About Names: Tanya, Tonya are survivors

Tanya Tucker

Dr. Cleveland Evans writes about names for the Omaha World-Herald. In his October 10th column, he looks at the history of the names Tanya and Tonya.

Tanya is a pet form of Tatyana, the Russian form of Tatiana. Tatiana comes from the Roman family name Tatius. In Roman legend, Titus Tatius was king of the Sabines. He attacked Rome after its founder, Romulus, abducted Sabine women. The war was a draw, and Tatius and Romulus ruled Rome jointly.

Russians rarely use Tanya as a full name, but it gradually spread west through literature. In 1882, French author Henry Gréville (Alice Durand), who set many novels in Russia, published “Tania’s Peril.” In 1920, Tchaikovsky’s opera “Eugene Onegin,” with its aria “Ah, Tanya, Tanya,” had its U.S. premiere at New York’s Metropolitan Opera.

Tanya doesn’t appear in U.S. Census records until 1880. In 1940 there were 644 women named Tanya or Tania in the census, 21 percent of whom were born in Russia. Russian Tanya is pronounced “TAHN-yuh.” Many Americans look at its spelling and want to say the first part like the word “tan.”

That’s how Tanya Tucker herself says it. Tucker’s mother found the name in a Texas newspaper birth announcement for a local banker’s daughter. The Tuckers assumed the “tan” pronunciation.

Want to know more? Read on to find out more about Tanyas and Tonyas in history!