Surname Saturday – Šīrs

Welcome to the return of Surname Saturday at Discovering Latvian Roots!

Today’s surname is Šīrs – this is the maiden name of my great-grandmother Lilija, who married Augusts Lūkins in 1921. Lilija’s parents were Jēkabs Šīrs and Kristīne Kukure. This is the family that I’ve been researching the most lately.

Jēkabs Šīrs was born on the Stābeģu estate, north of Aloja, in 1862 to parents Jānis Šīrs and Kristīne Kwante. However, his family was originally from the Pučurga estate near Burtnieki lake, about 30km southeast of Stābeģi. The family moved to Stābeģi in 1858, and then in 1863 moved back to the Burtnieki lake area, first to Milīte estate, and then to Vilzēni estate.

Revision lists for Pučurga estate show that the Šīrs 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 Jēkabs 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 Šīrs 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 schīr 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, Jānis, Līze, Jēkabs) 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!

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