Saturday, June 2, 2012

What Do You Call Your Loved Ones?

Russian has many ways of expressing your affection for someone. One of the most common is adding a diminutive suffix to someone's name. This is the way that loving parents address their kids, or close friends (usually girls, because it sounds really girlish) or lovers address each other.

  • Mashenka (Машенька) – the affectionate form of Maria (Masha)
  • Olechka (Олечка) – the affectionate form of Olga (Olya)
  • Dimochka (Димочка) – the affectionate form of Dmitriy (Dima)
Once I knew a local rock band, where the male musicians addressed each other with the most cutesy names possible. They looked quite brutal all in black leather and steel, but they called each other “Volodienka”, “Maksimushka”, “Zhenechka” just for fun, because it sounded very comical.

Another way to let other person know about your warm feelings is to use specific affectionate words (or “tender words” as we call it in Russian) like solnyshko(солнышко, sunny), radost' moya (радость моя, my joy), lapochka or lapushka (лапочка, лапушка, sweety, honey). This is how lovers may refer to each other in private or with close friends. Addressing your loved one with these words publicly may be considered immodest and frivolous, since showing private feelings in public is not encouraged in the Russian culture.

Words like dear (дорогой) or sweatheart (милый) sound a little bit too formal. It would sound unnatural if I called my husband “my dear” when waking him up in the morning. However, those are the right words to use at public events.

Quite often close relatives and lovers use animal names to address each other like zaika (зайка, little hare), kiska (киска, kitty), rybka (рыбка, little fish) and so on. These names are also formed with the affectionate suffixes. Actually, any animal that seems cute enough may give a name for the affectionate nickname. I once read that some members of the Tsar's family called each other “seledka”(herring) and even started their letters with “My dear herring.”


Is herring cute? I don't think so. Yet it can become an affectionate nickname.
Photo by Jacob Bøtter

It is not uncommon for people to invent special nicknames (home names) for each other, and only the closest circle, or even just the two will know what those names are and where they came from. It gives a wonderful feeling of being even closer to someone, being someone special to them. My parents gave my sister and me nicknames, but they were used only within our family. When I was a teenager and my sister was about to get married, my parents warned me not to call her with her home name when her fiancé could hear. One of the reasons for this precaution was because her nickname sounded funny, and another reason was that home names were only for our immediate family, and not for strangers.

What words and names do you use to address to someone you love?

Do you want to learn Russian? The New Penguin Russian course is a good start!