Name of the Day: Svetlana

If Claire and Lucy are too popular for your tastes, perhaps you’ll consider this name with a similar meaning, but far more exotic sound.

Thanks to JNE for mentioning her during the holiday season. Our Name of the Day is Svetlana.

Starbaby Vivienne Jolie-Pitt might just revive French names, and first daughter Natasha Obama could propel Russian appellations to new heights.

While plenty of Slavic names translate easily into English, Svetlana is an interesting case. She’s certainly not as accessible as Natasha, Anya or Larissa. But she’s surprisingly easy to pronounce. Perhaps that’s because of her similarity to the word svelte. sveht LAHN nah might not roll off the tongue, but neither does she trip us up.

Like Claire and Lucy, Svetlana is said to mean “light.” There is a Saint Svetlana in the Russian Orthodox Church, but Catholics know her as Saint Photina. (If that has you scratching your head, remember that the Greek photos means light, too.) By either name, in the New Testament she’s “the woman by the well.” After Jesus spoke to her, she converted and was later martyred.

But let’s put faith aside because her real source of popularity is literary. In 1813, Vasily Zhukovsky penned his poem “Svetlana.” Zhukovsky may not be as big a name as Dostoyevsky, but he’s responsible for introducing Romanticism to Mother Russia. Back in the day, he made a lot of noise. (In fact, another writer had apparently coined the name, but it was Zhukovsky’s poem that got credit.)

Interestingly, the first English translator of the poem opted to discard Svetlana. Sir John Bowring said that Svetlana “does not easily accommodate itself to our organs of sense.” Bowring called her Catherine instead.

The loyal Svetlana from the poem inspired many parents, and today she’s about as traditional a Russian name as you can imagine. She’s been worn by:

  • Stalin’s daughter;
  • A long list of athletes – gymnasts, skiers, ice skaters, biathletes;
  • The current First Lady of Russia, Svetlana Medvedeva;
  • Svetlana Savitskaya, a former cosmonaut and, in 1984, the first woman to perform a space walk.

If you’re naming a fictional Russian woman born after 1825, Svetlana is a safe bet. In fact, sci fi write Sergei Lukyanenko created a character called Svetlana for his 1998 Night Watch novel. It’s since become a series and a movie.

If Svetlana has a drawback, it is her common nickname – Sveta. Somehow it sounds like a heavily accented pronunciation of “sweater” instead of a charming import. Still, with that ending, your little Svetlana could easily answer to Lana.

If V really is the new Z, parents could find this one an appealing option. She’s a valid name with history, but has never appeared in the US Top 1000. If you haven’t a drop of Slavic blood, it might feel like a stretch. But if Anya and Larissa catch fire, why not Svetlana?

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As a kid I hated my name, since it was hard for people to pronounce, since I was little I adopted the name Lana, literally everyone calls me Lana. But now I love my name and I wish I had embraced it, instead of being called just Lana but to also be known as Sveta or Svet or Veta even.

It is really neat to read the comments of all the ladies named Svetlana – to see the wide variety of backgrounds or reasons they got their name. I would have just pictured a slough of Russian women, but I’d be wrong!

I do picture someone tall, blond, attractive, smart, rich, talented, etc. The Russian Claire, basically (ironic that they have the same meaning). If she’s an athlete, she’s a gymnast, not a boxer (someone said they pictured a woman built like a tank. ???? Not me.)

I think there are a lot of possible nicknames: Svetla, Etta, Vetta, Anya, Ana, Lanie, Savannah (for the relatives who for some unknown reason can’t say Svetlana right – there’s always someone, right?), Annie or Ann, Etlana (not far from Atlanta, but far enough), Edie. Even Sally.

It has a definite ethnic sound to it, so I agree about it not going great with a last name like McDonald or Higgins. But Johnson or Hansen or Myers? I think it works with plenty of non-Slavic names. And it would be a GREAT middle name. Claire Svetlana? I am so bored by Claire but this is perfect! With Claire and in the middle you can have a last name you might not think it would work with (like Wilson, for instance). Anyhow, I’d love meeting a Svetlana, middle name or first name.

