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Understanding customs used in surnames and given names can help you identify your ancestors in records. Learn to recognize name variations and see clues in names.

Online Tools[edit | edit source]

Surnames[edit | edit source]

Eastern Slavic naming customs are the traditional way of identifying a person's given name and patronymic name in countries formerly part of the Russian Empire or the Soviet Union.

They are commonly used in Russia, Belarus, Ukraine, Kazakhstan, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan and to an extent in Kyrgyzstan and Georgia (country).

Names consist of a GIVEN NAME (imia), a PATRONYMIC (otchestvo), and a SURNAME (familiia).

Name Example: Cyrillic alphabet Example: Anglicised form
First name (given name) Владимир Vladimir
Patronymic Антонович Antonovich
Family name (surname) Иванов Ivanov

[1]

It is customary to use patronymics as middle names. Patronymics are derived from the father's given name and end with -ovich or -evich. The female patronymics end in -ovna or -evna.

Most surnames end in -ov or -ev. Surnames derived from given male names are common. Female forms of this type of surnames end in -ova or -eva.

MALE
Given Name: Mikhail
Patronym: Mikhailovich (=son of Mikhail)
Surname: Mikhailov

Given Name: Nikolai
Patronym: Nikolaevich (=son of Nikolai)
Surname: Nikolaev

FEMALE
Given Name: Natalia
Patronym: Mikhailovna (=daughter of Mikhail)
Surname: Mikhailova

Given Name: Tatiana
Patronym: Nikolaevna (=daughter of Nikolai)
Surname: Nikolaeva

In older church records the female patronymics took the same form as current female surnames, i.e. in birth records mothers' names were written as Natalia Mikhailova (not Mikhailovna) and Tatiana Nikolaeva (not Nikolaevna). Generally you must find a marriage record to determine a mother's maiden surname.

History[edit | edit source]

Naming practices 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.

Names started only as a given name, adding the patronymic around the 10th century, and finally the surname only in the late 15th or early 16th century. The surname did not become common, in fact, until the 18th century.

Given Names[edit | edit source]

  • Almost all first names are single. Doubled first names (as in, for example, French, like Jean-Luc) are very rare and from foreign influence. Most doubled first names are written with a hyphen: Mariya-Tereza.
  • Given names are provided at birth or selected during a name change.
  • Orthodox Christian names constitute a fair proportion of given names, but there are many exceptions including pre-Christian Slavic names, Communist names, and names taken from ethnic minorities in Russia.
  • The evolution of given names dates back to the pre-Christian era, though the list of common names changed drastically after the adoption of Christianity. In medieval Russia two types of names were in use: canonical names given at baptism (calendar or Christian names, usually modified) and non-canonical.
  • The 14th century was marked by the elimination of non-canonical names, that ended by the 18th century.
  • In the 20th century after the October Revolution the whole idea of a name changed. It was a completely new era in the history of names, marked by significant changes in common names.
  • The names of popular saints are known as "calendar names" from their occurrence in the Eastern Orthodox liturgical calendar. A common custom is to name the baby for the saint who is the patron over their birthday. Such names include Ivan (Иван, "John"), Andrei (Андрей, "Andrew"), Yakov (Яков, "Jacob"), Yuri (Юрий, "George"), Tatyana (Татьяна, "Tatiana"), Maria (Мария, "Mary"), Avdotia (Авдотья, "Eudocia"), Elizaveta (Елизавета, "Elizabeth"). The group of calendar names includes traditional names that used to be listed in orthodox menologia prior to the October Revolution and in popular calendars of the Soviet era that had been printed since the second half of the 19th century. 95% of the Russian-speaking population in the Soviet Union in the 1980s had calendar names.
  • Ancient Slavic names include Stanislav (Станислав), Rada (Рада) and Radomir (Радомир), and Dobromila. Old Russian names include Zhdan (Ждан), Peresvet (Пересвет), Lada (Лада), and Lyubava (Любава). Soviet-era names include Vilen (Вилен), Avangard (Авангард), Ninel (Нинель), and Era (Эра). Names borrowed from other languages include Albert (Альберт), Ruslan (Руслан), Zhanna (Жанна), and Leyla (Лейла).[2]

For Further Reading[edit | edit source]

References[edit | edit source]

  1. "Eastern Slavic naming customs", in Wikipedia, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Eastern_Slavic_naming_customs, accessed 27 February 2021.
  2. "Russian given name", in Wikipedia, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Russian_given_name, accessed 27 February 2021.