Latvia Personal Names

From FamilySearch Wiki
Jump to navigation Jump to search
Latvia Wiki Topics
Flag of Latvia.svg.png
Beginning Research
Record Types
Latvia Background
Local Research Resources

Dark thin font green pin Version 4.png

Understanding customs used in surnames and given names can help you identify your ancestors in records. Learn to recognize name variations and see clues in names.

Online Tools[edit | edit source]

Surnames[edit | edit source]

  • Latvian names, like in most European cultures, consist of two main elements: the given name (vārds) followed by family name (uzvārds).
  • During the Soviet occupation (1940–1941;1944–1991) the practice of giving a middle name (otrais vārds) was discouraged, but since the restoration of Independence Latvian legislation again allows giving of up to two given names and it has become more common to give a middle name to children.[1]
  • There are normally different endings to family names for men and women:
  • e.g. (male) KALNINŠ, (feminine) KALNINA.
  • Male Latvian personal and family names typically end in -s (-š). Some may be derived from Russian names, with an -s ending:
  • e.g. Vladislavs KAZANOVS.
  • Female Latvian personal and family names typically end in -a or -e.
  • e.g. Jelena GALANTE.
  • Married women typically take their husband’s family name with the feminine ending:
  • e.g. the wife of Janis KALNINŠ would be Ilga KALNINA[2]
  • Most Latvian peasants received their surnames in 1826 (in Vidzeme), in 1835 (in Courland), and in 1866 (in Latgale). *Diminutives were the most common form of family names. Examples: Kalniņš/Kalniņa (small hill), Bērziņš/Bērziņa (small birch).
  • During the times when Latvia was part of the Russian Empire and Soviet Union, in official usage Latvian names were commonly Russified. In particular, it followed the three-part pattern of Russian names: given name, patronymic, family name. Also, the masculine endings of first names were often truncated. For example, poet Imants Ziedonis was officially called Imant Yanovich Ziedonis (Имант Янович Зиедонис) [1]

Surname Changes of Immigrants in the United States[edit | edit source]

As Immigrants moved into English-speaking countries, their surnames were impacted in a variety of ways.


  • Most of the time the surname spelling changed to accommodate the different phonetic spelling in the English language. In other words, the recorder tried to write the name the way he heard it.
  • Surnames may also have been translated outright into English, sometimes with a slight twist.
  • Within the community, such as the local parish, immigrants may continue to use the original name, while at the same time using English-language equivalents when dealing with local government, census takers, and other English speakers.
  • Different branches of the same family may adopt various surname spellings.
  • Prior to 1900, formal surname changes documented in local court records are relatively rare.
  • During the early 20th Century, especially the World War I era, surname changes are recorded more frequently, as immigrants or, more often, their children, tried to adopt more neutral surnames.

Given Names[edit | edit source]

  • Latvia is among the European countries that celebrate name days (vārda dienas), a celebration almost comparable in importance to that of a birthday.
  • Most of them are related to the Saints' days in the Church calendar, but in recent decades new names have been added to the calendar by a special commission.
  • Some names and their name days bear a connection with important holidays, for example, arguably one of the most important holidays, summer solstice, referred to as Jāņi starts on June 23 with Līgo diena (name day for females named Līga) and continues through June 24 or Jāņi – name day for males named Jānis. [1]

For Further Reading[edit | edit source]

FamilySearch Library[edit | edit source]

Additional sources are listed in the FamilySearch Catalog:

References[edit | edit source]