Russian Boy Names

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Expecting our first this summer, a boy, and vacillating between a few different names. My husband is Russian and we lived there for several years and would like to avoid giving the baby a name that does not work in Russian at all—as my name, unfortunately, does not (“J” is transliterated “Dzh” into Russian and does not sound at all elegant at the start of a name!). At the same time, we plan to spend the foreseeable future in the States and my husband is particularly sensitive to the possibility of bestowing a name that is so Russian that it might make a future potential employer think twice to wonder whether our son is fluent in English/American culture. (My husband was so intent upon assimilation that he Anglicized his own first name.)

We’re also worried that many of the most common male nicknames (Mischa, Dima, Sasha, etc.) might read as feminine in English, so something that has a good English nickname is a must.

Add to this the fact that Russian naming patterns more closely resemble those in the States sixty years ago—that is, the top ten names probably account for 85% of babies born. All this to say, I have met dozens of people with the names: Andrei, Sergei, Dmitri, Aleksei and Vladimir…and inevitably have a negative association or two with the most popular names.

Our last name begins with an M and we’d like to do Michael as a mn (a family name on my side).

What do you think of:

Lev Michael M_____

Pavel Michael M____ (love the idea of calling a little boy Pavlik, but not sure that we’d want to use the grown up nn of Pasha in American schools)

Alexander Michael M___ (a family name on his side, has easy nn Alex or maybe Alek and the option for his grandparents to call him Sasha)

Nikolai Michael M___ (I think Niko would be an adorable nn in English, but is it my imagination or is that incredibly trendy right now? His grandparents could call him Kolya.)

 

Thanks in advance for sharing your impressions!

Replies

1
April 19, 2012 2:58 PM

And apologies for the first part of that post....dear God, how do I edit???

2
By hyz
April 19, 2012 3:15 PM

Of those, I love Nikolai nn Niko OR Kolya!  I also really like Pavel, and I'm not sure he would need a grown up nn for it (Pavel works well on its own, I think), but I'm not sure I love the rhythm/sound of Pavel Michael.  Lev is nice, but it doesn't excite me as much (the only Levs I've known were baby boomer aged Jewish men--not sure if that's typical or not, but it reads to me a bit like Saul or Ira to me, although undoubtedly a bit fresher if only because it's less familiar here).  Alexander is nice, classic, can't go wrong, but seems much more ordinary than Nikolai or Pavel, which I prefer.

Could I interest you in Casimir?  I think Kazimir might be the more Russian transliteration, but Casimir gives you the nn Cass, which I think is pretty sweet, and generally looks less daunting, I think. 

Is Vitaly very common, too?  I think it is very usable in English--interesting and attractive without being too unfamiliar.

3
April 19, 2012 6:08 PM

Ooh, I like Casimir. I've only known one and he was lovely. Thanks!

4
April 19, 2012 3:50 PM

I love both Alexander and Nikolai--I think they will wear well both here and in Russia. Nikolai will be less popular in the US, but I love them both. :-)

5
By Guest (not verified)
April 19, 2012 4:04 PM

I share a previous poster's impression that Lev reads "Jewish", and that Pavel Michael is a somewhat unfortunate concatenation of sounds. (It needn't be a deal-breaker, as first and middle are actually very seldom used together, but it's something to keep in mind.) Have you considered "translating" the name fully: use Paul in English, and Pavel among the Russian relatives? Or is it important to you that the name should "look a little Russian"?

Alexander is a top-10 baby name nowadays in the U.S., so a child with this name is likely to share it with at least one classmate. Do you care?

Nikolai seems a pretty good compromise between "Slavic-ness" and English comprehensibility. You could alternately go with the fully English version Nicholas, and use Nikolai among the relatives, but either one works pretty well in today's American naming culture. Nikolai is more "trendy" than Nicholas right now, in the sense that the one is climbing the charts, while the other is decreasing in popularity, but there are still more babies being named Nicholas than Nikolai, and fewer of either than of Alexander.

6
April 19, 2012 6:06 PM

Hadn't considered the Pavel Michael rhythm issue, thanks for pointing that out. 

