Russian names have several variants depending on the nature of the relationship between two parties involved in a conversation, formality of the setting, etc. A lady officially named Ekaterina may be called Katya among her friends but Katenka by, say, colleagues. I understand shorter names may prove useful in case of children since they are easier to pronounce/recognize for them, but this is not always necessarily the case either. For instance, an Ivan is frequently referred to as Vanya in a sympathetic manner, which is in fact longer than the original name.

So, I'm wondering, why bother? Why do such variants exist and how did they come to existence?

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    Ваня is not longer than Иван. Same number of letters and sounds. Apr 4, 2015 at 11:53
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    Why in English Anthony is called Tony, Thomas called Tom, etc?
    – Anixx
    Apr 4, 2015 at 12:37
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    @Anixx, funny, you're raising the only point that the question actually does address: "I understand shorter names may prove useful in case of children since they are easier to pronounce/recognize for them" Apr 4, 2015 at 12:41
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    @Anixx Now that I think of it, the irony is rich: "Johnny". Apr 4, 2015 at 12:45
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    Thanks, you are absolutely right. It's actually quite curious why I didn't think of diminutives in other languages. I was confused because my Russian teacher at the university advertised the concept as an exclusively Russian feature with the primary objective being the point that I raised in my question, that is length of the word. I now see that that was a senseless approach to take. Apr 5, 2015 at 13:35

3 Answers 3


The term for those names is not "a short name", it is diminutives. Diminutives are for addressing somebody affectionately; they do the job of pet names like sweetie, dear, sweetheart etc.

Diminutives are not necessarily shorter or easier to pronounce. They are used differently. Full names are for formal conversations, while diminutives are for conversation between people who are close to each other. It would be strange to call a little boy or girl by their full names - we use "cute" names for that, i.e. diminutives. Sometimes there can be more than one diminutive for the very same name, for example, Павел is a full name (Russian version of Paul), his parents would call him Павлик, and his friends would call him Паша, because Павлик is too childish.

And, finally, longer words are not necessarily harder to pronounce. Russian children have no problems with pronouncing long words as long as those words constitutes of "perfect syllables": one consonant - one vowel. It's piles of consonants that is hard to pronounce.


These variants are there to indicate the degree of familiarity or the degree of respect accorded to the person. In your example, Ekaterina is a full name, and it would typically be used in a very formal context together with a patronymic, e. g. Ekaterina Ivanovna, if her father's name happens to be Ivan. This is the most respectful form of address that you would use to speak to your teacher, your boss, or any person much older than you. I may be old fashioned, but this is how I address my in-laws.

Friends and colleagues would probably use Katya. Katen'ka or Katyusha are the diminutive forms of the name Ekaterina reserved for closest friends and family.

This is all very similar to Johnny vs. John vs. Mr. Smith, although a bit more nuanced.


Dont bother with different forms, as the Dima said, they are used to indicate the degree of familiarity or the degree of respect, or cuteness :)

Actually it is very simple, same as in any other language.

For a standard normal communication you need only two forms - the formal and informal (but you really can use them interchangeably): Elena-Lena, Aleksander-Alex (or Sasha), Maria-Masha, Natalia-Natasha, Vladimir-Vlad, Vyacheslav-Slava, etc...

Second form (informal) is more for your friends, buddies, kids, etc... First form (more formal) - everyone who is not from the previous group.

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