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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

In Names, Traktor's Out, Darya's In

When couples want to name their babies something unusual, like Kompyutr or Privatizatsiya, Svetlana Pavlova advises them to think twice.

"Choosing a person's name is a big responsibility. We try to recommend choosing real Russian names," said Pavlova, 48, pushing a book of names across her desk at the Dmitrovka Regional Registry of Acts of the Civil Status, or ZAGS, where newborns have been registered since 1917. "Parents don't experiment with names any more, like they did in the Soviet days."

Back then, babies were called Vilen (an abbreviated form of V.I. Lenin), Marlen (Marx plus Lenin), Traktor (for agriculture's miracle machine) and Oktyabrina (the month of the Bolshevik Revolution).

Actor Artyom Kaminsky's aunt's name is Ninel, Lenin spelled backward, and his father's name is Marx, making Kaminsky's patronymic Marksovich. During his school days, teachers always gave Kamensky higher grades on Soviet holidays because of his patriotic name. "Sure, you could laugh at the names," Kaminsky, 32, said. "But 50 years ago, people believed in the Revolution. These words were sacred to them."

Last year, the most popular names for children were more or less traditional. For boys, parents chose, in descending order, Alexander, Yevgeny, Daniil, Dmitry, Ivan and Alexei. Common names for girls included Anastasia, Anna and Darya, which, until recently, had been eschewed by many as a provincial name.

"Everybody loves Anastasia all of the sudden," Pavlova said. "It's number one. All this talk about the bones of the tsar and his family seems to have rekindled interest in royal names." Pavlova named her own son Alexander Sergeyevich, after the poet Pushkin.

The return to historical Russian names represents a trend to Russify and reestablish social order, said historian and sociologist Yakov Krotov. "Many name their children after their grandparents and so continue a tradition of names that helps keep them rooted, even if only psychologically," he said.

Twenty years ago, most girls were named Yelena, Natalya, Svetlana and Irina, while boys were often called Oleg, Nikolai, Maxim and Vladimir. Those names are hardly mentioned at the ZAGS registry these days. "Beautiful but generic names like Vera (Faith), Nadyezhda (Hope) and Lyubov (Love) have been all but forgotten, while people are instead taking more of an interest in which Christian saints bless their birthday," said Galina Seleznyova, 48, of the Tverskoi regional ZAGS. One 20-year-old man came to her a few months ago to change his name from Alexander to Nikolai because he was born on that saint's day.

"People are more interested in what a name means these days than just how it sounds," Seleznyova said. Sales of astrology books about names are booming, prompting parents to choose Alexander or Yevgeny, for example. They mean "strong one" and "dear and gentle one," respectively, according to astrological charts. Since the Princess of Wales' death, slews of babies in England and even a few in Russia have been christened Diana. A year ago, dozens of Russians chose the name Mariana after a popular Latin American soap-opera star.

"This is a great day," said Armenian Ashot Matinyan, as Seleznyova typed in the registration information of his granddaughter, just named Anaid. The baby's mother, Nelli, chose the name, "because it is a beautiful and typical name in our country. A name carries in it the child's identity, and ours is Armenian. It would be ridiculous to give her a foreign name."

Occasionally, parents enter Seleznyova's office without having decided on a name. The mother wants one name, the father another, and Seleznyova must intervene. "If they don't work it out with me, they leave frustrated. Usually in a few weeks only one returns to register a chosen name, perhaps having snuck out while the other is sleeping."