Most Russian names nowadays have Greek origins or were interpreted or transformed from Greek names. That happened after Russia adopted Christianity in the late 10th century and people who were baptized started to accept new names of the Byzantine church tradition. Very popular male names, such as male Nikolai, Alexander or female Yakaterina and Yelena - all came to Russia from the Greek language, as well as Latin. Even the very popular name Ivan that is considered to be “very” Russian, has origins in Hebrew (as well as Mikhail). However, some traditional Slavic names have still survived and people still use them.
Vladimir Putin, and Vladimir the Great attack on the PechenegsRussia Beyond (Photo: Kay Nietfeld/dpa/Global Look Press; Public domain)
As it was Prince Vladimir the Great, who turned Old Russia into Christianity, his name remained in the tradition and became a church name. For many centuries, Vladimir was the name only given to dukes and princes, but then, it spread across the whole nation. In the 20th century, Vladimir became one of the most popular names to call kids.
Russia's first president, Boris Yeltsin, and St. BorisRussia Beyond (Photo: Gamma-Rapho/Getty Images; Public domain)
The origin of this male name is not hundred percent clear. Some researchers attribute its appearance in Russia to the 9th century ruler Boris, who baptized Bulgaria. Others think the name could have origins in Mongolia or to be a shorter version of the Proto-Slavic Borislav. However, Boris was the name of one of the first original Russian saints, Prince Boris, the son of Vladimir, who baptized Russia.
St. Gleb and Gleb Zheglov, a character from the cult Soviet series 'The Meeting Place Cannot Be Changed', played by Vladimir VysotskyRussia Beyond (Photo: Stanislav Govorukhin/Odessa Film Studio, 1979; Nastasic/Getty Images)
The male name was derived from Scandinavian Guðleifr (“heir of god”). But, since Prince Gleb was baptized together with his brother Boris among the very first Russian saints, the name entered the Russian church tradition.
Bolshevik and Stalin's fellow, Vyacheslav Molotov, who was Minister of Foreign Affairs during World War II, and Prince Svyatoslav of RussiaRussia Beyond (Photo: TASS; Public domain)
This name is a trick, because it can refer to 10 different names! Yaroslav, Svyatoslav, Rostislav, Vyacheslav, Mstislav, Stanislav are among the many names that contain the noun root ‘SLAVA’ (‘glory’, ‘praise’ or ‘fame’). And Slava is the short form for all of them. Svyato-slav is translated as ‘praise to saint’, Yaro-slav means ‘bright fame’, Vyache-slav means ‘big fame’ and so on. Such names were incredibly widespread among medieval Russian princes, but also are quite popular today. This name can be also used by women, just adding the letter ‘A’ in the end: Yaroslava, Vyacheslava, Miroslava, etc.
Saint George, the patron of Moscow and its founder Prince Yury Dolgoruky; Yury Gagarin, the first man in spaceRussia Beyond (Photo: Hulton Archive/Getty Images; Public domain)
Surprisingly, this male Russian name is relative to Georgy, which, just like English George, originates from the Greek name Georgios. Oscar-winning Soviet movie ‘Moscow Doesn’t Believe Tears’ (1980) has a funny episode involving this name. A character says: “Georgy, who is Goga, who is Gosha, who is Yury, who is Gora, who is Zhora…” Slavs adapted the name Georgy (which also exists in the Russian language) to Yury, because they simply couldn’t pronounce the ‘G’ properly in the beginning. As time passed, this name got new versions and one of them is Yegor.
Grand Prince Vsevolod the Big Nest, theater director Vsevolod Meyerhold (center), and Russia Beyond editor-in-chief Vsevolod PulyaRussia Beyond (Photo: ullstein bild/Getty Images; Public domain)
This male name consists of two parts: ‘vse’ which means “all, everything” and ‘volod’, which is an archaic form of the verb ‘vladet’ (“to own”). There were many Old Russian princes to have this name and the most famous representative of it is the 11-12th century Grand Prince Vsevolod the Big Nest, who ruled the Vladimir-Suzdal Grand Duchy. In modern history, one of the keepers of the name is Russia Beyond editor-in-chief Vsevolod Pulya!
Princess Olga and Prince OlegRussia Beyond (Photo: State Literary Museum; Public domain)
This old Slavic name was once derived from Scandinavic Helga (for female Olga) and Helgi (for male Oleg). The first Oleg in Russian history was Oleg the Prophet, who ruled Old Russia as a regent with Igor, the son of Rurik’s son Igor. And the first Olga was the wife of this Igor that later became Saint Olga. She was the first Russian ruler to be baptized in Christianity and influenced her grandson Vladimir the Great in this sense.
Russian actress Svetlana Khodchenkova and Karl Bryullov's painting 'Fortuneteller Svetlana'Russia Beyond (Photo: Nizhny Novgorod State Art Museum; Victor Boyko/Getty Images)
Historians don’t agree on the origins of this female name and seeking for origins in Old Russian names didn’t bring any results. So, most likely, this name was made up in the early 19th century by a poet named Alexander Vostokov, after which it became widely recognized when poet Vasily Zhukovsky wrote his ballad called ‘Svetlana’ (1813). ‘Svet’ translates as light. In the 19th century, this name was frequently used for titling ships and companies, but, in the 20th century, this became a popular female name. Stalin’s daughter was called Svetlana, for example. And, in 1943, the Russian Orthodox Church allowed for the adoption of this name for baptizing.
Russian writer Lyudmila Ulitskaya and a fragment from the Soviet movie 'Ruslan and Lyudmila'Russia Beyond (Photo: AFP; Sputnik)
This female Russian name is also sometimes spelled as Ludmila. It consists of two parts: ‘Lyud’ (“people”) and ‘mila’ (“nice”), so this literally translates as “nice to people”. The name has Slavic origins (there was also the Czech saint, Ludmila of Bohemia, who is venerated by the Russian Orthodox Church, as well as the Roman Catholics). In Russian, this name first became famous after poet Vasily Zhukovsky used it again, this time in his ballad ‘Lyudmila’, which is a free translation of Gottfried August Bürger’s German poem ‘Lenore’. Another famous literary work is Alexander Pushkin’s poem ‘Ruslan and Ludmila’. This name became incredibly popular in the 20th century across the Soviet Union and can be shortened as both Lyuda and Mila.
Saint Faith, Hope and CharityRussia Beyond (Photo: Public domain)
These three female Russian names have the same origins - they are Russian translations of the names of early Christian martyred saints - Faith, Hope and Charity (in Russian translated as “love”). They are usually venerated with their mother Sophia (“Wisdom”), but Sophia entered the Russian language as is.
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