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Most Popular Russian Names Posted by on Jul 26, 2011 in Culture, Russian for beginners, Russian life

It might seem «невероятно» [unbelievable], but all through elementary and middle school I was the only «Лена» [Lena] in my class of 35 students, half of whom were girls.

«Елена» [Yelena] was, until recently, one of the most common Russian names for girls. As for boys, back in the days «Александр» [Alexandr] was «настолько распространённое имя» [so common a name], that there was even a saying «У каждой женщины свой Александр».

When I was growing up «Елена» was at the top of the popularity list. Other popular names included «Ольга» [Olga], «Татьяна» [Tatiana], «Ирина» [Irina], «Наталья» [Natalia], «Анна» [Anna], and «Светлана» [Svetlana]. If you are an American and wondering why you’ve never ran into a «Светлана» before, the answer is simple. For some reason English-speakers find this name hard to pronounce, so women frequently shorten it to “Lana” after moving abroad.

Back in the days, if a boy wasn’t «Александр», he was most definitely either «Сергей» [Sergey], «Дмитрий» [Dmitry], «Владимир» [Vladimir], «Алексей» [Alexei] or «Михаил» [Mikhail]. We did have one boy named «Родион» [Rodion] and he got teased a whole lot for it – «Родион-аккордион» [Rodion, the accordion]. Notice that a name most commonly associated with Russians, «Иван» [Ivan], was not on the list.

Of course, first names change with the latest fashions and trends. Nowadays Russian parents choose names from a much wider selection, at least the girls. Names that we only encountered in classic literature and in history textbooks, such as «Анастасия» [Anastasia], «Дарья» [Daria], «Полина» [Polina], «Софья» [Sofia] and «София» [Sofia] are now heard on playgrounds.

Interestingly enough, such wonderful names as «Вера» [Vera, lit. Faith], «Надежда» [Nadezhda, lit. Hope], and «Любовь» [Lyubov’, lit. Love] remain seldom-used.

There’s, of course, «перегиб» [overkill]. All those once-rare names are becoming overly popular, even amongst «русская диаспора в США» [Russian Diaspora in the US]. On both sides of the Atlantic (and I suspect, the Pacific as well), there are quite a few little «Софьи» [Sofias] and «Александры» [Alexandras] digging in sandboxes and sliding down the slides.

Soon girls with formerly common names, such as «Елена», will get to hear the longed for «какое у Вас красивое имя, а главное – редкое» [what a beautiful name you have and, most importantly, a rare one.]

Most likely they will hear it from young men named «Александр».  Yes, Russian women will continue having their own «Александры» [Alexandrs] since it’s still one of the most popular boys’ names. «Дмитрий» and «Михаил» are popular as well. Surprise-surprise, just as the Cold War became a thing of the distant past and Americans largely stopped referring to Russians as “russki” or “ivans”, the name «Иван» rose to popularity in Russia.

Other popular Russian boys’ names include «Артём» [Artem], «Максим» [Maxim], «Даниил» [Daniil], «Егор» [Yegor], and «Никита» [Nikita]. Yes, in Russia «Никита» is not a girls’ name at all.

Do Russians give their children weird names or is it a thing of our Soviet past? Well, there are still parents who are unafraid of their kids really standing out of the crowd. There’ve been «ЗАГС» [vital records office] reports of girls named «Россия» [Russia] and «Радость» [Joy] and boys named «Урал» [Ural], «Тамерлан» [Tamerlane], and «Кит» [Kit, lit. whale].

Here two Russian sayings come to mind

«хоть горшком назови, только в печь не сажай» [call me a pot, just heat me not]

«назвался груздём, полезай в кузов» [if you call yourself a mushroom, then climb into a basket]

«А вас как зовут?» [And what is your name?] And if you were to name your children Russian names, which ones would you choose and why? Which ones would you avoid and why? Finally, what’s the strangest, most unusual Russian name you ever came across?

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  1. Bethany:

    I love to read about Russian names. A lot of my influences come from figure skaters and literature. My favorite female names are Elizaveta, Ekaterina, Marina, Nataliya, Kseniya, Elena, and Daria. As for boy names, Sergei, Aleksandr, Mikhail, and Nikita top my list. The oddest names I've heard about include Ninel (Lenin backwards), and derivatives of electricity and October Revolution names. Great blog post! Thank you!

    • yelena:

      @Bethany Hi Bethany, thanks for liking and commenting on the post. You mentioned Нинель and it reminded me of two other uncommon names that start with "Н" - Наина and Нарина (both are girls' names).

