Russian Lessons Part I: Learn To Say Ovechkin Correctly

Russian Lessons Part I - Learn To Say Ovechkin Correctly

[Ed Note: Last year during the Capitals Playoff run, Slava Malamud wrote an 800-word post about how to pronounce Russian Players names correctly for Capitals Insider. Problem was – after talking to RMNB groupmember Fedor Fedin (who resides in Moscow, Russia) – Slava wasn’t really doing the pronunciations justice. So today, with Fedor’s help, the Russian Machine is going to teach you how to say your favorite Russian Superstars names correctly. And yes, with wonderful, wonderful audio. Enjoy!]

One of the most frustrating things about being a fan of the Washington Capitals in Moscow is how much Americans mispronounce Russian Players’ names. Everybody does it! And a lot of the time, nobody has a clue they’re even doing it.

Do you know how many times I’ve heard «S-I-M-I-N» or «S-E-M-Y-O-N», and cringed? Let’s say more than a handful. But now it’s time for you to learn with my help.

First, let’s go over the phonetic foundation of the names. The Russian letter «ё» means «YO» if it’s the first letter in a word or it goes after a vowel. If it goes after a consonant it reads like a «soft O». The most similiar English sound is «ɜː» in the words «learn» or «burn». (Here’s some other English rhymes too.) If you know German, it’s not a problem for you at all. Just listen to it (this is word «König», German «King»):

Anyways, here’s what – «Semyon» sounds like in Russian:

And here’s the correct pronunciation of «Semin». As you can see, they sound very similiar. Thanks to the guy who pronounced it completely – «Alexander Semin»:

«Fedorov» uses this sound, too (completed pronunciation again!):

Here’s a few more pronounciation tips for other popular Russian NHLers:

  • You might know this already, but it’s worth repeating if anyone out there doesn’t know. «Semin»– is from «Syoma», which is the short form of «Semyon».
  • The surname of Alexander Frolov has a stress in the second «o», not FrOlov, FrolOv.
  • Ilya Kovalchuk’s last name is actually pronounced «KovalchOOk», not «KovalchAk».

At last, here’s something funny I noticed:

Here’s how Americans pronunce «Ovechkin»:

Here’s how Russians says it:

Crazy isn’t it? And now you can understand my frustration!

  • Ashley

    Funny enough, the translator says that Crosby is actually pronounced “pussy.” At least we’ve been getting that one right.

  • Ashley, I think I love you.

  • I’m willing to bet if you pronounced “Ovechkin” like that to an American that doesn’t have a clue, they’d think you were talking about a totally different player.

  • Peter

    Shaun, I think you’re right. It doesn’t make this article any less fascinating.

    There’s lots of words that get anglicized and have their pronunciation changed. As a musician, two examples I can think of are “Kurzweil” and “Moog.” Also, there’s the X-Men. Piotr Nikolaievitch Rasputin becomes “Peter”. Kurt Wagner goes from the “Vagner” pronunciation to the whitebread “Wwwwagner.” It’s linguistic relativism, an it’s okay with me.

  • FedFed

    I believe that Americans are not stupid that much.

  • I don’t know, Shaun. But I certainly think this article finally helps other North Americans see what the real pronunciations are and how much some of these guys’ names are americanized.

  • Oh, I’m not even arguing that point. I know the names are sort of put through a cultural prism and whatever makes the most sense to English speaking people is what’s going to be used. It is awesome to have the actual pronunciations, and I, for one, am going to make a concerted effort to put the Russian sound into their names.

  • CapsGirl

    Cool guys! I thought I was close for Varly’s name, but found out I was still off. Now I will mentally think Seam-Yawn when I say it! As for Ah-Veech-Kin? I will probably still just say Ovi!

  • FedFed

    “I will probably still just say Ovi!”
    One of the options, sure!

  • It is strange to me that one should pronounce it ‘ah VEECH kin’ when the spelling, in english, is M V P.
    But I’ll take your word for it.

  • Barbambia Kergudu

    “Semyon” should be “Семён” not “семен”, right?

  • Bailey

    I can imagine that some American names would go through the same trouble in Russia, or many non-English speaking countries as well. Certain sounds are common in one language while non-existant in others, kind of like how there’s no “L” sound in Japanese. Trying to hear Japanese people say my name was rather funny, but at least they tried.

  • FedFed

    Right, but sometimes in Russian word ё is substituted by е – for example, in official documents letter ё is forbidden to use.

  • Doug Smith

    Well the entire time he was he we pronounced Kölzig like “Coal-zig” instead of the proper German pronunciation. So Americanizing names is nothing new.

  • Doug Smith

    *he was here

  • Tim

    Good to know that after mangling all the others I at least nailed the Crosby pronunciation – thanks, Ashley!

  • FedFed

    “I can imagine that some American names would go through the same trouble in Russia”
    Fans usually scarify journalists when they’re speaking wrong.

  • Barbara

    Don’t feel bad. Americans butcher any name out of the ordinary Anglo-Saxon. And sometimes we even butcher those.

  • breaklance

    Interesting but not entirely new to me atleast. Americans specifically are terrible with “foreign” names. Canadians less so, and to make a generalization, because many are bilingual have a broader sense of pronunciation.

    Russian, Arabic, and asian languages seem to have the biggest trouble for Americans. Honestly I think its because of a) how different the languages are(i know hard right!?) and also difference of Alphabet. Translating names specifically seems to cause “americanization”

    Try spelling the pronounciations phonetically: Alecsandre Syomen. Alex Ahvichkin.

    Well, that’s how I’d spell it based on the sound. Not hugely hard to see the jump from Ahvichkin to Ovechkin. Some of it I see as shortcut, other advertising. Harder the name is to say the harder it is to market the person. Look at mainstream media, tv, music. Guys like John Mellencamp become Johnny Cougar. Niclas Copala become Nick Cage.

  • Somehow, I can’t wrap my mind around Wes Johnson going, “Capitals goal scored by…number 8…Alex AHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH-VYECHKIN!!!

    Even though it does have a nice sound to it.

  • Cookie Monster


    I think the only thing Canadians can claim is that they are more familiar with French than Americans are. The sheer volume of immigration to the U.S. over centuries has arguably made Americans more familiar with more languages than Canadians. We just have a history of appropriating, assimulating, or ignoring our multi-lingual bounty.


    Most modern English speakers wouldn’t be familiar with Anglo-Saxon names. Those would get mangled too.

    In general, I think we do fairly well pronouncing Russian names especially if we’ve heard them pronounced properly. The most frequent errors are where to put the emphasis and that pesky “yo” sound that is foreign to our tongue.

  • Sven

    Englishspeakers never really care how non-English names really are pronounced. They just read the names the way they seem in English and don’t bother to try doing it correctly. (Sorry for the generalization, I do know there are a few that try.)

  • Peter

    Don’t apologize. We appreciate your input, Seven.


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  • v m

    learn to spell Aleksandr properly first.

    and the amount of russians who get the nickname Alex instead of Sacha is probably less than 0.1%.

    it just sounds fake reading it.