"How did mom and dad choose that name?" is a question often asked at parent and baby groups all across the country. Sometimes the moms will explain that it’s a family name, or someone down the street had it and they liked it. Other weary-faced mothers will say that they heard it on the TV, or from a celebrity or a famous person.
When I was asked this question I had no answer. My children were named because they were the only names my husband and I could agree on, and we just simply liked the sound of them. My children have classic English names but they are still quite rare. There is no one else in their school classes for them to get confused with. And we like it that way.
But actually, it’s pretty hard work finding classic sounding names that are not massively overused. When parents call their child they don’t want five other children replying, but nor do they want other parents raising their eyebrows and murmuring "odd choice for a name!"
Yes, mom and dad are looking for a beautiful, strong, graceful, arty name, but the five thousand articles they have read aren’t helping. So try looking to the east for some inspiration. Eastern Europe to be specific. There are some beautiful names just waiting for parents in countries such as Croatia, Latvia, Bulgaria, Russia and Ukraine. Have a look at this list and fall in love with the perfect name.
This pretty name is an old Czechoslovakian name, meaning ‘white’. In Hebrew, it is thought to be a variant of ‘Isabel’, meaning ‘God’s promise’. It is also a popular name in Spain, where it is a version of ‘Bella’ and means ‘beautiful’.
You can find Belia Darzu as a character in the Star Wars Legends series.
Variations on this gorgeous name include Belicia and Belita but be careful not to go with ‘Belial’, as this is a Hebrew word meaning ‘worthless’.
This lyrical girls’ name translates as ‘serenity’ and is popular in Russia and Bulgaria. It comes from the ancient Greek ‘Galene’, who is known as the Greek goddess of calm seas. She was one of the Nereid mermaids and a minor goddess in Greek mythology. Galatea, which became popular in the 18th century, refers to the same goddess. Informal versions of the name include Gala and Galya.
Galina has two name days linked to Christian martyrs on March 10 and April 16.
Short and punchy yet stylish and memorable, Lev makes a fantastic and unusual name for your son. This is the Russian form of ‘Leo’, meaning ‘lion’. If it is a little too short for you, try Lyova or Leva instead.
The most famous bearer of this name is probably Count Lyov Nikolayevich Tolstoy, more commonly known as Leo Tolstoy. A member of the Russian aristocracy, Lev Tolstoy is now known as one of the greatest authors ever and is particularly remembered through his epic book ‘War and Peace’.
Zoya is the Russian form of ‘Zoe’ and is really popular Arabic name. In the Greek version of the Bible, the first woman Eve became Zoe as the name means ‘life’. In Persian Zoya translates as ‘love’ so this name is all about living and loving and feeling the joy!
Notable examples of Zoya include Zoya Kosmodemyanskaya, who was a Soviet hero during World War II and it is also the title and female protagonist of a 1988 Danielle Steel novel.
This is an old Slavic name that is still popular in Slovenia, Croatia and Serbia. It is a name that expresses conflicting emotions as it represents the God of War or ‘one who has conquered joys and sorrows’. The feminine form is the strong sounding ‘Davorka’. Croatia like Davor so much that they have two naming days on September 6 and December 29.
If you like names such as David or Darren but feel like they are overused, try this lovely Eastern European name instead.
This is a sophisticated and exotic sounding name which has the slightly unusual meaning of ‘stranger’. There are various versions of this name including ‘Varvara’ in Russia and Bulgaria, Barbara in German, French and English and Basia in Polish.
Name analysis shows that girls with this name value truth, justice and discipline and are often charismatic leaders. Whilst they like to work with others to achieve peace and harmony they can be quick-tempered when things do not go their way.
This is a popular Croatian name, last ranked at number 65 there in 2009. From the medieval Slavic language, the name is made up of two elements - 'mysli’, meaning ‘thought’ combined with ‘slava’ meaning ‘glory’. So Mislav is ‘thoughts of glory’.
Historically, this fabulous name features in Croatian royalty, being the name of a 9th-century duke of Croatia, also called Mojslav. He is remembered for fighting against a German army under King Svatopluk of Moravia, along with his comrades Svatoslav, Witislav, Heriman and Spitimir. This battle caused peace to reign after some turbulent years between the Slavonic princes.