  2. Rashida:

    I love russian names!! my personal favourite's are Albina, Alyona, Alexandra, Emilia and Viktoria(female). Valentin, Vladimir, Sergey, Nikita, and Pavel. I have never heard Parvina for girls or Aziz for boys, but I met a girl name Parvina and a boy name Aziz and i like there names. The most unusual name i've heard is Zak-har. I would name my girl Emilia and my boy Nikita(I love those names)

    • yelena:

      @Rashida Rashida, before moving to the States I had no idea that there was such name as Альбина! And then I met several Russian women with that name. So it was definitely strange. Захар - it's an old name and is making somewhat of a comeback. Not my favorite though. Эмилия is a lovely name and so is its short form Мила (although Мила can be a short form for some other names as well, including Людмила and Милена)

  3. Thomas:

    A fun part about my family history is that I am the fourth in my family to bear the name "Thomas." However, none of us Thomas' are juniors or whatever; we merely share the same given name. So I found it very amusing to look up Russian naming conventions, where I discovered two things: first, Russian seems to be the only language that does not render "Thomas" with a "T," and second, in Russian, I would be the third person to bear the exact same name, thanks to patronymics.

  4. Karen:

    I took Russian in high school. I choose Екатерина as my name. My Math teacher found out, and called me that in math class!

    • yelena:

      @Karen Hi Екатерина! My friend's daughter is also Катя and I love how the diminutive form Катюша sounds. I've met a few Russian girls named Карина over the years, but Екатерина definitely sounds a lot more Russian.

  5. Sulamita:

    My name (Sulamita) is a very unusual Russian name. I was born in the US after my parents immigrated here. I have met 3 other girls with the same name and there is even a church on the West Coast with that name.

    • yelena:

      @Sulamita Sulamita, that is probably the most unusual name I've heard of. Congratulations! It is interesting how these things happen. I'd never met anyone in Russia named Элеонора (Eleonora) and in the US I met several Russian girls with that name (including my best friend). Same is with Альбина.

  6. PaulS:

    Thanks for this Yelena. I now have a few Russian friends including a Svetlana, Alexandr and Olesya :) Alexandr uses Sasha as well, is this a shortened version? I'm Paul and my parents gave me my grandfather's name as my middle name which is Konrad....he was Polish. I like the name Vera. At first I found it odd as it was only older people (70s+) that I'd heard having the name Vera but now I find it quite a nice name :)

    • yelena:

      @PaulS Paul is one of my favorite names (I have a cousin Павел). Yes, it is interesting how fashions change over time, including name trends. It is entirely possible, I think, to guess (at least within 5-10 years) a person's age based just on their name (except with Александр, lol). Speaking of Александр... Its shortened version is indeed Саша, but you might also hear Шурик. If it's a girl's name, Александра, the short version would be Саша and/or Шура.

  7. Maija:

    Great writing! I am a big fan of Russian names. I have a dog from russia, her name is Olga. The breeder named her "Ryzhyk" after the reddish colour she is. I asked the breeder the call her Olga, so she'd get used to her new name. Well, after a month I went to visit the puppy again and it was so funny when the breeder yelled "OLJA" and so the puppy camed... I should have thought this a little bit more carefully- of course Olga is transformed into Olja ;) My Daughter has two names as it is customed in Finland. Her second name is Irina <3

    • yelena:

      @Maija Maija, I'm glad you liked the post. What breed is your dog? I'm going to write a post about typical (and not so typical) Russian names for pets. I used to have a German shepherd named Граф (Graf, lit. Count). And my aunt had a shepherd named Нэнси after Nancy Reagan.

  8. Marco:

    Hi Yelena, I'm german and my daughter's name is Xenia :-) well my wife is from Belarus (born in Wladiwostok) her name is Yana (Yanina).

    • yelena:

      @Marco Marco, I love both Ксения and Яна. My second cousin's name is Яна :) Growing up I thought that Ксения and Оксана were just about the most romantic names ever!

  9. Parsuzi:

    My Russian-born daughter is Anzhelika. I think it may have French origins and may not be a Russian name at all?

    • yelena:

      @Parsuzi Parsuzi, Анжелика is a beautiful name, although not Russian. I think it became popular because of a series of romance/adventure novels. The first novel in the series was called Angélique, the Marquise of the Angels. I was too young to be allowed to read this book, but I know older girls in my school were absolutely crazy over it.

  10. Mary:

    Sorry, please tell me the meaning of «У каждой женщины свой Александр». Recently my future mother-in-law adopted a Russian Blue cat and asked me for names. I thought of Marina, Galina, and Nadezhda. I also liked the idea of calling her Polyushka ( after the song Polyushka Pole) or Krasivaya, the word for beautiful, even though it isn't really a name. MIL decided on Katyushka.

