After Russia became Christianised towards the end of the C10th, many people had a Christian name, often followed by an old Russian name. Later the Russian Orthodox Church forbade the use of native Slavonic names, preferring those of saints of the Eastern Church. This led to a Russian naming tradition based on Byzantine Greek although by the later C19th Slavonic names were being reintroduced to some extent. As Russian is written in the Cyrillic alphabet, English spellings can vary with different Roman letters being used for the same sounds ('ts' and 'ch', 'o' and 'a')
Russians are almost always addressed by a 'pet' form of their name and there is a very wide range of these with each name being able to take several forms. Often the diminutive seems to bear little relation to the original name but they are usually formed from one syllable of it with various endings added. Common endings are '-lenka', '-linka', '-ta', '-asha', '-ya', '-yan', '-a', '-usha', '-ushka', '-oshka', '-yasha', '-lka'.
From the C10th on, Russians used their patronymic (father's name) to identify themselves. Endings are different to indicate male or female. The patronymic was formed by dropping the original ending and adding a new one, usually '-ev' (instead of a vowel) or '-ov' after a consonant. Names ending in '-ii' or '-yi' usually dropped both vowels. Names already ending in '-ov' or '-ev' took 'l' in front of the ending, those ending in '-a' took '-in' and '-ia' took '-yn'.
Sometimes the father's name was not changed but '-syn' (son) was added, usually afterwards but it could come in front of it. If another member of the family was especially well-known, his name might be used, with 'vnuk' - grandson, 'pravnuk' - great-grandson, 'brat' - brother, 'ziat' - son-in-law or 'pasynok' - stepson. The genitive case could also be used without the 'syn', giving the patronymic an '-a' ending if the original name ended in a consonant or an '-o' or '-ia' if the ending was a soft consonant. Names ending in '-a' or '-ia' take '-y' or '-i' endings, '-ii' becomes '-ego' and '-oi', ' -ogo'.
The '-vich' ending was originally used by the upper class in the Novgorod area but by the C16th it was an honour restricted to high officials and could only be granted by the Tsar. A rare early form not found later than the C13th was the addition of '-l' to names ending in '-av'.
Women had no legal rights and were considered as an appendage of their husbands or fathers until Peter the Great's land reforms in 1714 when they were given the right to own property and could use full names including a patronymic and surname. Women's patronymics ended in '-a' or were followed by 'doch' or 'vnuka'/'vnuchka' - granddaughter until marriage when they became known by their husband's name with 'zhena' - wife or 'vdova' - widow. This could later be replaced by their son's name with 'mat' - mother and 'devka' - mistress/servant also occurs. Sometimes they used both the father's and the husband's names, and occasionally the actual given name was not recorded at all. Modern Russians use the feminine patronymic endings '-ovna'/'-evna' which are not common in the Middle Ages.
In some rare cases, the patronymic is replaced by a form of the mother's name - a metronymic. This could be an indication of illegitimacy but if the mother was sufficiently important (a member of the royal family for example) her name could be used. Recently the use of patronymics has become less common and is considered rather old-fashioned by some people.
This collection of names was compiled by Kate Monk and is ©1997, Kate Monk.
Copies may be made for personal use only.
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