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.
Natasha’s name has been Natasha since her very first appearance, where she and her partner Boris Turgenev were the butt of the obvious joke. Her last name wasn’t revealed until the early 1970s. She went through a whole solo series without getting a last name. Weird, but back in those days it took dozens of issues for Hawkeye to get a first name.
But in the distant future they know your name, Natasha Romanoff!
Romanoff: a name no one knows or knew. At the time, Natasha was being written as an aristocratic jet-setter, a glamorous countess. Since Romanov is the most famous Russian surname, and superhero stuff isn’t codenamed subtlety, I figure Gerry Conway just went with the .
And so Natasha Romanoff was her name through the 1970s. Instead of “Miss” or the Danvers-ian “Ms.”, Natasha used “Madame”, invoking an Old World mystique and reminding us of her literal widowhood.
By 1983 someone on staff realized that Romanova might be more technically correct. (Might being operative, here, the best way of translating the feminine endings is still debated.) Anyway, her Official Handbook to the Marvel Universe page listed her as Natasha (Romanoff) Romanova:
The next big change would occur when someone, and I’m thinking it was Chris Claremont, realized she was missing a patronymics. A full Russian name has three parts: the given (first) name, the patronymic, and the family (last) name. Patronymics are another way of expressing ancestry and are typically based on the given name of one’s father. In Russia, they are used in place of middle names. For example, Grand Duchess Anastasia was Anastasia Nikolaevna Romanova, or Anastasia “Daughter of Nicholas” Romanoff. Her brother, the Tsarevich Alexei, was Alexei Nikolaevich Romanov, or Alexei “Son of Nicholas” Romanoff.
I think it was Claremont who realized Nat’s was missing, because he is a man who loves his over the top accents and casual sprinkles of da, chere and mein gott. Also, because the first time I could find a patronym for Natasha was in Daredevil and the Black Widow #102, which he wrote.
Calm down, Natasha Alianovna!
The odd thing about Alianovna is that it would mean her father’s name was Alian, something unusual and not particularly Slavic. Tumblr user uminoko has speculated that it might point to possible Bashkir ancestry, which is a rich possibility, storywise. I doubt that’s what Claremont meant, since he was also the primary source of the “Natasha is a secret member of the Romanov dynasty” idea that comics trot out now and again. But who cares what Claremont meant?
Not Kurt Busiek, who pretended it was something else in his Heroes Return Iron Man run. (Or maybe he just forgot.)
I am Natalia Ivanovna Romanova. The Black Widow. I presume you know me— by reputation, at least.
Ivanovna, or daughter of Ivan, is a much more common patronym and also meshes with her backstory— whoever her parents were, she was raised by a man named Ivan. But it didn’t stick. Everyone and the guidebook uses Alianovna.
Notice that Natasha uses her full name here— she is declaring who she is, the full, formal weight of a name. This is one of the first times comics used the name Natalia. It had shown up in a few other comics before this one, including the 1992 graphic novel the Coldest War.
Natasha: And I don’t believe in ghosts.
Zamatev: Neither do I, Natalia Alianovna.
Comrade Zamatev is a government agent trying to cultivate a professional and respectful relationship with Natasha, a legend in her field, so maybe this is why he uses her name and her patronymic. He’s also Russian, and the way Russian speakers address each other is colored by their relationship. Here’s a rundown oriented towards fandom. Superhero comics, being superhero comics, do not always get this right. From the late nineties forward Natalia started popping up with some frequency, usually in formal or impersonal contexts or in the mouths of Russian speakers. Yelena speaks of “Natalia Romanova” as the Red Room’s greatest legend, Natasha demands that the he-was-evil-all-along Ivan Petrovich address her without the diminutive.
But Natasha’s superhero friends mostly call her Natasha, the name her first appearance gave her.
Do not bother! I shall introduce myself! I am Madame Natasha, and this is my brother, Boris!Panels from Daredevil #84, The Official Handbook of the Marvel Universe #2, Daredevil and the Black Widow #104, Iron Man #8, and Tales of Suspense #52. For more information on Natasha and Russian naming conventions, see this post!