Declension of Russian Last Names

Posted on 15. Dec, 2010 by in Culture, language

Whoever said «Русский язык–великий и могучий» [the Russian language is great and mighty] wasn’t kidding. Nothing illustrates this more than склонение фамилий [declension of last names]. There are complicated rules and just when you think you’ve got it, you find out there are a couple of exceptions.

Russian last names typically end in «ов» [ov] (or «ев» [ev] if the stem is soft) or «ин» [in]. We will examine declensions of the last name «Булгаков» [Bulgakov], the name of my favorite Russian writer, and «Бунин» [Bunin], the first Russian to win the Nobel Prize in Literature.

This is how the name «Булгаков» declines if it refers to a man. (Yes, it is different if we’re talking about a female «Булгаков», a «Булгакова».)

Nominative: «Булгаков»
Accusative: «Булгакова»
Genitive: «Булгакова»
Dative: «Булгакову»
Prepositional: «о Булгакове»
Instrumental: «Булгаковым»

Notice how in the instrumental case, the name declines like an adjective, not a noun. Before moving on to women’s names, «Бунин» would decline just like «Булгаков»: using the order of cases above, the declension is as follow. «Бунин», «Бунина», «Бунина», «Бунину», «о Бунине», «Буниным».

Female names are when it gets complicated. If we are talking about a woman with the last name of «Булгакова», the declension is as follows:

Nominative: «Булгакова»
Accusative: «Булгакову»
Genitive: «Булгаковой»
Dative: «Булгаковой»
Prepositional: «о Булгаковой»
Instrumental: «Булгаковой»

Notice how this is different than the declension for men’s names. A woman’s last name declines like a noun only in the accusative case–otherwise, it’s like an adjective.

For the plural declension, if you are talking about two (or more) people with the last name in question, the rules are slightly different. To use «Булгаков» again:

Nominative: «Булгаковы»
Accusative: «Булгаковых»
Genitive: «Булгаковаых»
Dative: «Булгаковым»
Prepositional: «о Булгаковых»
Instrumental: «Булгаковыми»

In every case except the nominative, the name declines like an adjective.

Adjectival names (like those ending in «ский» [ski or sky], such as «Достоевский» [Dostoevsky]) are easy: they decline just like adjectives for men, women, and plural.

Now, for the exceptions to these rules. Last names ending in a vowel do not decline, even if they are of Slavic origin. Therefore, «Тимошенко» [Tymoshenko] , «Ющенко» [Yushchenko], and «Шевченко» [Shevchenko] will not decline. This the kind of exception to a rule that we like, right?

There is one more exception that needs to be addressed: names ending in a consonant other than «ов», «ев», or «ин». One such example of a name is «Янукович» [Yanukovych], like «президент Украины» [the president of Ukraine]. When talking about him, his name would decline according the rules for «ов», «ев», or «ин» names. But when talking about a woman with that last name, such as «жена Януковича» [Yanukovych's wife], the name would not decline.

Sorry if this post was a tad boring. Grammar isn’t the most fun thing to talk about sometimes, but it is important to learn it. For my next post, I’m thinking of writing about the city of «Львов» [Lvov] (I haven’t been, but a commenter expressed an interest in learning about it) or the history of «Киев», the city I last wrote about.

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About Natalie

I'm Natalie and I love the Russian language and sharing my knowledge with others. I graduated from university with a dual degree in Russian language & literature and history.

12 Responses to “Declension of Russian Last Names”

  1. Ryan 16 December 2010 at 4:46 am #

    Hey, on the whole, a good post, but what about masculine names ending in -a, like Сковорода? Or Барак Обама? Или их жены?

  2. Ryan 16 December 2010 at 4:52 am #

    Also, if you do something on Kiev, you should mention Saint Olga! Although Месть Ольги might deserve a post all its own.

  3. Natalie 16 December 2010 at 4:53 am #

    For Обама, I’ve always seen his name declined like a feminine noun (not a feminine last name), and the same for his wife.

  4. Жанна 16 December 2010 at 5:06 am #

    Обама-Обаму-Обаму-Обаме-об Обаме-Обамой, хотя я считаю, что Обама не должен склонятся. И Мишель, жена его, тоже должна так и оставаться Обама.

  5. Alex Semakin 16 December 2010 at 7:23 am #

    Is the typo in “Украина” – “Уркаина” intentional? The land of “урки” (cons, thieves)? I hope it was accidental! :-)

  6. Mike 16 December 2010 at 3:21 pm #

    Personally, I like posts on grammar. Keep ‘em coming, I say.

  7. Natalie 16 December 2010 at 4:14 pm #

    Alex: yes, it was entirely unintentional, I assure you–just due to my very poor proofreading skills. :)

    Жанна: спасибо за объяснение. :)

  8. David Roberts 16 December 2010 at 11:25 pm #

    Grammar is not boring, it’s just easy to make appear boring. In your case, definitely not boring, quite the opposite.

  9. Bill Dixon 18 December 2010 at 5:06 pm #

    See also:
    http://shininghappypeople.net/rwotd/blog4.php?blog=4&paged=89

    The page number changes, but look for the posting of March 3, 2009, “Фамилии и имена иностранные”

  10. Natalie 22 December 2010 at 5:55 am #

    Thanks, Bill. Here’s a permalink to the post you mentioned: http://shininghappypeople.net/rwotd/blog4.php/2009/03/03/-132

  11. Sandman Moon 14 February 2011 at 1:07 pm #

    This blog post was EXTREMELY helpful. Thank you!

  12. Natalie 21 February 2011 at 9:45 pm #

    Sandman Moon: I’m glad it helped!


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