Volodymyr vs. Vladimir: What's in a name?

Volodymyr vs. Vladimir: What's in a name?
photo by Margaret H. Laing

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.

Uh-oh.

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.”)

Uh-oh.

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.

Comments

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  • The difference between good and evil.

    I was wondering about the spellings of Kiev and Kyiv, too.
    Kyiv is preferred spelling of Independent Ukraine.
    Thank you for an informative and inspiring post!

  • In reply to Weather Girl:

    You're welcome. The only thing I've seen about retaining the "Kiev" spelling is in the meat-and-cheese dish Chicken Kiev. Otherwise, I don't see or hear anything but Kyiv (pronounced Keev).

  • In reply to Margaret H. Laing:

    I apologize for my culinary mistake. The meat-and-cheese chicken dish I was thinking of is Chicken Cordon Bleu. Chicken Kiev, which does retain the second word's spelling, is filled with what I've read as "chilled butter," but I've eaten it when the butter is hot and liquefied.

  • In reply to Margaret H. Laing:

    Since you have to bake it, the butter is going to melt.
    It is similar to the old TV dinners, where a pat of butter was depicted on top of the corn and mashed potatoes, but was never there.

  • In reply to jack:

    Right! It's chilled (or a pat) only when the dinner around it is chilled.

  • Yes! I wondered why. You inspired me. Thank you!

  • In reply to Weather Girl:

    You're welcome. Thanks for stopping by.

  • You hit it on the head with the Cyrillic comment. I've run into a number of Ukrainian people whose names were unspellable and unpronounceable. Polish isn't much better, even though it uses a Roman alphabet. I bet the two names are not pronounced differently.

    There was Vlad the Impaler (Dracula), who was Romanian.

    I don't get the Hispanic ballplayers named Vladimir, such as Vladimir Guerrero. Maybe he's a hitter of great power.

  • In reply to jack:

    Thank you for the kind words. I have been listening to interviews, news stories, and YouTube reruns of "Servant of the People" (a.k.a. Volodymyr Zelensky's old job), and I'm trying to pick up differences between what's referred to as speaking Russian and what happens when someone (fictional or not) insists on speaking Ukraiinian. I am beginning to think it's like a conference between English speakers from London, Glasgow, Chicago and Sydney.

  • Great post. Volodymyr the Great? That's Volodymyr Zelenskyy, of course.

  • In reply to Aquinas wired:

    I agree with you completely. Note the third paragraph from the end. Thank you.

  • Glaswegian is its own language. Even other Scots don't understand it.

  • In reply to Grundoon:

    You caught me, Grundoon. My relatives in Scotland came from the east, and few have settled in the west (where Glasgow is). Thus, I have little experience with Glaswegian as a dialect. But I can still surprise them by writing some old Scots worlds, such as "oxter" for "armpit." (Yes, that came in handy in a Facebook message once. I was glad my dad had taught it to me so I could surprise them!)

  • Whoops ,that's old Scots words, of course, not worlds. That's what I get for catching up on comments so late. But thanks again, Grundoon.

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