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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?