A (Hebrew) article at https://he.chabad.org/library/article_cdo/aid/2096985 mentions, incidentally, this detail (translation mine):

“What's with this name Vasily?” he thought to himself.

Now, there are a lot of Russian names that come from Jewish ones, or at least have some kind of Jewish connection. Jews in Russia bear names like Misha, Sasha, Boris, Vladimir, Igor—names reminiscent of Moshe, Baruch, Zev, Asher, etc. But “Vasily”? That’s a true-blue gentile name; not many Jews bear it.

So I'd like to know: what indeed makes certain names more or less likely to be used by Russian Jews? It's not just the etymology, since neither Boris nor Vladimir nor Igor come from Hebrew or (as far as I know) have any Hebrew/Jewish antecedents. I don't suppose it has to do with whether these are saints' names, either, seeing as how there's a St. Boris and a St. Vladimir. And if it's just the phonetic similarity of the beginning of the name - then why is Vladimir, which would pair up with the Jewish name (Zev) Wolf and its diminutive Velvel, more preferred than Vasily?

  • Please, ask a less general question. Names were connected by one of two possible things, sound and meaning. But they are too numerous, I can't type all of them.
    – Elena
    Jan 2, 2019 at 16:52
  • @Elena: thanks. I wasn't asking for a comprehensive list (and the body of my question isn't about that anyway, just the last line), just if any examples pop out.
    – Meir
    Jan 2, 2019 at 17:11
  • @Meir as a rule of thumb questions that from the very beginning supposed to have an open list of possible answers is too broad. To give you idea - here are some examples of on-topic questions that somehow relates to yours - * russian.stackexchange.com/questions/13796/… * russian.stackexchange.com/questions/11121/… * russian.stackexchange.com/questions/7734/…
    – shabunc
    Jan 2, 2019 at 17:29
  • @Meir thank you for the edit. Can you please edit the title as well and let's try to give it another shot.
    – shabunc
    Jan 2, 2019 at 17:35
  • 1
    I think it's a great question. There's no reason to get anal and demand "a less general question". We all know what @Meir means.
    – Alex
    Jan 4, 2019 at 21:44

1 Answer 1


Well, all the Jews in Russia historically had Jewish names. But, to make it more pronounceable for the Russians, all the foreigners got Russian or Russian-sounding names and patronymic names, besides theirs. It was a part of what is called обрусение. But still, it was not a 100% case. Many Jews had only Jewish names, with a patronymic name derived from the Jewish name of the father. Just the local tradition of pronunciation tinted the names.

E.g., Мара Меировна, Наум Лазаревич. Pay attention I haven't given surnames here.

I think that Василий just sounds perfectly Russian. Just as Марк sounds traditionally Jewish, though this name is not present in Torah, but there are many Russian Jews with this name.

Борис resembles Борух, usually it's the same person.

Илья is the Russian pronunciation of the prophet's name.

Миша resembles Моше, but Михаил can be either Мойша or Хаим.

But sometimes people just choose a name which they like and can turn from Цадик Израилевич to Евгений Борисович. It's less predictable than you might expect. I'd say, that it was also a kind of Jewish tradition which Russian name to choose.

  • Thanks. That last sentence maybe gets to the crux of my question - whether indeed there's some kind of Jewish tradition about this, or whether it's just one of those things that happens to be this way without a clear cause.
    – Meir
    Jan 2, 2019 at 17:10
  • Also, your point about Марк is rather interesting: it doesn't sound Jewish to my ear, but I guess it must have been popular enough among Jews for Marx (as in Karl and the Brothers) to have become a Jewish surname.
    – Meir
    Jan 2, 2019 at 17:33
  • @Meir, it is not a surname, it is a first name.
    – Elena
    Jan 2, 2019 at 18:15
  • @Meir indeed it seems that Russian equivalents for Ashkenazi Jewish names would often be chosen by sonic semblance Lev would replace Leib, Alexander - Israel, not sure a replacement to what names would be quite popular Igor, Yevgeny, Vadim, Kirill... besides typically Jewish female names with Jews would associated such names as Raya/Raisa, Maia, Bronia/Bronislava but what authentic Jewish names they resemble if any is anyone's guess Jan 2, 2019 at 18:44
  • Thanks. (About Mark - I know you were talking about it as a first name. But the same way as the first name Abraham yields the surname (among his descendants) Abrahams, and Isaac -> Isaacs, etc., so I guess Mark -> Marks or Marx.)
    – Meir
    Jan 2, 2019 at 18:50

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