Sonja

Gender: Feminine
Origin: Russian
Eng (SONE-yah); Germ (ZONE-yah)

The name is from a Russian diminutive form of Sophia. Among Russian-Jews, the name was often used as a Russian cognate for the Yiddish, Shayndel, though the two names are not etymologically related.

Sonia could also be from the Hindi word sona सोना  meaning “gold.”

In South Eastern Europe and Northern Europe, the name has been used as an independent given name since at least the turn of the 20th-century.

In the English-speaking world, the name was popularized by a 1917 eponymous novel by Stephen McKenna.

Currently, Sonja is the 297th most popular female name in Germany, (2011)

Other forms of the name include:

  • Soňa (Czech/Slovak)
  • Sonia (English/Italian/Portuguese/Romanian/Spanish)
  • Sonya (English/Russian)
  • Sonja Соња (Croatian/Dutch/Estonian/Finnish/German/Icelandic/Macedonia/Polish/Scandinavian/Serbian/Slovene)
  • Sonje (German)
  • Szonja (Hungarian)

The name is borne by Norwegian figure skater and actress, Sonja Henie (1916-1969).

Grazina, Grażyna

Planty-Grazyna-MickiewiczaGender: Feminine
Origin: Lithuanian/Polish
Meaning: “beautiful; pretty”
Lit (grah-ZHEE-nah); Pol (grah-ZHIH-nah).

The name come directly from the Lithuanian word for beautiful. It was said to have been created by Polish-Lithuanian poet Adam Mickiewicz in 1823. Grażyna recounts the exploits 0f a Lithuanian princess who tried to defeat the Teutonic knights. The name itself is derived from the Lithuanian word grażus meaning “beautiful” “pretty.” The name was often translated to Grace by Polish and Lithuanian immigrants who settled in the United States. Common nicknames include Grazia, Grasia, Grażynka and Grażka. The name-day in Poland is July 26 while in Lithuania it takes place on September 26. The name was borne by Polish-Lithuanian composer and violinist, Grażyna Bacewicz (1909-1969)

Shayna, Shaina, Szejna

Gender: Feminine
Origin: Yiddish
Meaning: “beautiful.”
שֵׁײנָא
(SHAY-nah)

This name has been erroneously listed as a feminine form of Shane or as an Irish name meaning “god’s gracious gift.” However, the name has a much deeper history than Shane and it has been around long before the cowboy.

In fact, the name is a traditional Ashkenazim female name. It has been popular among German, Polish and Russian Jews for centuries. Though a popular Jewish name, the name has no religious significance. Like many European female Jewish names that popped up in the Middle Ages, its a name that is derived from a vernacular word.

Since Yiddish is a Germanic language, the name Shayna is closely related to the modern German word schön “beautiful.” It is not a Hebrew name like other sources on the Internet have suggested.

In Medieval Germany, the German Jews adopted the local language, Old High German, and began adding vocabulary from other sources, such as Polish, Aramaic and even French and Spanish. However, Shayna is derived from strictly Germanic roots, possibly from the feminine Old High German word for “beautiful”. Since Yiddish was rendered in Hebrew, its most accurate transliteration should actually be Shaynah. However, since the Ashkenazim Jews were dispersed throughout Western and Central Europe, it has taken on various spellings depending on the native language of the bearer.

In Poland it was rendered as Szejna, in Germany as Schoene, Scheina, Schayna and in English as Shayna, Shana or Shaina.

In modern France, the Shaïna form has suddenly made its way into the French top 1000.

It is safe to say that the name first cropped up in Germany around the 13th century where it is recorded as Schoenlein, Shoinlin and Shonlin (all diminutive forms) in Koblenz Germany (cir. 1264 C.E.).

Schoene, Schoenele (a diminutive form), and Schoenle appear around the 1300s in other parts of Germany.

In 1555 Alsace, there is record of Schoenlen, (most likely a diminutive as well).

The name had official cognates depending on the country of origin.

Among Spanish and Italian Jews, it is Bella/Bela/Belisa

In Russia, all Shaynas were designated as Sofiya/Sophia for their Russian name.

In Hebrew, the official translation is Yaffa.

Many Jewish immigrants to the United States translated the name as Sadie, Jenny, Shirley, Susan or Charlotte.

The name was not revived by Jewish American families till after the Second World War.

It was borne by famous Journalist Shana Alexander (1925-2005).

It is also borne by the daughter of Van Morrison, Shana Caledonia Morrison (b.1970 pictured upper left).

Since Jewish families often took matriarchal surnames, (that is, surnames based off a of a feminine name versus a masculine name), it has spawned several common Jewish Surnames such as Scheindlin, Schonfeld, and the Polish Szejna. It is currently borne by Polish Minister of the European Parliament Andzej Jan Szejna and TV Personality and Judge Judy Scheindlin.

The name has a very soft and pleasing feminine sound. Unfortunately, it has been mistaken as a trendy name by many name enthusiasts, and its history overlooked. Despite the misconception, the highest Shayna ever ranked in popularity was around 1991 at # 381. It currently comes in at # 978 (2008).

Diminutive forms include Shayndel, Szejnusia, Shaynele, Shaynle and Shaynlin. More modern English diminutives are Shay, Shayne and Shayni.