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There is this Russian language teacher I knew way back, and took his classes. He's a bit of a stickler about forms of address. I expect to meet him again in person in a few months.

How do I address him - in Russian?

I know his first and last names, and his professional title (he's got a master's degree), but don't know his father's name. Local customs usually mandate referring to university teachers as 'professors' even if they aren't entitled to professorship, as a honorific - but I don't know if it's the same way in Russia.

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    are you going to talk to him in Russian? if you are going to speak English or any other language outside East Slavic family, he is not going to be offended if you just use his first name or "professor + last name" or anything else fit for English-speaking academia – Quassnoi Jun 28 '18 at 14:43
  • господин + his last name would be OK – Баян Купи-ка Jun 28 '18 at 15:20
  • @Quassnoi Yes, addressing him in Russian is the plan. Something to the effect of "Здравствуйте, профессор Неизвестный, долго не виделись!" – Abu Dhabi Jun 28 '18 at 16:17
  • Maybe I am just too callous, but I never felt like not knowing someone's father's name is a problem. Used "уважаемый профессор Такой-то" during the initial courtship rituals, once we knew each other enough to drop the formal tone, switched to the "вы" pronoun. Just don't use his first name without the patronymic, and don't use his last name without the title. – Headcrab Jun 29 '18 at 3:39
  • You can try to find the information about him on the university website. – Abakan Jun 29 '18 at 9:55
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A very natural pattern of speech is simply “Здравствуйте”, then making small talk using just “Вы” as necessary, then at some point something like “Скажите, пожалуйста, Александр — к сожалению, не помню Вашего отчества — …” — at which position he’s expected to speak it, you repeat the full name and continue with some question. A pause and a quizzical look are a substitute for the part between the dashes.

Also a Google and/or Yandex search for "Иван * Иванов" is likely to solve the problem by itself if the name and surname are rare enough.

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  1. You are not the only student the professor has, right? so just ask your peers.

  2. That professor is not some stray bullet, he is a professor in some cafedra (кафедра) - a specific scientific branch within university. There usually is a list of all professors and docents there, sometimes there are plates with names on the doors, sometimes there are photos on the wall, etc.

  3. Most universities have internet sites, and most of them have list of cafedras, their professors and their courses.

  4. Universities have governments, sitting behind students and teachers. Dean (декан) or chancellor (ректор) would be a top official, and the administration would be деканат or ректорат. You are expected to visit them with any your beginning problem to amend it before it grows out of proportions. There would be some clerks there who are not your direct bosses - ones responsible for other student years or branches, just secretaries, etc. Come there and ask.

  5. if NOTHING else help, you may talk with the professor and then stop after saying his name showing your confusion. ".....Иван эээ....". Showing your confusion and obviously asking for a prompt. If the professor is not a total jerk, he would usually suggest his middle name to you. But then do care to remember it, asking for it yet again would be like showing your incapability to learn :-D

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    I'm almost certain my peers don't know this guy from before like I do. I did check the university website, that's how I know as much as I do about him. But he's not Russian and this is not Russia, so father's names aren't listed anywhere public or used at all except on legal forms. – Abu Dhabi Jun 29 '18 at 13:22
  • @AbuDhabi then it perhaps hit or miss. Even if you would find out his father name and would correctly (whatever that would mean) turn that non-Russian name into a Russian patronymic, I am not sure he would expect it or demand it. There perhaps is not a lot of hurry anyway. Unless you need to surprise him the first time he meets you. – Arioch Jun 29 '18 at 14:04
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Well, the full name of the professor is the main thing any Russian-speaking student must know ;-) BTW. There's a well-known Russian student joke about it.

But when you don't, simply try to omit any addressing as much as you can (by using simply "Вы"). And if you can't avoid it then... just ask what's his patronymic name.

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  • So Russian students don't generally use honorifics such as "professor"? FWIW, asking his patronymic is in the plan, but I figure that a greeting should come first! – Abu Dhabi Jun 28 '18 at 16:19
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    @AbuDhabi Rarely. And only if they are entitled to professorship. So it sounds a bit official. – Matt Jun 28 '18 at 17:38
  • honorifics are ways to express your respect and submission, so it is different in different language. In Russian the very addressing with both name and middle name (it was called вичить in Middle ages) is a honorific already, so it does not require yet another, second honorific on top of it, it would be redundant and sound weird. – Arioch Jun 29 '18 at 11:39
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"Извините пожалуйста, как вас по отчеству" or "извините пожалуйста, как к вам обращаться по отчеству" are quite idiomatic phrases to request unknown patronymic.

If you don't have an opportunity to request this information, you can just refer to someone, say, господин Николаев etc. or профессор Николаев or, even better, just "профессор".

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