January 01, 2007

Nostalgic for Patronymics

There is one “borrowing” from the West I definitely dislike: failing to use patronymics in everyday conversation. This practice, as artist Ilya Glazunov rightly put it, often sounds impolite and too фамильярно – bordering on familiarity. Switch on the TV news and you will hear – Борис Ельцин, Владимир Путин, Михаил Горбачёв. 

Борис Ельцин should be addressed as Борис Николаевич (Boris, son of Nikolai), Горбачёв as Михаил Сергеевич and Брежнев was to be addressed as Леонид Ильич. True, sometimes Ленин was simply called Ильич – but that only underscored the love and adoration the Soviets were supposed to feel for their proletarian leader. 

To ignore patronymics is a breach of a deep-rooted Russian tradition. You are supposed to address your superiors, in-laws, people older than you by their first name and their patronymic. The same goes for people you are meeting for the first time. It is quite normal to ask someone during introductions: “Как ваше имя-отчество?” Or, better yet, “Как вас по батюшке?” In some old-style Russian families, even spouses called each other by their patronymics out of mutual respect. 

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