3+ BENEFITS OF KNOWING THAT “МЕНЯ ЗОВУТ” IS NOT “MY NAME”
Well, of course, it is. But not literally.
If you look up “name” and “my” in the dictionary, you’ll get “имя” and “мой”. So, you can translate “My name is Anastasia” as “Моё имя Анастасия”. It is technically right… except that we never use this phrase in spoken language.
We use “Меня зовут Анастасия”, which means something slightly different.
So, why care about the literal meaning of “меня зовут”? After all, you can just memorize this phrase and start using it! It’s enough to get by.
Of course, you can.
But if you know the pattern and can decode it, you get additional benefits over someone who just memorized the phrase from his CD. You’ll be at least 3 steps ahead.
Let’s see what you can get if you dig deeper!
Benefit 1. You get to know a new verb
OK, if “зовут” is not “name”, what is it, then?
It’s a verb: “звать”, which means to call (by name).
“Звать” has irregular conjugation in the present, so not only do you learn a new verb – the phrase “Меня зовут” serves as a mnemonic to remember all the other present tense forms:
Benefit 2. You learn faster without confusing different pronouns + remember the pattern with “звать”
As you know, Russian has cases, so our pronouns have different forms.
For example, personal pronouns have subject forms (like I, as in “I remember you”) and object forms (like me, as in: “Do you remember me?”).
Plus, we also have different versions of “my”.
So if you assume that “Меня зовут” is literally “My name”, you might get confused. Then it might take longer to learn all the things mentioned above.
Also, if you keep in mind the actual meaning of the phrase, it helps you remember the construction with “звать”: the fact that it’s used with the accusative case (because the person who they call is an object).
If you know that “звать” is a verb and you know the case that goes with it, you can easily use it in wider contexts. For instance, you can say:
- “They call me Michael”
- “They used to call me Mickey when I was a baby”
- “My ex-girlfriend was called Anna”
- “Your friend is calling you”
and many more unique phrases!
By the way, can you say those things in Russian? Check yourself with the translations at the bottom of this article.
Benefit 3. You get to learn about the hidden subject
Ok, so “меня” is the object, it’s the person called, but who is calling? Is there any subject at all?
If you look closely at the sentence “Меня зовут Анастасия”, you can see a trace of it.
Could you spot it?
It’s in the verb ending.
-ут is a verb ending that goes with “они” (they). People. Someone in general. We don’t know who or it doesn’t matter, we don’t care to specify or it’s just too broad.
To avoid going into details, in English, we use “they” as in “They say…” or a passive structure.
The Russian structure is just like the English “They say…” but without using the word “они”. We can only tell the subject by looking at the verb:
- They say, it’s cold in Russia. = Говорят, в России холодно.
- A hotel is being built here. = Здесь строят отель.
This Russian structure is very simple. It sounds neutral and we use it in everyday language too. Feel free to adopt it!
Also, it’s one of the examples when Russian is easier than English and some other languages!
More examples with this pattern:
- They call me Michael. = Меня зовут Майкл.
- They used to call me Mickie when I was a baby. = Когда я был маленький, меня звали Микки.
- My ex-girlfriend was called Anna. = Мою бывшую девушку звали Анна.
- Your friend is calling you. = Тебя зовёт подруга. (mind the word order and notice that it’s just one sound different from “Тебя зовут Подруга” – can you imagine the confusion of someone who just memorized the phrase from a CD? “What?! My name is Podruga?! My friend’s name?! What are they talking about?”)
- A swimming pool is being built here. = Здесь строят бассейн.
- Smoking is not allowed. “People don’t smoke here”. = Здесь не курят.
- What do they eat for breakfast in Turkey? = Что в Турции едят на завтрак?
As you see, curiosity is rewarding.
When you dig deeper, you not only learn how to introduce yourself in Russian – much more than that!
- You don’t get confused because you don’t assume that “меня” means “my”.
- You learn a new verb and its construction which increases your possibilities for self-expression compared to just one phrase. You can use the verb in many different contexts.
- And not just a verb – you learn a way to avoid mentioning the subject (which is so practical and common you can adopt it right away).
Of course, it doesn’t enable you to say the sentences above immediately – you need to know the past tense, how to talk about location, etc. But once you decode this structure, you understand better how the Russian language works. And it’s just one example of what’s possible when you go beyond mindlessly memorizing phrases.
P.S. The photo was made in Pereslavl-Zalessky, Russia, by Natalia Letunova