Hi everyone! As you can all see, my name is also Svetlana. I was very surprised that so many people likes this name. By the way, i am from Serbia (ex Yugoslavia). This name is very common in Russia, Bulgaria,Macedonia,Ucrania etc. The thing is i have never liked my name until couple of months ago. It sounded too serious to me. And a little bit silly, because the nickname for Svetlana in my country is Ceca- pronounced Tsetsa (and Lana). The name itself came from the word light. similar names to this are Lucia (of Latin word origin, meaning “light”), Claire (meaning “light” or “clear” in French), Roxana (of Old Persian origin, literally: “little shiny star” or “light”), or Shweta in Sanskrit which means “white” or “pure”. I have a friend in France called Claire, and when she comes to Serbia everyone calls her Svetlana. In the end, it’s a very unusual name and everyone i know loves it! So i’m glad my parents gave it to me….

Hello! I came to this site by accident but now i’m glad i did. I love the topic, (of course,because of my name) but mostly because i saw a comment from a girl who has exactly the same name as mine. 🙂 Also like you wrote i have always hated my name until recently when i moved from Serbia and realised now many people love my name. But also it is too difficult for them to pronounce it. 🙂

hey guys… name is svetlana, and i am from india, it sounds quite strange that being indian i got a russian name, but no matter, i just love my name very much, it suits me….my parents gave this name to me, and i m quite thankful to them that they gave such a sweet name for me….

Hi everbody! As you an see my name is also Svetlana. I’m from Slovenia and my dad gave me this name. My mothed didn’t like it first,but now she is saying i could not have another name. I used to consider my name as weird and soo not me. But with the years i really think Svetlana is a special name. And it suits me. I’m an artist and a writer. So thank you for the name Dad! 😀

Hello everyone my name is Svetlana and my parents are mexicans but I was born in the. U.S.A, my mother had no choice in choosing my name because my father was dead set in naming me, although my mother says he probably got the name from one of his lovers lol. Growing up I really didn’t like the name Svetlana because no one could pronounce it, but now that I’m older I love my name. My grandmother could not pronounce it so she nicked named me Seve. 😉 people always ask me if I am russian because I’m light skin n green eyes;)

My name is Svetlana. I was born in Russia, but am now residing in the USA. I always hated being nicknamed “Lana,” but my friends have learned to adapt.

My name is Svetlana. I was born in Ukraine and later moved to the U.S. where I now go by Lana (not as a rule, but it’s easier for most people), and I have always really liked my name. I like the way it sounds when other people say it, probably because I don’t hear it very often.

i am Lana and i like my name very much… 🙂

the name Lana is most popular name for baby – girls in Croatia in last two years 🙂

That’s an interesting point about “coming to a consensus”, Verity. I’d like to know the answer to that one too.

The closest thing I have to a Biblical scholar around here is my father, a pastor with his doctorate in theology. He’s asleep at the moment, but tomorrow I’ll ask him about this and see if he has any clue. Since he’s a Presbyterian and went to a Presbyterian seminary, I don’t know how much he knows about Catholic and Orthodox customs (the Presbyterian church doesn’t have saints and the like), but it’s worth asking him anyway. I’ll let you all know if he says anything interesting. 🙂

Also, the woman at the well’s name isn’t mentioned, at least not in the NIV or ESV Bibles I have lying around. Did the Orthodox assign the name to her, or is there a historical link there?

You’re right – she’s not named in the Bible. Thanks for catching that! There are two possibilities. One, she could be named by custom – like the three wise men or a handful of other Biblical women. That would explain why the Orthodox and the Roman Catholics have different names for her.

Alternately, she might’ve been listed in later historical accounts. I know Photina shows up in at least one medieval list of martyrs. If that’s the case, then they just translated Svetlana.

I’m not sure *how* so many Biblical figures came to pick up names by custom … I understand why they would, as they retold the stories. But how did they come to consensus? Hmmm … I need to find a Biblical scholar.

