Belarusian, Belorussian Or Belarussian? Simple But Tricky Question

Belarusian, Belarussian or Belorussian? Let’s deal with the simple at first sight but tricky on closer look, the question of the spelling that gives the name to the language, its speakers and literally everything that comes from or relates to Belarus.

Belarus Explained is a project that blasts off stereotypes and myths about Belarus and gently uncovers the Belarusian soul to foreigners. Daily life, habits, character explained by the locals.


It all starts with the problem of the name of the Belarusian state in the Russian language in Russia. Althought the issue first arose in the first half of the 1990s, discussions in Russian and Belarusian society continue to the present.

Read also: Why everyone thinks Belarus is a part of Russia

While Russians keep using the Byelorussia spelling, traditional for their language, Belarusians insist on the fact that the country officially changed its name to the Republic of Belarus after the USSR dissolution and it should be respected and taken into account.

Is it A or O?

A bone of contention usually lies in the usage of A or O letters, as well as the number of S in the adjective that is so close to the hearts of Belarusian people.

belarusian belarussian belorussian

Option №1: Bel-O-ru-SS-ian

The first counterargument that comes to mind is “There is no such country as Belorussia!” The name of the country is Belarus, thus, you can’t spell O where obviously A is needed.

Besides, the russian ending looks annoying for many Belarusians who identify themselves as an individual nation. Well, the arguments look pretty convincing and make other spellings look non-competitive.

Read also: Why Belarusians don’t speak their native language?

This is until one opens a couple of orthographic dictionaries of the Russian language, where the word is written with O and double SS. It’s hard to argue with the rules of the alien language and we won’t.

But try not to be confused, these controversies mostly bother Russian and Belarusian speakers. We are still talking about the word formation in English, while Russian is of marginal relevance here but can not be ignored at all.

Option №2: Bel-A-ru-SS-ian

You’d expect, the form gained popularity among those who live in Bel-A-rus and not Bel-O-ru-SS-ia.

They explain it by the canons of the word formation in Russian, where base + suffix “sk” with the meaning of affiliation is traditionally used.

Read also: How to survive in Belarus if you don’t speak Russian

Semantically such an adjective could mean “what relates to Belarus”, particularly if it relates to the state and excludes people, territory, etc. If it weren’t for the dictionaries.

Long story short, this is the opinion of those who prefer to ignore the rules of spelling and put their national self-consciousness at the forefront.

Option №3: Bel-A-ru-S-ian

While in terms of the Russian language this form is a nonsense, it is still has a right to exist.

In that case, the word can be explained by the transliteration of the Belarusian word and can be treated as an exotism in the Belarusian version of Russian.

What do experts say?

Out of those three options, Belarusian seems the best to represent the country’s present. Since we are the Republic of Belarus officially (+ian=Belarusian, like Brazil – Brazilian, Chad – Chadian, etc.)

Belarussian as well as Belorussian are remnants of the official name we had during the Soviet times (Byelorussia -> Byelorussian, hence BY everywhere).  

And I believe it could be appropriate to use those forms to talk about any events that happened in the times of the BSSR.  

That could give some historical vibe to it, ” Daria Nesterenko, the former teacher at Minsk State Linguistic University (MSLU) said.

Read also: How Belarusians differ from Russians and Ukrainians

“I think the correct one is Belarusian. It’s the name of a country + suffix to form an adjective from it. Other examples: Jordanian, Brazilian. It used to be Belorussian when the country was called Belorussia.

Years ago, when my colleagues and I asked a British language specialist what was the correct way to name the nationality for someone from Belarus, he said, ‘It’s your country, you decide,’ ” Alla McCaughey, the manager at the language school, shared her view with BelarusFeed.


There are a number of names under which the Belarusian language has been known, both contemporary and historical. Some of the most dissimilar are from the Old Belarusian period.

  • Belarusian (also spelled BelarusanBelarussianByelarussian) – derived from the name of the countryBelarus, officially approved for use abroad by the Belarusian authorities and promoted since then.
  • Byelorussian (also spelled BelorussianBielorussian ) – derived from the Russian name of the country “Byelorussia” (Белоруссия), used officially (in the Russian language) in the times of the USSR and, later, in Russia.
  • White Ruthenian (and its equivalents in other languages) – literally, a word-by-word translation of the parts of the composite word Belarusian.