You can learn a lot about a country’s culture by the names of their citizens, and Georgia is not the exception.
Many of the most famous names to be found across each of Georgia’s regions reflects the country’s deep Christian beliefs. Inspired by saints, patriarchs, and other relevant figures, many men show religious ideas by their names.
But that’s not all of it.
Georgia is the Eurasian crossroads, and naming traditions reflect that. Many of them boast of Greek, Latin, Persian, Russian, and even Jewish roots, making given names an exemplary display of the cultural diversity that has made Georgia the country it is today.
If you wish to explore the fascinating assortment of popular Georgian given names, you arrived at the right place. In two twin blog entries, I’ll take you on a journey through the most famous names in Georgia nowadays. This time, let’s start with Georgian names for boys.
Who knows? Perhaps you’ll find one the perfect one.
01. Giorgi / გიორგი (pronunciation: /ɡiːɒrɡiː/)
While natives know it, foreigners always seem a bit surprised to find out that Georgians really like our country. Therefore, the widespread popularity of the name Giorgi may seem like a tribute to our lands, but that is not exactly true.
In Georgia, our country is named Sakartvelo, and Georgia itself is merely an exonym used everywhere else in the world. Subsequently, the popularity of the name Giorgi doesn’t answer to the country itself. Instead, both our country’s exonym and most popular male given name have the same origin.
Known as Saint Giorgi the Great, he is considered the patron saint of Georgia. His widespread popularity led foreign nations to name the land after him, and his greatness has made the name a favorite for Georgian kings.
Etymologically, Giorgi comes from the Greek name Georgios, meaning “those who work the earth”. Or, less poetically, “farmer”.
02. Davit / დავით (pronunciation: /da·vuht/)
Due to the similarities in writing, spelling, and pronunciation, it’s quite evident Davit is merely the Georgian spelling of the more well-known David.
As you may assume, the popularity of the name comes from the Abrahamic religions. Specifically, it came to prominence for the hero that defeated the giant Goliath and became king of Israel. However, he’s not the only royal David Georgians are proud of.
Georgia, as a profoundly Christian country since the Middle Ages, took the name and made it its own. A vast number of Georgian kings wore the name Davit. Still, the most prominent of them all is undoubtedly Davit IV. Also known as David the Builder, he was one of Georgia’s most famous kings and the one that set the foundation stone of what became later known as Georgia’s golden age.
Davit, as well as the original David, means “beloved by God”.
03. Zurab / ზურაბ (pronunciation: /zurab/)
As a melting pot of cultures and the crossroads of Europe and Asia, Georgia boasts of influences from every possible direction. The popularity of the name Zurab is undeniable proof of this cultural mixture.
Zurab is the Georgian reinterpretation of the Farsi name Sohrāb, which etymologically means “the illustrious one”, or “the bright one”.
The name rose to prominence thanks to Iran’s national epic Shahnameh, also known as The Book of Kings. Written by Ferdowsi, it features the tragedy of warriors Rostam and Sohrab, unknowingly father and son, facing each other in the battlefield until Rostam unwittingly kills his own son in combat.
04. Levan / ლევან (pronunciation: /ˈlɛvən/)
Levan is one of many modern names that share one common Ancient Greek root—Leon, meaning lion.
As the king of beasts, it’s not a surprise that the lion has been a long-time favorite name for men everywhere. Names such as the ancient Leontius and Leonidas made way for current interpretations such as the Latin Leo, or the Russian Lev.
In Georgia, Levan became associated with religious authorities such as Pope Leon I, and subsequently rose in popularity amidst nobles and royals. It’s not a surprise, then, that multiple Georgian kings and princes share the same name, such as Levan of Imereti, Levan of Kakheti, Levan of Kartli, Levan I Dadiani, and many others.
Beyond Levan, you may also find other variations of the name, such as Levancho and Levaniko.
05. Aleksandre / ალექსანდრე (pronunciation: /ɑ.lɛkʰ.sɑn.drɛ/)
Aleksandre, while not distinctly Georgian in its etymology, remains one of the long-time favorites for boys across the centuries, not just in Georgia but also worldwide. How can it not?
