Welcome to the Latvian Surname Project!
What is the Latvian Surname Project?
The Latvian Surname Project is a constantly growing database of Latvian surnames. It is intended to serve as a resource for English speakers researching their Latvian ancestors. It also aims to provide an overview of Latvian surname trends in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. And now - you will be able to participate!
What makes the Latvian Surname Project different from other surname databases?
It focuses exclusively on Latvian surnames. Many surname databases available on the Internet contain very few, if any, Latvian surnames, and these surnames are often incorrectly attributed or defined. As more and more people turn to the Internet to do genealogical research, this resource is intended to fill that niche.
For the purposes of this site, "Latvian surnames" refers to surnames held by ethnic Latvians. There are many resources out there for the history of names for Germans, Russians, Jews, Poles, etc. so this website does not focus on those. Names usually associated with languages other than Latvian may appear on this website, and this is because Latvian surnames have been drawn from a number of different sources, particularly German and Russian, due to a long history of German and Russian domination in Latvian territory. This does not necessarily mean that their bearers were of these ethnicities.
There are two exception to the "ethnic Latvians" rule - I have also included surnames of Roma (Gypsies), since historical scholarship on their histories and names in Latvian territory is also very minimal, and that which I have found is not in English. Some Estonian surnames also appear, because prior to independence, northern Latvia and southern Estonia were part of the same Russian Empire province (Livland), and therefore people moved back and forth across the language border between Latvian and Estonian on a regular basis. People also frequently intermarried, bringing Estonian surnames into Latvian territory and passing them onward to generations that were later completely Latvianized.
How can I browse the site?
The database currently includes 1,390 surnames.
Being able to browse by location is the most important feature for this updated version of the Project. Doing this has also helped identify gaps - that is, parishes or towns for which few or no surnames are listed. This will be remedied as time goes on!
At present, the database includes names from 500 parishes, towns and cities.
A map of the areas covered (Though please note they are not complete! This is a constant work in progress!):
What does an asterisk next to a parish name mean?
An asterisk (*) next to a parish name on a surname page means that this parish has one of the earliest occurrences of this surname (typically a 1826 revision list, consult the Estates category for a list of estates available). As more and more estates are added to the website, the number of asterisks will increase. This will, eventually, help identify migration patterns. Please note: The lack of an asterisk does not mean that the name is not native to a given parish. It may just mean these estates haven't been added yet.
What does "possible place name borrowing" mean?
Latvians were a predominantly agricultural people in the nineteenth century, and therefore lived in the country, either on their own farms or as tenant farmers on a lord's estate. Prior to the abolition of serfdom in the nineteenth century, it was rare for Latvians to have surnames. They were referred to by their given name and the place that they lived. Upon the abolition of serfdom, many people chose the name of their farm or estate as their surname. This does not mean that all surnames marked as "possible place name borrowing" are in fact derived from farm names, only that the name does appear as a farm name in Latvia, so such a possibility does exist.
What does "attested" mean?
This means that I have seen the name in records for that specific parish. This does not mean it occurs exclusively in that parish, only that in my journey through the records I have not yet seen it elsewhere.
What spellings does this website use?
For the names of the surname pages, I use the modern-day Latvian spellings. There are two reasons for this: One, these spellings are standardized. Prior to the spelling reform, surnames were not standardized, and could be spelled in any number of ways. Older spellings are available within the pages, and thus can be used for searches (though keep in mind that if I do not have a specific variation listed, it will not come up with any results. Let me know of the variation!). Two, it is for the benefit of readers who do not speak Latvian, who may not know the pronunciation rules that make it easier to match up modern-day name spellings with non-standardized ones.
My surname is Latvian and it isn't listed!
I welcome surname submissions of any Latvian surnames that you may have, keeping in mind the following:
1) It would be preferable if the surname is attested in a specific location, sometime prior to 1905. 2) Unless the name is attested there prior to 1850, do not submit names with the attestation "Rīga". Most Latvians in Rīga migrated there from somewhere else, therefore surname roots are most likely in those other places.
How can I participate on here?
You will need to head over to my blog and leave me a comment there, telling me what names you would like to contribute and where in Latvia they are from. Please make sure your email address is accurate, so that if I have further questions, I can get in touch with you.
How can I support the development of this site?'
This is a labour of love for me, and I put a lot of work into it. If you want to support that work, fantastic! You can support this content by joining my Patreon page as a patron, and pledging a certain amount of money per month to keep this site growing and developing. Thank you for your support!
What features will be added in the future?
As you can tell, each of the surname entries has spaces provided for the eventual addition of maps (like the one above here) that will show surname distributions, as well as spaces for handwritten Cyrillic lettering. The purpose of the handwritten Cyrillic will be to make it easier for you to identify the name in Russian-language records. But as you can imagine, setting them all up can take some time!
In the future, I also intend to add estates to each parish - the interwar parishes often took their name from one of the earlier manorial estates in the area, but there would often be smaller estates that also ended up in the bigger parish. My hope is that the addition of estates will also then provide a venue to provide surname lists for each of the estates, based on the earliest documents where they are mentioned (usually 1826 or 1834).
If you have further suggestions, do feel free to add your suggestions on my blog!