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Surname Saturday – Compound Surnames

Welcome back to Surname Saturday on Discovering Latvian Roots!

This week I’m going to talk about compound surnames – that is, a surname formed from two words, rather than one. These are a relative rarity in Latvian surnames when it comes to names of Latvian language origin (German language origin compound surnames are more common when it comes to surnames held by Latvians). Some compound forms that are more common than others. On the other end of the spectrum, there are some that I have seen that make me think “Boy, do I want to know the story behind this one!”

The most common first elements in compound surnames that I’ve encountered are “jauns” and “vecs” – “young/new” and “old”, respectively. As name elements, they typically drop the terminal “s”. Names in this category include Jaunkalns (new hill – Liepupe, Limbaži), Jaunozoliņš (young oak [diminutive] – Suntaži), Veckalns (old hill – Limbaži, Stiene) and Vecvanags (old hawk – Vidriži). Based on the number of farm names that have similar elements, it is likely than many of these surnames originate from farm names. Additionally, as I mentioned in my post Importance of Farm Names, if two farms that are “Jaun-something” and “Vec-something” are close together, they could have common familial origins.

The most common second element I’ve seen is “kalns”, meaning “hill” or “mountain”. Being as Latvia’s tallest “mountain”, Gaiziņkalns, is only 312m above sea level, it does not qualify as a mountain according to most definitions I’ve found. As such, for Latvian names, I translate “kalns” as “hill”. Examples of this name element can be found in Baltaiskalns (white hill – Skrunda), Briežkalns (stag hill – Rūjiena), Rožukalns (rose hill – Bīriņi, Limbaži, Sēļi, Turaida) and Smilškalns (sand hill – Ķoņi, Valmiera).

Sometimes given names appear as part of compound names – the most common ones I have seen are Pēteris and Brencis. Examples: Jūspēteris (your Peter – Trikāta), Vecpēteris (old Peter – Jaunjelgava) and Tiltabrencis (Brencis from the bridge – Bilska).

Now to some of the more unusual ones, that really leave me wondering! Here we have Aizvakars (yesterday – Skaņkalne), Pelēkzirnis (grey pea – Mazsalaca) and Trīstiltiņš (three bridges [diminutive] – Katvari). But the one that I really want to know the story behind is Bezbiksis (Rīga). Unless I’m interpreting it incorrectly (though I’m not sure how else it could be interpreted!), this name would mean “one without pants”. My guess as to the story would be that he must have been late getting to the surname-assigning meeting in his parish and in his haste forgotten his trousers, and the estate lord would not let him forget this incident!

Do you have any unusual compound surnames to share, in any language? Or maybe a long Latvian name that you suspect might be a compound name that you would like to have looked at? Let me know in comments!

2 comments to Surname Saturday – Compound Surnames

  • I married a first generation American with ancestry from Spain. There, and in many Spanish speaking countries, you have two surnames, both your parents. And in formal situations you add both grandmothers (because the grandfathers are already represented). My husband’s name tells his genealogy, because his formal surname is Rojo Garcia Benito Rivero. My daughter’s surname would be Rojo Wilkinson Garcia Allen- a nice mix of Yankee and Spanish names! Women retain their surnames after marriage, so if I followed this pattern my surname would be Wilkinson Allen Roberts Hitchings de Rojo. With just the three of us you can figure out three generations of our family tree.

  • Dahrte

    Klibmikkelis. Found in documents of Bauske parish.

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