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What should my characters be named?
October 9, 2011 7:42 PM   Subscribe

Help me give my fictional characters non-stereotyped names! Degree of difficulty: Iranian and Russian

I have three characters I'm trying to name and I could use a little help. I want their names to be appropriate to their families and ages, and am hoping to avoid the obvious stereotypes (e.g., Natasha for the Russians) unless it really would be the most appropriate name.

My characters are:

1) An Iranian man, born between 1975 and 1980ish, from a fairly Western and intellectual family. The family is Muslim or Zoroastrian (not yet determined) but not very religious/observant.

2) A Russian woman, around the same age, from a struggling family in or near Moscow.

3) A Russian woman in her sixties (so born in the immediate post-WWII period) who has achieved great success in the Soviet and, later, Russian national government.

Also, any names in particular to avoid?
posted by Lady Gaga to Writing & Language (29 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
 
Tatiana Antonovich

Anya Gretchenko

Honestly, I'm just googling Russian first names and then using this for surnames.
posted by 4ster at 8:08 PM on October 9, 2011


From the two people I know who match description #1 and description #2: Khashayar (Khash) and Viktoriya.
posted by Ashley801 at 8:09 PM on October 9, 2011


Russian women's names:
Dasha
Nadezhda
Irina
Katya
posted by pyro979 at 8:10 PM on October 9, 2011


Reza Bouzreh
Svetlana Zaitsev
Tatyana Garat
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 8:21 PM on October 9, 2011


the names of the stars are mostly arabic (astronomical knowledge was mostly preserved in the middle east during the dark ages and the names just stuck), and mostly beautiful...more translations here. 'Mizar' has always been one of my favorite names...and now i find it means 'apron' lol...
posted by sexyrobot at 8:26 PM on October 9, 2011 [1 favorite]


your older russian lady brings to mind queen Tiye, for some reason...
posted by sexyrobot at 8:30 PM on October 9, 2011


It's not a question of stereotypes, Russians don't use a wide variety of first names. My Russian friend Olga has four best friends in Russia, all of whom are called Olga. Shout Natasha, Tatiana or Svetlana in the street and half the women will turn round.
posted by joannemullen at 8:39 PM on October 9, 2011 [2 favorites]


I knew several Russian women who fit the #3 profile in terms of age, and most were named Irina. There were also a couple of Elenas.

The women I knew who fit the #2 profile in terms of age and geography were named: Vera, Dasha, Olesya and Tamara.

But Russia doesn't have a very large base of names, so I doubt if it matters much.
posted by vidur at 8:46 PM on October 9, 2011


Okay, Cool Papa Bell gets the door prize for inadvertently hitting on 2 of the 3 placeholder names I've been using for the characters.

joannemullen, thanks -- that's good to know.

My biggest concern is avoiding an inappropriate name -- the equivalent of naming an upper-class British character "Jim Bob". Sure, it's a perfectly valid English name, but it just wouldn't be done. Just like "Bertha" would be an odd choice for a young American woman.
posted by Lady Gaga at 8:48 PM on October 9, 2011 [1 favorite]


Iranian now in his 30s - Reza or Said

Russian now in her 30s - Irina for sure

Russian now in her 60s - Melana?
posted by k8t at 9:33 PM on October 9, 2011 [1 favorite]


Just a note: I've read a few pieces where one of the characters was named Said and there's nothing as jarring as reading something like:
"That was only an example," said Said.
The good news is it looks like in Iran the standard spelling is actually Saeid, at least according to this list of people named Said on Wikipedia.
posted by Deathalicious at 11:05 PM on October 9, 2011


1) An Iranian man, born between 1975 and 1980ish, from a fairly Western and intellectual family. The family is Muslim or Zoroastrian (not yet determined) but not very religious/observant.

I know this guy! His name is Farhad.
posted by ActingTheGoat at 11:32 PM on October 9, 2011 [1 favorite]


Also, not sure if you are also looking for last names and/or already know this, but Russian women have a patronymic as their middle name, and their last name takes a feminine form that's different from their male relatives. In 4ster's example, Tatiana's surname would be Antonova, if her father's surname were Antonovich.

This site,
though it's kind of shady, gives a good explanation of this towards the bottom. Hopefully it will not give you a virus.
posted by Ashley801 at 1:19 AM on October 10, 2011 [1 favorite]


For your man, Yaghoub is a nice name (my Iranian/American boyfriends name :) )
posted by kiwi-epitome at 3:40 AM on October 10, 2011


Ashley801: "Also, not sure if you are also looking for last names and/or already know this, but Russian women have a patronymic as their middle name, and their last name takes a feminine form that's different from their male relatives. In 4ster's example, Tatiana's surname would be Antonova, if her father's surname were Antonovich.

This site,
though it's kind of shady, gives a good explanation of this towards the bottom. Hopefully it will not give you a virus.
"

Is this still true? I absolutely remember reading this fact when reading older novels such as Crime and Punishment but I wonder if this would still be true for a modern Russian woman in her 30s.
posted by Deathalicious at 5:00 AM on October 10, 2011


Is this still true? I absolutely remember reading this fact when reading older novels such as Crime and Punishment but I wonder if this would still be true for a modern Russian woman in her 30s.

