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I have two questions about the suffix -ов in Russian surnames.

  1. Is the -ов surname suffix the most common one in Russia?
  2. Does the -ов surname suffix in modern Russian mean "a descendant of the person mentioned in the surname"?

Regarding my first question: I haven't been able to find any consistent statistics on the Web, I tried googling both in Russian and in English. I would appreciate it if someone shared some data on this.

Regardinig my second question: from what I've read on the Web, initially a name like "Иванов" meant "the son of Иван" ("Иванов сын", i.e., "сын Ивана"). Later, this name was passed down to the son's son, and then to the son's son's son, etc. Eventually, the name took on a new meaning: "a descendant of Иван" ("Иванов потомок"). Similarly with the other surnames ending in -ов. Is this understanding correct?

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5 Answers 5

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  1. According to a 2005 article (written by a philologist), surnames with -ov are 82%, calculated based on the 500 most common Russian surnames (list attached). There's information about percentages on page 130 https://elar.urfu.ru/bitstream/10995/1929/1/VO-2005-02-11.pdf (А. Ф. Журавлев - Вопросы ономастики. 2005.№ 2., 2005)

  2. In part, yes.

Surnames ending in -ov are formed:

  • from the name of the father: Иванов, Сидоров. It's worth bearing in mind that many ancient (pre-Christian) Russian names do not exist today. From them are formed surnames like Соколов, Морозов, Жуков, Козлов.
  • from the father's profession: Столяров, Кузнецов.
  • for non-linguistic reasons (some surnames in Russia were written in documents with the ending -ov added: Бондаренко - Бондаренков, Кузьмин - Кузьминов, Бессмертный - Бессмертнов).
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  • Бессмертнов that's a cool surname Jan 12, 2023 at 16:32
  • They could also be formed from the place/estate the serf belonged to.
    – Dan M.
    Jan 13, 2023 at 12:44
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Is the -ов surname suffix the most common one in Russia?

I would say yes.

I used the code below to parse the jury pool roster for Khimki district court (the first Google hit for список кандитатов в присяжные with an actual list). It is supposed to be a random selection of the district residents.

curl --silent https://www.admhimki.ru/okrug/prisyazhnye-zasedateli/spiski-prisyazhnyh-zasedatelej-dlya-himkinskogo-gorodskogo-suda-moskovskoj-oblasti/obshij-spisok-kandidatov-v-prisyazhnye/ | pup "table td.xl65:first-child,td.xl67:first-child text{}" | egrep "[оеё]ва?$" | wc -l

Out of 24088 persons on this list, 14415 (~60%) have a surname ending in -ов and its phonetic and gender variations.

This is by no means an unbiased sample (only Russian citizens are included in the list, and from only one region), but I would expect the same or similar distribution of all of the European part of Russia, where most Russians live.

Does the -ов surname suffix in modern Russian mean "a descendant of the person mentioned in the surname"?

The suffix forms a possessive form of a masculine or a neuter noun, similar to English "'s". Its feminine counterpart is -ин, another common ending of Russian surnames. It doesn't unequivocally mean "descendant". You could say это Петин ("that's Petya's") to answer чей это мальчик? ("whose boy is it?"), but you would need context to do that.

Regardinig my second question: from what I've read on the Web, initially a name like "Иванов" meant "the son of Иван" ("Иванов сын", i.e., "сын Ивана"). Later, this name was passed down to the son's son, and then to the son's son's son, etc. Eventually, the name took on a new meaning: "a descendant of Иван" ("Иванов потомок"). Similarly with the other surnames ending in -ов. Is this understanding correct?

That was one pattern of name forming.

As it happens with patterns, it ultimately came to mean "if you want to form a surname from a word, add the gender-appropriate possessive suffix to it".

This pattern was used to form seminary surnames, surnames for non Slavic-speaking peoples of Russia, ad-hoc surnames that people would adopt, etc.

In other words, if you come across a person whose last name is Велосипедов, don't assume one of his ancestors had the Russian word for "bike" as a nickname.

Most probably, he went to a seminary, where he was given this last name by means of slapping the suffix -ов, well known for forming last names, onto the end of a Latin word of the rector's choice.

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Your understanding is correct! It is simple genitive case (родительный падеж), indicating the origin of something or someone in this case.

Note that for females, the suffix -ов takes the form -ова. For instance, 'Anastsya Mikhailova is the wife of Sergei Mikhailov'.

Although, it is not always in that sense, you will find surnames that are just adjectives: Тоненький (thin), Короткий (short); related to animals or unanimated objects: Пушков (cannons), Стаканова (mug), Кабанова (wild boar), Тараканов (cockroach); geographical accidents Волгина (Volga River). Take Putin for example, not -ов.

Now, I guess it is more of a cultural thing, rather that practical.

Regarding your first question, I don't have the data to give you a definite answer:
First of all, Russia is a multicultural country, Ukrainian family names usually have the suffix -енко: Мищенко, Емельяненко, Тимошенко. And as we saw, not all Russian surnames follow that principle.

It is extremely common to find Russians with German, Polish and French surnames.

Edit: Actually this practice still alive in the form of patronymic. Take Vladimir Vladimirovich Putin, meaning Vladimir is in fact, his father's name. Anastasia Olegovna Sheremet, her father is named Oleg.

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As mentioned above, the surname Ivanov means "(son) of Ivan". That is, you can think of the suffix "-ov" as the preposition "of" , which for some mysterious reasons isn't used before the word but stuck on the end.

If the surname is formed from a word ending in a consonant, then the suffix "-ov" is used. If the base for the surname was a word ending in "-a" or "-ja", then the suffix "-in" is used. For example, in Russian there are two names for two different birds: "voron" and "vorona", and there are two different surnames: "Voronov" and "Voronin" .

Since a significant part of surnames is formed either from male names or from male professions, the suffix "-ov" prevails, given that both of these most often end in a consonant.

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There are several suffixes of this type. Yes, they all imply some kind of affiliation, so to speak.

This may be a pointer to inheritance (Ivanov - son of Ivan, Petrov - son of Peter, Karpov - son of Karp, for example). At the time when peasants began to be given surnames, the name of a somewhat significant ancestor was very often used.

This may be a pointer to the ancestor's profession (Plotnikov - son of Carpenter (Plotnik), Degtyarev - son of Tar collector (degot'), for example).

This may be a pointer to an event, and the master could give someone a surname in jest. However, getting a surname was a significant event and it was not abandoned.

In general, the suffixes are most often -ov, -ev, -in, depending on the rules of the Russian language and euphony.

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