Russian Names in Yuri’s book

Russians seem to love playing with names, almost as if they were a piece of music to improvise on. This can be confusing to outsiders. In fact, as the first version of this post proved, they can be confusing to this outsider! Thankfully, some kind commenters have offered helpful corrections. A big thanks to ‘Olga’, ‘Igorius’, ‘Eraser’, ‘Viacheslav’ and others whose comments you can see below.

Yuri Alexeyevich Gagarin is our hero’s full name. At home it will be shortened, but not to Yuri – instead his family and close friends call him ‘Yura’ – the ‘diminutive’ form. His mother, especially when he was small, might even call him ‘Yurochka’. As Yuri is the Russian equivalent of the Engish name ‘George’ I suppose this might equate to calling him ‘Georgie’ or even ‘Georgiekins’! (Stop it Mum!).

His wife Valya is of course, Valentina in full, but uses a feminine form of her husband’s surname: ‘Gagarina’. So, Mrs Gagarin, is actually Valentina Gagarina.

At work however, colleagues wishing to address him more formally, will not usually address him as ‘Mr Gagarin’, but might call him ‘Yuri Alexeyevich’, leaving the family name, Gagarin, off altogether. The ‘Alexeyevich’ is his father’s name, with an added ending meaning ‘son of’, so he is being addressed as ‘Yuri, son of Alexei’

Military rank adds another layer of complexity. After promotion our hero is hailed by a fellow Major as ‘Major Gagarin’. A lower rank however, would address him as ‘Comrade Major’. A civilian on the other hand, in a formal situation, might address him as ‘Comrade Gagarin’, and might refer to him in a conversation with somebody else either as ‘Comrade Gagarin’, or as the ‘Comrade Major’.

As if this were not enough, in the Cosmonaut Squad, Yuri Alexeyevich and his chums invent outlandish nicknames for each other, such as ‘Lily of the Valley’ or ‘The Blonde Guy’.

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12 Responses to Russian Names in Yuri’s book

  1. Olga

    It was very interesting to read about russian names.
    But there is a small inaccuracy. ‘Comrade Major Gagarin’ is incorrect form of addressing.
    If you need to address to a military person, you should use ‘Comrade Major’ (without sername). If you talk with somebody about a military person you can use ‘Major Gagarin’ or ‘Comrade Major’.
    And finally without military overtone, it is possible to address ‘Comrade Gagarin’ (similar to Mr.Gagarin).

    Best regards 🙂

  2. Eraser

    Subordinates would say ‘Comrade Major’, the сommanders would say ‘Major Gagarin’. The “Comrade Major Gagarin” addressing is wrong.

  3. Igorius

    Please note that Gagarin could never been addressed as ‘Comrade Major Gagarin’. This form was not used even formally. Military: only ‘Comrade Major’ or ‘Major Gagarin’. Civil: ‘Comrade Gagarin’
    P.S. I’m Russian.

  4. Viacheslav

    A remark again. In Russian, when you address the person formally, you usually have a construction of two words, and the language avoids anything more complex.

    So if you are speaking formally and you are outside the military, you would address a person as “Comrade Gagarin”. If you are speaking formally in the military, that’ll be “Mayor Gagarin”. However, this is not respectful if you have a lower rank, so in that case you call your mayor as “Comrade Mayor”.

    You do not normally see all three at the same time. So “Comrade Mayor Gagarin” is impossible. That’ll directly reveal you as a CIA spy. 😉

    The form “name+patrimonial name” is a polite, respectful and a step less formal way than if you use “Comrade” and “Mayor”, and is used in both civil and military organizations alike. You have correctly said that this is a way of formal communications of colleagues at work, and also during the communication to your chief.

  5. Alex

    “As Yuri is the Russian equivalent of the Engish name ‘George’”
    That’s not correct. Georgiy is the Russian equivalent of the English name ‘George’.

  6. Pete Hodkinson

    Very grateful for your input.
    Thanks, P

  7. Ilyas

    Yuri is the Russian equivalent of the Engish name ‘George’. That’s right, it’s slavic form of greek name.

  8. Max

    All you write about “comrade” was really Soviet Union thing. It’s different now.

  9. Yuriy

    Dear authors, thank you for such unexpectedly ingenious way to highlight importance of this person and the event. Definitely, you’ve done a lot of laborous close to heart work, and “blurring the boundaries between technology and culture” aspect is also very important.

    A note about the names: in my opinion the names Yuri(y) and Georgiy have naturally the same roots, I know this from childhood. Such point of view is shared by many people who has / whose relatives have such names.

  10. Olga

    Alex, you are not right. The name Yuri is a slavic adaptation of Greek name George (Γεω´ργιος). The names Yuri and Egor were like nonofficial variants of George, official church name was only George. And in XX century the names Yuri and Egot became independent.

  11. OperKOT

    Max, that’s not entirely true.
    While in common life people do tend to use ‘comrade’ quite rarely nowadays, in the military it is still the official way of addressing each other.

  12. Viacheslav

    the principle is now the same. You would only replace “Comrade” with “Mister” (gospodin) in civil addressing these days. In the military we are all comrades still.

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