Surname Saturday – Latvian Surname Project Update, August 1, 2015

New format of Surname Saturday here on Discovering Latvian Roots – if you want surname meanings, go check out the Facebook and Twitter pages, here on the blog it will be a summary of what’s new on the Latvian Surname Project, as funded by my supporters on Patreon!

Extra this week, since last week I didn’t get to post because of my computer meltdown!

New this week!

Parishes added – Ābeļi, Aiztere, Dzērve, Gostiņi, Liepna, Pededze, Zante

Names added – Baltalksnis, Bārenītis, Burbulis, Grantiņš, Kāpostiņš, Karlovičs, Ķesteris, Melngalvis, Oga, Puķe, Sīpoliņš

… and over 50 other names have been updated to reflect their presence in more parishes!

The Surname Project currently includes 1332 surnames from 466 parishes, towns and cities. Many parishes only have a few names listed so far, but I’m working every day to add more for each parish!

Finnic Influences in Latvia: Personal Names

Time for my second post on Finnic influences in Latvia – see the first one on place names here. This post was planned for last week, but then my laptop’s motherboard died, and since it would have cost so much to replace it, it was a better option to just buy a new computer. So I have, but I still didn’t have it on Thursday, so this post is coming out this week instead!

This week we are talking about Finnic influences on personal names in Latvia. Since Latvian and Finnic groups have been in close contact with each other for millennia, it only makes sense that there is some crossover when it comes to names. There are two parts to this post – given names and surnames.

Given names starting with “Ai” are quite often – though not exclusively – Finnic (specifically Estonian) in origin. One of the most common names of this type is the name Aina – while this is also a Latvian word (“view/scene”), it begins to appear in northern Latvia near the Estonian border, and since the name Aino is a popular female name in Estonia, I suspect that Aina as a given name comes from those roots instead of the Latvian word. The name Aino means “only” in Estonian. This fits with a family story that I have regarding the origins of my grandmother Aina’s name – while her family was from Krustpils, in south-central Latvia, apparently her aunt had worked as a nanny in the north for awhile, and that is where she heard of the name she later suggested to her sister, who used it for her second daughter.

Also in Ai- names originating from Finnic languages, we have Aiga (Livonian “aig” meaning “pike” or “aiga” meaning “shore”) and Aila (thought to be a Finnic variation of Alise). Eila can also be a related name, with roots originally in Norwegian.

The famous Latvian name Imants (masculine)/Imanta (feminine) is not of Latvian origins at all, but rather Livonian – from the “im” (wonder) + “and” (present). Another I-name, Ilmārs, also has roots in Finnic, being part of the name of the blacksmith-sky god Seppo Ilmarinen, where “ilma” means “air”.

Other Latvian given names with Finnic roots include: Laine, Leida, Raivo and Taivis, and more! For more information on Latvian given names and their many different roots, you can look at Latviešu personvārdu vārdnīca by Klāvs Siliņš.

Switching to surnames, we see that most Finnic surnames in Latvia belong to Finnic families (usually Estonian) that then Latvianized. While we will get into more details about how and when these families came to be in Latvian territory, we will look at some of their names now – since being able to spot them could help tell you if you should be looking north of the border for your ancestors!

Any surnames that end in suffixes like -sārs (“saar”, island), -zeps (“sepp”, smith), -pū (“puu”, tree) are a clue to their Estonian origins. These names are listed with Latvianized versions first, then Estonian spelling and meaning in brackets. Some examples: Savisārs (Savisaar, “clay island), Sūsārs (Soosar, “swamp island”), Pūzeps (Puusepp, “carpenter”), Kingzeps (Kingsepp, “shoemaker”), Putzeps (Pütsepp, “cooper”), Kirsipū (cherry-tree), Sarapū (hazel-tree), Ūnapū (Õunapuu, “apple-tree”).

Names ending in -as are not common in surnames of Latvian origins, but be careful in terms of attribution: -as endings can occur both in Estonian and Lithuanian names. Some Estonian examples of names like this are Allikas (Allik, “water spring”) and Jurikas (Juurikas, “tree root”).

While some Estonian names based on trees and plants can appear in Latvia, such as Tams (Tamm, “oak tree”) and Kasks (Kask, “birch tree”), names based on animals are much more common, such as Ilves (“lynx”) and Rebane (“fox”).

