Russian Language Blog

Russian Names for Pets Posted by on Jul 28, 2011 in Culture, Russian for beginners, Russian life

Russian Cat NamesThis is my cat Xander when he was just a kitty. On the surface of it, Xander is not a typical Russian name for a cat. Unless you know that I derived it from “Александр” [Alexandr]. Yep, every Russian woman has her Alexandr.

Names are endlessly fascinating, aren’t they? Ok, maybe “endlessly” is a bit over the top, but they are interesting nevertheless. One of the readers, David (whom you might remember for his wonderful guest posts, Million Scarlet Roses, Cranes, Are There Too Many Letters in Russian Alphabet? and The 200-Ruble Question), gave me an idea of writing a post about Russian pet names.

But first thing first, how do you say “pet” in Russian. On Facebook I used the phrase «домашний питомец» which several people found too formal and not at all common. I do agree with you.

«Питомец» is an interesting word though and deserves some attention. Its most general meaning is a nursling. So «питомец» can mean a student, a child, a pet or even a sapling. If you feel that someone is «впитывает» [absorbs] either food or knowledge or love and care, you can call them «питомец». And the place where «питомцы» get their sustenance, spiritual or otherwise, is called «питомник».

For example, «многие питомцы нашего института теперь занимают ответственные посты в местной и районной администрации» [many former students of our college now hold positions of responsibility with the local and regional government].

Or «наша задача была приобрести в местном питомнике сто саженцев фруктовых деревьев» [our task was to obtain one hundred fruit tree saplings from a local nursery].

To distinguish pets from any other «питомцы» types, pets are usually referred to as «четырёхлапый питомец» [four-legged pet], «пернатый питомец» [feathered pet], «пушистый питомец» [furry pet], «мохнатый питомец» [shaggy pet], etc. If the only pet you have is a Tamagotchi, it’s your «виртуальный питомец» [virtual pet].

And yet, the word «питомец» is not something Russians use in everyday conversations, unless they want to add a measure of «сарказм» [sarcasm or vitriol] to their speech. So what do they say instead?

There is a phrase «домашнее животное» [house pet], that is used either in plural form

«У нас в школе скоро будет выставка домашних животных»  [We will soon have a house pets expo at our school]

«А вам какие домашние животные больше нравятся?» [What type of pets do you like the most?]

Or, if in its singular form, to talk about a pet, not the pet.

«Шиншилла – прекрасное домашнее животное» [Chinchilla is a wonderful house pet].

A euphemism «братья наши меньшие» [our little brothers] also means pets and is used similarly.

But in general, Russians would first ask «у вас есть домашние животные?» [do you have pets?] and then, after hearing the answer, which usually includes the type of animal, would ask «как зовут вашу кошку?» [what’s your cat’s name?]. Or «собаку» [dog], «попугая» [parakeet or parrot], «хомячка» [hamster], etc.

And now we are back to the names. Unlike personal names, pets names in Russia show almost infinite variety. Yet, some «клички» [here: pet names] are more common than others. Besides, there are some «клички» that are immediately recognizable as names for cats or dogs.

Such names for «кобель» (male dog) and «сучка» (female dog) include

  • «Тузик» [Tuzik] (male) – do you remember «Туз-Бубен» from “Master and Margarita”?
  • «Шарик» [Sharik] (male)
  • «Лорд» [Lord] (male)
  • «Дозор» [Dozor] (male) – a great name for a watch dog since it literally means “watch”
  • «Рекс» [Rex] (male)
  • «Джим» [Jim] (male)
  • «Джек» [Jack] (male)
  • «Мухтар» [Mookhtar] (male)
  • «Полкан» [Polkan] (male)
  • «Лада» [Lada] (female)
  • «Найда» [Nayda] (female)
  • «Пальма» [Palma] (female)
  • «Линда» [Linda](female)
  • «Люси» or «Люсси» [Lucy] (female)

Generally, larger dogs tend to be given shorter names. This comes in handy when training the dog for obedience. My parents had a German shepherd «по кличке Граф» [named Graf]. Smaller breeds tend to have longer and fancier names.

