Russian doesn't have a direct equivalent to the sound of English h.

But to some English speakers it seems odd that words taken into Russian from English which have an h sound are transliterated using the letter г, which sounds like English g rather than х, which while also not perfect, sounds a lot more like h.

Harry PotterГарри Поттер (garri potter)

So my question is, are there also words where х is in fact used to transliterate h, or is г always used?

  • 5
    Sherlock Holmes -> Шерлок Холмс Jun 18, 2012 at 10:59
  • 2
    Hogwarts -> Хогвартс Jun 18, 2012 at 17:34
  • 2
    Houston - Хьюстон (or Хаустон - depends on what do you actually mean, street or city ))).
    – shabunc
    Aug 16, 2012 at 8:56

5 Answers 5


The transliteration rules changed with time in Russian.

For instance, Daniel Defoe is Даниэль Дэфо (but Daniel Craig is Дэниэл Крейг); Thackeray, Disney and Halley are Теккерей, Дисней and Галлей (but P. J. Harvey is Полли Харви) and so on.

The names with well-established rules like Harry and Henry are almost always transliterated as Гарри and Генри; less common names like Harold and Harris can be transliterared both ways (Гарольд и Хэролд, Гаррис and Хэррис), modern last names (like Harvey above) are almost always transliterated phonetically.

  • George Washington is Георг Вашингтон in older texts and Джордж Вашингтон in the more recent texts (the last name kept the transliteration, though Washington Park, FL would be Уошингтон-Парк)
  • Harris, the deuteragonist in Three Men in a Boat… is called Гаррис, but Joanne Harris is Джоан Харрис
  • Hudson River is translated as река Гудзон, but Mrs. Hudson, the Sherlock Holmes' landlady, is миссис Хадсон (and Sherlock Holmes himself is Шерлок Холмс).

Answering your question: modern transliteration rules (as defined by the classic work Старостин, Гиляревский. Иностранные имена и названия в русском тексте) prescribe to transliterate English fricative h as Cyrillic х, unless there is an established tradition to transliterate the name otherwise.

This transliteration is a rule, not an exception.

The book does not provide a complete list of traditional names, but includes Гамильтон (Hamilton), Гайд-Парк (Hyde Park), Герберт (Herbert) and Говард (Howard).

  • Did not Daniel Defoe come from French?
    – Anixx
    Jul 21, 2012 at 22:48
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    @Anixx: no, he just added "de" to his surname (Foe) for it to sound French.
    – Quassnoi
    Jul 22, 2012 at 12:06
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    Another interesting example is Томас Гексли (Thomas Huxley) and Олдос Хаксли (Aldous Huxley). BTW, the transliteration rules currently in force can be found in Wikipedia.
    – thorn
    Aug 23, 2012 at 9:13
  • I would add to the list the holo- prefix (as in hologram). Formally it's Greek yet most of the loanwords with it are from Western countries so we could have had холограмма. Yet we always have голограмма and usually also голокрон (although in Star Wars sphere there was a tendency of using холокрон, now mostly diminished).
    – Viridianus
    Jan 15, 2016 at 23:40
  • @Viridianus: I'm only aware of three words with this prefix rendered as холо-: холотропный, холокост and холоним. What are the other ones?
    – Quassnoi
    Jan 16, 2016 at 0:16

I was asked a similar question by Germans, who are surprised by our transliteration of Hans and Herz as Ганс and Герц.

To answer it directly, yes. For example, Helene is often written as Хелен (Хелен Келлер, Хелен Хант). The Hampshire county name is spelled either with х or with г. The words high tech, hi-end and HiFi are never pronounced otherwise than хай-тек, хай-энд, and хай-фай (or хифи).

In general, as far as I can tell, it depends on when a particular word came to the Russian language (as already mentioned by Quassnoi) and if there are any established rules. An interesting example is the German Heil Hitler which is spelled as Хайль Гитлер (so a mixture of the two styles). The reason is that the word heil was not known in Russian until WWII, and therefore it's just spelled as it's heard in the twentieth century. The name Hitler on the other hand follows the traditional German-Russian spelling, which dates back to the time of Lomonosov and probably stems from the dialects spoken by the first German immigrants in Russia and, at the same time, the old pronunciation of г in Russian (still often mixed with х by less educated people).

  • 3
    An example of a person whose first and last names each have H, which is translated as Г in one place and Х in the other place, is the mathematician Helmut Hasse, whose name in Russian is traditionally Гельмут Хассе.
    – KCd
    Jun 24, 2012 at 3:05

Some additional examples that come to mind --

  • Ernest Hemmingway
  • Hippy
  • Happy End
  • Hula Hoop
  • Jimmy Hendrix
  • Doctor House
  • Audrey Hepburn

Not a g/h issue, but just to show an example of transliteration variants. A friend of Sherlock Holmes - Dr.Watson may be spelt as Ватсон or Уотсон, the later one often seen in old (Soviet) translations of Arthur Conan Doyle's books.

Sir Winston Churchill is always translated as сэр Уинстон Черчилль, but Winston cigarettes brand always translated as Винстон.

P.S. In the German language ei is always pronounced as ай. The names of the towns Heidelberg and Mannheim will be correctly pronounced as Хайдельберг и Маннхайм not as Гейдельберг и Мангейм, as we have seen these on Russian maps.

  • 1
    Saying "German language", you mean official koine based on Upper German dialects. But the main channel of borrowings to Russian was from Lower German dialects.
    – Netch
    Dec 1, 2012 at 8:47
  • Hochdeutsch is a Standard German, this is literary and spoken norm.
    – las
    Dec 3, 2012 at 0:41

Russian "х" sounds kind of like the Latin "H" except with a more guttural sound (like Hebrew "ח" except less harsh). Your problem with "г" is that in Ukrainian, "г" is equivalent to Latin "H" , and Russian "г" is equivalent to "ґ". That's probably a bit confusing, but I hope it helps.

  • while I appreciate your attempt to help, please reread the question, you are trying to answer a question which is actually is not asked. At least here, in this post.
    – shabunc
    Jul 25, 2013 at 18:57
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    Maybe this answer should be a comment to either the question or one of the other answers that mention Ukrainian? Jul 26, 2013 at 1:31
  • There no such answers yet though.
    – Artemix
    Jul 26, 2013 at 8:25

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