There is an idiom "говорящая фамилия" in Russian("speaking surname"). This means a last name that has a meaning. We could translate, for example, "Иван Кошкин" to "Ivan Cat".

Is there a similar idiom in English?

A little bit of IT. My first problem is to come up with a name for a test method of the feature: I have an object

class User
  + name
  + username

Faker fill this object automatically. Faker guesses what data should be set in the property by its name. So the property "name" is filled with the value "Jhon" and "username" is filled with the value "crazy-login-name". This feature is called "name guesser".

I wanted to call the test "fill by speaking names", but it could be silly.

I've got around this problem, but it is still interesting.

  • 6
    For a non-Russian speaker, it's not clear what you mean by a 'speaking name'. Is it a surname that means something as an ordinary word? Commented Oct 14, 2020 at 8:11
  • 4
    What about aptronym or charactonym?
    – Georgy
    Commented Oct 14, 2020 at 16:05
  • 8
    My understanding is that "говорящая фамилия" has nothing to do with examples such as Stalin or Rasputin. It's an actual last name that someone has, just with meaning. (For example, someone named John Smith would have a "speaking surname", because a long time ago, John Smith's ancestor was an actual smith, and the surname was inherited from the distant past.) Commented Oct 14, 2020 at 19:25
  • 7
    The phrase "говорящая фамилия" is often used in the context of literature, where authors give their characters meaningful names that say something about the character. You might give a mysterious character the name Tom Riddle, or call someone Draco Malfoy if he should be expected to act in bad faith. But in-universe, these are actual last names and not pseudonyms or nicknames. Commented Oct 14, 2020 at 19:26
  • 4
    Does this answer your question ell.stackexchange.com/questions/252461/… or is it a different sense of the term?
    – Jetpack
    Commented Oct 15, 2020 at 3:02

6 Answers 6


Actually, the term "говорящая фамилия" (speaking surname) or, in general, "говорящее имя" (speaking name; the link is in Russian) are better translated as charactonym.

Definition of charactonym

: a name especially for a fictional character (such as Mistress Quickly or Caspar Milquetoast) that suggests a distinctive trait of the character

The other suggested words like "nickname", "alias" or "preferred name" are far from this meaning.

  • 4
    No one would use that except literary critters...
    – Lambie
    Commented Oct 14, 2020 at 22:44
  • 1
    Ignore the previous comment, it's a very nice answer.
    – Void
    Commented Oct 15, 2020 at 10:35
  • @Void it's nice and precise in terms of the meaning, although it doesn't match the usage/commonality. I.e. you'd be hard-pressed to find an example of "charactonym" used (and understood) in everyday speech.
    – Dan M.
    Commented Oct 15, 2020 at 11:03

The nearest you will find in English to the Russian Speaking Surname is a Nickname.

Nicknames are not used as widely as speaking surnames, however the principle is very similar. A nickname is used primarily between friends and in informal situations. It is also sometimes called a byname.

The nearest equivalent in more formal situations would be a Stage Name. This is something adopted by someone for a public persona, while keeping their real name private.

  • When nicknames are based on the persons official name, the nickname may well be used instead of their name by (almost) everyone. For example, my nickname is the first part of my official name and lengthened to soften it. Nobody calls me anything else unless it is official.
    – Willeke
    Commented Oct 14, 2020 at 16:35
  • In Israel, even politicians go by nicknames, for example Benjamin Netanyahu => Bibi, Moshe Ye'elon => Bogi. I guess this shows how informal Israeli culture is, though it has its limits - mainstream news media and official documents do use the actual name.
    – Jonathan
    Commented Oct 15, 2020 at 6:28

After reading your comment about Stalin and Chenmunka's answer ... What about alias?

According to the Oxford Dictionary



Used to indicate that a named person is also known or more familiar under another specified name.

‘Eric Blair, alias George Orwell


  1. A false or assumed identity.
    1.1 Computing - An alternative name or label that refers to a file, command, address, or other item, and can be used to locate or access it.

Let me remark the example: Eric Blair is universally best known as George Orwell. The same case applies to Iósif Vissariónovich Dzhugashvili (Stalin).

Also notice that such terminology is already used in computing. I think that "fillByAlias" is a good method's name.

  • I don't think "alias" works... I'm pretty sure OP is looking for word that speak about the real name that happen to mean something in a particular context. I.e. "Armed attack on a bank was done by Bob Gunner with ???? {quite appropriate for this event} last name" or "The most critical post was manned by Joe Guard with very ???? name". Commented Oct 15, 2020 at 2:46
  • @AlexeiLevenkov I don't speak Russian, I can't be sure about what is the OP looking for but he has provided the example Stalin. As you can see by my example, taken from a dictionary, George Orwell is the alias of Eric Blair and Stalin is also an alias.
    – RubioRic
    Commented Oct 15, 2020 at 5:47
  • 2
    I'm pretty sure Stalin comment was from someone else... (unless there was old comment from OP with the same suggestion). Indeed your answer is correct for that suggestion, but I never heard that "говорящая фамилия" expression used for pseudonym/alias and hence think that comment was misguided. (I do speak Russian which should be pretty obvious due to lack of "the"/"a" in my comments :) ) Commented Oct 15, 2020 at 6:00
  • @AlexeiLevenkov Well, your username also gives a hint. ;-P My mistake, that comment was written by Chenmunka, not by the OP.
    – RubioRic
    Commented Oct 15, 2020 at 8:40

I'm not familiar with Russian, but you may be looking for "preferred name". It's not unusual to see that on forms, especially if there's another field where the full legal name is required.

For example, if you're arranging for an international visitor at work, you might ask for a "legal name" to help you process work authorization papers, and "preferred name" to make a name tag. For many people, the two names are identical, but there is enough variation that you'd ask for both.


The French phrase nom de guerre is sometimes used in this context, even in purely English settings. Indeed I have often seen the name Stalin referred to explicitly as a nom de guerre.


Mononym could be applicable here:

noun: mononym; plural noun: mononyms
a person's name consisting of one word, typically a first name without a surname.
"the villa once belonged to famed Florentine artist Michelangelo Buonarroti, better known by his mononym, Michelangelo"

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