TRADITIONAL AND MODERN NAMES AMONG THE BULGARIAN CHRISTIAN POPULATION

Names are just like human beings - they, too, come into being, live and die. Some thousand years ago common in Bulgaria were names like Voitekh, Mostich, Rasate, Irnik, but today these can be found in the history books alone. Unlike us people, however, names can also be revived. The names of old-time Bulgarian rulers such as Asparoukh, Kroum, Assen, Kaloyan, Boril, Ivailo, had long centuries been buried in oblivion. Still, they were brought back to life in the 19th century owing to history classes.

According to a 1979 survey carried out in Sofia, new-born girls were most often named Mariana, Desislava, Margarita, Roumiana, Valentina, Antoaneta, Ivanka, Rositza, Violeta. The boy's names most preferred were Ivan, Gheorghi, Dimitâr, Nikola, Roumen, Petâr, Valentin, Vladimir, Aleksandâr, Krasimir. Obviously, the  earlier "ranking" had undergone substantial changes.

Besides historical variations in the choice of names, they are also subject to regional and local preferences. For example, in the Bourgas and Rousse regions, where the names of over 1 million people of all ages were examined, the most popular girl's given names for the same year, 1979, were found to be Maria, Ivanka, Mariyka, Penka, Elena, Stanka, Todorka, Yordanka, Radka, Stoyanka, Donka, Milka, Yanka, Nadezhda, and Zlatka. Neither of these names is on the list of the favourite names given to new-born girls in Sofia. A similar disparity was identified with male infants' names.

While in earlier times the name given to one was regarded as a magic word, an amulet, a spell, nowadays layers would shift primarily because of fashion trends. Some twenty years ago, for example, quite a stir was made by a representation of a beautiful medieval aristocrat, Desislava, believed to be portrayed in a Renaissance manner. The name of this 700-year old lady, painted on the wall of a church near Sofia, appealed to the Bulgarian population so much that almost one in every three new-born girls was given this particular name.

Historically, the name system has its origins in the remote Indo-European and distant Slavic past, but, in practice, its beginning goes back to the First Bulgarian Kingdom that appeared on the Balkans. Its development was (potentially and in reality) influenced by the names once used by Dacians and Moesians, Thracians, Greeks, and Romans. The adoption of Christianity and the introduction of the Slavonic script, as well as the spread of old-Bulgarian manuscripts, played an important role for the emergence of numerous biblical names of Jewish origin and such related with the church saints calendar.

By their origin, Bulgarian names fall into three major groups: Slavic, Christian, and native.

Slavic names are widespread among Bulgarians, Serbs, Croats, Slovenians, Russians, Ukrainians, Poles, Czechs, Slovaks, etc. The majority of them consist of two elements, the most widely used being such meaning "good", "peace", "world", "glorious". Vladi-slav for example, means 'he who is master of glory".  Despite the "dust of time", the meaning of names like Bogdan (given by God), Radoslav (enjoying glory), Vladimir (mastering peace), etc. is as transparent to a Slav as the water in a clear mountain creek.  Very often, Slavic male names imply bravery - Bratoslav, Voin, Vladetz, Dvorko, Deyan, Dobren, Ognen, Parlig, Rad, Radan, Hranislav, Hrabro, Chrnoglav, female ones - beauty and kindness - Beloslava, Vedra, Divna, Dobrina, Iskra, Kalina, Krasna, Modra (with blue eyes), Houba, and those of rulers - solemnity and nobleness. Current were also names of Slavic deities - Lada, Morena, Perun, Svarog, Dazhbog, later ousted by the newly introduced Christian names.

Christian names, known in every place touched by the truth of Christ, became common among the Bulgarian population with the latter's conversion into Christianity in the 9th century (thus obliterating the last ethnic differences that existed in the earlier Bulgarian society): Andrey, Dimitâr, Irina, Katerina, Stefan, Sofia, Ana, Hristo, Ivan, Maria, Anton, Pavel, Iliya... [cf. Andrew, ..., Irene, Catherine, Stephen, Sofia, Ann, Christian, John, Mary, Antony, Paul, Elijah...] Most of them are of Jewish, Greek, or Latin origin. In the middle ages, Christian names were mainly current among the clergy, the nobility, and the urban population, while in the villages, until as late as the past century, predominant were the Slavic names and their derivatives. In Bulgaria, as anywhere else, the Christian name system was "remade" in terms of the sound and grammar laws of the indigenous language, and strictly conformed to its regularities. Of course, many Bulgarians might not know that Petâr means "stone", but that does not prevent them from believing the name to be of Bulgarian origin - as do the English with respect to Peter, the Germans - with Peter, the Russians - with Piotr, or the French - with Pierre. A number of foreign Christian names got their immediate Bulgarian equivalent - Theodosius became Bogdan, Theodore and Dorotheos - Bozhidar, Staurios - Krastyu, Paraskeue - Petka, Theophane and Theope - Bozhana.

