Disclaimer: Please keep in mind that Russian names are my strongest suit. My apologies for any inadvertent errors! If you’re Ukrainian, feel free to let me know more nickname forms, so I can fill them in.
“A primer on Russian names” is one of my Top 10 most-viewed posts, but I thought it would be nice to continue my intermittent “A primer on ___________ names” series with Ukrainian names, in spite of their similarity to Russian names. They’re two different languages and cultures, even if some people think Russians and Ukrainians are one and the same. Not so at all! And my sweet little Valentina Kuchma is Ukrainian, and many chapters and sections of my first three Russian historicals are set in Kyiv (and a few other cities), so there’s a writing tie-in.
My secondary Atlantic City character Kara Charnetski is also of Ukrainian descent, and one of my major families, the Greens, are Ukrainian Jewish on the father’s side (a secret which is hidden for decades).
FYI: Ukraine has been independent for over 20 years. It’s extremely offensive and arrogant to keep referring to their cities by the “familiar” Russian names, instead of their proper Ukrainian names, such as Kyiv, Chornobyl, and L’viv. The country is also just Ukraine, not “the” Ukraine.
If you can read Russian, you can adapt to Ukrainian super-quickly. It’s by and large the same exact alphabet, with a few letters transliterated or written differently. The Russian letter Geh (Γ), for example, becomes an H in Ukrainian, though pre-1933, there was a Geh with an upturn (Ґ) which was pronounced as a G. It returned to Ukraine in 1990, and was always used in the Ukrainian Diaspora. The letter И, which is transliterated as an I in Russian, becomes a Y in Ukrainian, while Ukrainian kept the old Cyrillic letter І і as their EE sound. There’s also a letter Ї ї, which transliterates as YI, and instead of Ë, which transliterates as YO in Russian, the Ukrainians have Є є, which is pronounced as YE.
Like most Eastern Europeans, Ukrainians also employ patronymics, about which you can read more on my Russian names post hyperlinked above. Naturally, the patronymical forms are a bit different, since it’s a different language. If your father’s name ends in a consonant, your patronymic ends in -ivna or -ovych (e.g., Ivanivna, Ihorovych). If his name ends in a vowel, your patronymic will end in -yivna or -yovych (e.g., Andriyovych, Oleksiyivna). A few names take irregular forms, just as there are in Russian. Examples:
Unlike Russian surnames, Ukrainian surnames don’t take sex-based forms. The most common endings are -enko, -ko, -chuk, -shuk, -shchuk, -yuk, -yak, -ak, -ishyn, -yshyn, -iv, and-yets. A number of surnames are also derived from common nouns and occupations, which explains why some Ukrainian surnames end in A. There are also a number of names ending in -skiy/-skaya, as there are in Russia and Poland.
Common names and their nickname forms:
Illya (Ilko) (Elijah)
Mykola (Mykolka, Kolko) (Nicholas)
Petro (Petryk, Petrus) (Peter)
Symon (I’m not touching the more common Ukrainian spelling with a ten-foot pole, if you know what I mean!)
Anna, Hanna (Annychka, Hanusya)
Kateryna (Katrusya, Katrya)
Lyubov (Lyuba) (Amy)
Mariya (Mariyka, Marichka)
Nataliya, Natalya (Natalka, Natalochka)
Oleksandra (Lesya) (Alexandra)
Olena (Olenka, Lesya) (Helen)