Russian names

by Nikolai V. Shokhirev

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(see the pronunciation and transliteration rules here, syllables in bold are in the stressed position).


A full Russian name consists exactly of the following three parts:

  1. Given name - (imã)
  2. Patronymic - (otchestvo
  3. Family name - (familija)

This structure is specific only to Russia, Ukraine and Belarus.   

Examples: - Ivan Ivanovich Ivanov,    - Maria Petrovna Ivanova. 

Given name

A given name (or just a name) corresponds to the first name in English tradition. The majority of Russian names are common Christian names from the Bible as well as of Greek and Latin origin. 

There are also some native Slavic names. For example the following three female names are very popular: - Vera (Faith), - Nadezhda (Hope),  - Lübov' (Love). One of the popular male names is Vladimir (possessor/ruler of the world). Several native male names include slav (glorious), for example, - Stanislav. Such names are also popular in the other Slavic countries. 

Some names are of the ancient Scandinavian origin: Olga, Oleg, Igor.  

Family name

A family name corresponds to the last name. Usually this is a derivative of an ordinary words (primarily names) with the suffixes - ov, ev, öv, in, ih, yh (male variant) and - ova, eva, öva, ina, ih, yh (female variant). The suffixes express "belonging to". In the examples above Ivanov and Ivanova mean "belong to the family (clan) of Ivan". 

Note, that Ivanov and Ivanova are the male and female variants of the same family name.

A family name without the suffixes are also possible, however less typical: Volk (wolf), Seryj (gray). The usual variants would be Volkov, Volkova and Serov, Serova, Seryh.   

The names of non-Russian origin are also widely used in Russia. Mostly they are borrowed from Tatar, Ukrainian, Polish and German. 


This is not a middle name. This is a modified father's name. In the example above the full name "Ivan Ivanovich Ivanov" means "Ivan, the son of Ivan, of the clan of Ivan". The following suffixes are used for the formation patronymics: ich, vich, evich (male variants) and ovna, evna, ichna (female variants). Interestingly, in some countries (e.g. Serbia) the suffix ich is used for the formation of family names.

Actually, a name and a patronymic form a complex first name. Only this combination can be used in polite and formal forms of greetings, for example. Just a name can be used between relatives and friends. The most informal is the use of a short variant of a name (nickname). The example of greeting in the decreasing order of formality: "Zdravstvujte Marija Petrovna" > "Zdravstvuj Marija" > "Privet Masha".

Sometimes a person can be called only by his patronymic. In former times a master called this way his old servant. Now the use of a patronymic solely is rare. However still the oldest (and experienced) member of a professional team (e.g. construction) can be called by his patronymic. Also a patronymic can be used among friends as a nickname.   


Q: Can be Ivan Ivanovich Ivanov and Maria Petrovna Ivanova

  1. a brother and a sister?
  2. a husband and a wife?
  3. a half brother and a half sister? 
  1. No
  2. Yes
  3. Yes


Q: Can be Ivan Ivanovich Ivanov and Maria Ivanovna Ivanova

  1. a brother and a sister?
  2. a husband and a wife?
  3. a half brother and a half sister? 
  1. Yes
  2. Yes (accidentally, their fathers are called Ivan)
  3. Yes (their mothers are different)

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