Is there a specific reason that, when transliterating an English name, double letters are carried over into the Cyrillic? Specific example: My daughter's name is Tillie. This is an unusual name even in English, and so when we lived for a year in Russia, everyone had to come up with Cyrillic for it on the fly. Without exception, everyone who tried ended up transliterating it as Тилли. This seems odd to me, since the double-L in English isn't really pronounced as a double. It's mostly just there so that the name doesn't look like it should be pronounced ty-lee.

Would the pronunciation of Тили be noticeably different from Тилли? And if so, wouldn't the single Л actually be closer to the English pronunciation?

  • 3
    Were those people shown how Tillie was written before they had to to come up with a transliteration? Feb 22, 2018 at 18:33
  • Used to be worse. Dr Watson, the companion of Sherlock Holmes, was called Доктор Ватсон in the old translations. The newer ones do tend to name him more properly Уотсон (no "W" in Russian, sorry), but in the popular culture the old name stuck. Feb 23, 2018 at 11:06

3 Answers 3


The English name Billy for instance is traditionally transliterated in Cyrillic as Билли and i feel would almost stop being immediately recognizable as itself and would look odd had it been transliterated as Били.

However this method of transliteration accords with rules of the Practical transcription of English into Russian

specifically this one

ll - [l] лл (в географических названиях л перед согласными, но всегда лл в названиях валлийского происхождения)

The pronunciation of -лл- indeed differs from -л-, but it seems that prolonged articulation of the English double consonants in names has become the norm in Russian.

Or maybe it's a manifestation of a phonetic rule

Удвоенное написание согласных в русском языке сохраняется в большом количестве заимствованных слов, напр.: ассимиляция, аккорд, аппарат, интеллект и др. Однако удвоение согласного при произношении наблюдается не во всех случаях. Как правило удвоенный согласный произносится в том случае, если находится в заударном слоге...

In both Billy and Tillie the double L is found in the post-stress syllable.

Audio examples of Russian pronunciation: Johnny, Harry, Billy

  • всегда лл в названиях валлийского происхождения I don't understand. Her name isn't Welsh. Or am I not understanding the Russian correctly?
    – spoko
    Feb 22, 2018 at 20:23
  • @spoko as double Л before consonants in geographical names of Welsh origin, but otherwise as a single Л in geographical names, and this variation only concerns geographical names, in other proper names on the other hand it's always double Л Feb 22, 2018 at 20:56
  • I see. Out of context, with the formatting, it was difficult to tell that ll - [l] лл was actually the statement of a rule. Thanks for that page, though. My favorite part of it is that it actually has a section titled Удвоение согласных, but no one has written it yet. Perfect!
    – spoko
    Feb 22, 2018 at 21:21

In Russian, double letters typically transliterated as double, regardless of original pronunciation. Note that in Russian double letters do not always need to sound as double either (ex. "параллельный").

Also, a foreign name with double letters often looks like a legal name, while compressing it to a single makes it look like a nickname ("Harry" - "Гарри" vs. "Гари").

  • In Russian, double letters typically transliterated as double, regardless of original pronunciation. I know this; but my real question is why? Your second point, about distinguishing it from a nickname, makes some sense to me.
    – spoko
    Feb 22, 2018 at 20:18
  • "Why" is to preserve maximum resemblance to the original (original here was considered written, not oral version). Ex. "Айзек Невтон" Only when written and oral versions show significant difference, introduction of a special rule is considered.
    – Alexander
    Feb 22, 2018 at 23:20
  • Why should the written version be considered the original, rather than the oral?
    – spoko
    Feb 22, 2018 at 23:41
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    Because transliteration typically occurs when a written source is translated. As long as there is no one to stop the translator "Wait, it's actually pronounced ...!", transliteration goes according to standard rules. This actually goes both ways - some Russian people have unnatural, weird looking names in their international passports - all because passport office clerks follow their transliteration instruction to the letter.
    – Alexander
    Feb 23, 2018 at 0:08
  • A word in English with lots of double letters is Mississippi, which is shorter in Russian: Миссисипи.
    – KCd
    Feb 23, 2018 at 14:24

Yes, Тили would be closer to the English pronunciation of Tillie, but Тилли better preserves the look of how it's written.

In Russian double consonants are noticeably longer than single ones:

  • вёл - ввёл
  • подать - поддать
  • подождём - под дождём
  • Вы кому? - Вы к кому?
  • Рима - Римма
  • мая - Майя (double [й])
  • We would have rather preserved the sound of how it's spoken, because it did take her some time to get used to hearing it with the lengthened double consonant. (In our experience, people did pronounce it that way.)
    – spoko
    Feb 22, 2018 at 20:20
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    @spoko maybe it's my conditioning but to me non-lengthened consonants make these names sound eviscerated, the doubling imparts them some weight, also it might be required due to their not being long enough to properly register with the brain of a Russian native speaker given their foreign origin Feb 22, 2018 at 20:52
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    @spoko, Many English speakers pronounce my name with a soft G, even if I introduced myself a second before with a hard G. I don't mind. Some rules of the language you just have to accept. The doubling of the Л in Тилли is one of them. Feb 23, 2018 at 6:23

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