Names: Ivan

A  third name?  This can only mean one thing.


derived from “Yochanan,” via “Joannes,” meaning, ‘G-d is gracious.'”

I’ve already used this name in a story, but it was more a hint in the last one than a hero per se, an Easter egg for fans of Russian fairy tales to get ahead of the game.

Ivan is one of the most common names in Russian.  Interestingly, Ivan and Jack have the same root:  The name “John.”  This if fitting since, if you want to tell a traditional Russian fairy tale, Ivan is the name of choice, just as Jack is in Europe.  The “v” probably came from the old spelling, Ioann, in which the “o” might be pronounced as a “yo.”  A similar variation can be found in the Italian Giovanni, among others.  The diminutive form is Vanya.  

Something about the name Ivan just looks sturdy.  Ivan is often the youngest of three brothers, and more often than not he nearly loses everything to them.  He might be a pauper or a prince, but he will almost always been simple and polite.  His virtues often involve accepting help from those who offer it, and being merciful to his enemies.  This wins him allies and often saves his life in the end.

Ivan is often a third son.  Ivan the Fool is a popular hero, perhaps because “fool” long ago just meant “youngest,” a bit like we might say, “my kid brother” in modern English.  Another heroic figure is Prince Ivan, who in one story recovers the firebird and in a number of others beats Koschei the Deathless.  I find it especially fascinating that Ivan will often die and need reviving by allies (often a mother or sister).  I found comparing this to Finnish stories interesting.  Perhaps more on that later.  The unique thing about such a twist is the hero doesn’t win by himself.

W & R Ralston compiled quite a few fairy tales, including many about Ivan.  The one that struck me as the most profound was the one about Ivan fighting a snake who had removed the sun.  The story seems to take place in the underworld rather than the “overworld.”  Often an old woman is his helper.  Hopefully my next project will take from many sources to make a new and yet nostalgic story for the Ivan canon.

Potential persons for an “Ivan” character:

  • a young pauper
  • an inexperienced warrior
  • an lucky fighter
  • an over-trusting prince
  • a disenfranchised heir
  • a trickster with a heart of gold