Slavic Feminine Surnames

What are the rules about Russian and other Eastern European women putting the letter “a” at the end of their surname?. I always assumed that this only happened with married women. I have just been watching the women’s European weightlifting championship’s on TV ( somebody’s got to do it !! ) and I noticed that many of the, I assume , unmarried women also had “a” on the end of their last names. So do all women, of any status, follow this rule and does it apply to all surnames or just certain ones ?. I know that Slavic languages have very complicated grammer construction , is finishing with a letter “a” part of this?

Well, I can speak for Polish, and it’s a bit complicated.

For names that end in -ski or any of its variants (-cki, -zki, etc) the form changes to a feminine ending for female names. In other words, you have -ski–>-ska, -cki–>-cka, -zki–>-zka. This is basically because these endings make the last name an adjective, and the adjectives must agree with what they’re modifying. For these names, the -a ending does not necessarily indicate a married status. Same happens with other adjectival names, like “Gruby” (“Fat”, male) and “Gruba” (“Fat”, female.) So any adjectival names in Polish take the correct endings to agree with the gender of the person named.

Now, on the other hand, you have endings like “-owa/-ewa, and -owna/-ewna.” These do indicate marital status, and are used as suffixes for surnames that are nouns and not adjectives. For example, “Kowal” is “Smith”

Kowal - Smith
Kowalewa - Mrs. Smith
Kowalewna - Miss Smith
Somebody else can chime in about the other languages…

Russian (and Ukrainian and Belarussian) names are generally given in the masculine, e.g., Kosygin, Tolstoy, Minksy. However, they do change with gender, just as adjectives do to match the noun they modify. One adds -a or changes the final -y or -i to -ya to produce the feminine form.

So Slutskaya the Russian skater comes from the Slutski famiy?

yes she does. and the writer Tatyana Tolstaya is (I think) the great-granddaughter/grandniece (or something like that) of Lev Tolstoy of War and Peace/Anna Karenina fame. It’s not just married woman - most surnames have a masculine and feminine variant. Exceptions are foreign-derived surnames and gender-neutral surnames like the Ukrainian ones that end in -enko (Marchenko, Shechenko, etc.)
Oddly enough, in Czech they alter foreign surnames as well to fit their conventions. It’s kind of odd to see a Czech newspaper refer to Hillary Clintonova, for example. On the other hand English does the same thing - a Russian would find it odd to see a reference to Raisa Gorbachev or Lyudmila Putin, since they know these woman as Raisa Gorbacheva and Lyudmila Putina.

wow, how neat.

so i’m an unmarried chick and my surname ends in “ski”. if i lived in poland, would it actually be “ska”?

In my ancestral Slovakian family they added -ova to the girls surname. So her father might be Kapsa but she’d be Kapsova. And when she married her husband would be Bakic and she’d be Bakicova.

But it also seems to be disappearing.

I knew about the feminine ending stuff, but are there any gound rules for which syllable gets emphasised in these names?

When Martina Navratilova first came to my country she was mightily pissed off with reporters for mispronouncing her name as Nav-rattle-OH-va. One umpire pronounced it more like Navra-TILLa-va and she gave him a little round of applause, but it never caught on and she’s been stuck with the first version ever since.

Thank you to every one who replied to this thread . Very informative answers. SDMB triumphs again !. I shall be starting another thread soon about patronyms so pleas look out for it.

And what happens if a woman in a non slavic country marries a Russian guy. Does her name also include the conjugated ending, or does she simply take the Name of her Husband without conjugation (if she decides to take his name, of course)?

In Polish, it’s always the penultimate syllable. However, I dunno about Navratilova, that not being a Polish name.

I claim no specific knowledge of the pronunciation of “Navratilova,” but as a rule Czech stresses the FIRST syllable, so it should be NAV-ratilova

Oh, yeah, actually that’s right. Czech does stress the first syllable. I’m curious if there’d be a secondary stress in the word, though…

YMMV, but in my experience, people in Slavic countries are much more familiar with names that don’t change, since they have a significant number of them, than we are with names that DO change, since we don’t have any.

They’re also quite cognizant of the foreignness of foreign names, and so my guess is wouldn’t make too much of your -ski name, though your passport might produce some double-takes.

Example: I was ALWAYS “Dehf” to people I met in Russia, rather than any of the actual Russian equivalents of David. Part of that is because that name is associated in Russia with being Jewish, and I don’t happen to be Jewish.

Just to confuse matters even more, in the parts of Central Asia, Azerbaijan, and the North Caucasus that were part of the Soviet Union (and some of which are still part of the Russian Federation), where the indigenous peoples have traditionally spoken Turkic or Persian-based (or even wackier North Caucasian) languages, patronymics and last names frequently keep the indigenous roots and add Slavic endings. So you frequently get super-Muslim first names with really exotic-sounding Slavicized last names.

Examples of my personal acquaintance:
Kerim Radzhabov
Nazim Gamzaevich Ramazanov
Zifa Auezova

or the current leader of Azerbaijan: Geidar (sometimes spelled Heider) Aliev

What a wacky planet we live on!