What Is The Origin Of John Wick's Baba Yaga Nickname?

The genius of the first "John Wick" movie lies in the way it introduces its titular protagonist as a soft-spoken and depressed man looking to quietly mourn his wife's passing. It isn't until he's pushed to the brink of berserker rage that the audience learns that this unassuming widower is actually the most feared assassin in the criminal underworld. In the montage showing him preparing to enact his violent revenge against the Russian gangsters who murdered his dog, mob boss Viggo Tarasov ominously calls him "Baba Yaga." The name is a reference to a creature from Russian folklore, reflecting John's history with the mob, although it's often misinterpreted as a "Russian boogeyman."

Even Viggo points out to his son Iosef that John isn't so much the Boogeyman as "the one you sent to kill the boogeyman," establishing both John's frightening reputation as well as reminding viewers that he's ultimately supposed to be the hero of the story. The Russian nomenclature is due to John's supposed Belarusian origins and his employment under the Tarasov mob. According to "John Wick: Chapter 3 — Parabellum," his birth name is Jardani Jovonovich, though he's much better known by both the Anglicization of that name, and even his Russian-speaking cohorts and victims more popularly call him Baba Yaga.

Forces of nature

The Baba Yaga from Russian folklore is, in fact, far weirder than Keanu Reeves' master of gun-fu, though some similarities do exist between the two. She exists in fairy tales all across the Slavic world as a witch, or perhaps an ogress, who lives in a forest hut suspended by giant chicken legs. Instead of riding a broomstick, she flies around in a mortar and pestle. It's pretty bizarre imagery for those unfamiliar with the myth, but Baba Yaga is one of the most famous and complex figures in Slavic folklore. Although she seems fearsome (and indeed in many of her appearances she is), her moral alignment is quite fluid. She's a popular consultant for those looking to seek her powerful magic, switching between ally and villain depending on the story. This characterization has led folklorists to interpret her more as an agent of wild nature rather than anything demonic.

At first glance, it may not seem as if John Wick has much in common with an old witch who lives in the forest, but it's the unpredictability of the characters that bridge them together. For years, mobsters had sought the service of Wick, hoping to use his own almost supernatural powers of combat and determination for their own ends. He was a person his enemies feared and his employers treated with caution. It quickly becomes obvious right from the beginning that he can never truly be tamed, just like Baba Yaga lives for herself. It's best to try not to piss either of them off.