I've been watching a television show with scenes in Russian and I notice that several of the characters keep calling each other by their full names (first name and middle or surname), where in English they would've just used first names, title, or salutation + surname.

Here is an example from Season 2 Episode 7 (while practicing beating a polygraph):

Igor: Do you live and work at the Soviet embassy?

Nina: Yes.

Igor: Do you trust me Nina Sergeevna?

Nina: No.

Next episode, the Russian Rezident (Ambassador) is speaking to his 3rd in command on stealing Stealth bomber plans:

Arkady: And how do we know if it will fall out of the sky?

Igor: I don't think we will know, Arkady Ivanovich.

Is this an accurate reflection of how names are commonly used in Russian?

Update: I believe they are using the first name and middle name, not first name and last name

  • 2
    Are u sure about surname AKA family name? Was it not midname AKA patronymics?
    – Arioch
    Commented Sep 5, 2017 at 7:51
  • @Arioch middle name is not exactly the same as patronymic
    – shabunc
    Commented Sep 6, 2017 at 8:25
  • @shabunc guess you may say in Russian it is. At least that way Europeans may understand easier.
    – Arioch
    Commented Sep 6, 2017 at 8:26
  • Name+Patronymics is normal in more or less formal or old-fashioned situation, stressing respect to the person, especially to an elder or higher rank person.
    – Arioch
    Commented Sep 6, 2017 at 8:29
  • 1
    Just to supplement perfect answers below: Name+patronymic is quite often seen in translations of classic Russian literature. In fact, translator should have replaced these namings with Mr. Lastname, it fairly well matches this in English. But there are many more levels, see below. Commented Sep 15, 2017 at 0:24

6 Answers 6


Referring for someone close by a last name is something that happens quite often - especially if these are romantic relations (but not necessarily).

For instance, wife can tell her husband: "Что-то ты, Будников, юлишь". A boy can tell a girl: "Клинкова, а пойдём в кино вечером".

From your question though it seems not to be the case, using first name plus last name in a casual speech sounds unnatural, so @notChosen is not wrong.

Nobody says: "Иван Никифоров, приходи ко мне на день рождения". Also, no offense but American TV series is the last source I'd recommend as a Russian-learning resource.

UPD: OK, now when exact excerpts are provided it's obvious that it's not about surname but rather than about using first name + patronymic.

Then answer is actually yes, it's an okay usage. This is quite common way to politely refer to somebody.

  • I guess this topic should be added to some local FAQ
    – Arioch
    Commented Sep 11, 2017 at 9:12
  • 2
    The answer provided by Alexander is the most complete one. Commented Oct 1, 2018 at 6:21
  • 1
    Using last name in a romantic relationship? Where you got this? This can only happen as a joke (and rare at that). Possibly between former classmates, etc.
    – Anixx
    Commented Sep 5, 2021 at 10:53
  • "Nobody says: "Иван Никифоров, приходи ко мне на день рождения". " - this is possible. :) I imagine an overly formal lass inviting Nikifirov in this way. :> Or she wants to say something special by this. F.e. about this birthday. It's just that the use of the patronymic (or surname) is official thing, and people play on it (with many different methods) or refuse to use it. Commented Sep 25, 2021 at 18:27

There are number of ways of addressing people, and they are all appropriate in different situations.