Have you noted any other Estonian-based names in Latvia? Any other names that look Estonian that you would like me to take a look at and see if they might be? Let me know in comments!

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WW1 Diary – July 29, 1918

Seventy-fourth installment from the diary of my great-grandfather’s sister Alise, written during the First World War. When the diary starts, she is living just a few miles from the front lines of the Eastern Front, and is then forced to flee with her husband and two young daughters to her family’s house near Limbaži as the war moves even closer. Her third child, a son, was born there in February 1916. The family has now relocated (again) to a home near Valmiera, and the Russian Revolution is in full swing. For more background, see here, and click on the tag “diary entries” to see all of the entries that I have posted.

If there is mention of a recognizable historical figure and event, I will provide a Wikipedia link so that you can read more about the events that Alise is describing.

July 29, 1918

We were at church with Trūde and Dagiņa for the childrens’ service, which Pastor Belavs organized. So many, so many children were together and they all sang so beautifully. Closer to Jesus, closer to God, we must all work to be. In our Bible study, the pastor has proclaimed the end of the world. Times are terrible and a lot fits with the proclamations. By his calculations, the world will end in 1933. We are currently living in peace, and living well, but that which is happening in other parts of the world, that will definitely be written about in thick books which people will read with wonder and fear. Everything fits with the Bible: War, famine, all sorts of plagues, in Petrograd a thousand people are dying of cholera every day. The famine there is terrible, many are fleeing here, tired, exhausted. A pood of rye, if you’re lucky enough to get it, costs up to 600 rubles. Prices are unbelievable.

People are rising up against people, countries against countries, we are even reading about earthquakes. Brothers are killing brothers. We hear about rail accidents, and the newspapers are talking about how our former Czar Nicholas has been shot by dishonourable executioners, the decision was made solely by the Yekaterinaburg Soviet. Even the little heir has died. Yaroslavl is in flames, in Petrograd the Bolsheviks want to eliminate the intelligentsia, putting people into forced labour, making them gather the corpses of those who have died of different plagues, clean the toilets and wash the barracks.

Mappy Monday – Both Sides of the Daugava

Daugav’ abas malas, mūžam nesadalās, ir Kurzeme, ir Vidzeme, ir Latgale mūsu…
(Daugava and both its shores, never divided, here we have Kurzeme, Vidzeme, Latgale ours…)

-“Daugav’ abas malas” (composer J. Norvilis)

There are many iconic images and ideas in Latvian history and mythology, but none have the endurance of the Daugava River. It has been there from the beginning and will endure long into the future. It passes through the entire length of Latvia, entering Latvia from Belarus (where it is known as Zahodnaya Dzvina) in the far southwestern corner of Latvia, flowing along the Latvia-Belarus border until Druja, where it then turns inland into Latvia. It passes through or by the towns and cities of Krāslava, Daugavpils, Jēkabpils, Pļaviņas, Aizkraukle, Jaunjelgava, Lielvārde, Ogre, Ikšķile and Salaspils, and then arrives in Rīga, where it empties into the Gulf of Rīga and from there the Baltic Sea.

Historically, the Daugava river has been the main border between the different Latvian provinces – Vidzeme and Latgale to the north of it, Kurzeme and Zemgale to the south of it. One of the only places where both sides of the river belonged to the same province is the area around Rīga, a city that encompasses both sides of the river. But in the largest city in the Baltic countries, how does it live divided?

Bridges, of course. Bridges unite the two sides of the river, connecting the Old Town and the city centre to what is colloquially called “Pārdaugava” – “Across the Daugava”. This region is predominantly but not exclusively residential, and is home to several important places for a genealogist – the State and Historical Archives as well as the National Library.


Vanši Bridge, July 2015. Photo taken by me.

The northernmost bridge across the Daugava is Vanši Bridge, located north of Rīga Old Town. It was opened just in 1981 – prior to that, there had been a pontoon bridge in its place. Its position on the Daugava means that large ships – including ferries and cruise liners- cannot pass any further into the Daugava, so accordingly, the Rīga passenger terminal is just north of the bridge. The Rīga-Stockholm ferry services stops here year round, and in the summer, one can see massive cruise ships in port as well.

