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Which of Andrey or Andrei is the preferred transliteration of the Russian name Андрей into the English alphabet?

I checked Wikipedia, but it gives both variants.

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  • Both variants are possible. Truth be told, in our passports the same name if often written in different ways, especially since I'm Belarusian. My name is "Dmitry" ("Dzmitry" in Belarusian), but it is sometimes written as "Dmitri", "Dmitriy", "Dmitrij", "Dmitrii". For "Андрей" I would go with the second variant "Andrei" if you look for the more common one (my brother is Andrei). Or go for "Andrew" if it's intended for informal use.
    – Vilmar
    Nov 20, 2013 at 10:49
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    There is no such thing as "correct" in this instance.
    – Colin Fine
    Nov 20, 2013 at 11:38
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    The correct name is the one in your passport. No matter what you say or think. Transliteration of names is decided by politicians, not linguists. I used to have an "iou" in my family name. Then the authorities suddenly decided that they no longer liked the so-called "French transliteration", so millions of people had to get new passports, and the romanized name in mine is now spelled with a "yu". Fast forward fifteen years, and I still often misspell my own signature.
    – RegDwigнt
    Dec 20, 2013 at 10:49
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    Anyway, I think this is a better fit for our Russian Language site. Because again, it's the Russian authorities that decide this. English has no say in it.
    – RegDwigнt
    Dec 20, 2013 at 11:01
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    I know that you didn't ask specifically about it, but you may also want to consider "Andre" (possibly with an accent mark on the "e"), which lacks the final letter but is familiar to many English speakers from French. Apr 26, 2022 at 1:23

2 Answers 2

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This is the second recent question about Romanizing proper names from languages that use the Cyrillic alphabet. I know little about any of these languages, but as this is an English Language site I feel this puts me in a good position to suggest general principles on which to decide this and similar questions. Let me list them (more or less in order of priority) before trying to apply them to the current case.

  1. Individual preference. If the individual has a physical or literary presence in an English speaking country and elects for a particular Roman spelling, this should be respected.

  2. Usage. If the name, despite being foreign, has a long history of a predominant spelling in English, this should be used as it will be familiar to readers.

  3. Appearance and Pronounceability. If the name is not generally familiar to English speakers, a spelling is to be preferred that an English speaker can attempt a pronunciation of, even if it is the incorrect pronunciation in the original language.

  4. Using pronunciation aids. If the name is unfamiliar and correct pronunciation is important for some reason, pronunciation aids such as diaresis marks may be an option.

  5. Anglicization. If the individual thinks a correct pronunciation is important but impossible to achieve he may wish to translate the name into its English equivalent.

Applying these to the Andrey/Andrei question:

  1. Individual preference. Although not relevant in this case, I came across two cases of elite Russian sportsmen who work or worked for a period in Britain or the US. Whether or not they were party to the choice, the sports clubs in question used different versions to publicize their acquisitions: Andrey Arshavin the former Arsenal footballer, and Andrei Kirilenko, the former NBA basketball player.

  2. Usage. My impression is that the spelling Andrei is probably of greater and longer usage. Those my age will remember the newspaper spelling used in the 1980s for the Soviet dissident Andrei Sakharov. Another touchstone is the spelling in Russian works of literature in translation. As far as I can see from internet searches both Andrei and Andrey Sergeyevich Prozorov are characters in Chekov’s Three Sisters, it is generally Andrei Semyonovich Lebezyatnikov in Dostoyevsky’s Crime and Punishment, but both Andrei and Andrey Gavrilovich Dubrovsky in Putshkin’s The Queen of Spades. Most of these editions retrieved were relatively modern, however and do not speak to historical practice.

  3. Appearance and Pronounceability. Andrey could be English — change the ‘n’ to ‘u’ and you get ‘Audrey’ (although wrong sex) — but not Andrei or Andrej.

  4. Using pronunciation aids. If the e and i or e and y are separate vowels, rather than a diphthong — the poster gives no indication whether this is so, so I feel quite at liberty to assume that this is a possibility — then one could use Andreï, for example. However that would be rather academic, French rather than English in style, and I suspect ordinary people know how to pronounce Noël and Zoë because they have heard it spoken, rather than because they understand the function of the diaresis symbol. If it is a diphthong, on the other hand, the French, André, might be acceptable as it fairly well known in the English-speaking world (e.g. André Previn). It might, however, seem better suited to a concert pianist than, say, a heavyweight boxer.

  5. Anglicization. Although there seems to have been a conspiracy to inflict an unbelievable non-English combination of vowels and consonants on English speakers for names in a language almost none of us speaks — Li Xiannian or Hu Qiaomu anyone? — many individuals with such names sojourning in the West have taken the more practical and time-honoured measure of adopting English names (especially if they are trying to sell you something). In this case, one might suggest Andrew, or Andy or even the Scottish Drew. Although a similar practice is standard with German — e.g. Ludwig XIV, or Heinrich V von Shakespeare — it is unusual (in Britain at least) except in exceptional circumstances (e.g. Kaiser Bill).

Answer

I personally would go for Andrei, but I suspect that in view of the recent unfathomable metamorphosis of Kiev into Kyiv, ‘y’ is the flavour of the month with anglophone media, in which case you might prefer Andrey. (But I wouldn’t consult an academic.)

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  • One would imagine that Andrey ends with the same vowel sound(s) as Mickey does from the looks of it. I wonder whether that is the intent.
    – tchrist
    Apr 26, 2022 at 1:44
  • @tchrist — According to one website I listened to, the Russian "Andrei" rhymes with "day", but the "dr" has a most distinctive and un-English effect. Rather charming, though.
    – David
    Apr 26, 2022 at 7:05
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    Kiev/Kyiv is not unfathomable: Kiev is a transliteration of Russian Киев; Kyiv a transliteration of Ukrainian Київ.
    – Andrew Leach
    Apr 26, 2022 at 7:43
  • @AndrewLeach — Unfathomable to the 99.999% of English speakers who know neither Russian nor Ukranian. But I might have guessed. A political decision. I will certainly ignore it.
    – David
    Apr 26, 2022 at 11:08
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Both seem like valid options, but a third is offered using the Scientific Transliteration of Cyrillic: Andrej.

The Romanization of Russian page suggests a more modern transliteration is i.

Knowing quite a few Russians though, the j option really doesn't seem right. I don't know many people called Андрей, but I do know quite a few called Сергей and all of these people transliterate their name as Sergei, suggesting that i is a more common transliteration of й, especially at the end of a name.

Although neither of these sources suggests y as a valid option, I've definitely seen it before. Ultimately I'd say it's up to the person in question how they want to transliterate their name.

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  • And in Belarussian: Andrjej to show the soft "r"
    – mplungjan
    Nov 20, 2013 at 10:32
  • Admittedly I didn't look at the Belarussian columns since the question mentions "Russian name" Nov 20, 2013 at 10:36
  • @JamesWebster Yes, j is rare in russian names. Strange that at school we learned y -variant. Good links!
    – drobnbobn
    Nov 20, 2013 at 10:48
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    The 'j' version is natural to speakers of most languages east of France, but is likely to confuse English (French, Spanish, Portuguese ...) speakers unless they are linguistically savvy.
    – Colin Fine
    Nov 20, 2013 at 11:39

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