергей/Сергій (Sergey or Sergei, of Latin origin)
* Алексей/Олексій (Aleksey or Alexei, of Greek origin)
* Виктор (Viktor or Victor, of Latin origin)
* Юрий/Георгий (Yuri/Gheorghiy, equivalent to George; in this case, both variants of the name are Russian)
* Павел/Павло (Pavel/Pavlo, equivalent to Paul)
* Константин (Konstantin, of Latin origin)
* Василий/Василь (Vasili, of Greek origin, equivalent to Ваzіll)

Common female first names
* Анна/Гана (Anna, equivalent to Ann)
* Елена/Олена (Yelena, equivalent to Helen)
* Наталья (Natalya, equivalent to Natalie)
* Мария (Mariya, equivalent to Mary)
* Ольга (Ol'ga, a pre-Christian name derived from Varangian "Helga")
* Александра/Олександра (Aleksandra, equivalent to Alexandra) Олеся
* Ксения/Оксана (Kseniya/Oksana, Oksana is mostly common Ukrainian female name, Kseniya is from Greek "Xenia")
* Екатерина/Катерино (Yekaterina, equivalent to Catherine)
* Татьяна (Tatyana or Tatiana, of Greek or Roman origin)
* Анастасия (Anastasiya, of Greek origin)
* Светлана (Svetlana, meaning "Shining One"; although it looks like a pre-Christian Slavic name, as a matter of fact it was invented by Alexander Vostokov in 1802 and became popular when Vasily Zhukovsky published his ballad "Svetlana" in 1813).
* Юлия (Yulia, equivalent to Julia or Julie)
* Вера (Vera, this name means "Faith")
* Надежда/Надія (Nadezhda, this name means "Hope")
* Любовь (Lyubov', this name means "Love")
* Софья (Sof'ya, equivalent to Sophie)

Diminutive forms

Diminutive forms (e.g. Tony for Anthony in English) exist for almost every popular name. Some common names and their diminutive forms are:

* Aleksandr (Александр) - Sasha (Саша), Sanya (Саня), Shura (Шура), Shurik (Шурик), Alik (Алик), Olexa (Олекса, укр), Oles (Олесь, укр)
* Aleksandra (Александрa) - Sasha (Саша), Sanya (Саня), Shura (Шура), Olesia (Олеся, укр)
* Aleksey (Алексей) - Alyosha (Алёша), Lyosha (Лёша), Lyokha (Лёха)
* Anastasiya (Анастасия) - Nastya (Настя), Asya (Ася), Stasya (Стася)
* Anatoliy (Анатолий) - Tolya (Толя), Tolik (Толик)
* Anna (Анна) - Anya (Аня), Nyura (Нюра), Nyusya (Нюся), Anyuta (Анюта)
* Boris (Борис) - Borya (Боря)
* Dar'ya (Дарья) - Dasha (Даша)
* Dmitriy (Дмитрий) - Dima (Дима), Mitya (Митя)
* Galina (Галина) - Galya (Галя)
* Gennadiy (Геннадий) - Gena (Гена)
* Grigoriy (Григорий) - Grisha (Гриша), Hryts (Гриць, укр)
* Il'ya (Илья) - Ilyusha (Илюша), Ilyukha (Илюха)
* Irina (Ирина) - Ira (Ира)
* Ivan (Иван) - Vanya (Ваня)
* Konstantin (Константин) - Kostya (Костя), Kostik (Костик)
* Kseniya (Ксения) - Ksyusha (Ксюша), Oksana (Оксана)
* 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)
* Mariya (Мария) - Masha (Маша), Marusya (Маруся)
* Mikhail (Михаил) - Misha (Миша)
* Nadezhda (Надежда) - Nadya (Надя)
* Natal'ya (Наталья) - Natasha (Наташа)
* 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), Lana (Лана)
* Tamara (Тамара) - Toma (Тома)
* Tat'yana (Татьяна) - Tanya (Таня)
* Valentin/Valentina (Валентин/Валентина) - Valya (Валя)
* 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)
* Yekaterina (Екатерина) - Katya (Катя), Katyusha (Катюша)
* Yevdokiya (Евдокия) - Dusya (Дуся), Dunia (Дуня)
* Yevgeniy/Yevgeniya (Евгений/Евгения) - Zhenya (Женя)
* Yuliya (Юлия) - Yulya (Юля)
* Yuriy (Юрий) - Yura (Юра), Zhora (Жора)

Most of names have several diminutive forms (e.g. Aleksey — Alyosha or Lyosha). Some diminutive forms can include colloquial variants (e.g.: Vanya — Van'ka, Alyosha — Lyokha or Alyoshka, 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 superlative, which represents the "-еньк" " ("-yen'k") suffix (e.g. Kolya — Kolen'ka, Sasha — Sashen'ka, Masha — Mashen'ka)


The patronymic of a person is based on the first name of his or her father and is written in all documents. If it is mentioned, it always follows the first name. 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 Ily"ich", not Ily"evich".

