Why do so many Russian last names end in "-ov" and "-ova"?

Think of a Russian athlete and chances are, their name ends in “-ov” or “-ova”. It’s the source of joke names such as Ivor Chestikov and Benylin Tikilikov. But why is it so common?

The answer is congruent with Swedish and Croatian surnames – it’s about family names passed down to their children. Let’s look at an example.

Two-time grand slam champion Svetlana Kuznetsova can be split into:

[Kuznets + ov + a]

Kuznets is Russian for “smith” and ova is “daughter of” (-ov + the feminine suffix “a”) suffix. So altogether, it’s Svetlana, daughter of a smith.

It’s important to note ov and ova don’t necessarily mean “son of” and “daughter of”, rather “belongs to”. In the case of a name like Goncharov, this could mean son of a potter or a boy from a group of potters.

The popularity of ov and ova

The main Russian surname suffixes are “ov/ova”, “ev/eva”, and “in/ina”. In a 2018 study of the 100 most frequent Russian, German, and British surnames, 59% of Russian surnames were patronymic and 7% were occupational. That’s over 80m people called Somethingov or Somethingova.

Svetlana Kuznetsova at the 2019 Cincinnati Open (source: WTA Tennis)

Russian athletes and their names

Here are some interesting names from Russia and beyond with the ov/ova suffix.

  • Anna Kozlova (synchronised swimmer) – The kozlov part comes from the Russian kozyol meaning goat. The family’s ancestors likely had a connection to, say, goat herding or rearing rather than being sons and daughters of goats.
  • Dmitry Volkov (volleyball player) – Volkov derives from volk meaning wolf. Son of a wolf? That sounds pretty cool.
  • Ekaterina Bobrova (ice skater) – Bobrov derives from bobr meaning beaver.
  • Nikolay Baranov (former sprint canoeist) – Baranov derives from baran meaning ram.
  • Anatoly Bykov (former wrestler and two-time Olympic medalist) – Bykov derives from byk meaning bull. Now that’s an appropriate name!
  • Tatyana Kotova (former long jumper and two-time Olympic medalist) – Kotova derives from kot meaning cat. Another perfect name.
  • Vyacheslav Sokolov (former reserve keeper for FC Köln II) – Sokolov derives from sokol meaning falcon.
  • Dmitry Orlov (defenceman for the Washington Capitals) – Orlov derives from oryol meaning eagle.
  • Alexey Petukhov (cross-country skier who won a bronze medal at the 2010 Winter Olympics) – Petukhov derives from petukh meaning cockerel.
  • Darren Adrian Drozdov (former WWE wrestler) – Drozdov from drozd meaning thrush (as in the bird).

What would your Russian name be? In my case, I would be Luka Andreyevich Davidov (if I took my father’s name as my middle name as is patronymic custom)

(Sources: Signification of ov, ev, sky and in in last names)

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