I've noticed that when rendering the name of a person from one East Slavic language to another, it's usually changed to the native spelling of the target language. For example, the name "Vladimir Putin" appears as "Volodimir Putin" and "Uladzimir Putsin" on the Ukrainian and Belorussian Wikipedia pages respectively. Similar examples include "Nicholas II" being rendered as "Mikalaj II" and "Mikola II", etc. I'm curious about this practice, since it appears so uniformly in East Slavic languages, and it's so rarely seen elsewhere: in English, we very seldom translate "Mikhail" as "Michael", "Lavrenti" as "Lawrence", "Evgenij" as "Eugene", "Olga" as "Helga", etc. So why do people do this, and how did this start?

  • You in English use "Nicholas II" while in Russian he is "Nikolay II". Monarch's names are not indicative
    – Anixx
    Commented Dec 18, 2014 at 6:28
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    Well, in English and French Carolus Magnus is called Charlemagne, while in German he is called Karl der Große.
    – Artemix
    Commented Dec 18, 2014 at 8:31
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    ...and Lavrenti is also English invention, in Russian it is Lavrentiy, with the y-letter and y-sound in the end.
    – Anixx
    Commented Dec 18, 2014 at 9:20
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    It was even more pronounced in the past - so, Shelock Holmes' friend, Dr. Watson, is Ватсон (Vatson) in most Russian translations, not Уотсон. But if it were a new book, now he probably would be translated as the latter.
    – StasM
    Commented Dec 21, 2014 at 23:00

1 Answer 1


I think there are two distinct phenomena here.

One is transliteration or re-spelling. All Slavic languages have phonetic spelling, but different reading rules. This means that to write the pronunciation of certain word they have to re-spell them in their own rules. This happens not only with names but with any borrowed words. Slavic languages do not tolerate words spelled not in accordance with their reading and spelling rules, unlike English.

This way Владимир becomes Уладзі́мір in Belorussian.

The other phenomenon is translating certain familiar names from one language to another. This way Николай becomes Микола.

  • I believe the requirement to adjust the spelling only applies to the languages using Cyrillic script: all others use the original Latin spelling. Even Czech adds the native feminine endings to female surnames in original spelling: Margaret Thatcherová, Nancy Reaganová etc.
    – Quassnoi
    Commented Dec 18, 2014 at 16:03
  • @Quassnoi good point!
    – Anixx
    Commented Dec 18, 2014 at 16:10

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