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.

As an example, the patronymic name of Soviet leader Никита "Сергеевич" Хрущёв (Nikita "Sergeyevich" Khrushchev) indicates that his father was named Сергей (Sergey). Similarly, the patronymic name of Светлана "Иосифовна" Сталина (Svetlana "Iosifovna" Stalina) indicates that her father was named Иосиф (Iosif) (in this case, Iosif (Joseph) Stalin).

The first name followed by the patronymic, without the family name, is used as a formal or respectful form of address. In the media, highly respected persons (e.g. leaders of the Soviet Union and Russia) are sometimes mentioned using their full names (first name + patronymic + family name).

There is also a special "patronymic-only" form of address used only among very close friends. In this form for men, a diminutive variant of the patronymic is usually used, with "-ovich" becoming "-ych". For example, if Vasiliy Ivanovich Chapayev is a good friend of ours, we can call him just "Иваныч" (Ivan [ov] ich). By contrast, only full patronymic name is used for women, for example "Ивановна" ("Ivanovna"), not "Иванна" ("Ivanna").

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) is "not" correct. []

In Ukraine the female Patronymic ends with -ivna. The male version is the same as in Russian.

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, although (as with English names) women may adopt the surname of their husband or (very rarely) vice versa. Another uncommon practice is creating a double surname (for example, Mr. Ivanov and Ms. Petrova in their marriage may take family names Ivanov-Petrov and Ivanova-Petrova, respectively). Grammatically, most Russian surnames are possessive adjectives; the surnames-nouns ("Lebed'" - literally "the swan") or attributive adjectives ("Tolstoy" - literally "thick" in an archaic form) are infrequent, they are mainly adopted from other languages. The surnames ended with "-ov", "-ev", "-in" are short forms of possessive adjectives, the ones ended with -sky are full forms. As all Russian adjectives, they have different forms depending on gender—for example, the wife of Борис Ельцин (Boris Yel'tsin) is Наина Ельцин"а" (Naina Yel'tsin"a"). Note that this change of grammatical gender is a characteristic of Slavic languages, and 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 more widely recognized).

Russian surnames usually end with "-ov" ("-ova" for female); "-ev" ("-eva"); "-in" ("-ina"); "-skiy" ("-skaya"). Ukrainian surnames generally end with -enko, -ko, -uk, and -ych (these endings do not change based on gender). The ending -iy (-ya) is common in both Russia and Ukraine.

The majority of Russian surnames are produced from personal names (Sergeyev — Sergey's son; Vasilyev — Vasiliy's son etc.). Many surnames originate from names of animals and birds (Lebedev — Swan's Son; Korovin — Cow's Son etc.) which have long ago been used as additional personal names or nicknames. Many other surnames have their origin in people's professions and crafts (Kuznetsov — Smith's son). In the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries -off has been commonly used in place of -ov when spelling Russian surnames in foreign languages (Smirnoff).

Comparison between Russian and other names

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. E.g. 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".

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 Понтекорвоand 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.Fact|date=February 2008

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 "-uly", as in
Nursultan Abishuly 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 - confer 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).

Note that 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", 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 Barikada ("barricade") or Revolutsiya ("revolution"). Some of these names have survived into the 21st century.

A number of books about this tendency mention some rather curious pearls, such as Dazdrapetrak ('Hail The First Tractor!'), Revmir(a), for Revolutsiya Mirovaya ('World Revolution') and Oyushminald, for Otto Yulyevich Shmidt na Ldine" ('Otto Shmidt on the ice floe').

Some parents called their children the German female name "Gertrud(a)" (Gertrude), reanalyzing it as "Geroy/Geroinya Truda" ('Hero of Labour').

A number of Russians with the name "Kim", were not of Korean descent, but rather were named after the "Kommunistichesky International Molodyozhi" ('Youth Communist International').

ee also

*Polish names
*Romanization of Russian
*Украинское имя (Ukrainian names) ru icon


* Paul Goldschmidt's Dictionary of Russian Names -- discussion of patronymics; also interesting historical exceptions to the current pattern [] .

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