A primer on Bulgarian names

My Kevorkian family settled in Vratsa, Bulgaria after surviving the Armenian Genocide, and their three children (Rebecca, Levon, and Shavash) lived there till 1942, when they managed to come to America. The parents, uncle, and grandfather were away at the time, but they come to America later in 1942. My dear Laura Nicholson is also of partial Bulgarian descent on her mother’s side (family name Zoravkov), and I made one of the midwives in Little Ragdoll a Bulgarian–American who also has the surname Zoravkov.

Bulgaria also gets much love from me since the heroic (if imperfect) Tsar Boris III saved his kingdom’s Jewish community from the Nazis. The communities in annexed Thrace and Macedonia weren’t nearly so miraculously blessed, but the Bulgarian people and their brave Tsar did the best they could to save their friends and neighbors.

My orphanage girls Naina Yezhova and Katya Chernomyrdina also have a Bulgarian connection, as arrangements are made for them to defect under the pretext of taking an approved cruise to Bulgaria in April 1927. When the ship stops in Varna, they simply never get back on, and are met by an underground contact who gets them on a ship taking a dance troupe to America.

Pronunciation:

The Bulgarian Cyrillic alphabet is very easy to get the hang of if you already know Russian. Unless you have a pressing desire to learn another Cyrillic alphabet and Slavic language first (e.g., you’re a proud Montenegrin–American or you’ve been a passionate Ukrainophile since you were 13), I really highly recommend learning Russian first. It serves as a great base for picking up all the other Cyrillic alphabets and Slavic languages.

Like Ukrainian and Belarusian, there are only a few differences in letters and transliteration. They don’t have Ë or Э, and only use the letter E for their E sound. Unlike the other Cyrillic alphabets, in Bulgarian, E is pronounced and accurately transliterated as E, not Ye. Щ is pronounced SHT (as in schtick), not SHCH. X is transliterated as H, not KH. They’re also missing Ы (a short Y sound), and Ъ, instead of being rendered as the unpronounced hard sign, is rendered as an A and pronounced something like the U in “turn.”

Patronymics and surnames:

Bulgarian patronymics are formed by adding -ov(a) or -ev(a) to the end of the father’s name. Historically, if one’s surname wasn’t an established family name, one would take one’s father’s patronymic as a family name. For example, if your father’s patronymic were Petrov, your surname would become Petrov(a). Thus, surnames would continually change in each new generation. This is almost never done anymore, as it was rather confusing.

Some people are better-known by their patronymics than their surnames, particularly since surnames and patronymics take the same endings.

As in Russian, surnames usually end in -ov(a), -ev(a), -in(a), and -ski/ska. Many names also end in -ek.

Common Bulgarian names and their nickname forms:

Female:

Albena
Aleksandra (Aleksandrina)
Anastasiya
Anna (Anka)
Bilyana
Bisera (Pearl)
Bistra (Pure; Clean)
Blaga
Blagorodna (Noble)
Blaguna
Bogdana (Dana)
Borislava
Boyana (Boyka)
Bozhidara
Branimira
Darina (Gift)
Denitsa
Desislava
Ekaterina, Katerina
Elena
Eleonora
Elisaveta
Emiliya
Eva
Evgeniya (Zhenya)
Gabriela
Galina, Galena
Gergana (Georgia)
Grozda, Grozdana (Dana) (Grapes)
Hristina, Kristina
Iliana, Iliyana
Ioana, Yoana
Irina
Iskra (Spark)
Iva (Willow)
Kalina (Viburnum tree)
Klavdiya (Claudia)
Krasimira
Lala (Tulip)
Lidiya
Liliya
Lilyana
Lyubov (Love)
Lyudmila
Magdalina, Magdalena
Malina (Raspberry)
Margarita
Marina
Mariya
Marta
Mila (Milka)
Milena (Milka)
Nadezhda (Nadya) (Hope)
Nedelya, Nedyalka (Neda) (Sunday)
Nevena (Marigold)
Nikolina
Ognyana
Olga
Paraskeva
Petra
Polina (Paulina)
Rada (Radka) (Happy)
Radoslava (Radka)
Rayna
Rosa, Roza (Rositsa)
Rumena
Ruzha (Hollyhock)
Silviya (Silva)
Simona
Snezhana (Snowy)
Sofiya
Stanislava (Stanka)
Stoyanka
Svetlana
Tatyana
Teodora, Todorka
Tereza
Tsveta (Tsvetanka) (Flower)
Varvara (Barbara)
Vasiliya (Vaska, Vasilka)
Venera
Veronika
Viktoriya
Violeta
Yana
Yordana (Yordanka, Dana)
Yuliya, Yuliana
Zaharina (Zaharinka, Zara)
Zhivka
Zora (Zorka)
Zornitsa (Morning star)

