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To English-speaking readers, the names of the characters in Anna Karenina may be somewhat confusing, as there are a number of name-related conventions in Russian that do not exist in English.
Each Russian has a first name, a patronymic, and a surname. A person’s patronymic consists of his or her father’s first name accompanied by a suffix meaning “son of” or “daughter of.” Hence, Levin is addressed as Konstantin Dmitrich (son of Dmitri), Kitty is called Ekaterina Alexandrovna (daughter of Alexander), and so on. Characters in the novel frequently address each other in this formal manner, using both the first name and patronymic.
When characters do not address each other formally, they may use informal nicknames, or diminutives. Sometimes, these nicknames bear little resemblance to the characters’ full names. For instance, Levin is sometimes called Kostya (the standard nickname for Konstantin), and Vronsky is sometimes called Alyosha (the diminutive of Alexei).
Furthermore, surnames in Russian take on both masculine and feminine forms. In Anna Karenina, for instance, Karenin’s wife’s surname takes the feminine form, Karenina. Likewise, Oblonsky’s wife has the surname Oblonskaya, and their sons have the surname Oblonsky while their daughters have the surname Oblonskaya.
Keeping these conventions in mind helps to distinguish characters as they are addressed by different names throughout the novel. However, the use of these conventions varies in different editions of Anna Karenina, as some translators choose to simplify or eliminate name variants in order to make the novel more accessible to an English-speaking audience.
Ace your assignments with our guide to Anna Karenina!