Volume 28, No.3 - Fall 1982
Editor of this issue: Antanas Klimas
ISSN 0024-5089
Copyright © 1982 LITUANUS Foundation, Inc.


The Pennsylvania State University

In ancient times the Lithuanians like other peoples had only a single name, no last name or family name being necessary. These names consisted of two stems and may have had a noble, majestic meaning, e.g., Taut-ginas 'defender of the nation, people' (tauta 'nation, people,' -ginas 'defending, defender,' cf. ginti 'to defend'), Vis-valdas 'ruling everything' (Vis-as 'all, everything' -valdas 'ruling, governing,' cf. valdyti 'to rule, to govern'), Daug-vilas 'who hopes much' (daug 'much, many,' vilas 'hoping, hopeful,' cf. viltis 'to hope'). Sometimes even the order of the roots was reversed so that in addition to a form such as Taut-ginas one could also have Gin-tautas.

Since such long names were unsuitable for everyday conversation, they were soon shortened, e.g., Algis for Algirdas and Geidas for Ceid-vilas. These were more suitable in the surroundings of the family and took on a meaning of endearment or a diminutive meaning. Names were also supplied with suffixes, usually diminutives or suffixes denoting belonging, e.g., Alg-elis, Kęst-utis, Taut-enis.

Family names arose quite slowly and in Vytautas' time (1392-1430) they still were not used. Sometimes if it was necessary to single out one person from the rest, the father's or the brother's name was added, e.g., Kantibutas Dravenio sūnus 'Kantibutas, son of Dravenis,' or Jovirdas Lašuko sūnus arba Dravenio brolis 'Jovirdas, son of Lašukas or brother of Dravenis' (sūnus = son; brolis = brother).

With the introduction of Christianity Lithuanians were christened with the name of some saint or other. Since they already had some folk name, from that time they came to have two names, but in everyday language the Christian names were not immediately adopted and from the time of the introduction of Christianity in official documents the two names were used, e.g., (in Latin) Michael alias Minegal (Minigaila — 1387), Gregorius alias Gedigold (Gedigaudas — 1411). Sometimes the word alias was omitted, e.g., Joannes Gosztowdo (for Lithuanian Jonas Goštautas) and it might look as though there was a first name followed by a family name, but this was not, indeed, the case.

The beginning of the use of family names in Lithuania dates from the end of the 14th century and the beginning of the 15th century. At first they were used only by the nobility, ordinary people doing without them. In addition, they appeared first in the cities and only later in the villages. The most intensive formation of family names came during the 16th and 17th centuries, particularly among the privileged classes of society. Ordinary people, at least in the villages here and there did not have last names until the end of the 18th century, and in such cases in official documents their village of origin was usually noted, e.g., Mikolajunas ex villa Narbuty (Mikolajūnas from the village of Narbuty (Norbutai), 1742).

It was only when official registration became necessary and the system of passports was instituted that people began to use the first and family name in a systematic fashion. If there was no official family name, frequently the nickname was used and at this period nicknames were very popular. This explains the origin of many Lithuanian names, e.g., Rėksnys ('shouter, bawler,' cf. rėkti 'to shout, to cry'), Beragis ('hornless,' cf. be 'without' and ragas 'horn), Aukštakojis ('longlegged,' cf. aukštas 'tall, high' and koja 'leg'), etc. For all practical purposes the formation of last names was finished in Lithuania by the end of the 18th century. From that time on everyone was relatively consistently named with a first and family name in official documents. In addition to names which have their origin in old folk names and nicknames some come from patronymics, i.e., a name derived from the father's name by means of a suffix, usually -aitis, but also -ūnas, -onis, -ėnas, -ynas, etc. Thus the sons of Gintautas are called Gintautaitis, plural Gintautaičiai, the sons of Geidvilas are called Geidvilaitis, plural Geidvilaičiai, the sons of Antanas are called Antanaitis, plural Antanaičiai. For a long time these were true patronymics, i.e., Peter the son of Antanas would be called Petras Antanaitis, but Peter's son John would be called Jonas Petraitis. Gradually the name became fixed and did not change from generation to generation.

With the name Jonas 'John' we find such etymological patronymics as Joniūnas, Jononis, Jonėnas, Jonynas, etc. Since at the time of the formation of last names in Lithuania the official language of the government was the Slavic chancellory language (a variety of Belorussian or White Russian) and then later, Polish, frequently the last name was written with Slavic patronymic suffixes. For example, Jonas Petraitis was written as Jan Petrovič. Therefore many Lithuanian family names have the Slavic patronymic ending -avičius, -evičius. Later when Polish became the official language the endings -owski, -inski and -icki were used which in the course of time were Lithuanianized into -auskas, -inskas and -ickas respectively, e.g., Petrauskas, Žilinskas, Judickas, etc. In addition, both patronymics and family names were derived from the Slavic diminutives and terms of endearment, e.g., Jankaitis, Jankūnas, Jasaitis, Jasiūnas, Jasonis, Jasėnas, Jasiulis, Jaskutis, Jaskūnas, Ivonaitis, Ivašaitis, Ivaškaitis based on such Polish or Belorussian forms of the name 'John' as Janka, Jaś, Jaśka, Ivan, Ivaš, Ivaška. Note also the forms with the Slavic suffixes such as Jankevičius, Jankauskas, Jasevičius, Jasinskas, Jaskevičius, Ivanauskas, Ivanavičius, Ivašauskas, Ivaškevičius, etc.

