This harsh and rather under appreciated Russian classic is actually a Slavicized form of the equally unpopular Scandinavian name, Helga, which means, “holy.”
The name was first introduced into Eastern Europe around the 10th-century, thanks in part, to St. Olga of Kiev, (d. July 11 969).
St. Olga was a Russian woman of Viking descent who married Duke Igor of Kiev. When her husband died and her son Svytoslav was too young to rule, she was designated regent of the duchy. Olga was not a force to be reckoned with, when she first assumed the throne, she spent several years finding the killers of her husband and executing them. She is known for performing the first political reform in Eastern European history by changing the system of tribute gathering.
As an old woman, Olga had converted to Christianity and became one of the first Russian rulers to take on the new religion. She was known for her proselytizing and her hard work in converting her grandson, Vladimir of Kiev and some of her subjects. In fact, the Orthodox Church had proclaimed her an Equal-to-the-Apostles and her feast day is July 11.
The name is still popular throughout Eastern Europe.
Other forms of the name include:
- Vol’ha Вольга (Belarusian)
- Olga Ольга(Bulgarian/Croatian-Serbian/Czech/German/Hungarian/Macedonian/Polish/Portuguese/Romanian/Russian/Scandinavian/Slovene/Spanish)
- Helle (Danish)
- Helka (Finnish)
- Oili (Finnish)
- Olja (Finnish)
- Helga (German/Danish/Icelandic/Norwegian/Swedish)
- Hella (German/Scandinavian)
- Ólgha Όλγα (Greek)
- Elga (Italian)
- Hege (Norwegian)
- Helgi (Old Norse)
- Áile (Sami)
- Láilá (Sami)
- Ol’ga (Slovakian)
- Ol’ha Ольга (Ukrainian)
Olya is the common Russian diminutive form.