This is part of my series of interesting newspaper articles that I find in the old Latvian newspapers available through Periodika. Most of the articles I post are in some way related to migration, wars or other events that are of particular genealogical note.
Source: Brīvā Zeme (Free Country), January 29, 1940
A 90-Year Old Rīga resident is Latvianizing his surname
90 year old Eduards Teodors Grīnbergs of Rīga has submitted a change of surname application to the Ministry of Internal Affairs. He was born in Ādaži in 1850. Even though he has reached an advanced age, Mr. Grīnbergs still rushed to Latvianize his surname at the first opportunity, wanting to be known henceforth as “Zaļkalns”. He is the oldest person known to have submitted a request for a change of surname, and shows a good example to those who still delay the Latvianizing of their surnames. The Ministry of Internal Affairs will grant his request.
Late 1939 and early 1940 was a time when surname changes were at their highest – whether it was state-sponsored nationalism or a rush to do so before the (seen by some as inevitable) takeover by foreign powers (and thus a drive to preserve their ethnicity as much as possible), who knows. Surname change rules were simplified at the end of 1939 to make it easier for any ethnic Latvian who did not have an ethnic Latvian surname – or had an ethnic Latvian surname that was demeaning or very common – to change it to an ethnic Latvian surname (or to one that was less common or had pleasant associations). A number of people simply translate their surnames, as was the case here – “Grīnbergs” (a more Latvian spelling of Grünberg) and “Zaļkalns” both mean “Green Hill”. Thousands of people submitted requests in this time period to change their surnames, and, if the tone of this article is to be believed, it was considered a patriotic duty to do so.
It is interesting to note, however, that a number of prominent citizens of the time did not change their surnames – some certainly did, and were mentioned in the newspapers, but prominent people such as president Kārlis Ulmanis and a number of his cabinet members did not. If they really wanted to encourage the public to change their names, they should have done so as well. The only cabinet minister that I could find who changed his name was (appropriately) the Minister of Internal Affairs Kornēlijs Veitmanis, who changed his surname to Veidnieks.
The records of name changes are preserved in the Latvian State Historical Archives.