Aleksandre is the Georgian variation of the ancient Greek Alexandros. The name has two roots—alexo, which means “defending”, and andros, meaning “man”. Subsequently, Aleksandre means “protector/defender of men” and alludes to a strong personality and noble disposition towards mankind. It’s a powerful name associated with emblematic men, such as Alexander the Great.
As such, in Georgia, there have been plenty of relevant men bearing the name Aleksandre. At least ten kings took the name, including Aleksandre I of Georgia, the Great, and the last ruler of the Georgian Golden Age.
06. Irakli / ირაკლი (pronunciation: /ɪ.rɑ.kʼlɪ/)
Irakli, also spelled Erekle, is the Georgian version of the ancient Greek name Herakles. If the name doesn’t sound familiar to you, perhaps the Roman version will—Hercules.
Herakles, as a name, has an etymology entirely based on mythology. It is composed of two roots—Hera, Greek goddess of women and family, and the wife of Zeus, and Kleos, “glory” or “fame”. As such, Irakli means “glory of Hera”.
According to Greek mythology, Herakles was the demigod son of Zeus and the human Alcmene. Supposedly, he received his name to appease the rage of Hera, tired of Zeus’ constant infidelities.
Herakles went on to become the greatest hero of Greek mythology, with apocryphal adventures that even took him to the lands of Georgia. Greek influence in the country widespread the hero’s legend and the name Irakli became associated with strength, glory, and masculinity. It became prominent as the name of kings, including Irakli I of Kartli, and Irakli II.
07. Mikheil / მიხეილ (pronunciation: /mi.xɛ.il/)
Another name based in Georgia’s Christian traditions, Mikheil is the Georgian spelling of the ever-popular Michael. This name itself comes from the Hebrew Mikha’el.
Mikha’el itself is a question instead of an answer. It translates to “Who is like God?” which is a rhetorical question, as no one can compare. Mikheil is better-known as one of the archangels in the Christian tradition, and a saint by the Eastern Orthodox Church.
Such is the widespread popularity of Mikheil across Georgia, that you’re bound to found multiple forms, diminutives, and variations. Misho, Mikha, Mikho, Mikhako, Mikel, Mikela, and many other different spellings of the name share the same root. Likewise, plenty of frequent surnames derivate from Mikheil or its more ancient form, Mikel.
08. Tamaz / თამაზ (pronunciation: /tamaz/)
Despite what the similar spelling and pronunciation may indicate, Tamaz is not the Georgian version of the common English name Thomas. In fact, they’re not even vaguely related to one another. Instead, Tamaz has roots in ancient Persian, proof of the profound influence of the long-gone empire in our culture.
One of the quintessential Georgian names nowadays, Tamaz is the Georgian reinterpretation of the ancient Persian name Tahmasp. Its etymology has two roots—takhma, meaning “courageous” or “strong”, and aspa, often translated as “horse” but associated with cavalry. Subsequently, Tahmasp, and by extension, Tamaz, means “(the one with) strong horses” or “strong knight”.
09. Nikoloz / ნიკოლოზ (pronunciation: /ni.kʼɔ.lɔz/)
Unlike the previous case, this time, things are as obvious as they may seem. Nikoloz is, merely, the Georgian spelling of the somewhat familiar Nicholas.
Both names have their roots in ancient Greek. Specifically, the Greek name Nikolaos has roots in two words; nike, often translated as “victory”, and laos, meaning “people”. Subsequently, Nikoloz is akin to saying “victory of the people”.
Nikoloz is also the Georgian name for Saint Nicholas, a famed Christian saint known for his generosity, and the original inspiration for the tale of Santa Claus. Due to his widespread popularity in the Christian population, Nikoloz rose to fame as a given name.
It’s important to point out that it has been the name of at least ten Patriarchs of the Georgian Orthodox Church.
10. Avtandil / ავთანდილ
Avtandil, it turns out, is a unique name. There are no other versions or spellings, and it is not a Georgian reinterpretation of any other name.
Instead, it comes from Georgia’s national epic poem and literature masterpiece—The Knight in the Panther’s Skin. Written by 12th-century poet Shota Rustaveli for Queen Tamar, it follows the adventures of the knight and commander Avtandil. Through the pages, he searches for the titular knight in panther’s skin at the request of princess Tinatin, to whom he professes courtly love.
The name Avtandil was created by Rustaveli, and he based it on Persian words and roots. It translates to the heart of the motherland.