According to Moscow’s civil registration office, the most popular baby names in Moscow in 2014 were Alexander (for the 10th year in a row) and Sofia.
Among the names registered for the first time last year were Byzantium, Jazz, and Sevastopol. (“Russia’s annexation of the Ukrainian port city of Sevastopol in March reinvigorated national pride among many Russians.”) Two other unusual names that made headlines last year were Lucifer and Olimpiyada (a baby girl born several weeks before the start of the Winter Olympic Games in Sochi).
I don’t believe Russia releases country-wide baby name rankings, but the Mercator media agency has gathered a some data (“the first names of 21 million residents of Moscow and the Moscow region”) and created a cool interactive baby name popularity graph covering the 20th century.
Some observations about the Mercator data:
Lada “became somewhat popular in 1968 when the Soviet Union began production of a car by the same name. The name debuted on the top-100 list at No. 70, then declined to No. 76 a year later before falling off the chart.” Lada was originally the name of a Slavic goddess.
Vladimir “was the second most popular name in 1952 when current President Vladimir Putin was born.”
Ninel “debuted on the chart at No. 66 in 1924, the year that Soviet state-founder Vladimir Lenin died. Ninel slid off the list in the mid-1930s.” (See more Revolutionary Russian Baby Names.)
Canadian academic Sacvan Bercovitch has an interesting first name. How did he get it? The story begins with his parents:
Bercovitch is the son of Alexander Bercovitch and Bryna Avrutik, Jews born in the Ukraine in the 1890s who grew up during a time of deep poverty, social upheaval, and periodic pogroms.
Alexander and Bryna, both “idealistic communists,” ended up having three children:
Circumstances took them to Moscow, where their first daughter, Sara (later Sylvia) was born; then to Ashkhabad, Turkestan, where their second daughter, Ninel (Lenin spelled backwards), was born. In 1926 they emigrated to Montreal with their two daughters, helped by Bryna’s brothers, who had preceded her. In October 1933 their son Sacvan (his name an amalgamation of Sacco and Vanzetti) was born.
Sacco and Vanzetti, of course, refers to the Italian-American anarchists Nicola Sacco and Bartolomeo Vanzetti, who were convicted of murder (perhaps wrongly) and sentenced to death in the 1920s.
Over a century after the the French revolution influenced French baby names, the Russian Revolution (and socialist ideology) inspired a handful of Russian parents to give their babies similarly patriotic names.
Here are some examples of those patriotic baby names. Most were bestowed in the 1920s and 1930s, though some (like Uryurvkos) popped up decades later.
“Army of V. I. Lenin”
The Bastille, Paris fortress stormed during the French Revolution
Other baby names of the era weren’t as political as they were fanciful, e.g., Atlantida, “Atlantis”; Monblan, “Mont Blanc”; Traviata for the Verdi opera; Zvezde, “star.”
It’s also interesting to note that a portion of these parents went in the other direction entirely. Instead of opting for progressive names, they went for “pre-Christian Slavic names such as Mstislav or Sviatopolk that had fallen into disuse in modern times.”
Harvard Ukrainian Studies 19 (1997): 272.
Komsomolskaya Pravda, via World Press Review 30 (1983): 14.
Stites, Richard. Revolutionary Dreams. New York: Oxford University Press, 1989.
White, Stephen. Political Culture and Soviet Politics. New York: Macmillan, 1979.