Category: Russian baby names
Many little girls proclaim that they want to be ballerinas when they grow up—most are drawn to the sequined tutus, the rhinestone tiaras, the shiny satin pointe shoes, and the chance to wear make-up. (Leaping and twirling to music are bonuses.) As a little girl, I was not immune to these charms, and I began studying ballet at the age of ten. Perhaps unlike most girls who take up dance, however, part of ballet’s appeal to me was that it fed my growing fascination with names. Read the program at just about any ballet performance, or pick up a book on dance history, and you will find an array of beautiful ballerina names of many different nationalities.
A hundred years ago, the Ballets Russes began presenting their first performances in Paris. Comprised predominantly of expatriate Russians, the fledgling company became wildly popular, and interest in dance soared. Touring companies such as the Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo were offshoots of the original Ballets Russes, and they brought ballet to small towns all across the United States. Additionally, Russian choreographer George Balanchine honed his talent with the Ballets Russes, and eventually immigrated to America, where he began what was to become the New York City Ballet. The glamour of these dancers who had traveled the world before showing up in places like Lincoln, Nebraska was matched by their exotic, “Russified” names. For instance, Lilian Alicia Marks, an English girl who danced with the original Ballets Russes, became Alicia Markova.
These days, most dancers keep their own names, but that hasn’t made reading the roster of a company’s performers any less exciting or exotic. The American Ballet Theatre in New York, for example, has dancers from the Ukraine, Italy, Cuba, Spain, Argentina, Brazil, Japan, Russia, Uruguay, South Korea, England, France, China, Byelorussia, Australia, Finland, Portugal, and (of course) the United States in their ranks.
The language of ballet is French, but really, dance itself is the language that is spoken within ballet companies. I myself have had more Russian and Chinese ballet teachers than American ones, and the fact that most of these teachers spoke little English was rarely a problem. The international flavor of dance was enormously attractive to me as a young girl. I grew up in Florida and my family never traveled anywhere. I longed to see more of the world, but I settled for hearing about Beijing and St. Petersburg from my beloved teachers.
Reading magazines and books on dance, and seeing performances of different companies on television, I began to despair that I’d ever become a famous ballerina with a name like Heather Brown. My favorite dancers had names like Altynai Asylmuratova, Alessandra Ferri, and Sylvie Guillem. It seemed that you couldn’t be a ballerina without also having a lovely, feminine, and somewhat unique name. That isn’t entirely true, of course, but reading about ballet could be a goldmine to expectant parents looking for underused girl names with a touch of the theatrical and glamorous .
Here are some intriguing names of dancers, past and present, along with the company with which they are most associated. Some of these are stage names, but surprisingly, most are not:
ALLA Sizova (Kirov Ballet)
AURÉLIE Dupont (Paris Opéra Ballet)
Last week we unearthed twenty long lost literary girls’ names–some of which have rarely been used outside of books, plays and poetry– and now we turn to the boys’ equivalents. The diverse sources of these creative baby names range from Shakespeare to Stoppard– and be aware that, as before, the characters who bear them are not necessarily paragons of virtue.
ARKADY. A Russian saint’s name from the Greek meaning “from Arcadia,” it belongs to a genteel character in Turgenev’s Fathers and Sons and a much less benign one in Dostoyevsky’s Crime and Punishment, and is also a key figure in Gorky Park by Martin Cruz Smith.
BALTHAZAR, the name of one of the three wise men, is scattered throughout literature, from Shakespeare ‘s plays to the rambunctious title character of J P Donleavy’s The Beastly Beatitudes of Balthazar B.
CLAUDIO. A Shakespearean favorite, appearing in both Much Ado About Nothing and Measure for Measure; it’s a Latin clan name meaning “lame”–one of those literal meanings that can be ignored in the modern world.
DUNCAN. Duncan Idaho is the brave hero of Frank Herbert‘s classic fantasy series Dune. It’s a Scottish name meaning “brown warrior” and a nameberry favorite, despite some people’s association with Dunkin’ Donuts.
If you’re a fan of cool nickname names, you’ll find Russian baby names a treasure trove of possibilities. Some of them have already entered the American mainstream–Sasha and Mischa (both unisex), Talia, Katya–but there are many more Russian baby names that are less familiar but equally appealing, as are some of the full names.
Russian nomenclature in general is quite unique, in that each person has three personal names: a Christian name, a middle patronymic taken from the father’s given name, and a surname that reflects gender, so that a son of Ivan would have the last name Ivanovich, while a daughter would use Ivanovna. At birth, a child is given a formal name known as a “passport name,” but usually is called through childhood by his or her pet name. It is at the age of 16 that a person begins to be addressed by the formal first name and patronymic, so that, for example, Piotr‘s daughter Olenka would overnight become Olga Petrovna. The nickname often survives well into adulthood though–as in the case of Misha Baryshnikov, for example.
The list of Russian baby names below follows the name with its most common pet forms–many of which have an abundance of wintry charm.
ALEKSANDRA Sasha, Shura, Sashenka
ANASTASIA Nastya, Stasya
ANNA Annuska, Anouska, Anya Annika
DOMINIKA Domka, Mika
EKATARINA/KATERINA Katya, Katyenka, Katyuska
GALINA Galenka, Galinka, Galka, Gasha, Galya
LENORA Lena, Lenka, Leka
MARA Marinka, Marisha, Maruska, Marya, Masha
NATALYA Natasha, Natalka, Talia, TAsa, Tasha, Tashka
OLGA Olenka, Olya
PASHA/PAVLA A fitting name for an Easter baby
SONYA Sofia, Sofiya
STEFANIA Panya, Stesha
TATIANA Tania, Tanya, Tanka
THEODOSIA Feodora, Theda
VARVARA Varya, Varenka
VERA Verasha, Verinka, Verka
ZOYA Zoi, Zoyenka
ALEK/ALEKSANDR Sanya, Sasha, Shura
ALEXEI Alyosha, Lelja, Lelya, Lesha
ANATOLI Tolya, Tolenka, Tosha, Tulya
ANDREI Adja, Adya
ANTON/ANTIN Tosha, Tosya, Tusya
ARKADI Arik, Arkasha
BORIS Boba, Borya
DIMITRI/DMITRI Dima, Dimka, Mitya
GAVRIL Ganya, Gav, Gavya
GEORGI Egor, Gorya, Jhora, Jura, Yuri
IGOR Iga, Gorik, Gosha
MIKHAIL Mika, Misha
NIKOLAI Koka, Kolya, Nika, Nikita
PAVEL Pasha, Pashka, Pava
PETR/PYOTR/PIOTR Petya, Petru
STANISLAV Slava, Slavik, Stas, Stasi
VALENTIN Valja, Valya
VASILI Vasja, Vasya, Vaslik
VIKTOR Vika, Vitya
VLADIMIR Dimka, Vimka, Viva, Vladja, Volya, Vova
You don’t have to be an opera buff to appreciate the rich variety of names found in the classic repertoire. It’s an especially appealing category because it contains such an interesting mix of languages: there are frilly French female names, unusual Italian mens’ names, as well as some usable German and Russian character names. These range from leads such as Aida and Tristan, to featured players to those with minor roles.