Where did the baby name Karenina come from in 1978?

The title character from the TV mini-series "Anna Karenina" (1978).
Anna from “Anna Karenina

The literary surname Karenina first appeared in the U.S. baby name data in 1978:

  • 1980: unlisted
  • 1979: unlisted
  • 1978: 7 baby girls named Karenina [debut]
  • 1977: unlisted
  • 1976: unlisted

But Leo Tolstoy’s famous novel Anna Karenina was first published (in book form) way back in 1878, and it wasn’t translated from Russian to English until 1901. So how did “Karenina” suddenly wind up in the U.S. baby name data in the late 1970s?

Television! Specifically, the 10-episode mini-series Anna Karenina that originally aired on British television in 1977, then aired on American television (as part of PBS’s Masterpiece Theatre) in early 1978. The mini-series starred British actress Nicola Pagett as Countess Anna Karenina.

Russians use gender-specific forms of surnames, so “Karenina” is the feminine form of Karenin (the surname of Anna’s husband, Alexei). How did Tolstoy come up with the surname Karenin?

Many of the invented surnames in the novel have symbolic meanings or associations, some of which are humorous. […] The new passion which Tolstoy developed for learning Greek in the early 1870s is reflected in the etymology of ‘Karenin.’

Karenin was derived from káranon, the ancient Greek word for “head.”

The four-syllable surname Karenina is pronounced with a stress on the second syllable. In English it’s often pronounced kah-REH-nih-nuh, but in Russian (as you can hear at Forvo) it’s more along the lines of kah-RAY-nee-nuh.

What are your thoughts on the baby name Karenina?


2 thoughts on “Where did the baby name Karenina come from in 1978?

  1. This makes me so happy. Karenina as a baby name! I wonder if people have been given “Anna Karenina” as first and middle name combo.

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