Category: "Last names"

Фамилии и имена иностранные

March 3rd, 2009 — posted by Don

How do Russians deal with the last names and first names of foreigners? The general rule makes sense: the name declines if it ends in a sound that is typical for a male/female name and if it matches the gender typical of such names.

Not too surprisingly, if the foreigner is male, and if his first name and last name end in a consonant typical of a Russian masculine first declension noun, then the first and last names decline just like masculine first declension nouns. For example, Brad Pitt's name declines like this in Russian:

Nom
Acc
Gen
Pre
Dat
Ins
Брэд Питт
Брэда Питта
Брэда Питта
Брэде Питте
Брэду Питту
Брэдом Питтом

Likewise if a female foreigner's names end in a letter typical of a second declension noun, the names decline like second declension nouns. Thus Christina Aguilera's name declines like this in Russian:

Nom
Acc
Gen
Pre
Dat
Ins
Кристина Агилера
Кристину Агилеру
Кристины Агилеры
Кристине Агилере
Кристине Агилере
Кристиной Агилерой

If either of a man's names ends in a sound that is not typical for a masculine first or second declension Russian noun, then that name is not declined. The other name may still decline. Here's how the names of Antonio Banderas and Gérard Depardieu work:

Nom
Acc
Gen
Pre
Dat
Ins
Антонио Бандерас
Антонио Бандераса
Антонио Бандераса
Антонио Бандерасе
Антонио Бандерасу
Антонио Бандерасом
Жерар Депардьё
Жерара Депардьё
Жерара Депардьё
Жераре Депардьё
Жерару Депардьё
Жераром Депардьё

If either of a woman's names ends in a sound not typical for a second declension noun, then that name does not decline. The other name may still decline. As example we see Paulina Rubio and Jane Fonda:

Nom
Acc
Gen
Pre
Dat
Ins
Паулина Рубио
Паулину Рубио
Паулины Рубио
Паулине Рубио
Паулине Рубио
Паулиной Рубио
Джейн Фонда
Джейн Фонду
Джейн Фонды
Джейн Фонде
Джейн Фонде
Джейн Фондой

If a foreign name ends in a sound atypical for Russian male and female names, then usually the name doesn't decline at all, e.g. the names Вупи Голдберг, Мелани Гриффит, Пинк, and Антонио Сабато never change their endings.

A few general examples:

В 1995 году разгорелся роман между Бандерасом и Мелани Гриффит. In 1995 an affair flamed up between Banderas and Melanie Griffith.
Джейн Фонда — дочь Генри Фонды. Jane Fonda is the daughter of Henry Fonda.
Моя мама безумно влюблена в Хулио Иглесиаса. My mother is crazy in love with Julio Iglesias.

(Can you believe that Julio Iglesias, the idol of menopausal women everywhere, even has an official website in Russia? Click here to immerse yourself in the degradation.)

The generalizations we just discussed take care of most foreign names in Russian. There are lots of other possibilities, but they are too many to enumerate in a short blog entry. Suffice it to say that every once in a while names surprise you.

Quirky exceptions:

  • Heaven knows why, but—in terms of official written Russian stylistics—Polish last names in -ski are usually transliterated into Russian not as -ский but as -ски, and they do not decline, thus «фильмы Романа Полански» “the films of Roman Polanski.” If you are writing a formal report in Russian or giving a formal presentation, that's how you have to treat them. But those rules don't hold up later in the day. Even overeducated native speakers of Russian with a fetish for film will say фильмы Романа Поланского when socializing after their big presentation.
  • Likewise, although first and last names in -а are generally declined, officially speaking last names that end in -иа are not declined in überformal contexts, thus you'll hear «книги Джона Гарсиа» “the books of John Garcia” if someone is making a formal presentation, although afterwards, when their students are fawning over them at the parties after the conference, the same speaker will say книги Джона Гарсии.

One last thought: the Russians themselves are not always sure how to handle foreign last names and whether to decline them or not, or even how to spell them. When I looked at the Russian Wikipedia entry today for author John David Garcia, I saw that in the title of the page they spelled his name Гарсиа (standard transliteration of the name), but in the body of the article they tended to write Гарсия.

Фамилии на -ович

February 24th, 2009 — posted by Don

Some Russian last names end in -ович. That's right: every once in a while you come across a last name that looks like an отчество patronymic. For such names the general rule is that if the bearer is a man, the last name declines, but if the bearer is a woman, the last name doesn't decline. One person who has such a last name is the well-known composer Дмитрий Шостакович. His own name declines like this:

Nom
Acc
Gen
Pre
Dat
Ins
Дмитрий Шостакович
Дмитрия Шостаковича
Дмитрия Шостаковича
Дмитрии Шостаковиче
Дмитрию Шостаковичу
Дмитрием Шостаковичем

His wife's name declines like this:

Nom
Acc
Gen
Pre
Dat
Ins
Ирина Шостакович
Ирину Шостакович
Ирины Шостакович
Ирине Шостакович
Ирине Шостакович
Ириной Шостакович

Фамилии-прилагательные

February 12th, 2009 — posted by Don

There are many, many Russian last names that end in -ский and its variations. Good students will note that it looks like an adjectival ending, and in fact such names decline exactly like the adjective русский. The first name, of course, still declines just like an ordinary noun. Examples:

Masculine Feminine Plural
Nom Фёдор Достоевский Мария Достоевская Достоевские
Acc Фёдора Достоевского Марию Достоевскую Достоевских
Gen Фёдора Достоевского Марии Достоевской Достоевских
Pre Фёдоре Достоевском Марии Достоевской Достоевских
Dat Фёдору Достоевскому Марии Достоевской Достоевским
Ins Фёдором Достоевским Марией Достоевской Достоевскими

Although the last names in -ский are the most common adjectival last names, there are other last names that also decline like adjectives: Толстой declines like молодой; the last name Гладкий declines just like the uncapitalized adjective гладкий; and the last name Поперечный declines just like the uncapitalized adjective поперечный. There aren't very many of these adjectival names that don't end in -ский.