Yes. I'm 25, my sister is 30, and we both have patronymic names. We both tried to get rid of them when we got married/got our citizenship, but it seems we're stuck with them, short of getting a name change from a judge. Ugh.
posted by litnerd at 5:04 AM on October 10, 2011


Also, first name + patronymic name is still used as a sign of respect to elders/authority figures. For example, a friend of mine (in her early 30s) addresses her mother-in-law by first name + patronymic.

Finally, other Russian name suggestions: Alla, Marina, Masha, Lena, Galya, Bela.
posted by litnerd at 5:09 AM on October 10, 2011


Okay, I'm going to share my secret naming weapon: this article. While it's titled "Yakut Names," it is in fact a breakdown of naming popularity in the city of Yakutsk by decade, broken down by ethnic origin. I have no idea whether Yakutsk was more backwards than Moscow in these matters, but I can definitely say that you see trends in Russian naming everywhere - e.g. when I was studying in St. Petersburg years ago I never met a Katya over twenty-five but knew several who were in their twenties (or thirties now). (I'm sure there are exceptions to this. Anecdotally, one general rule seemed to be that the religious names belonged to people born in the 1970's or later - Ekaterina, Xenia, etc.)

So in the 1950s, some of the common names among Russian families living in Yakutsk for baby girls were Natalya, Lyudmila, Tatiana, and Galina a very distant fourth. (It was hugely popular for most of the decades prior.) People also used Lyubov, Olga, Svetlana, Valentina, Tamara, Nadezhda, and Elena. In the 1970s, the same demographic used Elena, Tatyana, Svetlana, Olga, Natalia, Irina, and Marina. They also saw gains in more exotic or traditional/religious names (Larisa, Alyona, Zhanna, Anzhelika, Yulia, Inga).
posted by posadnitsa at 6:12 AM on October 10, 2011


Iranian: Myriam, Maryam, Samaneh
posted by Tarumba at 6:34 AM on October 10, 2011


Sorry, Iranian names for guys that age (that I know of) Merdad, Mohamadreza, Hooman, Reza, Arya, none of these people are particularly religious but some of their parents obviously were.
posted by Tarumba at 6:38 AM on October 10, 2011


A few notes on some names above: "Vera" is short for "Veronika", "Dasha" is short for "Daria" or "Darina", "Masha" is short for "Marina" or "Maria", "Lena" is short for "Elena", "Galya" is short for "Galina".

If you're doing the first name and patronymic address, you always use the full, formal first name. You would, for instance, never refer to someone as Masha Borisovnaya, only Marina Borisovnaya.
posted by griphus at 6:48 AM on October 10, 2011


Oh, and "Natasha" is short for "Nataliya."

Basically, every Russian name has many, many different configurations of it based on the formality of the address. At the most formal, you use the full name and patronymic. At the least, there's many different "cute" ways to refer to someone, reserved for children, family members younger than you and very close friends.

So, "Marina Borisovnaya" would be the very formal way of addressing someone. There is not "Mr." or "Mrs." address, so this is the equivalent. Under that would be just "Marina." Under that is "Masha." And then below that there's "Mashka," "Mashen'ka" (the -ka ending is the equivalent of -chan in Japanese, or putting "Little" in front of the name in English) and so on.
posted by griphus at 6:53 AM on October 10, 2011


Wikipedia has articles on naming conventions for most large ethnic groups:

Russian names, Iranian names.

Neither article says much about what would have been popular in the time period. Both have links to additional information.
posted by nangar at 7:24 AM on October 10, 2011


I feel like ass correcting you griphus, but it's Borisovna.
I'm not Russian, I just lived three years in Moscow
posted by hat_eater at 8:13 AM on October 10, 2011


Is this still true? I absolutely remember reading this fact when reading older novels such as Crime and Punishment but I wonder if this would still be true for a modern Russian woman in her 30s.

Yep, for example, Maria Yuryevna Sharapova, daughter of Yury Sharapov; Anna Sergeyevna Kournikova, daughter of Sergei Kournikov.
posted by Ashley801 at 8:29 AM on October 10, 2011


I feel like ass correcting you griphus, but it's Borisovna.

I think it might be both, or a St. Petersburg thing or something. My grandmother has been addressing my other grandmother as "Anna Borisovnaya" since, well, forever.
posted by griphus at 8:35 AM on October 10, 2011


2nding Farhad as a good option, but also Hooman or Merdad.
posted by thegreatfleecircus at 10:34 AM on October 10, 2011


Thanks, all! This is a big help. I have to talk it over with my writing partner, but I think this gives us several good options for each character.
posted by Lady Gaga at 2:24 PM on October 13, 2011


A bit late, but Asya Pereltsvaig has an article on Russian nicknames.
posted by nangar at 7:20 AM on November 23, 2011


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