Indigenous names, formed over a period of fifteen hundred years now, are in fact the most numerous ones. They include a great number of derivatives of Slavic and Christian names, many loan translations (literal translations from other languages), Bulgarian designations of various states, phenomena, plants, geographical sites, character traits. By way of illustration, here follows a short list of male names, formed from the root "RAD" (one that causes or is filled with joy): Rade, Radi, Radyo, Radko, Radan, Radenko, Radoy, Radesh, Radin, Radoyko, Radoil, Radoul, Radon, Radota, Radovan, Raino, Raiko, Rayan, Radush...

A characteristic feature (although of still unknown origin) of the Bulgarian name system in the past was the doubling of royal or aristocratic proper names. For instance, Simeon-Roman took the names of his two powerful grandfathers, on his mother's and his father's side. These name pairs - an official Christian and a Slavic folk name, became an established tradition in the Samuel dynasty, Gavril Radomir and Ivan Vladislav being the best known examples.  All rulers in the 12th-14th centuries (both males and females), and possibly all aristocrats, had dual proper names - Ivan Asen, Aleksii Slav, Dobromir Chrys, Todor Svetoslav, Georgi Terter, Teodora Anna, Keratza Petritza, Kera Tamara, etc. Pair names were to be found among non-aristocratic circles too. In some cases the second name in a pair acquired the meaning of a family name.

To make the list of specifically Bulgarian proper names a bit longer, we should mention several more names: boy's - Dobri (good), Zdravko (sound and healthy), Zhelyu (from Zheliaz - iron), Stoyan (hardy), Petko (originally, born on Friday), Kamen (stone, cf. Peter), Goran (abbreviated from Grigor - Gregory), Vesselin (cheerful), Radostin (joyful), Boyko (bold), Bratan (brother's son), Naiden (found, foundling), Liubomir (originally - to be the world's darling, in modern times - also peace-loving); Miroslav; girl's - Stanka (from: to take one's stand, settle), Tzveta (flower, cf. Florence), Rositza (dew), Roumiana (pink-cheeked), Rada (joyful), Neda (abbreviated from Nedelya - Sunday), Milka (from Mila: nice, kind, sweet), Blaga (sweet, good) Penka (abbreviated from Petkana, Petrana; cf. Pen, Penny), Albena, Zornitza (morning star), Temenuzhka (Violet), Karamfila (pink /flower/), Lyubomira, Miroslava, Rilka  ... and many more.

Quite a number of new names, borrowed from neighbouring or more distant nations, were added to these three groups over the past century: Mariana, Eleonora, Igor, Oleg, Madlena, Silviya, Antoaneta, etc. In many cases, parents would choose the foreign version of what already existed in Bulgarian, giving preference to, let's say, the English Elizabeth instead of Elisaveta, Magdalena instead of Magdalina, Daniel instead of Danail. During the last two decades, the Bulgarian name system has been under strong West-European influence. An ever more frequent occurrence is giving girls male-sounding names such as Nikol (Western Nicolle) instead of the Bulgarian Nikolina, for example. Some boys are given oddly sounding names like Endryu (Andrew) instead of the traditional Andrey.

Naturally, Bulgarians not only "import", but also "export" appellations - popular abroad are for instance a few Bulgarian proper names such as Boris, Vladimir, Vladislav, Nadezhda.

In the past, a child's name used to be chosen by his/her parents, sponsor (for this same reason, also called godfather), or by the priest - he/she was named after the grandfather, some other relation or, the Christian patron of his birthday. Today, it is entirely a parents' choice. About half of the first-born among the Sofia residents continue their grandfather's or grandmother's names preserving at least the first letter (for example, the grandson of a Vasil would be called Vladislav). The rest of them give their child any name which they like.

