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Learning Russian: Understanding Russian Male Names

written by: Natalia Brophy • edited by: Rebecca Scudder • updated: 9/11/2012

What is the proper way to spell Russian male names? What's the deal with patronymics and diminutives? Is Boris still the most popular male Russian name? Read this article to find out!

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    Learning the Russian language means more than learning words and grammar. Learning Russian names is a crucial step in learning the language. The following article discusses the most popular Russian male names and their main features and pronunciation.

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    Main Features

    Russians use the Cyrillic alphabet, so the same name may be spelled differently when written in English. For example, the name Alexey can be spelled Alexei or Alexey and both would be correct. Andrey could be spelled Andrei, Andrey or Andrej. To avoid confusion in the future always ask the person how they spell their name.

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    Patronymics

    It is very important to know that in Russia and most former Soviet Union republics it is considered rude to call people by their first name, unless they are children or you know them really well. In formal language Russians use full names (not diminutive) followed by their patronymic.

    A patronymic is derived from the father’s first name with an added ending: -evich, -ovich or -ich (for male Russian names) and -evna or -ovna (for Russian female names). So a person named Alexander who has a father named Boris would be called Alexander Borisovich.

    The ending means “the son of” and is chosen depending on the type of letter the father’s name ends with.

    If the name ends in a non- palatal consonant (such as in Boris), the ending will be –ovich: Borisovich.

    If it ends in a palatal consonant (such as in Andrey), the ending will be –evich: Andreevich (note that the ending eats the last consonant from the name).

    If the name ends in a vowel (such as in Kuzma), the ending will be –ich: Kuzmich

    Besides showing respect to another person, patronymics also serve as middle names, because there are no given middle names in the Russian culture.

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    Diminutives

    Russians love to use diminutive names with friends, loved ones and children. An Alexander by passport would most likely be called Sasha, Sashka or Sanya by friends and Sashenka by parents. Nikolai by passport could be Kolyan, Kol’ka, Kolenka, Kolechka or Kolyuna. It is always better to ask a person what they would prefer to be called, because it can be tricky for non-native Russian speakers to come up with a diminutive that doesn’t sound awkward.

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    Pronunciation

    Pronouncing Russian male names is not very easy even if one is familiar with the Russian alphabet and knows how to read it. Russian stress is unpredictable and unless the name was heard before, it is almost impossible to guess how exactly it should be pronounced.

    For example, in the name Sasha, the stress is on the first vowel “a”, but in the name Foma, the stress is on the last “a”.

    In the diminutive Sashenka, the stress is on the first vowel “a”, but in Sashulya (pronounced Sa-shoo-lya), the stress is on “u”.

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    Ten Most Popular Male Russian Names

    When thinking of Russian male names, the first name that comes to mind for most Americans is the name Boris. However, Boris is a rather rare name these days. Here is the current list of the most popular male names in Russia:

    1. Alexander

    2. Maxim

    3. Ivan

    4. Artyom

    5. Dmitriy

    6. Nikita

    7. Mikhail

    8. Daniil

    9. Yegor

    10. Andrey