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Surname Saturday - 2014 Latvian Olympians

Just like in 2012, Surname Saturday here at Discovering Latvian Roots is celebrating Latvia’s Olympians!

Now, I’m not sticking only to the medalists. And there’s a reason for that, which most Latvians, and others paying attention to the Latvian Olympic team (which this week included all of Canada), will know full well – whatever the medal accomplishments of Latvian athletes in Sochi, the real darling of the Latvian sports world right now is 21-year goalie Kristers Gudļevskis.

For those that missed it, here’s the short version: Latvia’s ice hockey team often makes it to the Olympics, but fails to get out of preliminary rounds. This year was no different – they lost all of their preliminary round matches – but in the playoff round, they had a surprise win against the Swiss team, which sent them into the quarter-finals against Canada, the defending Olympic champions.

Gudļevskis – Latvia’s second goalie – was chosen to start in this game, since Edgars Masaļskis, the veteran goalie who had played against the Swiss, was suffering from exhaustion. Gudļevskis, a 5th round 2013 NHL entry draft pick for the Tampa Bay Lightning currently playing for their AHL affiliate Syracuse Crunch, was now up against over $140 million worth of Canadian NHL players.

Now, Latvia did lose the game 2-1. But consider this – apparently 90% of the game was in the Latvian end. Gudļevskis made 55 saves, letting in only two goals. That’s pretty phenomenal, especially for a rookie. Now, I don’t really know anything about hockey, but considering all sorts of hockey experts (including Canada’s goalie Carey Price) said that his goaltending was phenomenal, I’ll trust their judgement. I’ll certainly be following his career development, and I hope to see him as starting goalie in the 2018 Olympics.

So, after all that, the first name we’re looking at in Surname Saturday is GUDĻEVSKIS. Unfortunately, I don’t have a firm meaning for this name. It is of Slavic origin, as evidenced by the the -skis ending. It is probably related to the Polish names Gudlewski and Gudlewicz. I did find one Polish surnames website that connects names starting with Gud- to meanings associated with pigs or liars. Another possibility is a Scandinavian connection (by way of Slavic territory) where the “Gudļev” in “Gudļevskis” comes from the Norse name “Gudleif”, which means “God’s heir”. In light of Gudļevskis’ performance, and several memes going around Twitter, Wikipedia and Facebook, I think this second option will prove most popular! I know I certainly prefer it.

But we can’t neglect Gudļevskis’ teammates, many of whom have much more easily recognizable names – longtime NHL veteran Sandis OZOLIŅŠ (diminutive of “oak”) has a pretty straightforward name, as do Lauris DĀRZIŅŠ (diminutive of “garden”), Zemgus GIRGENSONS (patronymic, “son of Jirgens”), Armands BĒRZIŅŠ (diminutive of “birch”), Ronalds ĶĒNIŅŠ (“king”), Ralfs FREIBERGS (“free mountain”) and Vitālijs PAVLOVS (patronymic, “son of Paul”). Latvia’s goalie against the Swiss, Edgars MASAĻSKIS, has a bit trickier of a name – like Gudļevskis, it is also a name of Slavic origins. It could have a variety of connections, Polish “masa” (mass, substance) or perhaps Russian “масло” (maslo), meaning “oil”. A Polish surname website suggests that it could be to do with weight (as in “masa” mentioned before), or have a connection to the name “Mosiej”, a variation of Moses.

Now we will turn our attention to the Olympic medalists!

Skeleton silver medallist Martins DUKURS, as well as his brother Tomass who finished in 4th, have an interesting surname. Dictionaries tell me it means “scoop net” – that is, a handheld net that is used for fishing. This isn’t a surname I see very often, but my surname project shows it as appearing in Mazsalaca, Sēļi and Skaņkalne parishes, all in northern Latvia. Wikipedia tells me that the skeleton racers’ roots are in Alūksne, which is also in northern Latvia, though further east than the abovementioned parishes.

Latvia also acquired two bronze medals in luge – in doubles and in the team relay. Doubles winners were the brothers Šici – Andris and Juris. ŠICS is also a surname whose meaning I am not certain about. It looks more like a name ending than anything else. I thought perhaps German, but it doesn’t appear in my German surname dictionary. It could be related to the German surnames Schütz or Schütze, which mean “shelter” and “rifleman”, respectively.

Rounding out the team relay, along with the brothers Šici, were Elīza TĪRUMA (“field”) and Mārtiņš RUBENIS (“grouse”).

Best of luck to Latvian athletes in their endeavours after Sochi 2014, and see you in Rio in 2016 for the Summer Olympics, and Pyeongchang in 2018 for the next Winter Olympics!

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