Recently, with a few colleagues moving into our office from Russia, we have a new resident colleague with the first name Герман. Now, being German native speaker, my assumption was that the name originates from Herman/Hermann.
I understand that conventionally this will be pronounced as г/Г would be in Russian, e.g. similar to the g in golf.
But from Russian in school and later life I know it's not the only word suggesting that г/Г used to be pronounced more like h/H in hotel. The word мягкий is another case (although the fricative tends to be more like х/Х in this case).
It seems as if place names and other names or loanwords when they got transliterated from Latin script to Cyrillic, also support this. Examples: Гаага, Гавана, Галле, галстук, Гамбург, гантель, гарем, гармония, Гарц, гаубица, гашиш, Гессен, гетман, гибрид. But it also happens in the middle of words, e.g. бюстгальтер.
On the other hand there are numerous words, including loanwords from German, where г/Г is used g/G (гастроли, герой, гигант). For the case in the middle of a word one could perhaps use шлагбаум, but on the other hand regionally in Germany the pronunciation is a fricative somewhere in between (Russian) х/Х and h/H; so it would depend how/where the loanword got picked up originally.
So my question is: is the pronunciation of г/Г similar to h/H a purely regional and contemporary phenomenon in the Russian language, or was there a time when г/Г was pronounced more like it now is in Ukrainian — /h/ — throughout the Russian language?