My wife wants to name our daughter Ilja (Ilya) but I think this name is reserved as a Slavic Male name. Is that the connotation in Germany also? What do you think? Are there any female Ilja in germany or europe? How does the name sounds for a girl? Thanks a lot.
I'm living in Eastern Germany, the area where – especially within the older generations – there is strong connection to Slavic World due to the cultural exchange during the Socialist era. While the aforementioned older Easterners usually percieve Ilja as a male name, Westerners and people who didn't learn Russian etc. guess people with this name to be woman. Some (male) friends of mine with this name often receive letters from offials addressed to some "Frau Ilja B****" what always raises laughter among us. So even here you may get away with it.
Note: In Germany the first name of a child has to match it's gender until 2008. Since then it can also be neutral. It also shall not make the child ridiculous are otherwise effect it's growing up negatively, what may the case if you give it a gender-wise inapproriate name. So it may also depend on the person at the Civil Registry (Standesamt) who registers your daughter.
I can't talk about Germany, just about Austria (where I live), but since we speak German in both countries (and in some more countries too), I think that my answer will be correct for Germany too:
First names, that end with -a are always thought to be female in German language.
I give you two examples:
This name has a greek origin, and it even means »the brave, the male« (compare with Androgen = male hormons, Andrology = Science of male health). This name was used in Italy many centuries before it was used in German spoken countries. And of course it is a male first name in Italy (think of Andrea Doria or Andrea Bocelli)
Another Example is Nikita, which is a slavic male first name (Nikita Khrushchev) But in the song »Nikita« by Elton John, is Nikita a Girl, and also the main character in the Movie Nikita is a woman. Many Girls born after 1985 in German spoken countries (but even more in the Netherlands) are also named »Nikita«.
So, if I would read a name like »Ilja Schuster«, I would believe that this is a girls name, becasue of the letter a at the end.
In roman mythology there even is a female Ilja: The Mother of Romulus and Remus, who was raped by Mars, the god of war, is known under two different names: One mane is »Rhea Silvia«, the other is »Ilia«, which is just a form of »Ilja« (I and J was two forms of the same letter in roman alphabet).