Gender, Language, and Names:

Languages in which nouns have gender sometimes have the noun's gender turn on the noun's ending. In Russian, for instance, nearly all inanimate singular nouns that end with "a" or with the letter that's transliterated as "ia" (or "ya") are feminine. My tentative sense is that this is also generally true in Spanish, and in French with the "e" ending. English nouns of course don't have gender, but generally speaking English first names, and the standard nicknames, have "a" as a marker of femininity, though with a few relatively rare exceptions (e.g., Asa, Dana, and Ezra).

But here's the funny thing about Russian: Though the "a"/"ia"-feminine rule is indeed so for nearly all inanimate singular nouns, it is not the rule for nouns referring to people (for instance, "papa" is father, "diadia" is uncle, "starshyna" is platoon leader); and it is not the rule for names. In fact, some not uncommon Russian male first names -- such as Ilya and Foma -- and most Russian male nicknames (Sasha and Zhenia, which can also be a female nickname, Vania, Misha, Dima, and many more) end in "a" and "ia."

This is all a long way to mention that our guest-blogger Ilya is a Mr. Somin (unless you want to call him Prof. Somin or just plain Ilya) rather than a Ms. Somin. A commenter made the mistake of calling him Ms. Somin, so I thought I'd disabuse others of that notion.

Related Posts (on one page):

  1. Gender, Language, and Names II:
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