I’ve been poking around at records from Vidzeme, looking at records pertaining to a friend’s family tree, and I couldn’t help but notice a stark difference in first names, in comparison to the records in rural Kurzeme that I am more accustomed to looking at. I thought this might be worth noting…
Much like you would imagine, Latvian first names come from a variety of sources, the big one in the 19th century being, of course, the Bible. “Janis” is of course the most popular boy’s name (I think even still today it is in the top 10). While it may seem like it comes from the Germanic “Johann” (John), the name is actually older. The name dates back to before the Germans brought their linguistic influence to Latvia, and is from Latvian mythology “Janus” – the god of light.
In southern Kurzeme, the names (besides Janis) that stand out as popular amongst boys are: Evalds, Indrikis, Priddikis, Jeannot, Klavs, Kristaps, Salm and Lappins. Amongst girls (besides Anna): Madde, Marenze, Ortija, Baiba, Kerste and Dartije. The names in Kurzeme seem to have a strong German flavour – Indrikis is “Heinrich” while Priddikis is “Friedrich”, “Klavs” is “Klaus” and Evalds is “Ewald”. Another influence I have noticed, in the earlier 1800′s, is an old culture – the Suiti, a small Catholic community in western Kurzeme.
In mid-Vidzeme, the names that stand out amongst boys are Marcis and Davis. For girls, Kristine and Sanna. Not once have I seen any of these four names in Kurzeme, and they are, indeed, very popular it seems in Vidzeme. “Sanna” seems to derive from a more Swedish/Finnish background, and being that Vidzeme is more northern, and closer to those Scandinavian countries, it’s entirely possible to say that the names in northeastern Latvia had a more Scandinavian flavour.