One of the most frequently asked of frequently asked questions is how Natasha’s name works. Is it Natasha or Natalia? Romanoff or Romanova? Which is her real name?
The tricky bit is this: Natalia and Natasha are both forms of the Russian name Наталья. The Natalia/Natasha equivalency doesn’t exist in English, leading to tail-chasing confusion about which is real and which is fake. Natasha is a diminutive form of Natalia, the same way Bill is a nickname for William. “Natalia” is not more authentic or more Russian, it’s just more formal. “Natasha Romanoff” is not an alias the way “Nadine Roman” or “Nancy Rushman” are.
The Romanoff/Romanova issue is just a question of transliteration. The Russian surname is Рома́нов, which has been written Romanoff or Romanov depending on the decade. In Russian, women’s last names take feminine endings to match their grammatical gender— Ivan Belov becomes Yelena Belova, Aleksandr Belinsky becomes Aleksandra Belinskaya. But the feminine endings often get dropped in English translation, e.g. Nastia Liukin, and not Nastia Liukina.
I want to make it out that there isn’t really a standard, “correct” way to translate a Russian name into English. Sometimes the patronymic is dropped, sometimes it isn’t. Immigrant women use the feminine form, or they don’t. It’s a matter of preference, and can also be generational.
I also want to emphasize that comics have never been able to make up their mind.
I revised and updated this essay, mostly because I found some better and earlier examples from the comic books to use. But also, more links to better posts!