Why do Russian Women’s Names Always End in “A”?


You might notice that Russian women’s names always end with the sound [a]. The masculine Alexandr turns into the feminine Alexandra, Evgenii into Evgenia, and so on. What makes the endings of Russian girls’ names so identical?

Russian women’s names end up with a because most of them come from the Latin language. Secondly, the Russian grammar structure provides feminine names with particular endings.

Actually, if you pay attention to the most common European female names, you will notice a similar pattern. Many popular names also have “a” in the end: Olivia, Sophia, Julia and so on. The large part of these names comes from the Latin language.

In Latin, there was a special grammatical feature – gender. In brief, this means, that you add a special letter to all feminine words. For most of the names, it was – “a”. The same grammar rule was used in the Old Church Slavonic, the ancestor of the modern Russian language. Therefore, all Russian names end with the sound [a].

In Russian, the letter may consist of two sounds. That’s why the name Анастасия (Anastasija) still ends with the sound [a], the same as Мария (Marija), Евгения (Evgenija) and others.

Russian short and gentle names also end with [a]: Natasha, Nastya, Sonya, Katusha, Ksushen’ka and so on.

This happens because the modern Russian language still uses this “gender” structure and adds the “a” ending to most of the feminine words. This is why foreign female names that come to Russian, get “a” at the end. For instance, Elizabeth becomes Elizaveta, Ann turns into Anna and so on.

Are there any names in Russian that don’t have the [a] sound in the end? Yes, there is one – Lubov’ (Любовь), which means “love”. However, the soft sign (ь) is also typical for feminine nouns.

All other names, even those made up by parents in Soviet times still end up with [a]. For instance: Oktyabrina (girl’s in favor of the October Revolution), Reva (from “revolution”), Lenina (from the leader’s name “Lenin”) and so on. Even the weirdest of them still obey strict Russian grammar rules.

The Russian language doesn’t transform people’s foreign names. If you are Jane, you’ll still be Джэйн (Dzhein) with no additional letters.

Why do Russian Surnames end with “-ova”, “-eva”…?

In Russia, surnames for a man and a woman within one family will be different. For example, Nikolaev (masculine) and Nikolaeva (feminine), Kolugin (masculine) and Kolugina (feminine). Here, the same gender grammar rules come in force. We add “а” when the surname belongs to a woman.

Different surnames may have different endings (-ov, -ev, in-, -ij and so on), but the general principle of most Russian surnames is this: masculine end with a consonant, and feminine with [a].

  • -ov –> -ova: (Ivanov –> Ivanova)
  • -ev –> eva: (Kondrat’ev –> Kondrat’eva)
  • -in –> ina: (Kiskin –> Kiskina)
  • -skij –> skaya (Visotskij –> Visotskaya)

If a surname hasn’t got a typical Russian ending, it will be the same for men and women. Here are some examples, that don’t change their form:

  • -ь ( Lopar’ (Лопарь)
  • -ts (Kostinets)
  • -о (Kovalenko)
  • -chuk (Kovalchuk)

When Russians travel or immigrate to countries where grammar makes no difference between male and female surnames, women are usually given a male version, without a feminine ending. It works fine in other cultures, but to Russians, it sounds weird.

Why do Russian Second Names end with “-ovna”, “-evna”…?

Traditionally, Russians use patronyms: second names that come from the name of the father by adding special suffixes. The most widely spread are -vich for males and -ovna/-evna for females.

So, the grammatical gender rule works here as well. Whatever ending the masculine patronym has, the feminine will be with the additional [a] at the end.

  • Mikhailovich –> Michailovna
  • Andreevich –> Andreevna
  • Iljich –> Iljinishna

Conclusion

This was my short guide into Russian names, surnames, and patronyms. I hope that you found your answers here. If not – don’t hesitate to ask your questions in the comments below.

Anastasia Korol

Anastasia Korol is an enthusiastic Russian language tutor. She gives effective, goal-oriented lessons to students all over the world. Thousands of people have already followed her Instagram.

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