Bulgarian Names and Naming Customs

26.05.2012 § 2 Comments

Bulgarian given names are taken from a variety of sources. Biblical, Greek and Latin (like much of Europe), but also Slavic and Protobulgarian names abound among the population, with various regional varieties and pronunciations.

Geórgi (George), Iván (John, pronounced “ee-VAN”, not “I-vuhn”) and Dimítar are the three most popular boys’ names in Bulgarian. The first two are Biblical, after St. George and St. John the Baptist, respectively, while the last is the name of an important Orthodox military saint, St. Demetrius of Thessaloniki, and is distantly related to the Ancient Greek goddess Demeter.

Other popular names are the Biblical Petar, Mihail (Michael), Stefan, Hristo (Christ), Angel, and Kiril (Cyril),the Slavic Stoyan, Plamen, Nikolai, Bozhidar, Yordan and Krasimir, the Greek Todor, Viktor, Vasil, and Atanas, and the historical/Protobulgarian names Boris, Asen, Asparuh, Kubrat, Simeon, Kaloyan.

Girls’ names are led by María, followed by Ivánka (the feminine version of Ivan) and Eléna. The Slavic Radka, Rumyana, Desislava, Yordanka and Yoana, flower names Rositsa, Kalina, Violeta, Gergana, Margarita and Cvetelina, Biblical names Stefka, Sofia and Nadezhda and the Western-inspired Daniela, Silvia, Vanesa, Victoria, Monika, Kristina, Emilia round out the list.

Naming Customs

In Bulgaria, babies are often named after older relatives (often grandparents) and very rarely after their fathers, for reasons that will become clear soon. Historically, as a single name stopped being enough, people were identified by their given names and also those of their fathers using the possessive suffix -ov. For example, Ivan, the son of Dimitar would be known in the village as Ivan Dimitrov, literally (Ivan belonging to Dimitar). Naturally, as more and more Dimitars sprouted in the towns and cities, that distinction was no longer enough, and a family name was favoured instead, taken from the name of the family’s patriarch or borrowed from the hereditary craft or profession for which the family was known. Family names could end in -ov, but also -ev and, more rarely, -ski. After these two rounds of name-giving, Bulgarians emerged with a three-name system as follows:

1. Given name – a Bulgarian’s first name is the name his or her parents would get to choose, often a name favoured in the family or the name of a relative.

2. Patronymic – as in Russian, a Bulgarian’s second name is the name of their father, followed by the suffix -ov, literally meaning “child of” or “belonging to”.

3. Family/Last name – the last name was that of his or her father’s family, which his or her mother would also take upon marriage.

Gender and accord

Bulgarian names are gendered, meaning that the suffix of the patronymic and family name changes depending on whether the person is male or female. Here’s a quick example:

Ivan Stefanov Dimitrov met a girl and asked her name. It was Kalina Borisova Stoyanova, ending in -ova because that’s the feminine possessive suffix in Bulgarian. After dating for a few years and speaking to Kalina’s father, Boris (as evidenced in her patronymic, Borisova), Ivan proposed and the two were married. Kalina took her husband’s last name and became Kalina Dimitrova, but her patronymic remained Borisova. Collectively, Ivan Dimitrov and Kalina Dimitrova were known as semeistvo (“family”) Dimitrovi (the plural suffix). When their first son was born, they named him Stefan after Ivan’s father, giving him the full name Stefan Ivanov Dimitrov.

Name Days

In Bulgaria, every name is associated with an Eastern Orthodox holiday or saint’s day. For example, the name day (“imen den“) of the name Georgi is Gergiovden (St. George’s Day), which is celebrated on May 6 every year as the Day of the Bulgarian Army. Flower and plant-based names are collectively celebrated on Cvetnica (“Day of flowers”), which matches the Catholic Palm Sunday the week before Easter.

Before the Western tradition of birthdays became popular in Bulgaria, a person’s name day was the most celebrated annual holiday. Per tradition, the imennik is supposed to prepare to receive well-wishers and guests on his name day without inviting any. Nowadays, Bulgarians prefer to invite friends and family to celebrate instead, and name days are less lavishly observed than birthdays.

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