What’s in a name? That which we call a rose
By any other name would smell as sweet.
— William Shakespeare, “Romeo and Juliet,” Act II, Scene ii
I’m not reading as much print news recently as I once did. The other day, I got irritated with one too many broadcasters pronouncing the names of the presidents of Ukraine and Russia with the usual Midwestern standard vowel, “uh.”
Surely Volodymyr Zelensky and Vladimir Putin ought to sound different, I thought, with such different spellings (not thinking too long about transliterations out of the Cyrillic alphabet to our Roman one.) So I looked them up in several online dictionaries to try to get to the roots of the names.
Lexico.com defines it as a city in western Russia, pronounced, Vlad-im-year.
That made me feel better than the Wikipedia entry: Not only does it state that Volodymyr and Vladimir are the Ukrainian and Russian (of course) variants of the same name, but the name comes from words meaning “great,” “famous,” and “to rule.” (I’ll save you trying to read the Cyrillic words, which I find frustrating, but I welcome comment from anyone who can read them directly.) Under Origin, Wikipedia lists “of great power” (folk etymology: “ruler of the world,” “ruler of peace.”)
Ruler of the world vs. ruler of peace? Whew.
Behindthename.com states that Vladimir is “Derived from the Slavic element vladeti “rule” combined with meru “great, famous.” The second element has also been associated with miru meaning “peace, world.” This was the name of a 9th-century ruler of Bulgaria. It was also borne by an 11th-century grand prince of Kiev, Vladimir the Great, who is venerated as a saint because of his efforts to Christianize his realm. Other notable bearers include the revolutionary and first leader of the Soviet state Vladimir Ilyich Lenin (1870-1924), and the Russian president and prime minister Vladimir Putin (1952-).”
No mention of Volodymyr the Great in present-day Kiev, though.
Personally, I will stick to carefully pronouncing the Ukrainian president’s first name with Os in it and the Russian president’s first name with a short A (ah) and Is more like what we in Midwestern North American would consider an E.
What’s in a name? These days, if it’s not pronounced clearly, a lot of danger is in a name.
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