BALLERINA NAMES: Names for the Nutcracker Season
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)
FELIA Doubrovska (Ballets Russes)
FEYA Balabina (Kirov Ballet)
GELSEY Kirkland (American Ballet Theatre)
IOHNA Loots (Royal Ballet)
KAIE (KIGH-ee) Körb (Estonian National Ballet)
KALERIA Fedicheva (Kirov Ballet)
LARISSA Lezhnina (Kirov Ballet)
LIS Jeppesen (Royal Danish Ballet)
MARIANELA Nuñez (Royal Ballet)
NADEZHDA (NAH-dee-ehsa-dah) Pavlova (Bolshoi Ballet)
NOËLLA Pontois (Paris Opéra Ballet)
PALOMA Herrera (American Ballet Theatre)
RAISA Struchkova (Bolshoi Ballet)
SOFIANE Sylve (Dutch National Ballet)
SORELLA Englund (Royal Danish Ballet)
SVETLANA Zakharova (Bolshoi Ballet)
TATIANA Terekhova (Kirov Ballet)
ZHANNA Ayupova (Kirov Ballet)
HEATHER STEVENSON performed and taught classical ballet for many years before returning to school to earn her MFA degree in Dance at NYU’s Tisch School of the Arts. As a new mom, she’s recently been thinking about names even more often than usual.
EXTRA ADDED ATTRACTION:
Our beloved and indefatigable anagrammer, Nephele, is offering to create your own special ‘sweet treat’ Nutcracker name, based on the ‘Land of Sweets’ movement of the ballet if you go to our Name Talk forums:
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on December 16th, 2009 at 8:45 am
What an inspiringly beautiful list of dancers’ names, Heather! I remember falling in love with the name “Gelsey” the first time I saw her dance.
on December 16th, 2009 at 10:16 am
I’d say the names are largely due to the dancers being from a number of countries. American ballet stars tend to have the names that are popular in this country. The owner of a local ballet studio used to be in a Moscow ballet company before he emigrated to the U.S. and now he trains kids who have gone on to do pretty well with regional and national ballet companies. The most interesting name of a local ballerina was Cameo. She had a last name that worked well with it and it’s a great stage name. The ballet theater’s owner has the first name Rinat, which I’m guessing is a Russian male form of Renee.
on December 16th, 2009 at 3:24 pm
What a wonderful post full of beautiful names! Thank you! 🙂
on December 16th, 2009 at 6:32 pm
These names are so beautiful. I especially love Allegra (personal favourite anyway), Anneli, and the “Violet” names.
on December 16th, 2009 at 10:18 pm
I loved this blog so much! Thanks, Heather! I love so many of these names, but my favorites are:
on December 16th, 2009 at 10:44 pm
I’m a dancer, too! I LOVE these names:
on December 17th, 2009 at 1:20 pm
Wow, I LOVE Alla! Not heard that before!
on December 17th, 2009 at 6:51 pm
I am inspired to write and say I loved this post. Have always loved the name Margot and associate it with ballet. I always wanted to go to ballet lessons but my mum thought it was flighty and sent me to learn piano instead. A Deprived Childhood.
on December 19th, 2009 at 4:20 pm
So cool you went mostly Russian with this! My kids attend a school founded by one of Russia’s only degreed choreographers who is also a graduate of the Vaganova Academy, Alyona (pronounced “al-OH-na”) Yakovleva. Dean of the school is Tatiana Pali, another Vaganova (Kirov) grad, voted Moscow’s Favorite Balerina in the 90’s. We, too, have had students do well in international competition. And we’re surrounded by the most interesting names! Other teachers are/have been a Sergey, a Roman, an Olgucan (pronounced “OHL-shan”, it’s Turkish) and a So-Nam. Kids get called all kinds of wild, Russian-ized diminutives: Daria is “Dascha”; Alec, Alexander and Alex are all Lexi; and almost all the girls get called “Bella”–confusing for the two girls that are actually named Bella!
A lot of people don’t realize that in the original Nutcracker as it was performed in St. Petersburg, the main characters were Mascha (turned into Clara later); her best friend Elise (missing in later versions) and her brother Franz (renamed Fritz). Our school is the teaching arm of a professional company, and the company always does the closest surviving choreography to the original, that of Vainonen.
Anyhow, many great names associated with ballet and the Nutcracker–I love this post!
on December 21st, 2009 at 3:12 am
Where is Clara on this list?! 🙂
gingerkid (Heather Stevenson) Said
on January 5th, 2010 at 12:29 pm
I really enjoyed writing this and compiling all these lovely names…glad you all enjoyed it, too!
Tracey: Alyona is beautiful! I had not heard that name. I, too, had a lot of teachers from the Kirov growing up, and we danced the original Vainonen choreography for several of the dances in The Nutcracker, as well. One of the many Russian teachers I had called me Heatherchka. I always liked that. 🙂
Jordan: Ha ha! When I was writing this, I thought about the fact that there are so many interesting character names in the stories of classical ballet. But I figured that was a whole other topic and I had enough names to share already!
Rosy: I’m with you on Aurelie. I shouldn’t admit this, but I think it’s at the top of my list (or Aurelia) if I have another girl at some point. I wanted Amelia for a long time, but I’m afraid it’s too popular now, and anyway, my husband is not a fan. Plus, Aurélie Dupont’s an incredible dancer!
on January 5th, 2010 at 12:35 pm
Heather–it would be great if you’d consider doing another blog on ballet character names sometime in the future!
on January 12th, 2011 at 1:01 pm
oh Heather!!! Bless your sweetest heart!!
i think it’s WONDERFUL that you’ve offered a look into, what for me, was a forgotten time!! i went to the Nutcracker ev year growing up. we would dress up & drive into Boston 🙂
i also took ballet for a few years.
i, too, was obSESSED with Gelsey Kirkland!!! she is still my faviefave<3
i luv the idea of the name "Aurélie", with the accent, the ending, making it all seem soooo French 🙂 these were the names that i really, truly Loved;
GHISLAINE (zhees-LAYN) Thesmar
MARTINE van Hamel
VALENTINA Kozlova **
hmmmmm, i see a Russian trend, for me anyway, w/a French twist 🙂
i can't express my grattitude to you for sharing Heather darling. just know, you brought a gurl BACK to "those days"….i LOVE the BALLET<3
PS~i agree with Linda!! yaya! plzz do another ballet special for us, we luv you<3 Jiinx
on August 5th, 2011 at 2:27 am
BALLERINA NAMES: Names for the Nutcracker Season – Baby Name Blog – Nameberry…
on February 22nd, 2017 at 12:47 am
I came here late, after looking up the name Lucette. 🙂 My favourites are:
on December 15th, 2017 at 12:30 am
Oh I adore this list!!!
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