This delightful sounding girls’ name has an equally delightful meaning. It is a Slavic name meaning ‘charming’. In the USA in 2016 only two babies per every million born were called Emika, making this a very rare name outside of Eastern Europe. This would make a great alternative to the much more common Emma or Emily and ensure that your daughter stands out from the crowd. Name analysis shows us that Emika’s lucky animal is the giraffe, whilst red is her lucky colour and her lucky number is 3.
This short and punchy name is very popular in Slovenia, being last ranked there at number 98 in 2014. Its meaning is uncertain, although it is thought to be in memory of an ancient ruler, who is believed to have been Frankish.
Samo was a 7th-century ruler of the Slavs, who established a kingdom including parts of modern Slovenia, Austria, Slovakia, and the Czech Republic.
A cute alternative to the overly popular Sam or Samuel, Samo is catchy but still easy to spell and say.
This is a Russian name that translates as ‘shining’, from the Greek word ‘Phaenna’. In Greek mythology, Phaenna was one of the Charites or Graces. This lovely name is pronounced ‘Fah-ee-NAH’ and features in a very catchy, highly repetitive and slightly irritating pop song by Akcent. It is so rare outside Russia that it is not ranked on any American baby name lists. In Russia, May 31 is Faina’s naming day, so this would be a great choice for an early summer baby.
This charming boys’ name is a bit of a mystery, with uncertain origins and meanings. It is widely thought to be a version of Jarmil. This name is made of two parts: ‘yaru’ meaning "fierce, energetic" and ‘milu’ meaning "gracious, dear", showing a widely varied personality.
Whilst this is not a hugely popular name, the female version ‘Jarmila’ is becoming more well-known in America, with the similar sounding Jamilla currently at number 12,855. Out of 5,838,786 records in the U.S. Social Security Administration public data, the first name Yaromil did not appear.
Short for Adelina, this beautiful name translates as ‘light’ and seems to suit girls that love to dance and move around. It may be coincidence, but at least three of Russia’s most successful ballerinas have been named Alina.
With pretty yet sophisticated short forms such as Alya and Inna, this name enjoys varying success around the world. In Switzerland, it is ranked at number 5, whereas in England it is right down at 315 and in France at number 468.
This Croatian boys’ name not only sounds great but also has a fantastic meaning. From ‘Beri’, meaning ‘to carry’, and ‘slava’, meaning ‘glory or fame’, the name literally means ‘to carry glory’. The feminine form, Berislava, is also a pretty yet powerful name for any little girl. Croatians love this name so much that they have treated it to two naming days on February 25 and September 27.
Despite being a medieval name, Berislav still sounds contemporary and very stylish.
This ancient Greek name means ‘shining light’, or ‘the bright one’. A Spanish variation of ‘Helen’, this name is gaining in popularity rapidly due to its slightly exotic sound.
You even have a choice of pronunciation with this one, either ‘E-le-na’ or ‘e-LAY-na’. This pretty name has been in the media lately, appearing as Elena Gilbert, the protagonist of ‘The Vampire Diaries’. and Elena Lincoln in ‘Fifty Shades of Grey’. A more superior example would be Elena Petrović-Njegoš of Montenegro, Queen consort of Victor Emmanuel III of Italy and Albania.
This short and catchy name is of Slavic origin and means ‘bringing peace and calm’. In 2003 only 5 girls in the whole of the USA were given this lovely name, and it is currently ranked at number 46,756, so if you are looking for an extremely rare Eastern European name, this might be it.
Girls with this name often like to have goals to work towards. They speak from the heart and are always sincere although they may appear brusque and too direct.
This superb name is popular all over Eastern Europe, including Poland, Russia, Slovenia, Bulgaria and Serbia. It has its roots in the medieval Slavic language and has two elements to it. ‘Bogu’ means ‘god’ and ‘dan’ is ‘given’, so this child is literally ‘given by God’.
Also spelt ‘Bohdan’, this name is also used as a surname in the Slavic countries. The feminine form is ‘Bogdana’ and the name has multiple naming days including September 2 in Hungary and January 6 in Bulgaria.
What a glorious name! Although it sounds like this might be a character from ‘Lord of the Rings’, this super distinctive name is actually medieval. The name means ‘he who cares about peace’, from the two parts ‘dragu’ meaning "precious" and ‘miru’ meaning "peace, world". For a slight variation, you could choose Dragoslav (precious glory) or the feminine version of this, Dragoslava.