    • yelena:

      @Mary Mary, the name "Александр" is so common in Russia, that practically every woman is either related to one or is in a relationship with one at some point in her life :)

  11. Elisabetta:

    Спасибо Елена, очень интересно!Моё имя существует более и менее везде: здесь в Италии Элизабетта, в Англии и в Америке Элизабет, в Венгрии Зржебет и в России Элизавета или Лизавета. Моего брата также зовут Александр (у каждой енщины свой Александр), а здесь в Италии его зовут Алессандро. Наверное Элизабетта не настолько распространённое, Александр более. Самые популярные итальянские женские имена - Сара, Лаура и самые популярные итальянские мужские имена - Лука, Андреа, Паоло ...

    • yelena:

      @Elisabetta Elisabetta, I love your name. It's becoming more popular in Russia - Елизавета. I love the short form of it - Лиза and the diminutive Лизонька. Sounds very gentle and peaceful.

  12. David James:

    I am an American from Maine named David - a name that seems to almost unused among Russians. I did know an elderly Отец давид in Quebec in my youth, but he was a monk. Another unusual Russian name was that of my friend, Георгий Илиодорович, and his father, Илиодор Георгиевич. Some other names of Russians I have known, not mentioned in your blog entry, include (hope I spelled them right): Women's names Евлялья Варвара Виктория Ксения Евфросинья Клавдия Марфа Юльяна Men's names Андрей Николай Евгеный Маврикий Роман Пётр Константин Григорий Семён Фёдор Юрий

    • yelena:

      @David James David, I strongly considered naming my son David, but went with Mark instead. Марк is not a common name in Russia, but I really like it and it's my paternal grandfather's name. Actually, come to think of it, most everyone in my family has names that are not very common - Марк, Юрий, Аркадий, Рита (not Маргарита), Зинаида, Кира, Тамара. Weird that they couldn't get more creative with my name, lol.

  13. Minority:

    Yelena, I love the names you mentioned in your post. I can add some.:) Female: Вероника (Veronika), Лилия (Lilian/Lily), Анжелика/Анжела (Anzhelica/Angel), Марина (Marina), Алина (Alina), Анна (Anna), Инна (Inna), Маргарита (Margarita), Юлия (Julia) Male: Олег (Oleg), Ярослав (Yaroslav), Вячеслав (Vyacheslav), Станислав (Stanislav), Константин (Konstantin), Антон (Anton), Андрей (Andrey), Павел (Pavel), Леонид (Leonid), Кирилл (Kirill), Влад (Vlad), Роман (Roman), Денис( Denis) And some names I don't like: Female: Alexandra, Evgeniya - I used to think that "Sasha" and "Zhenya" are boys. Зинаида (Zinaida), Мария (Maria), and some too old-style as Авдотья, Агафья, Прасковья... Male: Федор (Fyodor), Яков (Yakov), Илья (Ilya) I guess most of these names I don't like because of its short forms. I prefer names with lots of forms. :)

    • yelena:

      @Minority Lol, Minority, that's exactly how I feel. Sometimes the name itself isn't bad, but its short forms are. My least favorite name is Георгий only because of its short form Гоша. In case any Георгии are reading - please don't get offended. Remember, "не имя красит человека, а человек имя" [it's not the name that makes a man, but a man that makes a name].

  14. Simon Bradley:

    We almost called our daughter Даша (Dasha) -- but ended up going for Holly. :)

    • yelena:

      @Simon Bradley Simon, Holly seems to be a popular name in the US :) My childhood best friend's name is Даша, so I'm biased :)

  15. David:

    Fascinating! i didn't see Аким or Борис listed - have they gone out of fashion? I once read that some of the most "typically Russian" names came from Scandinavian with Rurik. So Ольга comes from Helga. I had a year of evening classes from a teacher called Светлана, follwed by a year being taught by her daughter (English born) called Маша ("proper" name Miriam). Alexander is a very common name in Scotland, and is often abbreviated to Sandy. Лена, any chance of you doing a post on animal names? What would a Russian farmer have called his carthorse (Dobbin is the "stereotype" UK name), what do Russians stereotypically call their dogs, cats, parrots...?

    • yelena:

      @David David, this is a fantastic idea and I will definitely write a post on pets names. I'll try to post it on Thur or Fri this week.

