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a general overview of russian names

It's not uncommon these days to see many Russian characters being picked up, but it's important to note that Russians (and many characters over the age of 23 hailing from some [but not all] former Soviet Bloc nations) have a very specific name convention. The same can be said of many cultures, but for Russians, it's actually deceptively easy.

Russian names have three parts, outlined as follows:

first name patronymic family name

Let's break it down by type. The first is the first name. Russians usually keep these names extremely traditional. You won't generally find the Russian equivalent of a Tiffeni because their parents felt creative. (That doesn't, of course, mean it doesn't happen--it just happens far less than in the US.) It's difficult to find a clear list of traditional Russian names, but this list of boys' names and this list of girls' names are pretty helpful. This links are also super helpful if you're a mega-nerd like I am, because it lists the names both in Latin characters and Cyrillic ones.

The middle name in a Russian formation should always be a patronymic. Even in cases where the identity of the father isn't known or cannot be disclosed, a patronymic is formed from either the mother's father's name or (if the mother's name is a feminised version of a male name) from the mother's name. A patronymic is relatively easy to form, and varies based on gender. To form a patronymic, simply take the father's name and add -ovich for a boy and -evna or -ovna for a girl. If in doubt about the form a name should take or you just want to double-check spelling, a quick google search of "[name] patronymic" should get you what you need to know. All children of the same father share the same patronymic. So all of Ivan's children will have the middle patronymic name of either Ivanovich or Ivanovna.

Now, we'll tackle the family name. My favourite resource for Russian family names is this page right here. Now, please note that all of these names are given in the masculine form. As with your patronymic, your surnames reflect gender. There are a few types of Russian surnames, but there are three that are most common. Those ending in -v/-ff or -n, and those ending in y. The surnames ending in -v, -ff, or -n can be feminised simply by adding an a to the end of the name. Take Natalia Romanova for instance--the general male version of her surname is Romanov. Another example is the surname Anosov, yanked right from the wiki link. To feminise that, you would make it Anosova. Rasputin becomes Rasputina, and so forth. Surnames ending in -y such as Gruzinsky become feminised by replacing the y with an aya. So Sergey Gruzinsky's sister's name would be Irina Gruzinskaya.

Surnames ending in -enko are typically Ukrainian. I'm not as familiar with Ukrainian patterns as I am with Russian, but from what I understand those surnames ending in -ko can be feminised simply by changing the -ko to a -ka. (So Maksim Rodchenko's sister would be Marya Rodchenka.)

a little about nicknames

Russian names, in addition to being highly formulaic, also have generally accepted nicknames. Unless someone wants to hear about how addressing people works, I'll skip that for now and just focus on forming nicknames out of names.

Wikipedia has a short list of acceptable nicknames from some of the most common Russian names, but it is by no means exhaustive. Finding a nickname for uncommon Russian names can sometimes be hard, so it's important to remember that most nicknames come from a syllable in the original name.

For example, Nikolai becomes Kolya, Dmitriy can become Dima or Mitya, and Marya can become Masha. There are some off the wall nicknames, like getting Zhenya from Yevgeniya, Dunyasha from Avdotya, or Sasha from Aleksandr/Aleksandra, but by and large, it should be relatively easy to formulate your nickname.

a final few notes

Unlike many other cultures, Russians do not generally Russify names. Your friend Michael most likely won't become Mikhail when he meets your Russian grandma.

Remember when I said we wouldn't have Tiffeni? We might have Anastasia and Anastasya or Yevgeniya and Evgeniya; this is based on the process of transliteration, which is the totally fascinating process of turning Владимир into Vladimir. So some names are spelled in different ways, but it all has to do with transliteration and you shouldn't worry too much about which version is "right".

And while you won't have Tiffeni, you might have names like Ninel, which are patriotic names originating from the start of the Soviet Union. (Ninel, of course, being Lenin backwards.)

Any other questions/notes? Drop a comment below and I'll see if I can help you out!