With the cute but stylish nicknames Drago or Dragos, Dragomir is certainly a name that will ensure your child is remembered.
Danica appears as both a Hebrew and Slavic name but means ‘morning star’ or ‘first light’ in both languages. In ancient Slavic mythology, the deity Danica was prayed to in the early morning when she was said to appear in the dawn sky as the first star, or morning star. Danica was associated with the sun and was thought to be the sun's younger sister.
Whilst it looks like it should be pronounced ‘da-NEE-ka, the Slavs actually say it with a softer sound, more like ‘DA-nee-tsa’. Two notable Danicas are Danica McKellar, who played Winnie Cooper on ‘The Wonder Years’, and Danica Patrick, the first woman to win an Indycar race.
Whilst Dragomir might be all about the peaceful, precious world, Kazimir, in comic terms, would be his arch enemy. Although it’s a great sounding name that rolls off the tongue, it has the unfortunate translation of ‘destroyer of peace’. It originates from Germany, Holland and Poland and has numerous variations including Casimiro, popular in Portugal, and the Lithuanian Kazimieras. As a family name, Kazimirs have been emigrating to the USA, and the name can be traced back to 1920 when there were 4 Kazimir families living in Illinois. This was about 19% of all the recorded Kazimir's in the USA.
This is the female version of Desislav, which is a Bulgarian name. Often linked with royalty, there is a list of notable nobles with this name throughout history. These include the 14th century Princess Desislava of Bulgaria and the 13th-century Desislava, noble of the second Bulgarian empire.
The meaning of this grand name is ‘search for glory’, or ‘finding glory’, which is a noble sentiment indeed to give to your child. Whilst popular in Bulgarian speaking countries, it is rare elsewhere in the world.
Any opera fans may be instantly thinking of Ludmilla now, from Glinka’s 1842 opera. However, the opera was actually based on an 1820 epic poem of the same name, with Ruslan being Pushkin’s male protagonist. Ruslan is a brave knight in this fairy tale, who sets out to rescue the kidnapped princess.
The name actually has the brilliant translation of ‘lion’ and is the Russian version of the Persian ‘Aslan’. Yes, Lion, Witch and Wardrobe fans, Aslan literally means ‘lion’!
Ruslan had his moment earlier in this list of classic Eastern European names, so now it is Lyudmila’s turn. In their poem and later, their opera, Princess Lyudmila, daughter of Prince Vladimir, is abducted by an evil wizard, Chernomor and must be saved by her brave knight Ruslan.
For those of you that prefer reality, Lyudmila is made up of two words - ‘lud’, meaning ‘people’ and ‘mila’, meaning ‘dear or love’. So putting them together Lyudmila, or Ludmila, means ‘love of the people’.
This lovely boys’ name has two very different definitions. In Russian, it has the unusual translation of ‘schismatic’. You probably don’t want to think of your child as someone who splits and divides people, in which case go with the Greek definition. This is quite simply a word for a citizen of Rhodes, the large Greek island, and has the sweet nickname of Rodya.
The most famous Rodion is probably the main character in Dostoevsky's Crime and Punishment, Rodion Raskolnikov.
Now most famously linked with a men’s fashion magazine, Maksim actually derives from the Latin ‘Maximus’, meaning ‘the greatest’. This name is popular the world over in its different forms including Maximus, Maxwell, Maximilian, Maxx, Maxton, Maksym or even Maximiliano. Maksim itself was only ranked at number 965 in the 2011 USA baby name charts so would make a relatively rare yet elegant name for your son.
Notable modern Maksims include the musician Maksim Mrvica and the athlete Maksim Kanunnikov.
This is a Bulgarian version of Bojana, the feminine version of Bojan. This lyrical name has two possible meanings. It is generally believed to be a combination of ‘boy’, meaning ‘battle’ and ‘an’, which is a common ending in Bulgarian and Slavic names. So Boyana translates as ‘warrior’ or ‘fighter’. However, some believe it comes from the Turkic-Mongol word ‘Bayan’ meaning ‘rich, wealth’.
Boyana is one of the most exclusive neighbourhoods in the Bulgarian capital of Sofia but also makes a beautiful and unusual name.
References: behindthename.com, buzzfeed.com, momjunction.com