Male:

Adam
Aleksandar (Sasho)
Andon, Anton (Doncho)
Andrey
Apostol
Asen
Blagoy, Blagun
Bogdan
Bogomil
Boris
Borislav
Boyan (Boyko)
Bozhidar
Branimir (Lyuba and Ivan’s Kabardin horse, as well as the underground contact who helps Naina and Katya in Varna)
Chavdar (Leader; Dignitary)
Damyan
Danail
Desislav
Deyan
Dimitar (Mitre)
Dragan, Dragomir
Emil
Evgeni (Zhenya)
Filip
Gavrail, Gavril
Genadi
Georgi (Gosho, Zhoro, Getza, Gogo)
Grigor
Grozdan (Grapes)
Haralambi (To shine from happiness)
Hristofor (Hristo, Itso, Hrisi)
Ilarion
Iliya (Elijah)
Ioan, Yoan
Ivan (Ivo, Vanko, Vanyo)
Ivaylo (Iva, Ivo) (Wolf)
Kalin
Kaloyan (Handsome Ioan)
Kamen (Stone)
Kiril
Kliment
Konstantin, Kostadin (Kosta)
Krasimir
Krasto, Krastyu (Cross)
Kristiyan
Kuzman
Lazar
Lyuben (Love)
Lyubomir (Lyubo, Miro)
Lyudmil
Marin
Marko
Martin
Matey (Matthew)
Mikhail
Milan, Milen (Milko)
Miroslav (Miro)
Mladen (Young)
Momchil (Boy)
Natanail
Naum
Nayden (Found)
Nedelcho, Nedyalko
Neofit
Nikifor
Nikola, Nikolay (Niki, Kolyo)
Ognyan
Paskal
Pavel (Paul)
Petar (Penko, Petya, Petko)
Plamen (Flame)
Radomir, Radoslav (Radko)
Rumen (Red-cheeked; ruddy)
Samuil
Sava
Sergey
Simeon
Spartak
Spas (Saved)
Stamen (Firm)
Stanimir, Stanislav (Stanko)
Stefan
Stoyan (To stay; to stand)
Svetomir, Svetoslav
Teodor, Todor (Tosho, Totyo, Toshko)
Tihomir
Timotei
Toma
Trifon
Tsvetan, Tsvetko (Flower)
Valentin
Valeri
Valko (Wolf)
Vasil (Vaska, Vasko)
Ventseslav
Veselin (Cheerful)
Viktor
Vladimir (Vlado)
Vladislav (Vlado)
Yakov (Jakob)
Yan (Yanko)
Yasen (Ash tree; clear; serene)
Yavor
Yordan, Iordan
Yosif
Yulian
Zahari
Zdravko (Healthy)
Zhelyazko (Iron)
Zhivko (Living)
Zlatan (Zlatko) (Golden)

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2 comments on “A primer on Bulgarian names

  1. Arlee Bird says:

    This post, my stamp collection, and the song by It’s a Beautiful Day are probably as close as I’ll ever get to Bulgaria. You continue to bring an unknown world into the little familiar world of my writing office.

    Arlee Bird
    A to Z Challenge Co-host
    Tossing It Out

    Like

  2. Chrys Fey says:

    I love this spelling Anastasiya for Anastasia. I guess I’m just a big fan of replacing I’s with Y’s. 😉

    Like

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