Russian names: pet names
As in, names for loved ones, not for pets, although those are fun, too.
(I’ve been considering a post like this for a long time, and then I got an ask requesting it, so I decided to go ahead and pick up my drafts. Dear person who requested it, I’m very sorry, I accidentally clicked “send” before I took note of your URL, that’s why I’m not tagging you. Credits for prompting this are yours, anyway.)
Most Russian partners and spouses address and refer to each other by the diminutives or their first names, sometimes using a slightly different version than everyone else (Vitka or Vitenka, rather than just Vitya, Yurka or Yurochka rather than Yura), but generally, they use the same names for each other as their siblings and close friends use for them.
Also, Russians in general (especially Russian men, Georgi Popovich notwithstanding) are a little (okay, a lot) more reserved than people in a lot of other countries; ending every phone call with “I love you”, making sure there are always fresh flowers in the house and bringing each other breakfast in bed isn’t something that happens very often, not even in novels..
Therefore, not a lot of Russians make up pet names for each other, call each other something new and sweet every day or even explicitly say “I love you” at all.
That said, pet names still do exist, and people do use them - sometimes sincerely, and sometimes jokingly or even in mocking.
Before I begin my three-page rant on Russian nicknames, I’d like to make sure we’re clear about three things.
First, my transliteration isn’t the only correct way to spell it. There’s often no right way to transliterate some words or letters, so if you see and like some other way to spell some word - go ahead and use that, it most possibly doesn’t matter. Just watch out for o/a and e/i in unstressed syllables (it’s YurOchka, VitEnka), because those, if spelled wrong, look like spelling mistakes rather than alternative transliterations.
Second, YMMV. Russia is huge. Dialects exist. People are different. There’s a good chance someone may use some words differently, and that’s okay.
Third, I hope everyone’s aware that it’s also okay to use any words you like in your fanfic, even if they only sound Russian, or don’t even sound Russian at all; it’s your text, you’re the one who’s creating the universe your characters live in; the Russia in your fanfic doesn’t have to be exactly the same as the Russia that exists in our world.
If, however, you want to stick to the real-life Russian pet names, this text is for you.
The first thing that’s important to remember when picking a Russian endearment is gender. A lot of Russian words aren’t gender-neutral, and using the wrong gender makes it hilarious if the person is secure in their gender or offensive, if they have gender-related issues. So please, make sure you pick a gender-neutral word or use the correct version of a gendered one. I marked all feminine words with an f, and all masculine with an m, and explicitly stated if the word is gender-neutral.
The word most frequently used in fanfic, “дорогой(m, dorogoy)/дорогая(f, dorogaya)” is, indeed, the equivalent for “darling”, but in real life it’s hardly ever used as an endearment. Instead, it’s more of a word for old married couples: “Dorogaya, you ruined my life, - You’re not exactly a gift yourself, dorogoy!”. It’s used ironically or jokingly much more often than as an actual way to address someone you love. It’s also the same word as “expensive”, so statements like “Moya dorogaya is very dorogaya, that’s the third silver necklace this week” aren’t unheard of.
Much more often used is “милый(m, miliy)/милая(f, milaya)”. It basically means the same - “dear/darling” - but sounds more gentle and intimate. Young women use that, along with lubimiy, on girly forums to refer to their boyfriends (”Last night miliy said that I…”).