After Ivan and Nikolai, Vladimir is probably the most recognized Russian name – and the most mispronounced.
However, for someone who is only acquainted with Russia through the media and Hollywood, the only Russian Vladimirs that might come to mind are Lenin and Putin. Let’s just set these two aside – there’s enough talk of them elsewhere. Because, really, I’d rather talk about the family and friends who bear that name, and are known by a number of traditional diminutives (nicknames) — none of which are Vlad.
Book lovers may recognize the name Nabokov – also a Vladimir, the author of many books, but probably most famous for Lolita, the novel that insured his fortune. As an emigre, he was both a Russian and an American
(English-language) writer, and a professor and scholar of Russian literature at Cornell. He described with humor and clarity the life and characters of the Russian emigration in Europe and in America.
Ironically, Vladimir Mayakovsky may be better known even though he only wrote in Russian — and mostly in verse. But he was loud, a revolutionary poet, and an avant-garde graphic designer.
Generally unknown in the West (except in the Russian emigre diaspora), Vladimir Vysotsky was an actor, poet, and singer-songwriter who died in 1980. In life, he had a devoted following of fans who watched all his films, attended his plays, and knew his songs by heart. Even today, he is remembered faithfully, through the recordings of his performances, by way of monuments in his memory, and even of buildings named after him.
Of course, there had to be precedents to these 20th and 21st century celebrities (of which I have only named a very few – many more Vladimirs rose to preeminence: athletes, actors, artists… And just about every Russian has at least one or two Vladimirs among their relatives and friends.
Vladimir is not just a Russian first name – it is old enough to have a Slavic origin, which makes it equally popular in Poland (as Włodzimierz ) as in other Slavic countries (where it is also used as Vladimir, although with variations in pronunciation). From the Russian it was adopted into Germanic languages (by way of Scandinavia, in honor of a Russian ancestor) and became Waldemar. More recently, it also became popular in Romance-speaking countries: Vladimiro/Vladimir/Bladimir in Spanish, Vladimir/Wladimir in Portuguese, Vladimiro/Wladimiro in Italian.
The most famous Vlamimir of Russian history is Vladimir Sviatoslavich the Great, Grand Prince of Kiev (958–1015).
He is known as Vladimir I, and also as Saint Vladimir. According to legend, he chose Orthodox Christianity as Russia’s unifying religion, and baptized Russia. Whether truth or legend, Christianity came to Russia by way of Byzantium, and the ties, political and cultural, with Constantinople were strengthened under Vladimir the Great, and the legacy of this connection survives to this day.
The second famous Vladimir is another Kievan Prince of the Rurikid dynasty. Vladimir Vsevolodovich Monomakh (Monomachus) or Vladimir II (1053-1125) ruled first in Smolensk, then Chernigov, Pereyaslavl, and finally Kiev. He was the great-grandson of Vladimir I, and like his forefather left a lasting mark on the history of Russia in the form of important reforms to the first law code, the Ruskaya Pravda, or Rus Law, established by Vadimir I’s son Iaroslav. Vladimir II’s nickname of Monomakh (Monomachus) comes from his mother, who is reputed to be the daughter of the Byzantine Emperor Constantine IX Monomachus.
Real people are not the only famous ones named Vladimir. Another Kniaz (Prince) Vladimir of great fame comes from the Russian epic songs. Unlike his namesake Vladimir I of Kiev, with whom he shares the nickname of “Bright Sun” ( Красно Солнышко), he is not a hero of the epics, but a foil for the epic heroes. He is the one always in need of rescuing – the symbol of Russia in need of protection and rescue from the invasions of nomadic tribes from the Asian steppes, and then from the ultimate invador and arch-enemy of the epic heroes, the Mongols of the Golden Horde.
To round up this quick survey, we have to mention the city of Vladimir, the capital of the Vladimir Oblast, a federal subdivision of Russia. It is a very old city; it was the interim capital after Kiev was destroyed at the beginning of the Mongol invasion, and before Moscow rose to power.
Now that you’ve read this much about the name Vladimir, you must wonder how to pronounce it properly. Trust me, it’s probably not how you last heard it on TV. Most of the newscasters get it wrong.
In my FREE mini-course I tell you how it should really sound.
And in my full-size course, I tell you more about names — Russian, from Russia, and in Russia. And of course how they should sound. With a Russian accent.
And if you want to read all those names in Cyrillic? I have a FREE course for that, too.
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