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What’s in a Russian Last Name?

J. Smith

That’s the name of the file. Male or female?

In English, we would be unable to tell. But in Russian, last names differ by gender.

It’s very simple, really. The last name of a female has an “a” added onto it.

Anton Chekov was married to Olga Chekova.

Boris and Arkady Strugatskys’ mother’s last name would have been Strugatskya.

One particular confusing bit for some English speakers acquainted with my family is my mother in law’s last name. Because she came over as a single woman, they used her last name as it was, with the ‘a’ at the end. Not only that, but the conversion from the Cyrillic to the Latin alphabet changed in the 16 years my husband had been here. When he came, French was the languaged used for conversion. When she came, English was. This has caused the spellings to be different. In essence, she has a different last name than her son in this country.

So, if you ever meet someone from Russia and hear them called 10 different names, now you’ll know.

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