The first non-pontoon/boat bridge across the Daugava in Rīga was built in 1872 – it was called the Zemgale Bridge, and it was destroyed in the Second World War. It was located south of the modern Stone Bridge, which was opened in 1957. The Stone Bridge crosses the Daugava at the south end of Old Town, and leads to the National Library.


Stone Bridge and National Library, July 2015. Photo taken by me.

Moving further south from the Stone Bridge, there is the oldest surviving (sort of) bridge across the Daugava – the Railway Bridge, opened in 1914. It was mostly destroyed by the Germans in 1944 as they retreated from Rīga, but was renewed by 1955.

Further south, there are two more bridges in Rīga – Island Bridge, which also provides access to the islands of Lucavsala and Zaķusala, and then the appropriately named Southern Bridge, which is the newest addition to the Rīga bridge family, opened in 2008.

This post in the Mappy Monday series, as well as other posts on this blog, are made possible by my patrons on Patreon. If you find the information on my blog valuable, please become my patron and help support the growth of online Latvian genealogical resources!

Tombstone Tuesday – Eduards Bielovs, 1895-1930

In this series, I am providing pictures of tombstones from Latvian cemeteries, all with death dates prior to 1945. I do not have any further information on the people mentioned.

Photo taken by me, September 2014. Click to enlarge.

Top Inscription: “Manam tēvam, sirsnīgā meita” (For my father, from your dear daughter)

Middle Inscription: “Drēbnieku meistaram brālim” (For our brother, master tailor)

Name: Eduards Bielovs, born 1895, died 1930

Bottom Inscription: “Cēsu Mazā Ģilde” (Cēsis Small Guild)

Location: Lejas kapi, Cēsis

Mappy Monday – Road to the East

Since the Second World War, Siberia and the Russian Far East are associated with deportations and prison camps. It is difficult to imagine that in decades past, thousands of Latvians and other Balts traveled there willingly to make new homes. But that is precisely what happened – in the late 19th century, with land in Latvia at a premium – and with the accompanying premium cost – many thousands of Latvians decided to seek their fortune in the inner depths of the Russian Empire, where land was cheap and sometimes even free, as long as it was cultivated. The Russian Empire government wanted to colonize the vast stretches of its empire, and thus provided incentives for peasants from the Western parts of the empire to move east.

And so it happened that Latvian colonies dotted the map all the way from Latvia to Magadan, on the sea of Okhotsk, which connects to the Pacific Ocean. For the most part, these colonies were established along the Trans-Siberian Railroad or the major rivers – the Volga, Ob, Yenisei and others. They also reached south to the Caucasus mountains and central Asia, with colonies in Yeysk and Tashkent.

One of the oldest Latvian colonies in the former Russian Empire still exists today – Lejas Bulāni, founded near the Yenisei river in 1854. What is perhaps most miraculous of all about this colony is that even though it was founded 150 years ago, people there still speak Latvian. Not exclusively of course, Russian is spoken as well, and most young people inevitably head to the Russian cities for work, but there has been a steady stream of Latvians from Latvia visiting the colony, either to stay for awhile as Latvian language teachers, or on cultural/historical trips to learn more about the community. A number of my museum colleagues at the Latvians Abroad Museum and Research Centre have been there, most recently this past spring.

This community is so small that it is almost impossible to find it on a modern map – but it is there, as are other Latvian communities across the globe. Latvians are everywhere!

Surname Saturday – Latvian Surname Project Update, July 18, 2015

New format of Surname Saturday here on Discovering Latvian Roots – if you want surname meanings, go check out the Facebook and Twitter pages, here on the blog it will be a summary of what’s new on the Latvian Surname Project, as funded by my supporters on Patreon!

New this week!

Parishes added – Tilža

Names added – Logins, Lūkins, Purniņš, Raitums, Zāģeris

… and over 35 other names have been updated to reflect their presence in more parishes!

The Surname Project currently includes 1321 surnames from 460 parishes, towns and cities. Many parishes only have a few names listed so far, but I’m working every day to add more for each parish!

Another surname-related addition this week: Signups have started for my Summer Surname Course! Four weeks of surname-related fun, starting on August 3rd. Sign up today!

Summer Fun Course on Surnames!

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!