With the Polonization of the Lithuanian nobility there came a conscious effort to Polonize Lithuanian personal names, to translate them into Polish or to give a Lithuanian a Polish name. Sometimes even a Lithuanian would try to change his own name by adding a 'noble' -ski, so that his lower origin could be hidden thereby.

Because of all of these reasons in the course of time true Lithuanian personal names fell into a decline. Many Lithuanians have names which have been changed or Polonized and the names have undergone more foreign influence than the Lithuanian language itself. (See Zinkevičius, 1977, 34-37.)

But the old original Lithuanian names make a fascinating study. Curiously enough, even though many of them contain two roots, each one of which is etymologically clear, the meaning of the compound is frequently most unclear, or rather, it is susceptible of several interpretations.

Along with the native Lithuanian two-stem names, in the 20th century it has been popular to take old names from other Baltic nations, the Old Prussians and the Latvians, e.g., Alvydas and Nomedas (both of which come from Old Prussian) and Tolvaldis which is a Lithuanianized version of Latvian Talivaldis (Latvian tali 'distant,' Latvian valdit 'to rule, to administer'). Names are also taken from other nationalities, e.g., Artūras from Celtic Arthur (cf. Old Irish art 'bear'), Evaldas from German Ewald (cf. Old High German ewa 'law' and walran 'to administer'), Ingeborga from Scandinavian Ingeborg, Violeta from either Italian Violetta or French Violette, a name made popular by Verdi's opera La Traviata, and many other such names.

Another popular source of modern Lithuanian names is the supply of mythological figures from the ancient Lithuanian past: Austėja from the name of the ancient Lithuanian goddess of the bees, possibly derived from austi 'to weave,' cf. the expression austi korius 'to weave honeycombs;' Jūratė from the name of an old Lithuanian mythological sea creature, cf. Lithuanian jūra 'sea'; Laima from the name of the ancient Baltic goddess of luck or fortune; Žemyna from the name of the ancient Lithuanian goddess of earth and fertility, cf. Lithuanian žemė 'land, earth' plus the suffix -yna. In addition, names of imaginary mythological goddesses, popularized by romantic historians, e.g., Milda, an imaginary goddess of love, derived from melsti, 3rd singular present meldžia, which originally meant 'to make soft or smooth,' cf. English mild; or Nijolė the name of the imaginary wife of Pykuolis, god of the underworld.

Names are also taken from literary sources, e.g., Gražina, the heroine of Adam Mickiewicz's poem of the same name, derived from graži 'beautiful' plus the suffix -ina, or the names Kunotas and Šarūnas found in the work of Vincas Krėvė.

Place names can also be used for the creation of personal names, e.g., Deimena, a village in East Prussia; Gailantas, the name of a lake; Neringa from the name of the Curonian isthmus; Venta, the name of a lake. Names of ancient Baltic tribes are also encountered, e.g., Aistis (masculine), Aistė (feminine), the name of the Aistians; Jotvingas (masculine), Jotvingė (feminine), the name of the Old Prussian tribe Yatvingians (Jatwingians), Notangas (masculine), Notangė (feminine), the name of an Old Prussian tribe, the Natangians.

Some names have been fashioned by linguistis, e.g., the feminine versions of Algirdas, Kęstutis, Skirgaila and Vytautas which are respectively Algirde, Kęstutė, Skirgailė and Vytautė. Although such names are not historically attested they could have existed, because it is known that feminine names were derived from masculine names by changing the ending and sometimes the position of the stress. Another means of creating new names is to switch the order of the elements of old names, e.g., from Tavilas and Tautimilas one can have Vikaras and Miltautas. Since the procedure is ancient, such names might have existed also. (The root tar- is derived from tarti 'to say; to suppose;' the root vil- is from viltis 'to hope;' the root mil- is from [pa-}milti 'to fall in love' and taut- from tauta 'folk, people, nation.')

Some names were invented at the beginning of the 20th century by the parents of the newborn children. Such names were particularly for girls, since there was a dearth of names for them in historical sources. Note, for example Audronė (from audra 'storm' plus the suffix -one), Dainė (from daina 'song'), Rytė from rytas 'morning.' Innovations among boys' names include Arūnas (from aras 'eagle plus the suffix -ūnas), and Audrius (from audra 'storm'). Sometimes names have been created as loan translations from foreign languages, e.g., Auksė from Latin Aurelia (the Lithuanian name is derived from Lithuanian auksas 'gold/ whereas the Latin name is derived from Latin aurum 'gold' — the Lithuanian and Latin words are thought to be cognate, both deriving from a Proto-Indo-European root *aus- 'gold'). One also encounters Lithuanian Danguolė translated from Latin Coelestina (cf. English Celeste). Lithuanian dangus and Latin caelum (also coelum) both mean 'sky, heavens.' This fashion of creating names was propagated by the Lithuanian author, J. Tumas-Vaižgantas. (See Kuzavinis and Savukynas, 1971, 42-48.).


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