Volume 39, No.1 - Spring 1993
Editor of this issue: Antanas Klimas, University of Rochester 
ISSN 0024-5089
Copyright © 1993 LITUANUS Foundation, Inc.


ALEKSANDRAS VANAGAS Lithuanian Language Institute (Vilnius)

1. Priekulė

It is thought that in place of Priekulė in the first half of the XVIth century there was a village Paminija (1: IV 666) or Paminijas (2: III) with three farmsteads. The village elder was probably called Lukas Priekulis (1: IV 666) or Priekulė (2: III). The city name has its origin in the latter personal name (ibid.).

In reality the origin of the name is not so clear, but the assumption about its possible derivation from a personal name, as we shall see, is rather convincing.

In the first place, it should be emphasized that more such place names are known. Thus Lith. Priekulis is a field in the village of Labardžiai in the Rietavas district, Latv. priekuli, an estate in Vidzeme, priekule an estate in Curland. J. Endzelin has written about those Latvian place names. He has noted that these names should be connected not with Latvian prieka (Latv. prieks 'rejoicing'), but should be considered compound words which in their meaning would be similar to German Anbau 'annex (to a building).' In his opinion the place name Prieaug-plava (3: 7) has the same prefix. The Lithuanian place names Prie-laidžia, a meadow in the Biržai district, Prie-kilas, bushes, a meadow in the Judrėnai village of the Klaipeda region would have been created in the same way.

In that case one would have to consider Lithuanian Prie-kulė as a compound with the prefix prie- and a root with the element kul-. However, it remains unclear what this root kul-would be. The Samogitians have the word kūlis 'stone' (*Priekūlė would be 'a place near the stones' or something similar), but because of the long vowel ū a connection between this word and a root with kul- is impossible. One could derive the element kul- from Lithuanian kulys 'bay, spit, bend; corner, country, portion' (the primary meaning of Prie-kūlė would then be 'place near the bay, spit, bend' or something similar). But the common noun kulys is an easternism and in our times the word is unknown to the Samogitians. Therefore this rather attractive version of the origin of the root kul- is difficult to motivate.

It remains then to return to the opinion that the name of the city Priekulė could have been created from a personal name. The very fact that the well-known historical figure (the elder Lukas Priekulis or Priekulė) from whom the name of the inhabited area is derived is important in itself. It is true that in our time such a family name is not attested. But it is popular in Latvia: Priekulis (4: 155, 360, 549), Priekulis (ibid. 315, 372, 464,495,536,551). Thus the Latvian place name priekuli could have been created from the plural of the Latvian family name Priekulis. Lithuanian Priekulė and Latvian Priekulė require a special discussion because of their endings -ė, -e. As has been mentioned, Lithuanian Priekulė is thought to derive from the family name Priekulė. If such a name really existed, then the problem is solved, because there are more names of inhabited places which derive from the singular of the personal name: Kavarskas a city from the family name Kavarskas, Sudargas, a small city deriving from the family name Sudargas. However, its existence is not completely certain, because the Latvians, as we have seen, have only Priekulis and Priekuls. In addition other authors show that the family name of the elder was not Priekulė but Priekulis (1: IV 666). On the other hand the Latvian place name priekule would seem to be confirmed by the family name with the ending Lith. ė, Latv. -e.

One could explain the ending of Lithuanian Priekulė in a different way. V. Kalvaitis writes the name of the city thus: Priekulė, Prekula, Prekla (5:52). This shows that the usage of this place name can vary. It is worthy of note that in German the form Prokuls has become established. It is very similar to the Latvian family name Priekuls. Therefore it is not unimaginable to suppose that Priekulė developed from *Priekulas or *Priekuls. But the most credible notion would be that Priekulė could derive from the family name Priekulis. In this event in the dialect the plural form *Priekuliai would have sounded like *Prėkulė or something similar. It would not have been hard (particularly in a Germanized surroundings) for the long final vowel to have been shortened and the word would have become simply *Prėkulė and from this there developed Priekulė. There are more such similar cases known, e.g., Skaudvilė — most likely from *Skaudvilė,*Skaudviliai. It seems that even Viešvilė might be the result of a similar development: *Viešviliai . *Viešvilė, Viešvilė.

However that may be, there are quite a number of arguments that Priekulė could be derived from the personal name Priekulė, Priekulis or Priekuls. One might add that family names with -ulis, -uls are especially popular in Latvia.

