Several chapters in my book revolve around a widowed Russian countess, age 76, who teaches piano to a 16-year old Russian girl. Let's say the teacher's name is Anna Akhmatova Gorenko, and the girl is named Marina Ivanovna Petrov. How would the girl address her teacher since there is no equivalent to "Mrs" in Russian? Would the girl use all three names, 'Anna Akhmatova Gorenko', only the first and second, or, since she is a minor addressing an elderly person, possible 'Madame' Gorenko?

Similarly, what options are available to the narrator when using the teacher's name in a speaker tag? 'Madame Gorenko' would certainly be preferable over the frequent and cumbersome use of both the given and patrynomic names. Is there another option?

(I have not read Tolstoy's Anna Karenina, but in leafing through some pages, I noticed that Stepan Arkadyevitch Oblonsky is often simply tagged as Oblonsky. And 'Count Alexis Kirillovich Vronsky' is frequently just 'Vronsky')


1 Answer 1


First, Akhmatova (Ахматова https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Anna_Akhmatova) is a well known last name of famous russian woman poet. Don't use it as patronymic name, it is odd. Use, for example, Petrovna (Петровна), Sergeyevna (Сергеевна), Olegovna (Олеговна), Ivanovna (Ивановна) etc.

Formal full name is <Last> <First> <Patronymic name>, like Petrova Marina Ivanovna (name Marina, last name Petrova, father's name Ivan).

Or maybe you wanted to make double surname Akhmatova-Gorenko (Ахматова-Горенко)? Then you need some patronymic name.

Also, you should use right noun declension. Not Petrov, but Petrova. Gorenko (Горенко) last name in russian doesn't change.

At school, children always call their teachers <First name> <Patronymic name> (sometimes don't even remember their last names). For example, I called my geography teacher Irina Veniaminovna (Ирина Вениаминовна), and still call her in that way when we meet.

During first visit Marina should say "Anna <Patronymic>", like Anna Andreyevna.

Appeal to last name only, especially for elders, is disrespectful. But talking about someone using last name is ok.

If people are familiar, they can use first names only (in this case age is just a number). Sometimes (staff, male) you can use only patronymic name. For example "Petrovitch" (Петрович) instead of Valeriy Petrovitch (Валерий Петрович).

When talking about personage, you can call her as you want. Available options depend on narration.

  • Thank you, Ivan. Your comments are helpful. To explain, I will not use the name, Anna Akhmatova in my book. My intent here was only to use a Russian name as an example.
    – Suttroper
    Jan 19, 2018 at 18:12
  • Sorry. I am still not clear on two things: Can the student eventually call the teacher by her first name, or must she always use the first name plus the patronymic? Also, since the teacher comes from an aristocratic family and was once a concert pianist, would the student possibly call her "Madame" or "Madame Andreyevana" ?
    – Suttroper
    Jan 19, 2018 at 18:26
  • Let me answer that. First, it would be unlikely for a young person to drop the use of patronymic when addressing someone so much senior, no matter how friendly they've got. Second, addressing someone as "Madame ..." in casual conversation is very uncommon, even in diaspora. On the other hand, referring to someone as "Madame ..." is all right. And third, I suggest asking this question on russian.stackexcnage, because you can get better answers there.
    – Alexander
    Jan 20, 2018 at 0:41

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