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?

About Abby Sandel

Whether you're naming a baby, or just all about names, you've come to the right place! Appellation Mountain is a haven for lovers of obscure gems and enduring classics alike.

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What do you think?


  1. My first name is Svetlana and I am definitely love and delighted to have my given name. It sounds good with my last name too. I go as Svwtlana most of the time but at work I am Lana, they chose to call me Lana.. for complete strangers I can go by Ana.. but never considered some of the names that tou have proposed. Thank you! Thank you for the intresting writing/comment.. I will try to wear on Savannah, I have heard and liked this name but never had applied yet. But most intriguing you mentioned was Edie.. but how?.. how do you hear that name in association with Svetlana.. I would love to know.. Thank you!!.. Thanks a million!!

  2. 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.

  3. 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.

  4. 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….

    1. 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. 🙂

  5. hey guys…..my 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….

  6. 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! 😀