By the looks of the banners for Vivat! St. Petersburg that are showing up around Baltimore, "vivat" is a common Russian word. Yet as any native speaker could tell you, it doesn't even look or sound Russian.
In fact, it's Latin, brought to Russia by Peter the Great. The czar's opening of his homeland to the more advanced ways of other European nations in the early 1700s prompted the adaptation of Romance language words into Russia's Cyrillic.
"Vivat" comes from the Latin root for "life," or "to live," as evidenced by proverbs like "Fama Semper Vivat" - May his fame last forever. Literally translated, the name of the festival celebrating the art and culture of "Venice of the North" on its 300th anniversary means "Live long, St. Petersburg."
As a celebratory exclamation, the word is most often used in French to the same effect. The Spanish and Italian use similar terms with varying conjugated endings. English words such as "vivid" and "vivacious" come from the same source.
"Vivat, St. Petersburg!" was a common toast in Russia at the time of Peter the Great, said Gregory Tucker, spokesman for the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra and one of the festival's organizers.
"Vivat" has recently returned to favor - for example, Moscow's Day of the State Flag celebrations bear the slogan "Vivat Russia." In his travels to St. Petersburg, Tucker heard the term used as a toast at various receptions, just as it was centuries ago, except shortened to "Vivat!" This prompted him to suggest the name to the rest of the festival committee.
"We wanted the name to be celebratory," says Joan Davidson, the executive director of Vivat! St. Petersburg. After the committee agreed on this name, it was approved by the Russian Embassy, she said.
Despite its increased use for festivals and receptions, it's unlikely the old Latin term means anything to most Russians. An Internet search found many European boarding schools, real estate agencies and interior design companies, mostly Czech and British - if you wish, you can live in a Vivat house or cheer "Vivat!" at a junior high soccer game. Other entities carrying the name are a Russian computer gaming club for teens, a London holistic healing school and a Chicago furniture store.