Old Russian Names

In Russia, old Russian names are now becoming popular again. This is both a trend and also an interest by enthusiasts in traditional Russian culture.

Old Russian Names

Before the Christianization of Russia, Russians only had pagan names.

Pagan names for a very long time –for more than 600 years –were used in everyday lifealong with Christina names.

Old Russian names were often two-part. The second part of the name could be the same:

“-volod” – which means “owning”

“-mir” – which means “big”,

“-slav” – which means “glorious”.

For example, the name Vsevolod means “owning all.”

The old Russian name of Yaroslav means “Glorious and strong.”

The name Vladislav means “holding nicely.”

Old Russian names also reflect that a person belongs to one or another layer of Russian society. For example, it is difficult to imagine that the name Vsevolod is used outside a prince’s court.

Varangian Names

When Varangian troops came to Russia, some Varangian names also gained some ground. Interestingly, some names have been preserved to the present day, because they were included in the list of the church names.

For example, the name Oleg means “holy,” and the name Igor means “young.”


Among ordinary people and among Russian nobility nicknameswere common. Some of them were very well-aimed and sometimes extremely childish characteristics of the person, some others – respectful.

Sometimes nicknames, especially inside families, were replaced by names. And sometimes they got stuck to a person for life.

For example, “pervusha” – that is, the first-born, “nezdan” – that is an unexpected, a sudden child, “kosoi” –this is how a person with a visual impairment was cold, “zayats” – a nickname either in honor of cowardice (trembling like a hare) or fast running (runs like a hare), “bolshoi” –this had to do with the size of the person.

Names in the Soviet Period

After the October Revolution of 1917 people felt the freedom from the church. At this time surprising names began to appear. Here are some examples.

Svoboda – a woman’s name, derived from the word freedom.

Stalina – a woman’s name, derived from the name of the Soviet leader Stalin.

Oktyabrina – a woman’s name derived from the month of October, when the October revolution took place.

“Vladlen” – a man’s name, derived from the first letters of the name and the alias of the Bolshevik leader Vladimir Lenin.

KIM – this is not a Korean name, as one might think, although several hundred thousand Koreans really fled after the revolution to Russia in search of a better life. KIM is comprised of the first letters of movement Communist Youth International (in Russian).

Spartak – a man’s name in honor of Spartacus – the leader of those who stood for freedom of Rome gladiators.

Marat – a man’s name in honor of the active figure of the French Revolution, Marat (“Friend of the People”).


To discover Russia with Alexey Gureev

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This article contains some materials from of the Big Lingua-Cultural Dictionary (2007).

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