In terms of a name that "looks a little Russian", I think that like a lot of people who grew up in the U.S. with culturally non-specific names, I find this sort of charming. My husband, however, has an attitude that I associate more with immigrants of several generations past (a kind of penchant for Ellis Islanding names) and might be more happy to name the child something like Paul and use Pavel at home. I kind of can't get over how bad some English names spelled out into Russian look and I suppose, in the way that he is sensitive to be perceived as an outsider here, I would often think about what it would have been like in the years that we lived there to not have a name that felt "foreign". But if it's only the occasional trip back, I suppose this is much less important. I just want our future child to have the ability to work in both places as my husband has and to feel as at home in both cultures as is possible in these situations.

And, yes, the popularity issue...Like a lot of people, for whatever weird culturally-ingrained reason, I care a lot less about this with a boy's name. Alexander seems like a name with such a long history that a recent spike doesn't bother me much. I am more worried about the nn Niko since it feels more "of the moment" to me.

7
April 19, 2012 4:45 PM

I also like Nikolai and Alexander. Additionally, I also associate Lev as being a Jewish name. Maybe because its been recently brought up here in the forums.

Casimir is a good suggestion. How about something like Ivan?

8
April 19, 2012 5:53 PM

Oh, forgot to mention that we are culturally Jewish (but not practicing), so the fact that Lev is also Hebrew is not a dealbreaker. I could see using Leo in school to make it feel a little more contemporary.

Ivan also has the issue of sounding sort of feminine in English (it's essentially pronounced Yvonne in Russian). And I'm personally not a big fan of the EYE-van pronounciation!

I also like Casimir!

9
April 19, 2012 7:05 PM

I am looking through a baby name book called The Melting Pot Book of Baby Names for boy names that work in Russia or the US but avoiding the names you already said you disliked:

Alexander, Anatoly, Anton, Boris, Denis, Eduard, Igor, Evgeny (Eugene?), Fabiyan, Fedor, Feliks (Felix), Filip (Phillip), Garald (Gerald), Grigori (Gregory), Ivan, Kostantin (nn Kostya), Leon, Leonid, Maxim, Martyn (Martin), Nicolai, Oleg, Pavel, Pyotr (Peter), Roman (emphasis on second syllable), Stephan (Stephen), Tomas (Thomas), Viktor (Victor), Yakov (Jacob), Ziven.

Love your Pavel Michael, Alexander Michael, and Nikolai Michael (and Niko is super cute and not too trendy). Also love Phillip Michael, Gregory Michael, Stephen Michael, and Victor Michael.

10
April 20, 2012 1:22 PM

This is great, thank you. Victor and Phillip feel like real possibilities to me. And I've always loved Konstantin (from The Seagull, though now that I think about it that's kind of weird! He's not exactly a happy character) and, for some reason, Kostya strikes me as one of the nn's ending in "a" that doesn't read as female in English. 

Also, my husband just mentioned last night that he was open to Maxim, which I love since that gets us the nn Max. (He had a boss from hell a few years ago with that name so I'd not even mentioned using it in an effort to not reopen the wounds!).

My question now is: Would a spelling of Maxim yield a MAX-im pronounciation? Just thinking most Americans are going to think first of the men's magazine. My husband, of course, prefers the X to the more literal transliteration of "Maksim", but I think the second spelling might help people guess to emphasize the second syllable.

11
April 20, 2012 1:36 PM

I am a huge fan of Maksim Chmerkovskiy on Dancing with the Stars.  He's the only reason I watch that silly show, and I would pay to watch him eat his lunch :-).  I guess my point is that every week his name is pronounced in stentorian tones for all of America to hear, and so I think that correct pronunciation would be at least somewhat known.  Maxim, I think, might be pronounced as the beginning of "maximum.'  If you use Maksim, you can still have the x in Max if you like, although, of course, you can also spell it Maks.

12
By TC
April 20, 2012 1:40 PM

I think the spelling "Maxim" probably will often yield the MAX-im pronunciation, but that is easily correctable.  And if he is going by Max most of the time, the issue might rarely come up anyway.  You could, I suppose, always use the French spelling of Maxime (although then there might be some occasional confusion with the girls' name Maxine).

