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Proper Use of Russian Proper Names Posted by on Mar 3, 2014 in General reference article

One of the first things you might have learned in your Russian course is the Russian names. So, you may know that Миша and Паша are guys’ names and that last names have male and female forms, but some of you may still be confused about the finer points of calling people by their name in Russian. Here are a few pointers to help you feel more confident about people’s names in Russian.

Order of Names

The English order is normally first (given) name first (имя), then last (family) name (фамилия). The Chinese name order is usually last name, first name. What about Russian? Well, it can go several ways depending on the situation.

Фамилия, имя, отчество
This order is very typical for formal situations. When you introduce yourself in a formal setting, for example, before giving a presentation, you may use this order. Another typical situation is filling out forms in Russian, where the field name may be abbreviated to Ф.И.О. So, you would write, for example, Иванов Сергей Петрович.

Имя, отчество, фамилия
This order may be used in biographies or general narration, for example, Александр Сергеевич Пушкин родился 26 мая 1799 года в Москве (Alexander Pushkin was born in Moscow on 26 May 1799).

Patronymic

The combinations above can also be used without the отчество (patronymic), as фамилия, имя and имя, фамилия, respectively. For example, Ученики Константина Райкина пронзительно играют Теннесси Уилльямса (Konstantin Raikin‘s students show compelling acting in a Tennessee Williams play).

The combination of имя, отчество is reserved for professional communication, so you may call a colleague or a professor by this name. However, if your workplace is quite informal and you are friends with your coworkers, you could just call them by their first name.

Word Stress

Russian word stress can be quite unpredictable, and this is true for proper names, as well. While a small number of family names have the stress on the final syllable (for males), like Иванов or Петров, most do not. Therefore, the last name Шарапова does not rhyme with “supernova.”

Old and New

Some Russian first names have enjoyed popularity for a long time. The most popular names given to babies in 2013 were Артём, Александр, Максим, Дмитрий, and Кирилл for boys and Анастасия, Дарья, Мария, Виктория and Полина for girls. You can read more about Russian names in a previous post on this blog.

Other names that used to be common now sound outdated or like “an old person’s name.” Off the top of my head, I can think of Агафья, Клавдия, Фома (Thomas), Клим, and several others. However, these names are making a comeback and may enter the mainstream soon.

I find it interesting that many Biblical names of Hebrew origin have become mainstream in English, but are usually associated with the Jewish community in Russian. Some examples are Эсфирь (Esther), Ревекка (Rebecca), Юдифь (Judith), or Исаак (Isaac). This is not true for all cases, and some Biblical names have become very mainstream, for example Анна or Елизавета.

Have you struggled with using Russian names before? When I was teaching Russian in college, my students would often be overwhelmed by my отчество, so I would end up going by Маша. Do you have a Russian name you go by (for those who don’t have a Russian name to begin with)?
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About the Author: Maria

Maria is a Russian-born translator from Western New York. She is excited to share her fascination with all things Russian on this blog. Maria's professional updates are available on her translation site and on Twitter at @intorussian.