  16. Minority:

    Елена, а у меня было две учительницы: Альбина и Элеонора. И насчет коротких форм имени. У меня не только нелюбовь к таким коротким именам как "Гоша". Если имя нельзя сократить не уменьшительно-ласкательно, это для меня минус. Ну, к примеру, Илью все друзья называют Ильей, ну в крайнем случае Илюхой. Некоторые используют форму "Иля", но по мне она как-то не звучит. То же самое с Алёнами и Алинами. То ли дело, к примеру "Наталья" - официально, или для незнакомых, и "Наташа" - для знакомых/друзей. А для совсем хороших друзей уже произвольные сокращения а-ля "Нати", "Натусик", "Таша" и т.д.) btw, I remembered one more male name - Григорий / Гриша

  17. Hope:

    Last year I met a young Russian man named Рустам (Rustam), which I had never heard before.

  18. Olga:

    Томас - это Фома. Значит, Фома Фомич :)

  19. Jen:

    David James, my friends (Ксюша/Ксения и Саша/Александр) just named their son Давид. In general, where's Руслан?! Sure he's a fairy tale, but I know a real Руслан too--He's such a great guy. Also, Ренат, which I believe is one of those Soviet acronym names.

    • yelena:

      @Jen Jen, I personally think Ruslan is a very nice name, but unfortunately it's not in the top 10 most popular Russian names. As for Ренат, this is what Wiki got to say

  20. src:

    Wow, I always thought Вася (Василий) was as common a male Russian name as Joe (Joseph), to the point where you could refer to a random guy as "Вася" (like "an ordinary Joe" in English)...

  21. src:

    Wow, I always thought Вася (Василий) was as common a male Russian name as Joe (Joseph), to the point where you could refer to a random guy as "Вася" (like "an ordinary Joe" in English), but I don't see any reference to it...

    • yelena:

      @src Hi Silvio, I'm with you on this. When I researched stats for this post, I had quite names that I thought were going to be high on the list. But they weren't! Vasily was one of them. Another one was Mikhail. I thought it was going to be like 2nd or 3rd most popular name. Growing up, we had lots of Mikhails at school, but not a single Vasily. It might've been more popular back in the days though since quite a few of the older men of my dad's generation (1940s) were named Vasily.

  22. Ola:

    Hello Yelena I was wondering about the name 'Lev' - I like it very much, but is it considered to be old-fashioned nowadays? By the way, Ural is not a weird name at all - it's an old Tatar/Bashkir name.

    • yelena:

      @Ola Lev is not so much old-fashioned as a bit high-brow :) It's definitely not a very common name at all, but it does sound very good - solid, important, elevated.

  23. Ola:

    By the way, is the name Alexandra not popular in Russia today? My mother named me 'Alexandra' because she loved the song from the film 'Moscow does not believe in tears' :)

    • yelena:

      @Ola Ola, Alexandra is a popular name. Seems like a lot of women I know who have 3-6 year old girls named them Alexandras. And the ones that aren't Alexandras are Sofias :)

  24. Nadia:

    Ola, my parents were about to name my new sister Alexandra also for that movie. It was down to me and a choice between Alexandra and Sabrina (from the movie by that name, too!) so I went with Sabrina. I like the shortened "Sasha" better than the North American "Alex" but we live in Canada now...

  25. Sarov:

    A helpful additional article would be on the diminutive form of names plus which names are for both sexes - Zhenya, Sasha. It seemed odd to me to read that Nadezha and Vera are not so common, as I found they are very common. But it is true that Lyubov is seldom to come across. Another interesting article is on the popularity of names according to Russian regions. In Rostov-na-Donu, Marina seems to be the most popular girls name, in Ukraine it is Natalya. In Bashkortostan & Tatarstan we often come across the name Guzel. Despite the many first names in this article and the comments. I find that Russia generally has less diversity of first names than family names.

  26. David Roberts:

    Interesting about Guzel. In Turkish, with two dots over the letter u, it means beautiful, so that's probably why it's so popular

  27. Bobbi Hopfensperger:

    Our daughter is Russian and her name is Юлия, so we named her Juliya. I am curious though why the father's name becomes a child's middle name with changes to it? Love your blog, I am learning so much about her culture and heritage.

    • yelena:

      @Bobbi Hopfensperger Hi Bobby, Juliya is a beautiful name (my best friend in Russia is Juliya). The patronymics were used to convey one's ancestry or lineage, who one's father was (and that a person had a father). Interestingly, back in the days, children born out of wedlock would be given the name of their maternal grandfather as a patronymic.

