Russian Nicknames and Diminutives

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In Russian culture, names are a big deal, literally. Most Russian names are very long and confusing to non-native speakers. It also helps to learn how Russian people usually name their children in the modern age.

Russian Naming Conventions

Most Russian people have three names: a first name, a patronymic, and a surname. The first name and the surname (last name) are self-explanatory. Those are similar to American cultural naming traditions.

The difference is that instead of a middle name, the child gets a name referring to his or her father's first name as their "middle" name.

Take a look at the full name of famous Russian writer Leo Tolstoy who wrote War and Peace. His full name was Lev Nikolayevhich Tolstoy. His first name was Lev. His patronymic (or middle name) is Nikolayevhich. And, his last name was Tolstoy. His father's name was Nikolai, hence the middle name Nikolayevhich.

Nicknames

Russian nicknames, or diminutives, are simply short forms of the given name. As opposed to full names used in formal situations, short forms of a name are used in communication between well-acquainted people, usually relatives, friends, and colleagues. Short forms emerged in spoken language for convenience as a majority of formal names are cumbersome.

Sasha is often the nickname used for a person whose given name is Alexander (male) or Alexandra (female).

While a basic nickname like Sasha may not signify anything except familiarity, other diminutives may be used in an affectionate manner. Alexandra may be called Sashenka, which means "little Sasha" by her parents.

As in the earlier example, regarding Leo Tolstoy, the diminutive forms of his name could be Leva, Lyova, or more rarely, Lyovushka, which is more of an affectionate pet name.

Tolstoy was actually called Leo in English circles due to a translation of his Russian name to English. In Russian lev, means "lion." In English, the translation to Leo was acceptable to the author when he was approving his manuscripts for publication for English audiences since Leo is understood in English as meaning lion.

Example of Nicknames for Female Name "Maria"

Maria is a very common Russian name. Take a look at the many ways you may hear or see the name being used and in the different ways.

MariaFull form of name, official, professional relationships, unfamiliar people
MashaShort form, neutral and used in casual relationships
MashenkaForm of affection
Mashunechka
Mashunya
Marusya
Intimate, tender forms
MashkaVulgar, impolite unless used inside the family, between children, or friends

Other Nickname Examples

To use an example as seen in Russian literature, in Crime and Punishment by Fyodor Dostoyevsky, the protagonist Raskolnikov's first name, Rodion, appears in the following forms: Rodya, Rodenka, and Rodka. His sister, Avdotya, is frequently referred to as Dunya and Dunechka throughout the novel. 

Other common Russian names and diminutives:

  • Dima (for Dmitri)
  • Misha (for Mikhail)
  • Vova (for Vladimir)

    Diminutives for Common Nouns

    Diminutives can be derived from common nouns, too. The word mamochka, a diminutive of mothercan be used by a son or daughter who wants to indicate a mother's sweetness and dearness. Sobachka, a diminutive from the word sobaka (dog), expresses the dog's cuteness and smallness. English speakers might use “doggy” to convey the same meaning.