Russia Names, Personal

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Russia Gotoarrow.png Names, Personal

In modern Russian, names consist of a GIVEN NAME (imia), a PATRONYMIC (otchestvo), and a SURNAME (familiia), but as Tumanova notes quite well: "Russian naming conventions for early period are first name (baptismal name, usually that of a Biblical saint), followed by the everyday or common first name, patronymic, and rarely a surname. Russian naming conventions for mid to late period are first name, patronymic, and surname" (1989: 4). More precisely, Russian names started only as a given name, adding the patronymic around the 10th century, and finally the surname (from the patronymic constructions) only in the late 15th or early 16th century. The surname did not become common, in fact, until the 18th century (Tupikov, 1903: 21-22).

Russian names, as should be apparent, underwent a large number of transformations. The most important lesson to learn from this assertion is that for every rule, there is an exception and many of the so-called "rules" of Russian grammar need to be unlearned. In this section, I will provide about a half dozen naming practices that are documentably medieval. Among other things, we will see that the popular Given Name-Patronymic-Surname (or G-P-S, for short) construction, while in use during the Middle Ages, is from the late medieval period and was certainly not the common naming construction for a majority of medieval Russians. Many other surprises await....

Given Names

In Russian, linguists tend to differentiate between so-called "Christian" or "Canonical" names (khristianskii or kanonicheskii) and "Old Russian" (drevnerusskii) given names. The former are usually Biblical (like Ivan, Konstantin, and Pavel) while the others are traced to the Vikings or to earlier inhabitants of the steppes (like Oleg, Igor', and Ol'ga). From the adoption of Christianity in 988 onward, most Russians used Christian names, but many also had a Russian name (e.g., Ivan Guba Ivanov syn Kuneev [1518] [Tup 121]). The result was an apparent double given name. Tupikov (1903: 18) argues that the second given name may in fact have been a nickname and may have been used more commonly in everyday conversation than the first given name. In such cases, the first element in the Russian's name was usually the "Christian" (i.e., baptismal) name and the second was the "Russian" one. Semenova (1969: 88-9) notes that there are exceptions to this pattern, with both names being Christian in origin or both Russian, or with the order simply reversed (i.e., Russian -- Christian). While double Christian names may have occurred in period, they make little logical sense. The Russian name, if it existed, had been received at birth. The "Christian" name came at baptism. If the child had been given a Christian name by his/her parents at birth, the Church would merely baptize the child by that name (and the child would then have only one given name).

Unlike modern conventions, nicknames or diminutives commonly appeared in place of full given names. Such short constructions were common for peasants and even occur amongst nobles from time to time. Due to the limits of this work, I will not discuss the issue of nicknames -- an issue requiring extensive discussion, as well as an understanding of Russian that the average medievalist does not possess. This Dictionary lists a fair number of period nicknames (usually identified as diminutive forms) under the main entry for the name.

It should come as no surprise that women's names are particularly more difficult to document than men's. As Superanskaia puts it: "As long as women had no kind of legal rights, they were mentioned extremely rarely in documents of that time" (1977: 15). Despite conscious efforts to counter this problem, this Dictionary also underrepresents women's given names. For more info see:

A Dictionary of Period Russian Names

Grammer of Russian Names