May 22, 2003 by AK
Some time in the late 1970s or early 1980s a few Russian names earlier considered peasant, obsolete and/or exotic, started coming back. I call them Russian because they were given to Russian babies at a certain time; most are of Greek, Latin or Jewish origin. Among these, Anastasia and Ksenia definitely deserve further consideration as they are still in wide demand.
Anastasia (or Anastassiya — pronounced ah-nah-stah-SEE-yah) means “risen from the dead” in Greek, as is “Christ is risen”. When a name with connotations like this — partaking in the sacred — becomes too common, I feel uneasy and disappointed, as if this commonality were somehow profane. Anastasia’s most common colloquial form is Nastya (a bit like “nasty” in British English — NAH-stya); Asya (AH-syah) is also used.
Ksenia is derived from the same root as the first one in xenophobia, i.e. “not of us”; “foreign” (Russian has a better word for the concept). At the moment, I can think of three Ksenias in Russian history, and none of them had a happy life — on the contrary, in fact. Ksenia Godunova, the daughter of Czar Boris Godunov and once the fiancée of Crown Prince Christian of Denmark, survived her betrothed (becoming “a maiden widow”) and her father and was imprisoned in a monastery until the end of her days. The blessed St. Ksenia of St. Petersburg, whose transformation began after her husband’s death in a flood, is no example of a happy earthly life. The third Ksenia is the Soviet poetess Ksenia Nekrasova (who biographers sometimes call Blessed Ksenia, too, for her unearthly simplicity bordering on mental disorder), whose life was too sad to retell. I wonder why anyone would call their daughter Ksenia after all that.
I don’t think most people think of these details. And in the big picture, I don’t mind the abundance of Nastyas and Ksyushas that much.
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