  28. Александр:

    I am curious though why the father’s name becomes a child’s middle name with changes to it? (because the main man in the family (in Russia)) I from Russia Russia is a very fun live, everything is possible, all

  29. Александр:

    Why not come to Russia Lady Gaga? I did from 2008 forward (почему в Россию не приезжает Леди ГаГа?я её с 2008 года жду) (translate by Google)

  30. Cheryl Bogdanow:

    What do Russians name their horses? Is there is a fitting name for a dark red horse...most important, I'm looking for any pretty-sounding horse name. She's very spirited...sweet sometimes & sour other times!

    • yelena:

      @Cheryl Bogdanow Cheryl, I honestly don't know about the horses. Typically a horse gets a name that starts with the same letter as her mother's name. That's all I know. I'll try to find out this weekend.

  31. Minority:

    Cheryl, if the horse is dark red, I'd think about: * Искорка (Spark) * Комета (Comet) * Фурия [fury] * Рыжик [ginger] I guess the first one sounds more pleasant.

    • yelena:

      @Minority I really like Minority's suggestions, especially Искорка. I think for a spirited horse this would work especially well.

  32. David Roberts:

    Cheryl's question about horse names reminds me of something that's been bugging me for years. Many years ago reading a short story in a textbook, the peasant says to his horse (pulling a cart or carrying a load, something like "Ой, .......* пошли" The ...... word is the horse's name, and the footnote says *typical name for a work horse, equivalent to Dobbin in English. This was where I first learned пошли = let's go. But I can't for the life of me remember the horse name. It wasn't one of the ones on Minority's list. Any suggestions?

  33. David:

    In response about the name David, a few Russian friends of mine had once told me the name as a given name is uncommon in Russia, but it is used. Also, the more 'Russian' pronunciation is Давыд (Davyd), derived from the common Russian surname Давыдов(Davydov). On a different note, they called be ''Korolev''because my last name is King -- Korolev is King translated in Russian.

    • yelena:

      @David David, I'd suggest a softer Давид since ы sound in a name is not as common in Russian as it is in Ukrainian. I'd also say that Давыдов (as in the Денис Давыдов, the hero of the War of 1812) is a derivation from Давид. And yes, your last name is simply destined to become Королёв in Russia.

  34. Linda Levin:

    It made me glad to see the cover of the chocalate. Back in 1987 when I visited Russia, I bought that chocalate, but I never ate it. I have kept it as a souvenir in my cupboard since 1987. It is still there.

    • yelena:

      @Linda Levin Wow, Linda, I wish I had as strong a will to resist eating chocolate as you do!

  35. andrei:

    When i saw this blogs pic i was eating the exact choclate bar and i am in canada =) my friend from russia got me russian choclates soo good this blog though very cool about russian names i love them!!

  36. Finn Shackleton:


  37. Dasha:

    already got myself a Russian name :) lol Darya

  38. lexie:

    I am from Russia and when I was there my name was Nastya Egorova, Nastya being the shorthand for Anastasia. Egorova was my last name, but I was often nicknamed Repunsalina. so I had many names :) I am now Alexis Anastasia Anderson

  39. Mikhailovna:

    My first name is American and a little embarrassing... as a kid, I used to get teased that I was an American spy. Had I grown up ten years earlier, that could have been a dangerous joke. I'm from Moscow, but my father is half-American and half-Finnish. Even though I'm a girl, I'm named after my American grandfather. Mostly people just call me by my otchestvo because my dad is Mikko, and in Russian it translates to Mikhail. -_-; I wish my mama and papa had given me a better name. The names I like the best are Nikolai (if I have a son I will name him this so I can call him Kolya,) and Darya (Dasha) for a daughter. As for weird names, when I was a child there was a boy called Golya in my class. Not Tolya. Not Kolya. Golya (Голя.) He was definitely Russian, no foreign parents, and I don't think that was a nickname. Oh, and my best friend is a girl named Nikola. She's also fully Russian, but her father is Nikolai Nikolayevich IV. She told me that she was his third daughter, he thought he would never have a son to name Nikolai, so he made something up to keep the tradition alive. ^^ Knowing him, I think it's true.

  40. Gerardo:

    Its strange the love that russians have for the name Ivan, in Russia There are not so good references for Ivans, one of the zars did horrible things and crimes and rapings against people, I know that not all the Ivans are bad, but the thing that I dont know is why the love for that name in Russia a country which was horrible seriously punished by a human with the name of Ivan is as unbelievable as in Israel the people start calling streets, children Adolf, and start converting Adolf in a second name, and a city Adolf or Hitler, of course that like all names there are good and bad guys with that names but I dont see any reason that explains the love of russians for that name, I could expect that in other country but not in Russia.

  41. Gerardo:

    Who in his healthy head could love the name of the man who killed his own people and rape his women in my opinion I dont need 10 more men with that name to hate the name with only one i will have enough

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