I Is For… Ivan – or, Russian Naming Conventions

The main character in Sealed by Fire is Ivan Demidov, but he goes by Vanya.  I love using Russian naming conventions because they’re so different than the ones that I grew up with in my culture of origin.

In the old days, in Russia, one would have three names.  The first is the public, formal name.  It was the first name, what’s called a “patronymic,” and the family name, or what we call in the States the “last name.”  So, Ivan Mikhailovich Demidov.  The “ov” or “ev” at the end of the family name generally means “of,” and the rest of the name refers to something – perhaps an ancestor, or a river, or something else.

The patronymic refers to the father:  “patro” for father, “nymic” for name.  It’s literally the father’s name.  Boys take the suffix “ich” and girls “ovna,” so Vanya is Mikhailovich and his sisters are Mikhailovna.

And finally, we come to Ivan:  it is “John,” in Russian, and the use-name, or short-name, or nickname, is Vanya.  In the old days, no one would call him by that name except family and very intimate friends.  There are suffixes to indicate endearments; yuchka to indicate beloved, which would be used by a wife or close, older, family members; and yuckenka, which means “little beloved one,” which would be used by much older relatives like grandparents.  So, Vanyuchka or Vanyushka, and then Vanyuchenka.

Clear as mud, eh?

What about you, Dear Reader?
Did you, or do you now, go by a nickname?

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