Compound proper names of the type of Ana-Maria or Maria-Magdalena are rare in Bulgaria, although they are sometimes used.

Towards 1980, a proper name has 243 bearers on the average - males and females (291 and 209, respectively). The top ten list of women's names is: Maria, Ivanka, Elena, Mariika, Yordanka, Ana, Penka, Nadezhda, Radka, Anka. That of men's names includes: Ivan, Gheorghi, Dimitâr, Petâr, Hristo, Nikolay, Todor, Yordan, Stoyan, Vasil.

In addition to one's given name, each contemporary Bulgarian has also a middle (father's) and a surname.

The middle name is something comparatively new. It was introduced in the 19th century, through administrative acts, and formed by adding the  -ov (or -ev) suffix to one's father's proper name, for example Ivan - Ivanov, Gheorghi - Gheorghiev. However, this innovation had roots in the older Ottoman tradition in tax records entries, where tax payers were registered following the rule of "Ivan, Ivan's son".

As for family names, until about the 18th century they came from the forefather's name, occupation, nickname, place of origin, etc. without any suffix at all. Later, ever more often the all-Slavic name suffixes "ov" ("-ev"), "-ski", "-ich", "-in" came into use. Thus, if the family descended from a Petâr, the respective family name can be Petrov, Petrovski, or Petrovich. Surnames ending in "-in" were mainly given to widow's children (nowadays - to children whose father is unknown or formally unrecognized), e.g. Marin (Maria's son).

The endings of female surnames are "-ova" ("-eva"), "-ska", "-ich", "-ina" ("-in"), respectively.

Until the beginning of the 20th century, forms issued by the central and local community administrations had sometimes a "nickname" entry column. Nicknames were in general use and institutionally accepted during the past centuries. A nickname was attributed by the community to a clan, family, or an individual. Its substance did not follow any particular rule. It could be related with certain skills, with one's appearance, peculiar characteristics, or occupation. Today nickname usage is mainly limited to informal communication. However, public figures are often "decorated" with nicknames: The Nubian (Vasil Mikhailov, former MP from the UDF), The Commander (Ivan Kostov), The Steam-Roller (Evgeni Bakardzhiev, former Minister of Construction and Regional Planning), The Strategist (Alexandar Lilov, former leader and ideologist of the Bulgarian Communist/Socialist Party), Bateto [The Big Brother] (Ivan Slavkov, lately notorious BOC ex-President), Tato [Dad] (Todor Zhivkov, Bulgaria's long-term authoritarian communist leader)... Record holders in the "nickname discipline" are neither politicians, nor football players, but thugs, whose nicknames deserve special study...

Nowadays, family names in Bulgaria are largely unified, i.e. although there are names like Ostoich, Koulin, Novoseletz, Tzavella, Treyakishki, Tourmachki, the prevailing majority of them end in "-ov" ("-ev") - Kostov, Zhelev, Zhivkov, Stoichkov, Nikolov, Petrov, Bachvarov, Barzakov, Staikov, while the other end in "-ski", "-ska" - Peevski, Sofianski, Mikhailovski, Sandanski, Ilievski, Nakovski, Paounovski, Stoyanovski...

The top twenty most frequent Bulgarian boy's proper names  /1980/

 

1. Ivan

2. Gheorghi

3. Dimitar

4. Petar

5. Hristo

6. Nikolay

7. Todor

8. Yordan

9. Stoyan

10. Vasil

11. Stefan

12. Anghel

13. Nikola

14. Atanas

15. Iliya

16. Assen

17. Kiril

18. Krasimir

19. Alexandâr

20. Emil

The top twenty most frequent Bulgarian girl's proper names /1980/

 

1. Maria

2. Ivanka

3. Elena

4. Mariika

5. Yordanka

6. Ana

7. Penka

8. Nadezhda

9. Radka

10. Anka

11. Stoyanka

12. Stanka

13. Vasilka

14. Emiliya

15. Violeta

16. Donka

17. Rositza

18. Tzvetanka

19. Margarita

20. Todorka

 

 