  1. FIRST NAME only - "Иван, подойди сюда" - not formal, very common form of address between people with some familiarity - relatives, friends, colleagues. Does not imply respect or disrespect;
  2. LAST NAME only - "Иванов, подойди сюда" - more formal, common form of address in larger groups (class, military unit, etc.). Implies formality and NO particular respect. To imply respect, one has to use rank/position with the last name ("Капитан Иванов", "Токарь Петров"). There are also niche uses - for example between kids in a class, or sometimes even between spouses. In those niches, Last Name Only form is informal and respect-neutral;
  3. LAST NAME + FIRST NAME - "Сидоров Иван, ваша очередь" - Very formal, traditional. This is not like people are usually addressed, but this is how names typically appear in lists. Does not imply respect or disrespect;
  4. FIRST NAME + LAST NAME - "Иван Сидоров, подойдите сюда" - formal, but not very formal. This is how people usually present themselves. Often used in larger groups when first name is not sufficient and last name has to be added to it;
  5. FIRST NAME + PATRONYMIC - "Иван Иванович, подойдите сюда" - very traditional, not formal, implies respect. Common to address older people, or people with seniority (supervisor, teacher). This form is virtually never used between younger people. It is usually happens that the younger speaker would address older one as "FN + P", but the older one would call the younger one by the first name only;
  6. FIRST NAME + PATRONYMIC + LAST NAME - "Иван Иванович Сидоров, ваша очередь" - traditional, respectful, even somewhat ceremonial. People would not call each other like that in a dialogue, but when speaking about a lesser known third person, would use this form;
  7. LAST NAME + FIRST NAME + PATRONYMIC - "Сидоров Иван Иванович, ваша очередь" - less used variation of #6 (FN + P + LN). Typical for official use, in lists and documents, this form of address is never used in common conversation;
  8. DIMINUTIVE FIRST NAME - "Ваня, подойди сюда" - typical form of address for children, relatives and close friends. Never used in official language (unless diminutive form is the legal name), and if used outside the appropriate range of use (to address a lesser known colleague, for example), can be considered offensive. Autocratic bosses may have a tendency to call their subordinates by DFN;
  9. PATRONYMIC only - "Иваныч, подойди сюда" - informal, familiar, appropriate form for older people to address each other, but only well-known ones and not close relatives. Never used officially. Also it is important to notice that in this case shortened patronymics are used: "Иваныч", not "Иванович".
  • 2
    An addendum: what mostly correlates with above "name"-based politeness levels is the mutual address hierarchy. Some languages and cultures imply a flat hierarchy, like there is a polite "you" (Вы) and a friendly "you" (ты), and they are used mutually. A corresponding English thing is first name bases vs. last name bases. These things are mutual. Now, while it is possible in Russian and forms some level of friendliness: calling by first names, possibly with diminitutives or patronymics only, and on ты-basis for both, there is an official hierarchy: (next comment) Commented Sep 15, 2017 at 0:17
  • 2
    The "elder" addresses the "younger" with, e.g., first name and by ты, whereas the "younger" addresses the "elder" by Вы and by name+patronymic. This is a classical business hierarchy of boss-employee. Equals in business would take both sides with Вы and name+patronymic. A pupil in school would address the teacher with Вы and name+patronymic, a teacher would address the pupils with ты and last name. This might grow out of fashion or be used in primary school only, as it implies that pupils are so-oooo much lower as the teacher. I've heard of changes to this in high school. Commented Sep 15, 2017 at 0:22
  • "9. PATRONYMIC only - "Иваныч, подойди сюда" " if you said about the deminutives, should say this Иваныч is the demunitive patronimic form too... Commented Sep 25, 2021 at 18:35
  • 1
    @Пилум I personally would call this just "shortened" rather than "diminutive", but this is generally right.
    – Alexander
    Commented Sep 27, 2021 at 2:31

No, it's not. The most common way to call each other in Russian is by name only. If person is older and/or you want to (have to) be polite (with your teacher, your boss, customer), you must use their name + middle name (father's name). But it's not necessary if other person is okay with name only.

And about show. It's hard to say why they're using full names, it depends on the situation.

  • The show is called The Americans. It's the Russian embassy and every single time they call each other by 2 names instead of 1.
    – Hack-R
    Commented Sep 5, 2017 at 4:16
  • 2
    Oh, it's not russian show. Can you tell exact episode and time for example?
    – notChosen
    Commented Sep 5, 2017 at 4:36
  • 8
    @Hack-R Safely disregard whatever Russians say, do, or look like in non-Russian shows or films. Commented Sep 5, 2017 at 8:54
  • 2
    @Hack-R since it is non-Russian entertainment show for non-Russian audience, the point of showing Russians there is not educating about Russia, but entertaining the non-Russian audience. And to entertain you need to show overstretched exotics of being Russian. Anything that does not look normal would give bonus points. You render them exotic remote savages, so they should be exotically weird to entertain your people tired after dull work day. You do not expect Elbonians in Dilbert comics to have educational value, right? Russians in American movies are exactly the same.
    – Arioch
    Commented Sep 5, 2017 at 10:26
  • 1
    @notChosen This is the correct answer. I found out after more research that it was first + middle they were using. Based on my experience on Stack Overflow I am scared to switch the green checkmark from another answer to this one, because that makes some people angry. Thank you though; I acknowledge that you are correct on this.
    – Hack-R
    Commented Sep 6, 2017 at 2:58

