THE WORLD TRIP OF THE NAME OF BORIS

The name Boris, widespread throughout the Christian world, is considered by many people to be Slavonic. This "etymology" interprets it as a short form of the name, well known to all Slavs, Borislav. The problem, however, is that given names like Stanislav, Vladislav, Miroslav, etc., formed after the same pattern, have no such short forms at all. To the Slavonic-speaking peoples these "variants" sound ridiculous, absurd and merely incredible.

Anyhow, the name Boris is also an irrefutable fact. It was registered for the first time in the case of the Bulgarian ruler Prince Boris I (852-889), who adopted Christianity in 864 and imposed it to his entire people. His name came to be known in Europe in relation to this particular act. Moreover, after his death in 907 he was proclaimed the first Bulgarian saint, and traces of his cult during this period can be found as far away as Ireland.
However, Prince Boris was not a Slav. He came from a dynasty of a Proto-Bulgarian, that is, of Turk ethnic origin. And this is the particular reason why his name was of a Turkic origin, meaning, according to the different interpretations, "wolf", "short" or "bars". Among the Proto-Bulgarians it was known in its two forms - Boris and Bogoris.

It is interesting that in Bulgaria's medieval history the name Boris could be found very rarely (for example, Tzar Boris II, great-grandson of the saint, and Boris David, a Macedonian boyar of the 11th century). Over the centuries, it seemed to be retained only in cases when Saint Prince Boris was mentioned in religious services. The name was restored to a new life from the late 18th century on, and  only after the birth of the infant, the future Tzar Boris III (1894-1943), an increasing number of people began to give this name to their children. On the Balkan Peninsula nowadays the people named Boris are most numerous in Bulgaria, the Republic of Macedonia and Eastern Serbia.

In fact, the name Boris owes its world-wide career to its adoption by the Russian Slavs. We do not know the exact time when this happened.  It is known, however, that the cult of the Bulgarian saint reached the Russian lands not later than the early 11th century. As a matter of fact, this name was given to one of the sons of the Grand Duke Vladimir I (980-1015) during whose reign in 988-89 the conversion of the Kievan Russia to Christianity took place. In this conversion to Christianity both ordinary priests and prelates from Bulgaria played a significant part. As evidenced by Russian chronicles, this Boris and his brother Gleb were sons of Vladimir I born to him by a Bulgarian woman, of whom, however, there is no other evidence. In 1015 the sons of this Bulgarian woman, the princes Boris and Gleb, were killed by their stepbrother Svyatopolk, who usurped the throne. Within a short time Boris and Gleb were canonized and ever since they have been the native soldier-saints most revered among the Ukrainians, Russians and Byelorussians.

From the lands of Kievan Russ the name Boris went over to the neighbouring countries. An example of this is the case of the Hungarian prince Boris (1112-1155), son of the Magyar king from his marriage with Euphtimia, daughter of the Kievan prince Vladimir II Monomach. For a fairly long period of time men bearing the name Boris were found predominantly in the courts and among the nobility. But later the name became popular among all strata in the Russian Empire, and with the colonization of Caucasus, Siberia and the Far East and the subsequent emigration waves to other places all over the globe, it was gradually established in all Northern Asia and reached Western Europe, the two Americas and Australia. In the present day, one can meet a Boris even in Black Africa (and - again through Russian immigrants - in Israel).

This is, briefly, the story of the world trip of this ancient Proto-Bulgarian name - the name of the Bulgarian ruler and saint Prince Boris I. In this sense, the Russian president Boris Yeltsin and the German tennis-player Boris Becker are namesakes along the Old-Bulgarian line.

As a matter of fact, this is not the only example when a word of Bulgarian origin makes a global career using a Russian carrier rocket. This is very much the case with names and words like "Vladimir", "tzar", etc. going right down to - no matter how incredible it may sound - Gorbachev's "glasnost".

 

 

 


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