Matryoshka, Nesting Doll, Babushka…

The Russian nesting doll became well know and popular all over the world. Now the Russian name of this cute toy “matryoshka” came even into the Oxford English Dictionary. It worth to say that not many people used to read Oxford English Dictionary and more popular is online Wikipedia. There is a long article which is devoted to matryoshka, it gives some basic information about history and style of Russian matryoshka. There is one point about matryoshka which should be explained in more details – this is explanation about name of this wooden toy. In English “matryoshka” also is called as “nesting doll”, “nested doll”, “babushka”, “stacking doll”, “stackable doll” and just “Russian doll”. Here we would try to clear this point and to explain how to call properly this funny dolls.


Name “Matryoshka” is the affectionate diminutive form of old Russian woman name Matryona – this was a common name in Russian villages. The first Russian nesting doll described a peasant young woman in typical for that time costume. It was a pure accident that somebody called Matryona the country girl which was painted on the wooden toy. There are many speculations about sacred meaning of the name of a nesting doll and meaning of a nesting doll itself but I dare to disappoint you – there is no special meaning, this is just matter of chance. It is not out of place to mention here that the word “matryoshka” can be written as “matrioshka”, “matreshka”, “matrushka” and even “matushka”. The variant “matushka” is Finnish one, people from Finland call so Russian girls and women.

Nesting doll (nested doll)

Russian matryoshka got her second blossom in 80-s of 20 century when many foreign tourists went to Russia and discovered unusual stackable wooden toys. Tourists gladly bought them but could not remember the complicate name Matryoshka. So they called the toy in descriptive manner. In English matryoshka was called “nesting doll”. It really reflects the technical idea of the toy and it is quite common name in English. The close variant “nested doll” is a synonym and is used often too though less often then “nesting doll”

Stacking doll (stackable doll)

This name is used less often than “nesting doll” and if I am allowed to express my personal opinion this name is not correct. “Stacking” means that things are on each other in a pile while each matryoshka doll goes into other empty doll from the set (except the largest, the first doll).

Babushka doll

This is the most interesting variant of the name. Babushka in Russian language means “grandmother”, “granny”, “grandma”. Let me to present my own version of its derivation.

In past when tourists bought matryoshkas at the street markets of Moscow or Saint-Petersburg they told to customers a short story about they toy. They told that the nesting doll set consisted of the whole family – babushka, mother, daughters. “Oh, babushka, nice!” – replied the customers and bought the souvenir. The “babushka” word is easy to pronounce in main part of languages so it was accepted by people from different countries.

Russian dolls

The easiest way to use phrase “Russian dolls” if you forgot the right word. This is the same as we often call Kokeshi dolls just “Japanese dolls”. Although this is not correct if to be strict but people often do it. There is some confusion with it because of French film “Russian dolls” (original name “Les poupées russes” – it is well known in Russia because of popular actress Audrey Tautou) . But if you want to find where to buy matryoshka dolls just type into the search field of your favorite search engine and you get list of sites with offer nesting dolls or tell about the movie “Russian dolls”.