Such an assumption about the origin of Priekulė is rather well supported by analogy with the village name Preikurai of the Kelmė region of the Grimziai district. For Preikurai as for Priekulė there are corresponding forms in Latvian: the farmstead of Preikuri in the districts of Purmsatai and Virga, the farmstead of Preikuri in the district Tadaikiai. J. Endzelin believes that the diphthong ei of the names of these farmsteads is a Curonianism in place of Latvian ie (3:7). This assumption is disconfirmed in the first place by Lithuanian Preikurai — it is difficult to believe that the Curonians would have reached and would have left a clear trace in the east of the Kelmė region. But most important is the fact that both Lithuanian Preikurai and Latvian Preikur,i Preikur,i are undoubtedly place names derived from personal names. It is true that at the present time no similar family name is attested in Lithuania, but it is known in Latvia, viz. Preikurs (4: 276). Since both the Lithuanian and Latvian family names are relatively late, it can hardly be believed that one could find a Curonian substratum in them.

Solving thus the problem of the origin of Priekulė and Preikulr,i (i.e., considering these place names to be derived from personal names), we would answer at least one question. As is well known, there is frequently talk about the migration of place names, their moving from one place to another. Such things, indeed, can happen. One wants very much to say the same about these names:

Lith. Priekulė - Latv. Priekul,i, Priekule; Lit. Preikurai - Latv. Preikur,i, Preikur,i Lith. Preiliai (contemporary Preila) - Latv. Preil,i In fact, however, these are not migrating place names. They were created from the Latvian place names (family names) Priekulis, Priekuls; Preikurs; Preilis. In other words the personal names (family names) migrated and the place names were created on the spot from migrating family names. Therefore one cannot consider these place names to be transferred or imported, etc.


1. Kviklys B. Mūsų Lietuva. Boston, 1963-1968, t. I-IV.
2. Tarybų Lietuvos enciklopedija. V., 1985-1988, t. I-IV.
3. Endzelins J. Piezimes per "Latvijas vietų vardiem". — Filologu biedribas raksti. Riga, 1926, t. VI, p. 7-10.
4. Lauksaimnieku un citu zemes ipašnieku adresu gramata. Riga, 1931.
5. Kalwaitis W. Lietuwiszkų Wardų Klėtele su 15,000 vardų. Tilžėje, 1910.


2. Rietavas

Rietavas has been mentioned since 1253; in 1527 as a district and small city, in 1533 as a city (1: III).

One encounters similar mention in historical documents: Retowe 1253 (2:1327), im lande dzu Rittawen 1384 [?] (3:II 709), Volost' Retovo 1529 (4:6,218), z Retowa 1563, Retovo 1575,1578, 1583, 1585, 1588,1590,1592, 1595 (5: 270-271), Retow 1752 (6), dwor Retowski 1767, z Retowa 1784, Puszcza Retowska 1784, Retow 1843, Retow 1855, Retow 1862, Retovo 1895 (7), Rietawaparak. 1848 (8:I 312), Rietavas 1904 (9: x 58). These show that the contemporary form of the spoken language Rietavas can be the oldest, the authentic form. The northern Samogitian dialect has the pronunciation Reitaus, the southern Samogitian dialect has Rytaus (10:71).

The origin of the name is not clear. Probably the first to investigate the origin of the name, K. Būga, wrote: "Rietavas is a borrowing from Polish Retowo, a form the Samogitians frequently had occasion to meet in the office of Duke Oginski." The Samogitians earlier had pronounced the name Rietavas as Rietuva" (11: III 233). V. Grinaveckis has a similar opinion: "formerly in place of the contemporary form Rietavas the form Rietuva was used. However in the Polonized estate of Duke Oginski (Rietavas belonged to him) the distorted form Rietavas..." (10: 71). If one imagines the change of Rietavas in this way, its etymology would be quite clear—one can derive the name, as does V. Grinaveckis, from the Lithuanian common noun rietuvė 'an orderly stacked up pile (usually fire wood); a well arranged stack of building material' (ibid., 72).

