What Makes Russian Name Specific and Familiar?

People give certain names to their children for various reasons such as to honor someone like a favored relative or famous person; maybe like your uncle Michael or late president John F. Kennedy because the name itself translates to something special, to provide a sense of uniqueness in the world or to be frivolous as in the case of parents who might name their child Lucifer or Messiah.

In any case, the name a person bears through their life is something they must carry and it is sometimes the only indication others have to judge them before they actually meet them. Their name travels ahead of other people like a portent of things to come, a thing from which others make assumptions about people.

For instance, because of trends in naming children, we unconsciously expect people named Caden and Olivia to be children, Travis and Zoey to be in their 20s or 30s, Mark and Michelle to be in their 40s, etc. Surnames also say something about a person’s heritage. O’Donnell would be an Irish name, Hernandez would be Spanish, Bellini would be Italian, etc. And by knowing a person’s heritage, other people are able to make certain assumptions about the values the person holds or does not hold.

Are these assumptions always fair or accurate? Of course, not, but people continue to make assumptions, regardless. That is why, when naming a child, one must take things into consideration. That is what makes it such a horrible forehead-slapping what-were-they-thinking thing to discover another human being has been named something frivolous or too quirky. It already proves a point that the parents were frivolous, and by extension, the children will be assumed to have been raised to be just as frivolous as the parents, and they are irrelevant as people.

Russian Names

The complete Russian name consists of three aspects: A given name, patronymic, and a family name, in exactly that order. Each aspect of the complete name can have several different diminutives. For example, for Anastasiya, there are Stasya, Tasya, Nastya, Nastenka, and more.

Russian names are often derived from the names of saints, especially those from Eastern Orthodox tradition, which are of Greek origin. In the last century, old and traditional Slavic names have again come into use by Russian people.

Russian names are written in the Cyrillic alphabet, the alphabet of the Russian language. When they are written in the Latin alphabet of English or other western European languages, they are transcribed by default, which can result in multiple different spellings for a single name depending on the transcription. For example, Дмитрий can be transcribed as Dmitriy, Dmitri, or Dmitrii.

Russian Names Custom

What makes Russian name specific and familiar? As suggested above, most Russian people have a name consisting of three aspects: a first name, a patronymic, and a surname. The first name and the surname are self-explanatory because those are similar to American name custom. That is why it seems familiar. The only difference is that instead of a middle name, they get a name referring to their father’s first name as their middle name.

The middle name is created by taking the name of the person’s father and adding a suffix to it which means “son of” or “daughter of.” Therefore, the middle name takes a different form for a man than it does for a woman. The most basic men’s suffixes are -ovich or -evich while for a woman, they are -ovna or -evna.


For example, the complete name of the famous Russian author, Leo Tolstoy. His complete name was Lev Nikolayevich Tolstoy. So, if we break it down to each aspect, his first name was Lev, his middle name was Nikolayevich, and his last name was Tolstoy. His father’s first name was Nikolai, hence Nikolayevich as the middle name.

Russian Nicknames

Just like any other nicknames, Russian nicknames are simply short forms of the complete name. As opposed to complete names used on formal occasions, short forms of a name are used in day-to-day basis between well-acquainted people, usually friends, relatives, and co-workers. They appeared in spoken language for convenience as almost all formal names are a mouthful.

For example, Sasha is the usual nickname used for a person named Alexander (male) or Alexandra (female). While a common nickname like Sasha may not imply anything except familiarity, other nicknames may be used in an affectionate manner. Alexandra may be called Sashenka by her parents, which means “Little Sasha”.

Nicknames can be taken from common Russian nouns, too. The word mamochka, a nickname of the mothercan be used by her children who want to signify a mother’s sweetness and dearness. Another example is the word sobachka which is a nickname from the word sobaka (dog). It addresses the dog’s cuteness and smallness.


Believed to Express One’s Attitude

From a foreigner’s perspective, the Russian male name is mostly Ivan. For many centuries, this name was indeed the most popular name among all social strata, ranging from ordinary peasants to the royal family member. At the same time, it was the name’s ubiquity that somewhat compromised its reputation.

For instance, the main character in many Russian folk tales, the youngest son, if not the most hapless character in the family is usually called Ivanushka-durachok, a nickname of Ivan-durak, which means Ivan the fool. However, he only appears and acts like a fool at the beginning of the tale, while in the end he almost always ends up victorious.

Back in the 20th century, the name Ivan had lost its popularity and started to be associated with a person of poor education and background, lacking intellectual ambitions, and sloth-like habits, hence the expression “valyat’ van’ku”, which means to be idle). However, reaching to the end of the Soviet era, it became once again fashionable among the creative classes and the intelligentsia to pick for their children traditional names that used to be popular among the Russian people.

So, that is a brief explanation of what makes Russian name specific and familiar.

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