Category: Russian names

It’s not really so surprising that the names of dances would be strikingly rhythmic and melodic, but when I started to look into it, I was somewhat taken aback by the sheer number and variety—and by how many of them could conceivably be seen as baby names.

The following list cuts across time and space, from Italian Renaissance peasant dances and  stately minuets to complex international folk dances to Fred Astaire & Ginger Rogers to 1960s line dancing to 1980s Brazilian zouk.

ABHIA—a ceremonial dance done by southern Sudan tribal women around a mango tree

ABRAXAS—a serpentine ritual dance of the Greek Gnostics to the deity of that name

ALEMANDER—folk dance performed in Germany and Switzerland

APARINA—a Tahitian dance for 60 men and women sitting in four rows

BARYNYA—a lively Russian folk dance; also the name of several Russian folk dancing ensembles

BEGUINE—a rhythmic native dance of Martinique, famous here via the Cole Porter song Begin the Beguine

BLAIZE—a dance around a fire done in early Britain to mark the two solstices

BOSTON—the original name of the American Waltz, introduced in that city in 1834

BRANSIE—an old French follow-the-leader dance

CALATA—an Italian town dance done in triple time

CARINOSA—Philippine dance of love

CARIOCA—a version of the samba choreographed by Fred Astaire for a duet with Ginger Rogers in Flying Down to Rio

CEROC—a simplified version of modern jive dance

CHACONNE—a slow, solemn dance of Spanish or Moorish origin; also a popular social dance in 17-18th century France

CHULA—a traditional dance from Portugal and southern Brazil; also means beautiful in Spanish

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ballerina names

One of the staples of the holiday season is The Nutcracker ballet, making this the perfect moment  for balletomane Heather Stevenson‘s guest blog on the enchanted world of exotic ballerina 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:

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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.

BEALE. Beale Farange is the heroine’s father in Henry JamesWhat Maisie Knew; it’s a surname that comes from the French meaning “handsome.”

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.

FLINT. A legendary pirate–and also a parrot–in Robert Louis Stevenson‘s Treasure Island. A strong, modern-sounding word name.

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Russian Baby Names

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
ALENA Alenka

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Baby Names: Hottest Trends for 2009

Which baby name trends do we see coming in for 2009 and which do we see heading out? Here, our predictions for the year ahead.


The hit TV show Mad Men, set in the early 60s, reintroduced names that were all the rage when the characters were born in the 1930s: Don , Betty, Joan, Peggy.  They’re plain names fit for hard times, and we predict the hardscrabble months ahead will inspire more babies with these names: Dorothy, Helen, Ruth, and Frances for girls; Thomas, Edward, Frank, Raymond, and even Harold for boys.  Plus the stylish new occupational names–Gardener, Ranger, Miller–are likely to gain in appeal for both boys and girls as actual jobs become more scarce.


Leon, middle name choice for Brangelina twin Knox, had become a joke in the U.S. but was on the rise in Europe, where all lion-related names–Leo, Leonora, Lionel–are tres chic.  Leon and Leonie are the number one names in Germany and for the first time in decades, have style potential here.


Jessica Alba’s infant Honor has ushered in a new appreciation for virtue names, on the rise through the name ranks–and hopefully also in spirit–with Faith, Hope, Patience, Mercy, Justice, True, and Pax.


Boys names that end in a vowel sound and girls’ names that end in a consonant.  Examples: Ezra, Eli, Milo, Noah, Hugo for boys, and for girls, Annabel instead of Annabella, for instance, or Eden instead of Emma.


Hawaiian and Russian, thanks to First Daughters Malia and Sasha, short for Natasha, Obama.


Names that are considered too trendy by stylish parents by virtue of their association with other, trendier names or with high-visibility celebrities.  Examples: Ada, fresh yet too close to the megapopular AvaPearl, too much like groovy RubyRoman, son of Cate Blanchett and Debra Messing.  And Matilda, toddler of Michelle Wiliams and Heath Ledger.


Names that end in –ella, from Isabella to Gabriella to Bella and even Ella herself.  The long trend for that extra-syllable a ending is about to end.


Names that rhyme with -aden: Braden, Caden, Jaden, Xaden, you’ve had your moment in the sun.


Names that carry powerful meaning, launched when people adopted the middle name Hussein in solidarity with Obama.  Less name than symbol, the new middle name may carry political meaning, convey ethnic background, stand in for a place, animal, character, or thing that has meaning for the parents.


I, with the rise of such iNames as Isaiah, Iris, Isaac, and Isla.


V, vivifying names wherever it falls: Olive, Vivienne, Eva, Victor, Avery, Violet, Evan, Nevaeh.


Green Names, which include the recycling of grandma and grandpa names like Mabel and Max, and also nature names drawn from the water (Bay, Lake), trees (Birch, Oak), and flowers (Violet, Poppy).


The hot British baby-naming trend of using nicknames from Millie to Alfie to Dixie and Dot is coming our way, as a light-hearted antidote to tough times.


Arianna Huffington, whose Huffington Post was the media star of the 2008 election, is an attractive and influential person but hardly the kind of tabloid hottie who usually inspires thousands of baby namesakes.  But joining Ashton and Angelina, the name Arianna has ascended with Huffington’s renown, reaching number 70 in the last year counted and certain to zoom much higher.


Scary, violent names like Talon, Cannon, Gunner.

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