The suprisingly rich world of Russian names

I’m pretty sure that I’m not the only one who was surprised about names in Russia. Firstly, they can be very long and hard to pronounce. Secondly, Russian names consist of three parts: first name, patronymic and the surname. Since the first name and patronymic follow the family name, for foreigners especially it can sometimes be very confusing which part of the name is the first name and so on. Besides the history and origins of names in Russia, my purpose of this blog is to give you an overview about this confusing topic.

Patronymic

The patronymic is in some central eastern European countries normality and is a derivation from the father’s, respectively the mother’s, first name. The patronymic is built through the attachment of a suffix. Depending on the country the suffixes vary. During Soviet times, everyone had a patronymic. There are countries, apart from Russia, where it is still used by a majority including Bulgaria, Ukraine, Belarus and Poland. Since this blog is about Russian names, I’ll focus in Russian names.

  • For men: – ович (ovich) or- евич (evich)
  • For women: -oвна (ovna) or -евна (evna)

Nicknames

Russia and nicknames are a confusing topic as well. First, I’ve always thought that the sense of using them is to avoid a long spelling in order to say someone’s name quickly. This is apparently not the purpose of using Russian nicknames. Some of them are as long as the actual name or even longer. After all they are used for relatives and friends. Let me give you some examples.

  •  Misha (Миша) for Mikhail (Михаил)
  • Dasha (Даша) for Darja (Дарья)
  • Serjoscha for Sergej

Second, there are for female and male names the same nicknames. For example, the name Sasha (Саша) comes either from Alexandra (Александра) or Alexander (Александр). Both the Russian female and male names have had a significant influence in today’s popular names. Either due the famous personalities or the beauty of the name itself, many names were translated into German and English over the last centuries. For example, Katja and Anja are popular names in German speaking countries and are derived from the Russian nicknames Katharina and Anna.

Most popular names

Here is a short list of the most popular female and male names. An interesting fact is that women’s names end usually with an “a”, as you can see in come examples of Russian’s most popular names. Apart from the typical Russian names, a new trend has been noted for the past few years. Parents nowadays tend to name their children increasingly after either old or very uncommon names. Take a loook at the examples below!

Women’s names

  • Maria (Мария) originally comes from the Hebrew name Mariam (Мариам) and stands for the Queen of the sea.
  • Anastasia has its origins in Greek and means “resurrection” (coming back after death).
  • Olga is a wide-spread name in Russia and means “The holy light”.

Men’s names

  • Artem (Артём) has been the most popular name for boys for the last two years now. It means in Greek “unscathed”.
  • Especially in Moscow, Maksim (Максим) is getting more popular every year. No wonder, because it means in Latin “The greatest”.
  • Ivan (Иван), which means in old Hebrew “God is merciful” is under the most popular names for many years.

Uncommon names

  • Береза, which means translated “birch tree”.
  • Радость, which stands translated for “joy”.

Old names

  • Swjatoslav (Святослав), which means “Good” or “Graceful”.
  • Planton (Платон), which means “Wide-Shouldered” and is commonly given to boys.

Contrary to Germany or any other country in western Europe, double names are not common in Russia. In more western European, the salutation usually consists of a “Mr” for men and “Mrs” for women plus the family name. However, in Russia, this would not be very friendly. Here it is common to greet by the first name, followed by the patronymic.

I hope that I have been able to give you an interesting insight into the world of Russian names and you can now understand why and how to use the right names in the right context during your stay in Russia!

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