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The Meaning Behind John Wick's Baba Yaga Nickname Explained

Not all boogeymen are created equal. While many action heroes have been revered by the characters of their fictional realities, few seem to inspire the kind of dread and awe that Keanu Reeves' John Wick does. An utter legend of the underworld, the well-known assassin and hitman came out of retirement in his original outing and has been shedding blood relentlessly ever since.

One of the most notable characteristics of John Wick, however, is his unique nickname. In the vicious circles that the character travels through, he is referred to as Baba Yaga. While many may be unaware of its origins, particularly in North America, denizens of Europe will likely be more familiar with the folklore behind the nom de plume.

A creature of Russian folklore, Baba Yaga is something of a Slavic boogeyman, or boogeywoman as the case might be. Like many societies, the Slavic peoples told tales of a frightening supernatural force that could come to punish children if they behaved badly or wandered off alone. Though most cultures throughout history have a similar figure, like Spain's Sack Man or Brazil's Cuca, part of what makes Baba Yaga so scary is how downright strange she is.

Baba Yaga can fly and lives in a house with chicken legs

Though John Wick might be terrifying in his own right, he's got nothing on the bizarre and nightmarish stories of Baba Yaga. The witch is said to keep her collection of human skulls on a fence as a warning to any unlucky enough to stumble upon her lair, but if she's looking for you, she has no shortage of terrifying ways to track you down.

Baba Yaga has a flying kettle that she can use to stalk her victims from above, and she is also said to have a flying mortar that she can pilot with a magical pestle. If you think that's as weird as it gets, then hold on to your flying kettles because Baba Yaga also lives in a hut that can run around the woods she inhabits on giant chicken legs.

While that might sound absolutely bonkers, you have to admit that the prospect of being chased through the forest by a cottage on bird legs is admittedly pretty frightening. However, there are less outwardly strange aspects of Baba Yaga that might help to explain why John Wick is known by this name in the criminal underworld.

Baba Yaga is said to travel with Death around the countryside

One thing we all know about John Wick is that when he's out for blood, a lot of people are about to exit the world of the living. Being that Baba Yaga is said to regularly join Death on his travels, this could make a little more sense as to why the assassin has been branded with this moniker.

In fact, the witch's reason for following Death is so that she can devour the souls of the newly dead. While many of us might not be as worried today about what happens to us after death, in the past, the prospect of not being allowed to move on to the afterlife was a very real terror for people of many cultures.

Terms like "the last rites" or a "Christian burial" are still known to us to this day, and there are similar beliefs from older cultures that suggest that if a person is not properly laid to rest, they may wander forever or even risk damnation. The fact that Baba Yaga doesn't just arrive with death but seems to erase you from existence could add to the reasoning behind John Wick's nickname as well.

Baba Yaga is a morally grey figure who is sometimes helpful

While most tales of Baba Yaga see her as a mysterious and capricious villain and a terrifying supernatural force, she is known to appear in other forms and even help humans from time to time. However, since Baba Yaga is said to have two sisters who share her name, it's possible that it is these versions of the mythological figure that the more fortunate characters have run into in such stories.

Like Loki of Norse mythology, Baba Yaga can be seen as a friend or a foe, depending on the circumstances. While enemies of John Wick might see him as a dangerous force to be reckoned with, Wick also has a moral code and is likely to help someone he cares for or relates to, despite his knack for kill-or-be-killed brutality.

Though the bedtime tales of John Wick as Baba Yaga could be at an end following the final moments of "John Wick: Chapter 4," fans can still hold out hope that his name will continue to haunt them like the seemingly immortal folktale figure for which he's named in future franchise installments.