Nevertheless, this apparently obvious etymology raises some doubts. In the first place the word rietuvė is a clear easternism and according to our data is unknown to the Samogitians. For this concept the inhabitants of Rietavas use the word rieklė, riekld (12: X 555). On the other hand the Samogitians, among whom are the inhabitants of Rietavas, have the verb rieti 'to put firewood in orderly piles, to stack in an orderly manner' (12: X 589). In the second place it is difficult to imagine that already in the Xlllth century Lithuanians were producing firewood or reserves of wood and were stacking it in orderly piles. In the third place it is doubtful that in the Xlllth century Lithuanians already had the word rietuvė —according to data from the Lithuanian Academy Dictionary the word is known only from eastern Lithuanian dialects and it is not found in old writings. In the fourth place it is not completely certain that the earlier form was Rietuva. The earliest attestations, as we have seen, do not confirm this. It is true that K. Būga writes "Retuwe/Retuwe/ (11: III 233), but he does not indicate the source. These two attestations with the suffix -uv- (or even if more were found) in the context of all the other mentions of the name could not change the essence of the matter. Somewhat more important is the form Rietuva from the living language. It is mentioned by K. Būga. V. Grinaveckis says that he has heard the form himself and supposes that K. Būga might have copied the form from K. Jaunius (121:72). In our time the form with -uv- has not been encountered in the living language.

If the living language knew the form Rietuva or something similar, it is hardly possible that it could have been generally used. More likely perhaps it is the result of certain changes or even an occasional form.

This is how it stands. There has long been noted a tendency of the Lithuanian language of the old to replace the derivative suffix -ava with -uva: Dotnava —Dotnuva, Lydavėnai — Lyduvėnai, Tytavėnai— Tytuvėnai, Bartava—Bartuva, Latava— Latuva, Vardava—Varduva, etc. (13: 104-105). Thus Rietavas could have undergone the influence of this tendency—probably its suffix -av- could have been replaced by the suffix -uv-.

Finally it is hard to imagine that Rietuva became Rietava under the influence of Polish, an influence which in Samogitia was not observed to such a degree that it could have changed even the forms of place names, particularly old well-known place names. And why under the influence of Polish did only the suffix vowel u change, whereas the root reit-, dialect reit-, ryt- remain unchanged?

Thus there are so many obscure points that it is necessary to find another, alternative explanation for the origin of this word.

It appears that it would not be less convincing to consider this an old Lithuanian (Baltic); derivative with the suffix -avas. More such derivatives are known: Abis-avas (a lake), Kern-avas (a lake), Krak-avas (a lake), Miž-avas (a river), Sag-avas (a lake), etc. ibid., 103).

It is true that the primary meaning of the derivative Rietavas remains unclear, because the common words with which the place name root riet- could be compared are many and varied, e.g., the already mentioned rieti, rietuoti 'to walk awkwardly' (12: X 591), rietėti 'to roll' (14: 303), rietas 'thigh, hip; leg' (12: X 581-582), etc.

It must be emphasized that there are more place names with the root riet-:Rietelės, a field in the Želva region, a meadow in the Sešuoliai region, Rietenės, a meadow in the Žasliai district, Rietis, a meadow in the Lukšiai district, Rietuma, a pasture in the Gelvonai region, etc.


1. Tarybų Lietuvos enciklopedija. Vilnius, 1985-1988, t. I-IV.
2. Liv-, Esth- und Curlandisches Urkundenbuch nebst Regesten. Herausgegeben von Dr. Friedrich Georg von Bunge. - Reval, 1853, Bd. I.
3. Scriptores Rerum Prussicarum. Leipzig, 1861-1874, t. I-V.
4. Litovskaya metrika. Chast'tret'ya. Knigi Publičnyx Del'. Perepic voyska Litovskogo. Petrograd, 1815.
5. Sprogis I. Geografičesky slovar' drevney Žomoytskoy zemli XVI stoletija. Vil'na, 1888.
6. Synodus Diaecesana Mednicensis, seu Samogitiae...Domini... Tyszkiewicz. Vilnae, MDCCLII /1752/.
7. Lietuvos Mokslų akademijos Lietuvių kalbos instituto abėcėlinė istorinių vietovardžių kartoteka.
8. Vaiszgantas. Sanraszas geografiszkuju Lietuvos vardu. Dirva. Žinynas. 1904, Nr. 10, p. 35-61; Nr. 11, p. 3-29.
10. Grinaveckis V. Dėl Rietavo vardo kilmės. Kalbos kultūra, Nr. 61, Vilnius, 1991, p. 70-73.
11. Būga K. Rinktiniai raštai. Vilnius, 1958-1961, t. I-III.
12. Lietuvių kalbos žodynas. Vilnius, 1956-1992, t. I-XV.
13. Lietuvos hidronimų daryba. Vilnius, 1970.
14. Vitkauskas V. Šiaurės rytų dūnininkų šnektų žodynas. Vilnius., 1976.