We also had a cat that my dad picked up as a homeless kitten and brought home. The kitten was all-white and we named her «Белка» [Belka] from the Russian word «белый» [white]. The following names are usually given to «кот» (male cat) and «кошка» (female cat):

  • «Мурзик» [Moorzik] (male) and «Мурка» [Moorka] (female) – this name is derived from the distinctive «мурлыканье» [purring] sound a cat makes.
  • «Пушок» [Pooshok] (male) – literally, “a furry one”
  • «Барсик» [Barsik] (male)
  • «Васька» [Vaska] (male) – advice on not giving people’s names to pets is commonly heard, but not always headed.
  • «Мася» [Masya] (female)
  • «Черныш» [Chernish] (male) – this is a name likely given to a cat that is all-black
  • «Снежок» [Snezhok] (male) – another name for a white cat, especially a long-haired one
  • «Рыжик» [Rizhik] (male) – a descriptive name for a cat with red coat

But what about other pets? All the birds we ever had, including parakeets, canaries and even a baby-eagle (again, a foundling, that my father brought home) were called «Кеша» [Kesha]. Birds might also be called «Гоша» [Gosha], «Рома» [Roma]. And for other pets – «хомячки» [hamsters], «морские свинки» [guinea pigs], «хорьки» [ferrets], «белые мыши» [white mice], «ежи» [hedgehogs], etc – there are no “typical” names as far as I know.

So now, if you don’t have a pet yet, you are pretty much ready to go to «зоомагазин» [a pet store] or «приют для животных» [a pet shelter] and get one. If you do, let me know what kind of pet it is and how you name it.

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  1. Shawn:

    Thanks for the post. I am traveling to Russia in a few weeks and wanted to ask people about their pets. Very timely!!

    • yelena:

      @Shawn Shawn, enjoy the trip (I’m so envious! wish I could go). Maybe you come across some really awesome pet names that haven’t been mentioned here. If so, please let me know through the comments. Russians are very creative when it comes to pet names.

  2. Minority:

    “Лайка” [Barker] is a name for female dog. 🙂
    Also I think there’re a lot of cats “Матроскин” thanks to Prostokvashino books and cartoons.)

  3. Maurice FFELAN:

    Why have you made the full item only accessible via the website rather than also on email? I like to print out items that appeal to me and the email versions are far simpler to print and more legible. However, ilike the article and the blog as a whole.
    Maurice FFELAN
    PS My Russian is not up to writing this comment in Russian!

  4. David Roberts:

    After an introduction like that I’ll really have to get down to writing my next post!

    Not exactly an animal name, but something similar. We were working from a coursebook Ruslan 2 a couple of years ago. The “heroine” is a modern young woman called Людмила (there is a Руслан in the story too) and she has 3 suitors on the go. In one chapter we find out her фамилия – it is Кисина. At this point our teacher (born in Leningrad) started to laugh. She explained that kисина sounds like what you say to a cat.

    Here’s an easy question to test how well you understand pet names, know your history or whether remembered из Леной статьи несколко месяцов тому назад: What species was Лайка and what was she famous for?

    • yelena:

      @David Roberts David, this is an excellent question and I’m just waiting for Bob to jump on it. Bob is one of the regular readers and is extremely knowledgeable on this particular topic you’re alluding to (Soviet space exploration).

  5. David:

    Another question – for my enlightenment. what is the difference between пес and собака? i was told that собака is for any dog and пес is for a male dog when you want to make its maleness clear. But I’d like to double check, so if anyone can throw further light….

  6. Minority:

    David, your explanation about “собака” and “пёс” is correct. Пес is a male dog.

  7. David Roberts:

    Спасибо Minority (Меньшинство?!). Собака is quite an interesting word, that seems to be unique to Russian. I think it must have originated as a loanword from one of the neighbouring asiatic languages. Пес on the other hand exists in similar form in other slavonic languages.

  8. Minority:

    Well, my nickname means “меньшинство” but in Russian it sounds awfull.)))

    You may also would like to know words:
    Псарня – kennel
    Псарь (archaism) – person who trains dogs (usually for hunting) and takes care about ’em. Google translates it as “huntsman”, but I’m not sure it’s a direct hit.
    Sometimes you may hear word “псина”. Don’t know exactly how to translate.. my dictionary tells “doggy smell” or “dogmeat” but also we use it as a rude form of “собака”/”пёс” (no matter if it’s male or female dog).

  9. David Roberts:

    Maybe Меньшевица would be better in Russian, but maybe getting too political (I sometimes wonder what the world would have been like if the mensheviks had won the vote – at a party meeting in London 1905 I think).

