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Old 05-08-2009, 05:12 PM
gallows fodder gallows fodder is offline
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Russian diminutives and personal names

I've been thinking of writing a story set in Russia, and I'd like some clarification on the diminutive forms of Russian personal names. It's my understanding that certain diminutives are generally used only by certain types of people and/or people in certain types of relationships with the subject. I was wondering how I can learn to recognize the kinds of diminutive suffixes in order to suss out the relational subtext -- are they regular and generalizable (i.e., "the suffix -ishka is always used by very close family and could be patronizing if used by anyone else") or do they depend on the name?

For example, let's take the name Irina. This wiki page lists three nicknames: Ira, Irka, and Irochka. Are these in order of familiarity? (That is, a friend would use "Ira", someone closer like a sister would use "Irka", and maybe a grandfather or an older brother would call a little girl "Irochka"?) Which of these (or which others) would be likely to be used by Irina's husband or lover? Which could be patronizing if used "incorrectly"? Where does "Irishka" fall in all of this?

Also, do you know of any good sources (in print or online) that would lay down the rules really nicely and clearly? I found a few websites that are basically helpful, but don't get specific enough to help me populate my fictional world.

Thanks!

Last edited by gallows fodder; 05-08-2009 at 05:15 PM..
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  #2  
Old 05-08-2009, 07:57 PM
Chronos Chronos is offline
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I am not Russian. But from what I understand from other grad students who are, the usual practice is for a person to have a different nickname for every circle of friends or associates, but that there isn't any particular pattern to who gets which nickname.

Don't take my word for that, though. Next time I see any of them, I'll point them to this thread.
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Old 05-08-2009, 10:08 PM
levdrakon levdrakon is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by gallows fodder View Post
For example, let's take the name Irina. This wiki page lists three nicknames: Ira, Irka, and Irochka. Are these in order of familiarity? (That is, a friend would use "Ira", someone closer like a sister would use "Irka", and maybe a grandfather or an older brother would call a little girl "Irochka"?) Which of these (or which others) would be likely to be used by Irina's husband or lover? Which could be patronizing if used "incorrectly"? Where does "Irishka" fall in all of this?
In Russian, she'd be Irina Ivanova (first name + patronymic, no last name) or they'd skip to Ira. No one calls you by your real first name by itself.

More informal, in English and Russian, friends and family could go to Irka or stick with Ira but things get smooshy and they could go to Irochka too. Irochka would also be what a lover might use.

I'd be careful of Irishka, because that could be a derogatory diminutive. Anything beyond Ira could be patronizing if you aren't already that familiar, but friends and family can get really creative with your name and you're almost better off consulting a native about what sounds right.
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Old 05-09-2009, 03:58 PM
gallows fodder gallows fodder is offline
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Aggh, the board ate my reply.

Chronos, I would love it if you could point native Russian speakers to this question -- thanks!

levdrakon, thanks for the information! I didn't realize that no one would use the full personal name without the patronymic -- is this also true when speaking of someone in reference? Would Irina say to her friend "my brother Aleksandr is home" or would it always be "my brother Sasha"?

In what context could derogatory diminutives be used? Are they more teasing than outright insulting (e.g., "Aw, did little Irishka fall down and hurt herself?" vs. "Irishka, you little bitch, I'll get you for that")?

I found this website, which says:
Quote:
The formation of this diminutive is so unpredictable that no simple rule can be formulated for use by those not quite familiar with Russian.
...but then goes on to say
Quote:
Two other forms of the diminutive exist -- the diminutive of derogation, which is used primarily as an insult but also in a rather coarsely friendly way among certain groups, and the diminutive of intimacy, which is used between family members, extremely close friends and lovers. These forms are derived from the casual diminutive in a fairly regular pattern. The diminutive of derogation is formed by replacing the final "-a" or "-ya" of the casual diminutive with "-ka" For example, Vanya becomes Vanka, and Katya becomes Katka. The intimate diminutive is somewhat less predictable, but usually is produced by replacing the final "-a" or "-ya" of the casual diminutive with "-ushka," "-inka" or "-ochka." Thus, Vanya becomes Vanushka and Katya becomes Katinka.
Can I trust those rules, or should I go talk to native Russian speakers (or comb through Dostoevsky) to create my diminutives?
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Old 05-09-2009, 05:57 PM
rocking chair rocking chair is offline
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it is a bit like this: (using english names)

there is a human named thomas johnson apple. in school or in business he would be refered to as thomas johnson by teachers, fellow students, coworkers.

the first layer of friends, ie people you know but don't hang out with outside of school, work, or what ever, may call him thomas or tom.

the second layer of friends, ie people he would hang out with, do things with, drink with would call him tommy.

the third layer would be family and intimates that would call him tommy love.

then there are those who would want to bug him those would call him tommy boy.


that's how they usually run.
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Old 05-09-2009, 06:34 PM
gallows fodder gallows fodder is offline
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Oh, I get that. I just want to know the specifics so I don't misuse the names.
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Old 05-09-2009, 10:36 PM
Neptunian Slug Neptunian Slug is offline
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Here's the staight dope from my wife.

First, Russians generally don't greet each other with names anyway. You don't walk up on the street and say "Hello Ira!" She claims that in all the years she lived in Russia, she never heard her name pronounced as often as she has in the ten years in the US. So you can easily overuse it coming from an Anglo-Saxon perspective where we are all "Hey Bob" and "Hey Jim".

You also have to be aware that men and women are different in this department. A woman might say "Irochka, will you pass the potatoes?" A guy would rarely if ever do the same thing with another guy but would do it to a woman. I wouldn'ty wouldn't call my buddy Dmitry 'Dimochka' unless my intent is to break his stones. A sister would call her brother Dimochka, brothers not so much between each other. A father might call his very young son Dimochka, but its more in a father-son type of moment.

I might call my wife Irochka although I don't use that form a lot myself when we speak Russian. I might call a friend Irochka. Probably a classmate. Probably not a co-worker unless we are friends outside the office or if I am asking a favor. More along the lines of "Oh be a dear Irochka and run to the post office for me." And even if you are being super nice, you might not do it if the co-worker is a bit older.

And if you are getting someone's attention, you may shorten the diminuative. Ir for Ira, Yur for Yura and so on.

In short, don't use names so much, reserve the extra diminuative for extra familiarity, don't be extra familiar between guys.
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Old 05-10-2009, 10:36 AM
CalMeacham CalMeacham is offline
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I had a friend who spent some time in Russia, many years ago. Her first name didn't have any Russian parallel, and it flummoxed her friends, because they didn't have any diminutives for it. (And they apparently didn't want to try to come up with any).


But her last name was Nichols, and that provided them with a solution -- they called her Nicole, which not only does have a Russian parallel, but is provided with lots of familiar and diminutive forms. So my friend nbecame Ninitchka and Nicola and lots of other forms.

She never said anything about any of them having particular significance or preference.
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Old 05-10-2009, 10:43 AM
Hello Again Hello Again is offline
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Also I believe the -shka/-chka diminutive ending can nounify another part of speech - my Russian professor called her young son "Pochemoochka" -- not very translateable but maybe, "little person always saying 'Why?'" (it's the word for "why"+diminutive ending)
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  #10  
Old 05-10-2009, 05:23 PM
gallows fodder gallows fodder is offline
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Thanks for the replies, everyone! (Neptunian Slug, that's particularly helpful -- thank you!) Between the information here and my reading of Russian literature, I think I have an idea of what to do.
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