13
April 19, 2012 7:24 PM

As August2012 knows, but perhaps others do not, there are two  Lev names: the Hebrew name 'heart' and the Russion name 'lion.'  My association with the Russian Lev is Tolstoy.  One of my former colleagues had a son Evgeny/Genya.  My son's childhood violin teacher, straight from Odessa, was Viktor.  Other Russian transliterated forms of names also familiar in English would include Artur, Danil, Edouard, Feliks, Feodor (Fedya), Filipp, Gavriil, Georgy, Grigori (Grisha), Isaak. Iosif, Yakov, (Yasha).  Names further afield from English equivalents might include Ilya, Arkady(i), Kirill, Lavrenti, Leonid, Lazar, Semyon (the above Genya's father), Vasily, Yuri.  As I look at these names, I am drawn to Leonid, definitely Russian, but at home with all the other lion names (Leo, Leon, Leonard, Leonardo).  Then there's Boris.  My son has an acquaintance whose legal name is B3arc@t, but who goes by Boris.

14
April 19, 2012 7:54 PM

There are some new suggestions that are great. I see a small concern though. Do you want the name to LOOK and SOUND Russian or just be usable between the languages? Something like Aleksander, Viktor, or Tomas does not look out of place among his peers even if it is a little used spelling. Something like Boris or Eugene would seem out of place among today's boys. At least around here (PA).

15
By Guest (not verified)
April 24, 2012 2:43 PM

Yes, see your point here exactly. I definitely want something that feels contemporary--unlike the Anglicized name my husband took on which slid off the charts seventy years ago! I love him very much, but his conservatism as regards names and interest in assimilation is sort of belied by this English name. I've never met a native-born American in his 30s who shares it.

I like the idea of having a hint of Russianness in the name, though am less concerned with this in the case of Alexander as it's such a meaningful family name. And, as others have pointed out, the last name would help locate it for people who were interested in reading for such things.  

16
By Guest (not verified)
April 19, 2012 10:18 PM

Alexander, Nikolai and Lev all sound fine to me and I think would.  My favorite is probably Nikolai and I don't think Niko is all that common, trending up in some regions perhaps-but I don't see it becomming top 10 or anything like that.  Pavel I think is the name that has the potential to cause the most confusion here in the states.

I knew an Ivan who was Russian and he never had a problem with people confusing it for Yvonne.  People would read it Eye-vin until corrected, but usually without problems after that.   

17
April 20, 2012 9:17 AM

I work with an Alexander who goes by Sasha. (He is Russian). I love it. It doesn't really fit my style, and I'm not Russian so I think it would be a little strange for me to use it, but for some reason I really like it a lot. So Alexander nn Sasha or Alex gets my vote.

18
April 20, 2012 10:12 AM

Nodding along with the crowd here ... I find Slavic names very handsome in general; it's too bad your husband wouldn't go for something like Fyodor, Vasily, Vladimir, Yaroslav or Yevgeny (though I understand his reasoning), but even the ones that are very accessible in English, like those on your list, have a certain flair. I think any of your options would work fine in the U.S. Alexander doesn't read Russian at all, so if you'd like to have at least a hint of his heritage in his first name (maybe not important), that's the one I'd strike first. Pavel will be the least familiar to others, and you may encounter occasional pronunciation issues (e.g. "PAY-vel"), if that matters. I really like the idea of Lev, as a way of honoring two aspects of your son's heritage, and Nikolai is also a solid choice that will travel well, plus the multiple nickname options sound appealing. I second (third?) the suggestions of Casimir and Victor as well.

As to Niko being trendy ... I suspect this really depends on one's circles. (This doesn't caught Niko used as a nickname, but for what it's worth, Nicholas is at #38 on the charts, Nikolas at #453, Nickolas at #463, Nico at #591, Nikolai at #733, Niko at #788. I got this information here: http://www.babynamewizard.com/the-top-1000-baby-names-of-2010-united-states-of-america - which also lists #of babies born and ranking movement from the previous year, if you want to check that out.) If anything I think the trend is for kids these days to go by their long full names rather than Nick-names (sorry!). It is true that names ending in -o are generally on the rise a bit, headed by Leo (#193) but making it possible for adventurous types to consider Aldo, Arlo and Otto (which are still all rare but trending up). Unless you really live in a pocket of this naming style though, I'd guess that your son would have his nickname to himself.

I'll throw out a few more names in case it sparks an idea in someone else, but I wouldn't say I prefer these to your original choices: Anton (like Alexander doesn't read particularly Russian), Caspar, Ilya, Konstantin, Mikhail (maybe even use your namesake for a first name?), Oleg ... and, I guess because of Boris and all the other -mir names, I can't get Boromir from Lord of the Rings out of my head, but that's not a serious suggestion!

