Russian Culture

Naming

Naming Conventions

  • Russian names are structured as [first name] [middle patronymic name] [SURNAME]. E.g. Igor Mihajlovich MEDVEDEV (male) or Natalia Borisovna PAVLOVA (female).
  • Address people using their first name (casual) or first name and patronymic name (formal). The patronymic name is never used alone. For example, one would refer to Igor Mihajlovich MEDVEDEV as ‘Igor Mihajlovich’ formally in person.
  • Titles such as "Mr.", "Mrs." and "Ms." are not used. 
  • The surname is never used to address an individual face-to-face. It is generally only used in formal circumstances (such as in written administrative documents) or when you’re speaking about the person with other people.
  • Women customarily take their husband’s surname at marriage, although not always.
  • The middle name is patronymic, created by using the child’s father’s name with the suffix “vich” or “ovich” for boys, and “avna” or “ovna” for girls. This means ‘son of’ and ‘daughter of’.
  • An ‘a’ is added to the end of almost all female surnames.


Names

  • Common female names are Anna (Anya), Ekaterina (Katya), Elena (Lena), Irina (Ira), Yulia (Yulya), Maria (Masha), Natalia (Natasha), Olga (Olya), Svetlana (Sveta), Tatiana (Tanya).
  • Common male names are Alexander (Sasha, Shura, Sanya), Dmitry (Dima), Eugeny (Zhenya), Ivan (Vanya), Mikhail (Misha), Nikolai (Kolya), Sergey (Seryozha), Victor (Vitya), Vladimir (Volodya, Vova).
  • Sasha and Zhenya are common names for both men and women.
  • People commonly use diminutives as nicknames to address one another. For example, Lena may become Lenochka or Anya is turned into Anyuta. Male nicknames often shorten the original name. For example, Mikhail becomes Mish or Misha.
  • Ask a Russian’s permission before calling them by a nickname – especially those that shorten their original name. As Russians are more formal in the initial stages of meeting someone, moving on to this basis too soon can be seen as excessive familiarity or even patronising.
  • Close friends may jokingly refer to one another by using a shortened version of their patronymic name. For example, calling Nikolai Ivanovich by "Ivanych". This is the way people called on servants in the 19th century and implies inferiority. It is best not to address people in this way if you have a limited background in Russian as you may not be able to deliver the name in such a way that it is taken as a joke.
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