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.
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?