Meanings/equivalents of the above 40 names: 1. Ivan (John); 2. Gheorghi (George); 3. Dimitar (Greek: Demetrios); 4. Petar (Peter); 5.Hristo (close to Christian); 6. Nikolay (Nicholas); 7. Todor (Theodore); 8. Yordan (Jordan); 9. Stoyan (hardy); 10. Vasil (Basil); 11. Stefan (Stephen); 12. Anghel (angel) ; 13. Nikola (Nicholas); 14. Atanas (Gr.: immortal); 15. Iliya (Elijah); 16. Assen (name of a medieval Bulgarian king, of Old Bulgarian origin); 17. Kiril (Cyril); 18. Krasimir (to be the world's embelishment); 19. Alexandâr (Alexander); 20. Emil

 

1. Maria (Mary, Maria); 2. Ivanka (Jane); 3. Elena (Helen, Ellen); 4. Mariika (Mary);

5. Yordanka (female name parallel to Yordan - Jordan); 6. Ana (Anna, Ann); 7. Penka (cf. Pen, Penny); 8. Nadezhda (Hope); 9. Radka (Joy); 10. Anka (Annie); 11. Stoyanka (parallel feminine form of the boy's name Stoyan); 12. Stanka - (from: to take one's stand, settle); 13. Vasilka (feminine form corresponding to Vasil - Basil);14. Emiliya (Emily); 15. Violeta (Violet); 16. Donka (possibly derivative of Andonka, cf. Antonia); 17. Rositza (dew); 18. Tzvetanka (Flower); 19. Margarita (Daisy, Margaret); 20. Todorka (Theodora)

 

***

Early in January 2010 Bulgaria's National Statistical Institute published the latest official data on the frequency of proper names in Bulgaria. According to their statistics the number of names of the Bulgarian citizens (permanent residents in this country) amounts to over 67 thousand (29 thousand for the men and 38 thousand for the women).

The most widespread names for males are Gheorghi and Ivan. Nearly 1 372 thousand males (38%) are bearers of names ranking among the most often used ones.

The variety among females is much greater. About 762 thousand (19,4% of all women) bear some of the most common girl's names. The most frequent one is Maria - the given name of 125 thousand women, and if we take into account its derivative Mariyka (35 thousand), its top position becomes even more definite.

Most frequent proper names in Bulgaria, end of 2009

 

/National Statistical Institute/

 

Males

Females

Order

(Rank)

Number

Name

Percentage

 

Order

(Rank)

Number

Name

Percentage

1

176184 

Gheorghi

4,79

 

1

125414

Maria

3,20

2

175869

Ivan

4,78

 

2

72215

Ivanka

1,84

133116

Dimitâr

3,62

 

3

58041

Elena

1,48

4

91782

Nikolay

2,50

 

4

44895

Yordanka

1,14

5

81470

Petâr

 2,22

 

5

36916

Penka

0,94

6

65928

Hristo

1,79

 

6

35367

Mariyka

0,90

7

56388

Yordan

1,53

 

7

31319

Rositza

0,80

8

54774

Stefan

1,49

 

8

30383

Daniela

0,77

9

54548

Todor

1,48

 

9

29263

Radka

0,75

10

54453

Vasil

1,48

 

10

29258

Violeta

0,75

11

52959

Stoyan

1,44

 

11

28954

Petya

0,74

12

49729

Alexandâr

1,35

 

12

28893

Desislava

0,74

13

49385

 Atanas

1,34

 

13

28849

Nadezhda

0,74

14

48635

Anghel

1,32

 

14

28421

Margarita

0,72

15

45359

Krasimir

1,23

 

15

26805

Stoyanka

0,68

16

40809

Plamen

1,11

 

16

25768

Silviya

0,66

17

39220

Nikola

1,07

 

17

25720

Ghergana

0,66

18

33987

Kiril

0,92

 

18

25627

Rumyana

0,65

19

33641

Iliya

0,92

 

19

25125

Emiliya

0,64

20

33367

Ivaylo

0,91

 

20

25050

Stefka

0,64

 Total

1371603

 

37,31

 

Total

762283

 

19,42

Evident in both sections of the table are the shifts in the overall order, as well as the emergence of some new names among the top 20 most common.