The fun really sets in, though, when you encounter last names that end in -ых or -их in the nominative case, which descended from old genitive plural forms. In these cases the last name itself does not decline, although the first name (and patronymic, if present) does. Examples:

Masculine Feminine Plural
Nom Константин Седых Наталья Седых Седых
Acc Константина Седых Наталью Седых Седых
Gen Константина Седых Натальи Седых Седых
Pre Константине Седых Наталье Седых Седых
Dat Константину Седых Наталье Седых Седых
Ins Константином Седых Натальей Седых Седых

Because such last names can be interpreted as masculine, feminine, or plural, not to mention they can be used in any case without a change of ending, interpreting the name in context can tricky. Thus «Я послал телеграмму Седых» could theoretically be interpreted to mean:

  • I sent a telegram to [Mr.] Sedykh; or
  • I sent a telegram to [Ms.] Sedykh; or
  • I sent a telegram to the Sedykhs; or
  • I sent [Mr.] Sedykh's telegram; or
  • I sent [Ms.] Sedykh's telegram; or
  • I sent the Sedykhs' telegram.

In such cases it is wisest to add either a first name and patronymic or some other more specific noun before the last name to clarify the situation: «Я послал телеграмму Константину Седых» or «Я послал телеграмму Наталье Седых» or «Я послал телеграмму семье Седых».

Фамилии на -ин, -ын, -ов, -ев, -ёв

February 9th, 2009 — posted by Don

Фамилия means last name or surname. It does not mean family. Native Russian last names often end in -ов, -ёв, -ин or -ын for men; the feminine forms add -а. Thus when a husband and wife share a last name, the husband could say his last name is Смирнов and his wife will say her last name is Смирнова, and they are not lying, even though the names actually are a bit different. When Russians come to the US, the masculine form of the last name is usually made the official one, so the name Анна Смирнова might be transliterated as “Anna Smirnov.” That's not an error; it's just standard administrative practice.

(Здесь отвечает муж.)
— Как ваша фамилия?
Моя фамилия — Смирнов.
(Here the husband is answering.)
“What is your last name?”
“My last name is Smirnov.”
(Здесь отвечает жена.)
— Как ваша фамилия?
Моя фамилия — Смирнова.
(Here the wife is answering.)
“What is your last name?”
“My last name is Smirnov.”

To my observation, Russian women take their husbands last names rather less often than American women do, so it's not at all uncommon to find husbands and wives whose last names don't match. When children are born, however, they are always assigned a last name that matches the father's last name if the husband and wife are married.

Russian last names -ов, -ёв, -ин or -ын are not declined like standard nouns. They are declined like short-form adjectives. In the following table you will see a complete declension. Notice the endings with the light yellow background differ from standard first- and second-declension noun endings:

Masculine Feminine Plural
Nom
Acc
Gen
Pre
Dat
Ins
Смирнов
Смирнова
Смирнова
Смирнове
Смирнову
Смирновым
Смирнова
Смирнову
Смирновой
Смирновой
Смирновой
Смирновой
Смирновы
Смирновых
Смирновых
Смирновых
Смирновым
Смирновыми

Here are some example sentences where you can see how the endings of the first name and last name sometimes match and sometimes don't. First some masculine examples:

Nom Это мой друг Борис Смирнов. This is my friend Boris Smirnov.
Acc Я хорошо знаю Бориса Смирнова. I know Boris Smirnov well.
Gen Это брат Бориса Смирнова. This is Boris Smirnov's brother.
Pre Мы поговорили о Борисе Смирнове. We talked about Boris Smirnov.
Dat Я передал твоё сообщение Борису Смирнову. I gave your message to Boris Smirnov.
Ins Я раньше работал с Борисом Смирновым. I used to work with Boris Smirnov.

And now some feminine examples:

Nom Это мой друг Анна Смирнова. This is my friend Anna Smirnov.
Acc Я хорошо знаю Анну Смирнову. I know Anna Smirnov well.
Gen Это брат Анны Смирновой. This is Anna Smirnov's brother.
Pre Мы поговорили о Анне Смирновой. We talked about Anna Smirnov.
Dat Я передал твоё сообщение Анне Смирновой. I gave your message to Anna Smirnov.
Ins Я раньше работал с Анной Смирновой. I used to work with Anna Smirnov.

And now some plural examples:

Nom Это мои друзья Смирновы. These are my friends, the Smirnovs.
Acc Я хорошо знаю Смирновых. I know the Smirnovs well.
Gen Это брат Смирновых. This is the Smirnovs' brother.
Pre Мы поговорили о Смирновых. We talked about the Smirnovs.
Dat Я передал твоё сообщение Смирновым. I gave your message to the Smirnovs.
Ins Я раньше работал с Смирновыми. I used to work with the Smirnovs.