So I’ve decided to do a little mini-course this August all about surnames! It will be a light and fun exploration of the intricacies of surnames in Latvia – their acquisition, their meanings, their geographic reach and so on.
This course can be summed up with the phrase “How? Who? Where? What?” – these are the questions that we will be answering. There are all sorts of surnames found in Latvia – common ones, uncommon ones, many are taken from the Latvian language, others German, Polish, Russian, Estonian, Swedish…. but what are they all about? Where did they come from? What do they mean?
This course is primarily intended for people who do not have experience with these languages, but even if you do speak one or several of them, there will be interesting new things to learn! The course will be conducted in English.
Assignments will involve consulting different online dictionaries and resources to formulate answers. All surnames will be presented in their modern forms, except when reference is made to old records, where old and modern forms will both be listed together for ease of understanding. If you are interested in more specifics on the different written forms of names throughout history, that is covered in my beginners’ course on Latvian genealogy, but that course is NOT a prerequisite for this one.
The course will be structured very simply – four weeks, answering the questions above. The first week is an overview of the surname process, the middle two will look at different categories and types of names, and the fourth will take us to dictionaries, maps and other tools to tackle some of the particularly mysterious names out there.
How? – We will go in-depth into the surname acquisition process in the different parts of Latvia, including early acquisition by non-peasant classes. We will look at trends in the cities amongst different ethnic groups, as well as trends on rural estates in different parts of the country. We will also look at all of the different ethnicities and languages at play in Latvia in the nineteenth century to get an idea of how they influenced these surnames.
Who?/Where? – This week will answer both of these questions. For Who? – While patronymics are not as prominent in Latvia as they are in other parts of the world – Scandinavia, for example – some are quite common, most are not. We will look at the different types of patronymics drawn from different languages. We will also take a look at surnames that come from personal names but that are not patronymics, including names with trait-based designations. For Where? – Surnames are not just associated with people or things, but also with places. If someone’s family came from a different place, that might become the descriptor that their family or farm is known by.
What? – Many Latvian surnames come from nature and everyday objects. This week we will explore the different types of names in this category, look at how widespread they are (or not), and come up with regional patterns and common variations. We will also take a look at some particularly strange and delightful surnames that will leave you scratching your head as to how they came about!
What could it be? – This last week is diving into the realm of the unknown. While many Latvian surnames are easily associated with words and names in different languages, some are not so obvious. This could mean a connection to a language more further afield, a conjugation or declension of a word that only appears in its simple form in a dictionary, an archaic word no longer used today and thus no longer in modern dictionaries, or any number of other possibilities. Every name had to come from somewhere, and we will do what we can to figure them out!
Interested? Course cost: US$49, payable via Paypal. Course starts on Monday August 3rd.
Sign up via email to (note: this is an image to prevent spam, you will need to type it into your email program), outlining your interest, and especially any names you would like covered in-depth in the course. Hope to see you there!