Friday, June 27, 2014

So, I Married a Russian... Russian Names

It's been so long since I've done a Russian post - I'll try to work these in more often! Pictures in this post are from our trip to Russia last September.

So, names. It's a big conversation topic these days, seeing as we have a baby to name. We knew all along that we want baby b's first name to be more of the standard American variety. But when it came to deciding on the middle name, we spent a lot of time talking about whether or not we'd follow Russian tradition. I won't be telling baby b's first name today (we're keeping it a surprise until he's here!) but I will be sharing his middle name.

Russian culture doesn't have middle names in the same sense that Americans do. Russians do all have a middle name, but it's a given name as opposed to a chosen name. The given middle name follows a formula: the father's first name plus -ovich for a boy or -ovna for a girl, which translates directly to "son of" or "daughter of." This is considered a patronymic name and there are a few variations of the name endings, which you can see here.

As an example of how this works, Taras's dad's name is Alexander (Alexandr, without the E in the last syllable, is its truer Russian form), so both Taras and his brother have the middle name Alexandrovich. If Taras had a sister, her middle name would be Alexandrovna. As another example, Taras's brother, Anton, recently had a daughter and her middle name is Antonovna.

I thought it'd be a given that we'd follow Russian tradition, but Taras was hesitant to commit, mostly out of concern that our kid would be pegged as being too different. He even suggested giving our children two middle names: the traditional Russian name plus a more standard American middle name. Then, the kid could decide which middle name to use. I quickly overruled this suggestion, as it's important to me that our kids have only three names (versus four). Plus, I've always thought that Russian middle names sound amazingly masculine and feminine - and how cool would it be for our kids to have a story to tell that goes along with their name?

Ultimately, we've decided to follow Russian tradition for the middle name. Even though it did take some time and consideration (naming kids is a long-term commitment!), we both know it's a privilege to be able to pass along the history and heritage of the name. For those keeping up, this means that our son's middle name will be Tarasovich. Any future son will have the same middle name and any future daughter will have the middle name Tarasovna.

Some other random things of note:

- This isn't specific to Russian names, but I find it worth mentioning: Taras didn't have a name for a full month! His parents had a name picked out, but when he got here they didn't think it fit him. They finally decided on Taras, which is a traditional Ukrainian name.

- I have a super witty friend who had a grand idea for naming our children: we should name our son Sand so that our grandson's middle name would be Sandovich, which, when said quickly, sounds just like sandwich. Ha!

- Alexander is a very common Russian name. Interestingly, the nickname for Alexander is Sasha, so Taras's dad actually goes by Sasha. I was confused with how these names became interchangeable, so Taras likened it to Richard and Dick or Robert and Bob in the US. Point taken: nicknames don't always make sense. To make things more interesting, Sasha can also be a girl's name, but the full feminine version is Alexandra.

- Russian last names are gender specific and, most commonly, the feminine version of the last name will have an -a at the end. Both my sister-in-law and I chose to keep with American tradition when we married into a Russian family, meaning we took the exact last name as our husbands - Bouzakine - rather than taking the feminine version Bouzakina. Our mother-in-law, however, has the last name Bouzakina. If Taras and I have a daughter, we will keep her last name the same as ours - Bouzakine.

- In America, when we're addressing someone in a formal or respectful manner, it's common to use Mrs., Ms., Miss, and Mr. In Russia, the way you respectfully address someone is by their First Name + Middle Name / Patronym. As an example, if someone were to formally address Taras, they would call him Taras Alexandrovich. This is also how students address their teachers in school.

- In Russia, it's common to adjust one's name when referring to them in a more intimate setting (see: diminutive and hypocoristic names). This nickname of sorts is as a way to communicate in a loving and cutesy manner. There are many variations to these nicknames, so I won't outline any hard rules here - but if you're interested, you can read more about it here and here. My mother-in-law often uses Tonchik for Anton, Tarasik for Taras, and Amandochka for Amanda.

I'd love to hear if any part of your name is rooted in cultural tradition, or if you named your own children in such a way.

And, for fun, try to figure out what your Russian middle name would be! If I were Russian, my middle name would be Douglasovna.

You can find more Russian posts here.


  1. This is really fascinating! I never really thought about different cultures having different naming practices. In a way, having the formula takes some of the agony out of choosing a name for your child. If only the first name were so easy! Good luck with that one! I look forward to hearing what you choose :)

    My father's name is William but he goes by Bill most of the time, so for fun I would say my middle name could have been Billovna!

    1. Yes, it definitely helps to have one of the names figured out... so much less stressful than figuring out two names, haha!


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