Ukrainian Naming Traditions

Expectant parents pour over pages of baby names. Names are plucked from a genealogical line to honor a family member. Sometimes people abandon their birth names as a means to chart a new future. What’s in a name, you ask — quite a lot according to Ukrainian tradition and ancient naming rituals.

Ukrainians began using first names around 988 A.D. with the spread of Christian belief in the region. Early names originated from Roman, Greek and Hebrew traditions but were modified by the Ukrainian language – John became Ivan. Michael became Mykhailo – until the influence of Slavic or Ukrainian saints began to dictate naming rites.

Traditionally, the naming ritual is considered a sacred act, and it is the priest rather than the parents who once selected a child’s name. While parents could suggest a name to the priest, spiritual approval was necessary. Named within eight days of a child’s birth, the name was often the name of a patron saint based upon the Byzantine calendar. The calendar beginning in September claims many more saints with accompanying feast days. A child’s name was often the name of the patron saint with a feast day falling on the date the child was born or baptized or within seven days of the event. Godparents rather than the parents accompanied the baby to church for the baptism ceremony. Often, parents had to wait until the baby was returned home from the church to learn their child’s name.

Priests may not name a couple’s child today, but the weight of selecting a name is just as heavy for parents. Many believe a name is akin to a horoscope defining a person’s character traits and guiding their actions long into adulthood. Names may take the form of parents’ spiritual thanks or their wishes for a child’s future. The name Anna, for example, with its alternative spellings, Anya, Annushka, Aneshka means blessing, and the name Irina – also Ira, Irochka and Irisha – can be translated into the word peace.

A name is not simply a name it seems so the next time you sign your name on a check or a letter, consider that maybe this moniker you have carried since your birth may indeed have a meaning that defines more than your everyday life.