There are some notable data reported by the NSI associated with changes in the structure of proper names used in today's generations. The name most often given to boys born since 2007 is Gheorghi (almost 4300 boys have been given this name which accounts for 3.5% of the live born during the period). However, the second place now belongs to Aleksandâr (4000 and 3.3%, respectively). Traditional names have been less and less often used (Ivan ranks fourth, Dimitâr - fifth, Nikolay - sixth, while Hristo and Yordan have fallen out of the top 20). This trend departs from the name structure of the general population. Increasingly popular have become names such as Martin (ranking third), Daniel (ranking eighth), Viktor (ranking tenth) - all of them being out of the first twenty among the general population.

Most common for the girls born since 2007 is the name Viktoria, followed by Maria (Mariyka does not rank at all among the top twenty five). Much more frequently used girl's names are Gabriela (ranking third), Aleksandra (fourth), Nikol, Simona, Yoana, Gergana, Teodora, Raya, Elena, as well as Monika, Mihaela, Vanesa, Sofiya, Desislava, Aneliya, Ivana, Tzvetelina, Kalina.

Another trend in the recent years has been the use of compound names, especially for girls. Ranking first in this respect is the name Ana-Maria (as many as 300 or so newborn girls have been given this name, with certain variations in the spelling), Maria-Magdalena (around 100), Maria-Antoaneta, etc.

 

Proper names most often given to newborns in Bulgaria for the last three years (2007-2009)
(National Statistical Institute)

Males

Females

Order

(Rank)  

Number

Name

Percentage

Order

(Rank)

Number

Name

Percentage

 

 

 

 

1

4288

Georgi

3,48

1

3059

Viktoria

2,63

2

4034

Aleksandâr

3,27

2

2903

Maria

2,49

3

3253

Martin

2,64

3

2198

Gabriela

1,89

4

3127

Ivan

2,54

4

1994

Aleksandra

1,71

5

2741

Dimitar

2,22

5

1862

Nikol

1,60

6

2611

Nikolay

2,12

6

1564

Simona

1,34

7

2050

Daniel

1,66

7

1323

Yoana

1,14

8

2017

Kristiyan

1,64

8

1216

Gergana

1,04

9

1823

  Nikola

1,48

9

1208

Teodora

1,04

10

1821

  Viktor

1,48

10

1191

Raya

1,02

11

1444

Petâr

1,17

11

1116

Elena

0,96

12

1434

Kaloyan

1,16

12

904

Monika

0,78

13

1422

  Stefan

1,15

13

851

Mihaela

0,73

14

1358

Bozhidar

1,10

14

787

Vanesa

0,68

15

1352

Alex

1,10

15

769

Magdalena

0,66

16

1310

Ivaylo

1,06

16

750

Kristina

0,64

17

1307

Teodor

1,06

17

743

Sofiya

0,64

18

1239

Boris

1,01

18

738

Ivayla

0,63

19

1219

Anghel

0,99

19

735

Desislava

0,63

20

1217

Hristo

0,99

20

712

Aneliya

0,61

21

1108

Vasil

0,90

21

682

Ivana

0,59

22

1108

Yordan

0,90

22

659

Daniela

0,57

23

1106

Mihail

0,90

23

658

Kalina

0,57

24

1043

Denis

0,85

24

656

Tsvetelina

0,56

25

1030

Atanas

0,84

25

652

Denitsa

0,56

Total

46462

37,70

Total

29930

25,72

As for name days, the most numerous group (of over 300 thousand) of the population celebrate Ivanovden (Ivan/Ivana/Ivanka, Ivaylo/Ivayla, Ivo/Iva, Yonko/Yonka, Yoto, Vanyo/Vanya, Enyo, Kaloyan). Gherghiovden (St. George's Day) is the name day of about 200 thousand Bulgarians (Georgi/Georgiya, Gergin/Gergina, Gyuro/Gyura, Gotse, Gergana, Gancho, Genko, George). Epiphany (St. Jordan's Day) is celebrated as their name day by some 150 thousand people (Yordan, Bogdan, Teodosiy, Bogomil, Teofan). These three holidays are followed by Nikulden (St. Nicholas' Day), Petrovden (St. Paraskeva's Day), Dimitrovden (St. Dimitri's Day), etc.

***

We can also mention here that in Bulgaria the most popular Muslim names for boys are Mehmed - 16 000, Ahmed - 13 900, and Mustafa - 11 900. The most popular Muslim girl's names are Fatme - 18 100, Aishe - 15 800, and Emine - 9 850.

 

 

 

 
 
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