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What’s in a Russian Name?

Vladimir is the equivalent of John in Russian. If there is an unknown male, I suspect they call him Vladimir. Of the approximately 30 Russian men and boys that I’ve known, 5 of them have been named Vladimir. Then there is Sergey (3 of them), Alexander, Nikolai, Mikael, Konstantin, Leonid, Dmitry, Peter, Igor, Yuri, and Ivan (the Russian form of John).

I’ve never met a Boris.

But I’ve met a couple of Natashas and an Olga or two. Katherine in Russian is Ekaterina. And there is Ilena, Irena, Alexandra, Maria, Svetlana, Tanya, Larisa, Ludmilla, Galina, Marina.

But just knowing these names isn’t going to help you much, because Russians have a nack for nick names.

Take Vladimir, for instance. A Russian will rarely call him by that name. And they’ll never use the short ‘Vlad’ that English speakers shorten it to. The friendly versions of Vladimir are Volodya, Vova, Vovka, and Vovuchka. Now, calling a Vladimir ‘Vovuchka’ is getting a little sappy – you’ll probably only see a mother, lover, or torturer call him that. But it can get even sappier: Vovushenchka. (Italics show the stressed syllable)

Alexander and Alexandra both have the same affectionate form: Sasha. Sashka. Sashinchka.

Natasha isn’t the name given to a baby girl. Her given name is Natalia. You might also hear her called Tasha or Tashka, Natashka… Natashinchka.

Russians will do this to English names as well, like the one I often use as my online nick: Amka (pronounced (mk)). I actually get called this all the time in real life by Vladimir and other Russians. English friends and family hear it so much, or have come to know me through the internet, so that some of them call me Amka as well.

A general rule I’ve come to learn is that the longer the nick name, the more affectionate or, in some cases, patronizing, it is. The ‘ka’ on the end of a name kind of ‘cutifies’ it – like calling a Mike, ‘Mikey’ in English. But that doesn’t necessarily make it juvenile or unmanly. It makes it friendlier. It is a bit of an art though and I have no idea how some of them got the way they are. I wouldn’t suggest trying to Russianize your own name, at least, not in front of Russians.

So there you have it. Russian first names kind of explained. Next: middle names.

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  1. I have a friend named Flavauo. He tells everyone to call him Flav. I don’t know if he does that to make it easier for them, or if that is how it is for him. He’s Swedish, not Russian, BTW. No other nicknames for him. I like how you chose, as an example, Mike and Mikey. I makes me feel “friendlier.” 🙂

  2. This should be required reading for world lit classes…it would really help demystify “War and Peace”, “Anna Karenina”, “The Brothers Kamarozov” etc. At the very least it would cut down on the number of characters in the stories. lol Tell Vovka hello in a nice friendly way. I will refrain from calling him Vovushenchka as that may be construed as torture coming from a mother in law.

  3. Can anyone tell me the affectionate forms of Evgeniy and Stanislav?

  4. Evgenij(Zhenya) – zhenechka, zhenul’ka, Zhenulechka.
    Stanislav(Stas) – Stasik, stanislavchik, Stasen’ka

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