Welcome to the return of Surname Saturday at Discovering Latvian Roots!
Today’s surname is Å Ä«rs – this is the maiden name of my great-grandmother Lilija, who married Augusts LÅ«kins in 1921. Lilija’s parents were JÄ“kabs Å Ä«rs and KristÄ«ne Kukure. This is the family that I’ve been researching the most lately.
JÄ“kabs Å Ä«rs was born on the StÄbeÄ£u estate, north of Aloja, in 1862 to parents JÄnis Å Ä«rs and KristÄ«ne Kwante. However, his family was originally from the PuÄurga estate near Burtnieki lake, about 30km southeast of StÄbeÄ£i. The family moved to StÄbeÄ£i in 1858, and then in 1863 moved back to the Burtnieki lake area, first to MilÄ«te estate, and then to VilzÄ“ni estate.
Revision lists for PuÄurga estate show that the Å Ä«rs family was living there when they received the surname, and prior to that as well, matching for ages, fathers’ names and farm. The ancestor of JÄ“kabs who would have received the surname was his grandfather Marcis, son of Tennis. Tennis died in 1806, prior to emancipation from serfdom, and thus prior to surnames.
The name Å Ä«rs is not of ethnic Latvian origin, but names of non-Latvian origin were often held by ethnic Latvians. The name is most likely of German origin. In the old records, it is recorded as “Schir” or “Schihr”. My German surname dictionary shows the surname “Schier”, which comes from the Middle German word schÄ«r for “clean, shiny, pure”. It is attributed to both High and Low German, though in this case the Latvian name probably comes from the Middle Low German, since this language was the lingua franca of the Hanseatic League (which was prominent in Latvian territory in the 13th to 17th centuries) and left a number of loanwords in the Baltic languages (see here).
Did Marcis choose this name, or was it assigned to him? What meaning did it hold for him? He was already a family man, having been married by 1816 (prior to surnames), and having four living children (Marija, JÄnis, LÄ«ze, JÄ“kabs) in 1826 (first revision list after surnames). Were they a very virtuous family in the community, to be considered an example that others should aspire to? Or was the name given in jest? All questions I wish I could answer!