19
By hyz
April 20, 2012 10:33 AM

I'll second Konstantin and Mikhail!  I agree that Pavel might cause some pronunciation confusion, but I still love it.  And I would be thrilled if someone used Casimir!  I've been crushing on it for years, but our slavic heritage is distant enough that I would feel funny using it.  As for Nikolai & co., FWIW, I actually don't know a single young Nicholas (of any spelling or variation) at the moment, although I know some who are my age, and the only person I ever met who went by Nico is a Greek guy in his 30s now.  But maybe there are big pockets of Nikos/Nicos out there that I'm missing.  Alexanders, however, abound, and I agree with Kalmia that it doesn't really read Russian at all given its ubiquity.  But with some context, like maybe the LN, I think it would regain some of its Russian feel. 

20
By Guest (not verified)
April 24, 2012 2:34 PM

Ha, I think my husband might take a shine to Boromir! His contributions to the naming conversation have included Vader (mn Darth) and Chucknorris (all one word). :)

I had also spent some time looking at Nico on the Name Voyager/Name Mapper tools and was concerned that it wasn't catching the use of it as a nn for Nicholas/Nicolas. But I am reassured by all the experts here who do not feel that it is a trend. This all stemmed from the fact that, last month, in the course of a week, I met two young Nico's under two. I was a little startled by this as I have very little contact with young children. Add this to that the fact that I had already started to suspect that my naming sensibilities may be easily swayed by trends. I remember thinking that if Russianness weren't a concern, I'd really love to use the name Luca; the next day, Hilary Duff announced that she'd named her son Luca. I just was thinking that maybe there was some zeitgeist thing at work here that I was not aware of.

As I said before, I don't mind having a son with a relatively popular name. I just don't want people to be able to pinpoint the exact year in which he was born based on his name. (Spoken as a J-name who grew up in the 1980s!). Thanks all for weighing in!

21
April 21, 2012 12:25 PM

I LOVE Nikolai, and am unaware of any popularity boom of young Nikos, but that may just be due to me not being around too many young parents (yet).  Unfortunately I will never get to use that name, as my sister gave it to her cat. :)

At any rate, Alexander is a nice, easy, elegant name that won't give your son any trouble as far as others knowing how to pronounce it.  I also wanted to mention the name "Ilya," which is a form of Elijah.  I know one Ilya and nobody seems to have trouble with his name at all.

As far as Pavel, it looks really cool but I wouldn't know how to say it: PAHvel?  PaVEL?  Doesn't mean it's not usable, of course, but it's something to think about.

22
By Guest (not verified)
April 24, 2012 2:23 PM

You read my mind! I adore Ilya--and I love Elijah, too. If we were settling in Russia, I think this would be my first choice. I don't want to use it in the U.S., though, as I think it reads female on paper. 

Appreciate hearing that Pavel (pronounced PAH-vel) may cause confusion. I think it's out for us now, too. 

23
April 25, 2012 12:58 PM

We had the same problem when naming our sons. My husband is Bulgarian and most of the names he liked didn't work well in the US (Hristo, Stoyan, Ivajlo), and the ones I was drawn to he nixed b/c they were too "village" or not Bulgarian (my family is Polish/Austrian). We ended up with Sebastian "Sebi" (which transliterates fine Себастиян and Alexander (I wanted Aleksandar, but he preferred the 'x' spelling). Alexander goes by Alek mostly (I really didn't want him to end up Alex K. at school), but we also call him Lex and Aleksi. We could have gone with Sashko (which is the BG version of Sasha) as a nn, but we already have a friend with this nn.

From your list, Alexander Michael and Nikolai Michael are my picks. Both of those names popped into my head while I was reading your post. Victor/Viktor or Peter might also work.

Other names we considered: Casimir/Kazimir, Vitaly, Vasili, Arkadi, Kiril, Maksim/Maxim, Dragan, Leonid, Roman, Genadi, Konstantin/Constantine

As for the popularity of Alexander, while it's a top 10 nationally, you should check your local stats and see where it actually sits if that's a concern. It turns out that in my area, Sebastian is much more common in Alexander and I never expected my Seb to have another one in his grade, but he does, while Alek doesn't.

24
April 27, 2012 12:23 AM

What lovely names you found for your sons! It sounds like they will travel well. 

I really love the Alek nn. I'm curious as to whether you find yourself often correcting people who hear "Alex"?