When Latvian peasants were choosing surnames after emancipation from serfdom, they were strongly encouraged by the German and Russian rulers to choose names in their own language, and were forbidden to choose names of local nobles or famous people.
While not all obeyed this directive and chose German names (or had German names assigned to them by clerks), many did choose names from the Latvian language. Predictably, most of these names were drawn from elements important to the everyday life of peasants.
Which brings us to today’s Surname Saturday – Latvian surnames that have roots in food or food production! I’m going to tell a story of preparing dinner. Surnames I’ve come across appear in bold, the English translation and in what parish records I’ve seen them in brackets.
Before you can even start to prepare dinner, unless you are a Mednieks (hunter; Liepāja) or a Zvejnieks (fisherman; Skulte, Sece), you will need to pay a visit to the Miesnieks (butcher; Brenguļi). You should also thank the Arājs (ploughman; Sece) and Gaitnieks (farmhand; Lugaži) for the work they’ve done in the fields. And, of course, the Pavārs (cook; Kastrāne, Limbaži, Suntaži)!
Protein is important. At the moment, on the menu you will find Zaķis (rabbit; Limbaži, Kastrāne, Vidriži) and Līdaka (pike; Limbaži, Smiltene). I’m not sure how common Lasis (salmon; Bīriņi) was in Latvia in the nineteenth century, but you will find it on today’s menu. If you are a vegetarian, you will need to settle for an Oliņa (diminutive of egg; Lēdurga).
No meal is complete without grains. But what grain? You can have auzas (singular Auza, diminutive Auziņš – oats; Straupe, Limbaži, Suntaži), mieži (singular Miezis, diminutive Miezītis – barley; Limbaži, Suntaži, Vidriži) or rudzi (singular Rudzis, diminutive Rudzītis – rye; Lēdurga, Limbaži, Nabe, Sidgunda). From these grains we can make a Maizīte (diminutive of bread, refers to sandwich in modern Latvian; Sece, Lēdurga) or a Sausiņš (rusk; Limbaži).
You can’t forget the vegetables! Before the arrival of the Kartupelis (potato; Ikšķile) in Europe, the Rācenis (turnip; Limbaži, Rauna) was a staple peasant food. These can be supplemented with kāposti (singular Kāposts – cabbage; Aloja), sēnes (singular Sēne – mushroom; Trikāta) and zirņi (singular Zirnis – pea; Mangaļi). Maybe later you can also have some other saknes (singular Sakne – vegetable; Dunte).
Perhaps this all seems quite bland. Not to worry – spices to the rescue! Would you prefer Kanēlis (cinnamon; Limbaži), or perhaps Ķimenes (caraway; Skulte, Vidriži)? Or maybe just Ķiploks (garlic; Smiltene) would be to your taste?
What would dinner be without dessert? You could have an Auglis (fruit; Sece) like an Ābols (apple; Limbaži) or a Plūme (plum; Kastrāne, Lēdurga, Limbaži, Nabe). Other than just Cukurs (sugar; Trikāta, Vijciems), I’m afraid we’re limited in other saldumi (singular Saldums – sweet treat; Limbaži) at the moment.
To drink, unless you are a Vīndzērājs (wine drinker; Rīga), you will be drinking Ūdens (water; Lugaži) today.
When you’ve finished your meal, be sure to push in your Krēsliņš (diminutive of chair; Rauna) when you leave the Galdiņš (diminutive of table; Ludza).
I hope you enjoyed your time in this Latvian peasant kitchen, and I hope to see you again next Saturday when we talk about the local wildlife!