Like it was answered above, if the person is older or you want to be polite you should use Name + Middle Name. In common cases we use just Name. But it's really noticed many times that in non-russian TV shows or movies etc there is Name + Family Name (i.e. full name) used for so called russian characters what does sound really strange to native russian speakers :)

  • 2
    Name + Family Name isn't a Russian Full Name, because it's a Name + Patronymics + Family Name.
    – artptr
    Commented Sep 6, 2017 at 3:54

По имени (Пётр) и отчеству (Иванович) мы обращаемся к более старшим по возрасту, должности, к малознакомым людям. Это можно наблюдать в образовательных учреждениях, при обращении ученика к учителю. По полному имени (Пётр) обращаются к человеку крайне редко, приоритетнее по имени и отчеству (Пётр Иванович). По краткому имени (Петя) мы обращаемся к родным (но маму, папу и бабушку называем мамой, папой и бабушкой, а не по имени), к близким, друзьям, младшим по возрасту.

  • 1
    In English he said: By name (Peter) and patronymic (Ivanovich), we turn to older in age, position, to unfamiliar people. This can be observed in educational institutions, when the student turns to the teacher. By their full name (Peter) they turn to the person extremely rarely, priority by name and patronymic (Pyotr Ivanovich). According to the short name (Petya), we turn to relatives (but mom, dad and grandmother are called mom, dad and grandmother, and not by name), to close ones, friends, younger by age.
    – Hack-R
    Commented Sep 15, 2017 at 0:33

Most Russians address their friends by using only first names (Dmitriy, Ivan), but in their short forms (Dima, Vanya respectively). When calling their name, a special form equal to the plural genitive form is frequently used as "vocative case" (Дим, Вань). It is never appropriate to use this form in official documents or when addressing someone who you don't know very well.

If addressing someone officially, you should use the full form of the first name plus patronymic (Vasiliy Ivanovich), and it is very official as of now.

A less official way is to address someone by only the full form of the first name (Dmitriy, Vasiliy, Ivan). This can be used, for example, when calling your insurance company, or when talking to your colleague that you don't know well.

Quite an archaic way to address someone is to just call their last name (Serov, Vertinskiy), but it is not actively used right now. Normally it is impolite to call someone by their last name, it cannot be used with someone of higher position than you.

Same can be done with just the patronymic: "*А я ему и говорю ― совсем ты, Иваныч, спятил, сбрендил на старости лет, ― сказала Светка, вытаскивая из пачки длинную тонкую сигарету*". Анна Сапегина, «Галатея», 2012 г. It is very informal.

All of the forms can actually be used in jest by friends: someone I know for 25 years can suddenly address me as "Dmitriy Vladimirovich", but it does not make this a usual way to address friends.

  • 1
    I am not sure that it was ever polite to use just a surname without an honorific (Господин/Товарищ/etc.) with an exception of addressing people of lower status.
    – Olga
    Commented Sep 6, 2017 at 15:58
  • @Olga If you read some books from 19th century, you will see a lot of examples of last names being actively used as a polite form without an honorific. I don't have time now, but can provide an example later. Commented Sep 6, 2017 at 16:03
  • I would be delighted to see some examples. Please take your time.
    – Olga
    Commented Sep 6, 2017 at 16:09
  • @Olga Disregard that, here is one already, from Севальстопольские рассказы by Tolstoy: "— А не любит Васин бомбов, ох, не любит! — сказал один из аристократического угла. — Что ж! когда нужно, совсем другая статья! — сказал медленный голос Васина, который, когда говорил, то все другие замолкали.". And another one: "— А! Козельцов, Козельцов! хорошо, что приехал, молодец!... Что рана? — послышалось с разных сторон. И здесь видно было, что его любят и рады его приезду." Commented Sep 6, 2017 at 16:23
  • This sounds like an informal situation. I was talking about more official situations.
    – Olga
    Commented Sep 6, 2017 at 17:13

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