NONE OF YOUR FREAKING MOVIES GET IT RIGHT: a guide to Russian names.
This post was inspired by years and years of watching movies, series, and fanfics royally and hilariously fuck up the use of names in the Russian language, coming to the point where, if I see another pair of best buddies call each other by full name, I will shoot something, I swear to God.
There are 3 ways people in Russia address each other, and they denote different levels of formality, and the relationship between the speakers. You should know this stuff if you wanna write anything that includes Russian people talking to each other, because if you get it wrong, it will be, alternatively, hilarious or cringe-worthy. I have seen soo much of this in fanfic it’s not funny anymore. So read up y’all!
1. Name + Patronymic.
A patronym, or patronymic, is a component of a surname based on the given name of one’s father, grandfather or an even earlier male ancestor. (thank you, Wikipedia!) A patronymic is not a middle name. Russian people don’t have middle names, period. But we all have patronymics!
Used towards: your teacher, your big boss, a senior citizen with whom you don’t have a close relationship (say, your classmate’s grandma), your doctor, any kind of professor or scholar when you address them formally, a client when you’re in the service industry/work with people (not always, but very often).
Example: Ivan Petrovich, Sergey Vladimirovich, Anna Anatolyevna, Maria Sergeevna, etc
Things that happen:
Student: Ivan Petrovich, could I consult you on my essay after class?
Teacher: Sure, Sasha, I’ll be in the classroom till 3.
Things that don’t happen:
Student: Ivan, when are you gonna grade our tests?
Teacher: Tomorrow, Alexander!
Remember: patronymics are gendered, they’ll have different endings for male and female names! The best way to figure out how to make a patronymic out of any given name is to go and ask a Russian speaker.
I’m talking about the full form of a name here, because there’s also a short form and that’s the next one.
Used towards: if you’re an adult - towards any other adult with whom you are in an equal position but don’t have a close relationship; a colleague with whom you’re not close; a business partner; your boss if you’re close to them on the corporate ladder; another adult you just met and with whom you’re making friends with but you’re not close yet (not always though, but often); basically in any kind od setting where someone’s your equal but you’re not close. Teenagers/youngsters and children don’t really do this inbetween themselves, preferring the informality of short names. When people use full names, it means the relationship between them is formal in its nature, not really close or based on friendship.
Example: Vladimir, Pyotr, Alexander, Anna, Nadezhda, Valentina, Ivan, Natalya, Mikhail, etc
Things that happen:
Businessman 1: I think the business lunch went pretty well, don’t you, Alexey?
Businessman 2: I believe so, Mikhail, if things keep going this way, we’ll get some solid funding for our joined project.
Things that don’t happen:
Classmate 1: Hey, Mikhail, pass me the history textbook!
Classmate 2: Sure thing, Boris!
Friend 1: What do you say, Anatoly, wanna hit a few bars tonight, get a few beers?
Friend 2: Sure thing, Dmitry, it’s been a while since I got hammered last time! A good fuck afterwards would be awesome, too.
Remember: if two people are close in an informal setting, they’re not gonna do this. This is the number one mistake they make in movies. Siblings and close friends and people who are meant to be friendly and close to each other don’t bloody do this in modern Russian. Unless it’s for laughs or something.
3. Short name.
This is the one people get wrong often too, because the world generally seems to be uninformed about the existence of short names in Russian. And when people do know, they have serious difficulties telling short names for girls from short names for boys, or making a short name out of the full version correctly. The best way to figure this out is to ASK A RUSSIAN, y’all.
Used towards: your peers, buddies, friends, classmates, siblings, relatives, children and teenagers regardless of the speaker’s age, sometimes young adults too if they’re very young-looking and the other person is older. (I’m 22 and all my teachers use my short name, so does my dentist, my friends’ parents, etc. Note the difference: if I go to a bank, I will only be addressed by name+patronymic by the workers there, regardless of my baby face, because that’s a formal setting.) It’s also acceptable to use short names towards people much lower than you on the corporate ladder, sometimes: bosses often use short names for their secretaries, but not always, it really depends. Small children use short name + uncle/auntie to talk about any adult (this is sort of similar to Japanese).
Exaple (Full name - short name): Vladimir - Vova/Volodya, Mikhail - Misha, Evgeny/Evgenia - Zhenya, Nadezhda - Nadya, Ekaterina - Katya, Alexander/Alexandra - Sasha, Dmitry - Dima, Sergey - Seryozha, Maria - Masha, Natalya - Natasha, Ivan - Vanya, etc.
Things that happen:
Classmate 1: Morning, Katya! Ready for the test?
Classmate 2: Morning! Not sure about that one, Nadya, got any cribs to share?
Boss: Masha, could you please make me a cup of strong coffee? No sugar.
Secretary: Yes, Evgenya Pavlovna, it’ll only be a minute.
Things that don’t happen:
Teacher: Your last test was awful, Kostya, when are you going to start trying harder?
Student: I’ll try harder next time, Vanya, I’m really sorry. Please don’t fail me?
Remember: It can be very hard to guess if a short name is a boy or girl name if you don’t know, because they have similar endings, and that confuses people. Some short names are unisex, because they’re short forms for male and female versions of the same name, like Sasha or Zhenya. If you only know the short name, you will most likely fail at figuring out the full name if you don’t already know it, and vice versa. The best way to figure out the short form of a name is to ASK A RUSSIAN, seriously. Or a Russian speaker with a good vocabulary. Someone who already knows.
Also note: Russian is VERY creative with suffixes and diminutives, so a single name can have 3 or 4 short versions which get fluffier and fluffier. Example:
Nadezhda -> Nadya -> Nadyusha -> Nadyushen’ka. (my name)
Ivan -> Vanya -> Vanyusha, Vanechka -> Vanyushen’ka (the last one is so fluffy noone but your grandma would ever use it)
The last version is UBER fluffy. The third one is what my ex used to call me and what my close Russian friends call me to show tenderness/love/affection, same with my parents, and even my teacher calls me that but only due to our very close relationship. It’s not the fluffiest but still mighty fluffy.
NB for ficwriters: using names correctly is an A+ way to show contrast in relationships, or a contrast between a formal setting and a private setting. Especially if you’re writing m/m, use the fluffy versions SPARINGLY if you wanna convey a serious atmosphere (even in a cracky one, people aren’t gonna use them all the time either), but figure out the right moment to use them, when you wanna show a hurricane of affection/emotions and extreme tenderness, and you’ll hit your Russian readers right in the heart (for example, character A is returning from a war all wounded but alive, and character B is running towards them, hugging them and crying). But don’t try to make the fluffy versions yourself, just find someone and ask! Ask me, I’m always here.
Mkay, I hope that was clear enough and made some sense. If you’re not sure about something, the best thing to do is ask a Russian/someone who’s really fluent. Online translators don’t do SHIT, forget about them if you wanna get Russian right in a fanfic, the results are hilarious. ASK! That is the key : )
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