    I like these пёс-derived words. The word I’d come across for kennel is конура, which is interesting because if you just replace the “р” by “л” (bearing in mind that in many languages these two sounds are indistinguishable) you see that the Russian and English words are basically the same.

    Next question on the same theme – how do you say in Russian “he’s in the doghouse” (eg about a man who’s forgotten his wife’s wedding anniversary)?

    • yelena:

      @David Roberts David, there are several ways to say “in the doghouse” – “впасть в немилость”, “в загоне”, “в опале”. In case of a husband and a forgotten anniversary, I’d say “в загоне”.

  10. hugo ly:

    Thank you for the blog. I really liked.
    We have a cat 13 years old and his name is
    Moose, just like the moose for the hair.
    It was given to us by a friend, and he has brought happiness and he is Angora cat, long hair and white except he has three black spots in his body and a long black tail.
    greetings I was in Moscow for the May 9th holiday and it was great
    best wishes
    hugo ly from Santiago Chile

    • yelena:

      @hugo ly Hugo, I love-love-love Angora cats! Mousse is an awesome name for an all-white cat.

  11. Minority:

    David, no, really, you’d better use english form of nickname or my name Наташа.)

    Конура is for one dog. Псарня is a place where a lot of hunting dogs live. It’s hard to find псарню nowadays.

    “to be in the doghouse” is “быть в немилости”, “быть опозоренным”.

  12. Paddy:

    Hello David.
    Wasn’t Laika the poor dog that was first into space?

  13. David Roberts:

    Привет Paddy! Да, Лайка, собака, служила первым космонавтом, а поездка была камиказная – погибнула в космосе.

  14. Minority:

    David, the word “погибнуть” in the past is “погибла”, not “погибнула”. 🙂

  15. David:

    Спасибо Натаяша про “погиб(ну)ла” – успехи ошибками!

    Немилости – from милый, не так ли? (I find new words easier to retain when I can make such connections)

  16. Minority:

    As far as I know usually adjectives are made from nouns. So I think that first of all there was the word “милость” [grace, mercy, favour]. So here it comes its antonym “немилость” (“не-” is a prefix like “dis-“, “in-” in english).
    And you’ve already guessed that “милый” is made from “милость” 🙂

  17. David:

    I liked the name my wife came up with for her cat — Mathilda, after the cat in Karlson on the Roof.

    • yelena:

      @David David, one of my most favorite books of all time is “Карлсон, который живет на крыше” [Karlsson-on-the-Roof]. It doesn’t seem to be as popular in the States as it is in Russia though.

  18. Rob McGee:

    I really like the word питомец, and I’m sorry it’s not in colloquial use for animals! Because of the etymology, it seems like a perfect word to distinguish a domesticated animal from the wild kind:

    У меня была питомица-крыса по кличке Рамона. (I had a pet rat named Ramona.)

    • yelena:

      @Rob McGee I agree, Rob. I love the word питомец. It brings to mind a well-behaved pet, a well-brought up one. I loved the picture of Ramona you used to have on your FB profile!

  19. Rob McGee:

    Yelena — the attractive quality of the word питомец is especially important for animals like domesticated rats, who suffer from a bad PR image because of their wild cousins, but make delightful pets!

    By the way, is it correct to use заводить/завести (животного) with the meaning “to get a pet”?

    E.g., Когда я был маленьким, у меня было несколько хомяков и тушканчиков. Только в зрелости, после того, когда мне исполнилось 30 лет, я в первые завел крыс “в качестве питомца”. И оказалось, что вообще крыси — гораздо милее и дружелюбнее чем хомяки и тушканчики!

    (When I was a young boy, I had several hamsters and gerbils. Only in adulthood, after I was in my 30s, did I finally get/buy/obtain rats as pets. And it turned out that rats, overall, have much nicer and friendlier personalities than hamsters or gerbils!)

  20. Lev:

    A name I have heard for cats is “Pushkin”, nothing to do with the great Russian poet but just because “puss” is an affectionate way to call a cat and so pushkin to english speakers sounds more affectionate.
    Also, as a child I have a terrapin (type of turtle) that I called Ivan….Ivan the Terrapin, get it? 😀

    • yelena:

      @Lev Lev, I think Ivan the Terrapin is awesome! 🙂

  21. Floy Mckinzy:

    Thank you i thought i was the only one who thought jurassic park was awesome