Just saw this post and thought I’d give my input. I’m Greek Orthodox, and while it might not be the answer you’re looking for, this is what I know. The Orthodox and Catholic churches, while they consider the Bible an integral, necessary, and divinely inspired authority on Christian faith, do not rely on scripture alone as their sole source of doctrine, partly because the Bible, too, was passed down through sacred tradition along with oral tradition, art, and other texts not considered to be divinely inspired or equal to the Bible. These other traditions include names of saints, some of whose characters are mentioned, but nameless, in the Bible. These names are thought traditionally to have been passed down, first orally and then on paper, from the day the events occurred. Have some of them been passed down incorrectly or translated very differently from the original? Perhaps the have, and most likely so. But the Orthodox churches don’t consider these names to be “Gospel truth” anyway, so does it matter? Probably not, and not to us at least. It’s nice to put a name to a story, anyway, even if there’s the chance that it could be incorrect.

I know a Svetlana. Well, I’m acquainted with one, at least; she’s a cashier at the local grocery store. She goes by Svet. She’s one of my favorite cashiers, very efficient, yet friendly. I asked her about her name once and she told me that it’s a common name in Russia, where her parents came from (she doesn’t have an accent, so I assume that she was born here). I always thought her name was lovely. I don’t think I’d use it, though; a bit too delicate for my tastes. I’d like to see it on someone else’s kid, though.

Otlichno, Kim! Great to see another Russian laguage type around! (I was boring old Katya in my Russian classes and admired those who chose their Russian names with more forethought as I progressed through the years).

I’m not hearing sexy so much as Russian built-like-a-tank, don’t-mess-with-me ball breaker! I’m not entirely sure why I have such a strong image of Svetlana/Svetlanka, although I think there may have been a character in a tv programme a while back that didn’t help that impression come to think of it… Anyhow, Svetlana’s ok but only if you’re Russian, otherwise a little strange!

This was my Russian name in college!! (I was a Russian minor). I love it! Svetlana is all sweetness and light to my ears. And in a Russian accent, it’s perfect! My Russian professor used to call me Sveta, Svetochka, or Svetlanka.

LOL, Kim! And thanks for the additional nicknames. I didn’t know -ochka was a diminutive form in Russian! There’s a family joke about me butchering a similar Polish diminutive, so I feel somewhat vindicated to learn that it would’ve been correct in another Slavic language.


What an exotic beauty! I think it’s quite sexy, but also has a sweet innocent side. A mixture of sultry and little Heidi on the swiss alps. Very pretty. Unfortunately it would sound really bad with my Mc- name…I would smile so big if I met a little Svetlana. The meaning is great, and the saint is an even better association.

I’d love to meet a little Svetlana running around! Like others, I think it’d sound a bit odd with our purely dull English last name, and my French/Austrian background, and his English/Irish roots.
She just sounds so seductive and sassy, it’s almost impossible not to like her!

I love Svetlana. Lana is a really cute nickname. Svetlana is a sweet, classy name and I love Russian names. I am part Latvian (born and raised in USA though. I am mostly Irish but have a small bit of Latvian in me. lol) so it is familiar to me but I don’t know if my dear boyfriend Eric would approve. It also sounds a bit too close to my first daughter’s name Anya and we hate matchy names for siblings. It won’t work with my or Eric’s last name either, even if we hyphenate them when we’re married.

I agree – Anya and Svetlana are close, and Anya and Lana are WAY too matchy. But I love Anya! She’s on my shortlist as a nickname for Anneliese Olwen.

I’m a sucker for a nice Russian name, and Svetlana is definitely a nice one to my ear… I like Lana as a nickname, but the name is too *exotic* for my husband. It probably would sound unbalanced with our very standard English/Welsh last name, in all honesty. And while many Russian names come through to English well, a number do not, so I like that Svetlana sounds fully slavic without really tripping us up, as Verity notes. It’s a nice balance between authentic sounding and accessible. I would absolutely love to meet a little Svetlana – it would be perfect for someone with some slavic roots or even just an adventurous namer. Thanks for covering her, Verity!

If I had my Mother’s maiden name, instead of Pop’s, I could use Svetlana, it goes so well with the Polish name! *sigh* Doesn’t with the Mac- though. She’s lush and gorgeous to look at, Svetlana is a sexy gal. 🙂 I too would love to see a little Svetlana!

I like Svetlana; it’s a very sexy name, if you ask me. However, like you said, it feels like a stretch for us (well, me) German/English/Irish mutts. I would definitely love to see a little one, though! The name itself is gorgeous and lush.