She’s a Russian import made famous during perestroika.
Thanks to Merrisa for suggesting Raisa as our Baby Name of the Day.
Depending on your perspective, this name is Greek or Yiddish or Arabic or Russian, and means relaxed or rose or leader. Oh, and she could be pronounced rah ee zah, rye sah, ray suh, rye eez uh …
Despite multiple possible meanings and origins, Raisa probably strikes you as Russian – at least if you’re old enough to remember the Reagan era, when Mikhail Gorbachev and Soviet first lady Raisa made a splash in the Western world.
Born Raisa Titarneko is Siberia, the future first lady was
studying philosophy in Moscow when she met her future husband. After her husband left office, she was known for her fundraising efforts for many causes, including the preservation of Russian heritage.
But where did Raisa come from? The earliest Raisa I could find was a Russian poet born in 1899, Raisa Blokh. Blokh was part of the Berlin Poets’ Club, a group of Russian emigres living in Germany – Vladimir Nabokov was a member. Blokh probably met her death in a German concentration camp.
- During World War II, Raisa Surnachevskaya was a fighter pilot – possibly one of the few fighter pilots anywhere to fly missions while pregnant.
- Raisa Nedashkovskaya was born in the Ukraine, and became a star of the Soviet cinema. Her career began in the 1960s and stretch over four decades.
- Cross country skier Raisa Smetanina racked up ten Olympic medals between 1976 and 1992.
Could the poet have prompted wider adoption of her name? Maybe, but the more I look, the more I doubt it. Instead, there are two factors. First, Raisa is an obscure saint in the Russian Orthodox Church, also known as Iraida, a third century nun in Alexandria. Second, I suspect that Raisa became the Russian equivalent of Rose – even if there’s some folk etymology at work – the literal translation sounds more like roza.
In English, Raisa might strike some as a nouveau coinage, a spin on Rachel or an elaboration of Rae. Instead, she’s a distinctive choice – different, but not difficult to wear. If you’re looking for a Russian heritage choice and want something less expected than Natalia, Raisa is one to consider.