Consider the Russian last name Тихонов (of a mathematician). The most common transliteration I have seen in English (mathematical literature) is Tychonoff, and the transliteration according to Finnish standards is Tihonov. Many other spelling variants exist in the Latin alphabet, as listed on the linked Wikipedia page. Transliterations tend to depend on the target language, and there are differences between languages using the same alphabet.

Is there a standard for transliterating Russian words — especially names — into Latin? There might be or have been several standards. I would prefer transliteration conventions used by native Russians well trained in Latin. I assume Latin proficiency was common in academic circles in Russia in the past, and I find it very hard to believe that there never was any Latin-speaking community in Russia without the need to transliterate local names or other words.

If the transliteration rules are too complicated to include in an answer, please give some examples (perhaps including my example name) and give a link to further details.

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    Google n-grams suggests "Tikhonov" is much more common. I have rarely seen Russian "и" transliterated with "y": usually "ы" is treated that way.
    – brianpck
    Aug 11, 2017 at 18:32
  • @brianpck Thanks! My experience is from reading the mathematical literature, and that must be a biased sample spellingwise. (I'm not always sure whether to count mathematical English as English in the first place.) It doesn't have much of an effect on my point, but I'll edit that in.
    – Joonas Ilmavirta
    Aug 11, 2017 at 18:35
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    Non-serious answer: given the way Latin treated the Greek letters Υ and Ζ, the two Ancient Greek sounds not found in Latin, one might transcribe Ж, Ш, Ч as Ж, Ш, Ч.
    – Draconis
    Aug 13, 2017 at 18:36

3 Answers 3


I'm sure there is some system - or, rather, convention - of transliterating Russian names into Latin. I will do more research over the weekend.

Examples of famous Russian classical scholars with their names in Russian and their Latin transliteration (used by those scholars themselves since they wrote in Latin too).

Я́ков Ма́ркович Боро́вский (1896—1994) He himself used Iacobus Borovskij, see his biography in Latin wiki Borovskij. Academia Latinitati fovendae transliterates his name as Jacob BOROVSKIJ (Unio Sovietica). He also edited the 3rd edition of Martial epigrams in the Teubner series (1978), so his name was also transliterated as Iacobus Borovskij there. cf. Gavrilov 2011, who mentions "Jacobus Borovskius, Academiae Latinitati fovendae socius conditor" (p. 192).

Ио́сиф Моисе́евич Тро́нский (1897—1970) Tronskij, see his biography in Latin wiki

Серге́й Ива́нович Соболе́вский (1864—1963) himself used Sobolewski in his 1891 doctoral dissertation, Syntaxis Aristophaneae capita selecta. However, the editors of 2011 printing of his Commentariorum Belli Gallici (originally published in 1946-1947), transliterated his name differently - Sobolevski.

Николай Алексеевич Федоров (1925—2016) himself used Nicolai Fedorov - e.g. in his ALF (i.e. Academia Latinitati fovendae) speech "De statu et studio Latinitatis in Russia" (Fedorov 2007). In this speech - published in his nonagenarian Festschrift "Ars docendi" (Moscow, 2015), we can see more names of the following famous Russian scholars:

Michael Pokrovsky Михаи́л Миха́йлович Покро́вский (1868/1869-1942)

Sergius Averintzev Серге́й Серге́евич Аве́ринцев (1937—2004)

Michael Gasparov Михаи́л Лео́нович Гаспа́ров (1935—2005), his biography in Latin wiki

Viktor Jarcho Ви́ктор Но́евич Ярхо́ (1920—2003)

Zaicev Алекса́ндр Ио́сифович За́йцев (1926-2000)

Also see the contents page of the proceedings of a 2010 conference - it is in Latin.

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    This is very interesting. but it doesn't support that there is a standard way of transliterating Russian into Latin, which is the primary question as I understand it. E.g., in the names you have cited: ц is transliterated both as "tz" and "c", and on the contents page you cite, "ts"; в is transliterated as both "v" and "w"; ий is transliterated variously as "y", "i", and "ij" (and also Latinized as "-ius"). These are all reasonable, but do not support a standard.
    – varro
    Aug 12, 2017 at 17:58
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    @varro but I've never said there was a standard. :)
    – Alex B.
    Aug 12, 2017 at 18:09

We discussed this question in the “History of science” forum: https://hsm.stackexchange.com/questions/5329/why-saytzeff-and-zaitsev-rules-are-named-differently/5342#5342 where I argued that “there is a case for spelling Russian names the way their bearers did themselves when they used Western languages”, so in this case “Saytzeff”. Likewise “Tschaïkowsky”, as here:


This should be the case in all Latin-script languages, including (of course) Latin.

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    The issue is that the same Latin alphabet is given different sounds depending on the language, so the case might be "spelling Russian names the way their bearers did themselves when they used Latin", (and maybe infer a set of rules from recurring patterns if there isn't one.)
    – Rafael
    Aug 12, 2017 at 16:52
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    Both “Saytzeff” and “Tschaïkowsky” reflect German spelling conventions. Presumably they would have spelt their names differently had they written them in a Latin context. At any rate, any system that depends on the vagaries of which European language someone first wrote their name is too capricious to be used in the general case,
    – varro
    Aug 12, 2017 at 18:20
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    @varro. Saytzeff used this spelling also in the papers that he published in French.
    – fdb
    Aug 13, 2017 at 13:35

To the primary question, "Is there a standard for transliterating Russian words?", I'm pretty sure the answer is no. After all, who would make such a standard?

So, the real question is how to reasonably represent Russian words/names in a Latin context, and here I think there can be various answers depending on the criteria selected. Here are some reasonable answers, depending on different criteria:

1) Tichonof - This is the most likely way an ancient Roman would have rendered the name according to its pronunciation (which is what Romans were used to do).

2) Tichonow or Tichonov - These are both closer to transliteration than the above, but suffer from some criticisms: (1) the "Tichonov" rendition would be indistinguishable from "Tichonou" in Classical Latin, which might make it seen as a bad rendition of Тихонов, and (2) "Tichonow" depends on the Mediaeval Latin letter W, but might be seen as a reasonable representation of a Cyrillic в.

All in all, I think there's a certain amount of freedom that can be employed. The only thing I think is totally wrong is to trancribe the Russian into English, and then use that as a basis for the Latin form.

  • 1
    Why wouldn't there a standard, from the High Middle Age or the Renaissance?
    – Rafael
    Aug 12, 2017 at 0:39
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    Apparently, there was Russian scientific literature in Latin.
    – Rafael
    Aug 12, 2017 at 1:13
  • To pile on: the inventors of the Cyrillic alphabet at least spoke Greek. To discard a priori the possibility that they or any successors would have been concerned with transliteration seems unwarranted.
    – brianpck
    Aug 12, 2017 at 1:43
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    @ brianpck: I'll admit that a de facto representation of Slavonic names could have lead to a more-or-less consistent representation in Latin, via Greek, but did it? (And keep in mind that we're talking about Slavonic names, not Russian.)
    – varro
    Aug 12, 2017 at 2:19
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    @varro Your last remark is quite correct. Everyone transliterating Russian into English has his own version. Publishers (including newspapers, etc) have some quite bizarre differences. Where I would myself write Mendeleyev, I have seen Mendelejeff, Mendeléev, Mendelyeff and so on — which I think try too hard — and it would be preposterous to use any as a basis for Latin. Fifty years ago it was customary to find in the English press the title 'M.' for 'Mr.' on the principle that all educated Russians used to speak French: imagine the trouble that might cause!
    – Tom Cotton
    Aug 12, 2017 at 16:17

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