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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. 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!

  2. 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.

  3. 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.

  4. 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?

  5. yelena:

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

  6. 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.

  7. 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.

  8. 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.

  9. yelena:

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

  10. 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!!

  11. Finn Shackleton:


  12. Dasha:

    already got myself a Russian name :) lol Darya

  13. 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

  14. 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.

  15. 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.

  16. 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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