3. Subačius

Two inhabited spots in the Kupiškis region are called by this name: the small city Subačius and the inhabited spot similar to a city along with the railroad station which was established three kilometers beyond. This latter spot is relatively late—it began to grow after the railroad was built in 1873 and the railroad station was built.

The origin of the name is unclear. First it must be said that there are more names of farmsteads with the forms subat-, subač: Subačiai (a farmstead) in the Lazdijai region, Subačiai, a farmstead in the Anykščiai region, Subačiškės, a farmstead in the Kapsukas region, Subatiškės, a farmstead in Zarasai region, Subatiškis, a farmstead in the Zarasai region, Subaczuny, 1784 Kupiškis parish; cf. also Latvian Subate/Subata, the Belorussian names of inhabited areas Subačy, Subotniki (this latter small city is called Subatninkai by the Lithuanians — 1:I 318/ 2:232-233), Subatava, Subaciški, Šubačava, Subačy (3:369-370). Historical documents around Kamojai (Belorussia) mention two inhabited places: Subač' dal'nij 1873 and Subač'blyžnij 1874.

The first to explain somewhat more extensively the origin of the names Subačius, Subate and similar forms was K. Būga. He thought that these were Selonian place names in which the consonant č derived from a soft k'. "The Padanguvis Latvians at first called *Subatos which had been founded by Selonian emigrants by the name *Subak'os and then later by the name Subačios" (4: III 281). K. Būga did not explain what the stem subak' might be.

J. Otrębski explained the name differently. He showed that in Lithuanian there are names of inhabited places which arose from the names of market days: Seredžius-sereda 'Wednesday," Pandėlys, *Panedėlys-panadėlis 'Monday." He ascribed Subačius to this group—from subata 'Saturday' (5: 56: 57).

All of these explanations raise some doubts, because they do not include all the place names mentioned with the elements subač-, subat-. These place names are very widespread in Lithuania and Belorussia. For that reason alone it is impossible to connect them with the language of a single Baltic people, such as the Selonians. Even more so since the development of *Subak'ios into Latvian Subate/Subata/ is difficult to imagine. Therefore one must give a different evaluation to Otrębski's opinion—the origin of place names from the names of market days is not unimaginable, but the name of the small city Subačius can hardly be considered such.

It seems that B. Kviklys has furnished the most credible explanation of the origin of the name: "The name of the place could have arisen from the personal name Subačius, who was the first to found the inhabited settlement" (1: II 617). This supposition is supported by the circumstance that the family name Subačius is known in the vicinity of Subačius even today. The stress, it is true, differs—the old original stress is Subačius, the name of the city. The fact that the inhabitants of these places stressed this way is shown by the Kupiškėnai pronunciation Subočius—the speakers of the rotininkai dialect only change stressed a into o. Cf. the attestation of Vaižgantas: Subačius (city and railroad station) 1904 (6: XI21). Nevertheless the difference in stress should not be any hindrance to deriving the name of the small city Subačius from the family name Subačius, the more so since the family name Subačius is also known.

Family names with subač- and Subačius (about 150 families), Subata (from Obeliai), Subatas, Subatis, Subatys, etc. Similar names are frequent in the Slavic languages—Belorussian Subač, Suboč, Subota, Russian Subota, Subbota, Ukrainian Subota. Therefore it could well be that our names with subač-, subat- are either borrowed or are formed from the Slavism subata 'Saturday'

A. Superanskaja thinks that for the Slavs as for many other nations of the world it was characteristic to create personal names from the names of the days of the week, i.e., to give the new born child a name of the day of the week on which he or she was born.


1. Kviklys B. Mūsų Lietuva. Boston, 1963-1968, t. I-IV.
2. Ranovič Ya. N. Sloynik nazvay naselenyx punktay Grodzenskay voblasti. Minsk, 1982.
3. Rananovič Ya. Sloynik nazvay naselenyx punktay vitsebskay voblastsi. Minsk, 1977.
4. Būga K. Rinktiniai raštai. V., 1958-1961, t. I-III.
5. Otrebski J. O badaniach nad nazwami wodnymi i miejscowymi na obsczarze Litwy. — I Międzynarodowa slavistyczna konferencja onomastyczna. Wroclaw-Warszawa-Krakow, 1961, p. 49-58.
6. Vaiszgantas. Sanraszas geografiszkuju Lietuvos vardu.—Dirva. Žinynas. 1904, Nr. 10, p. 35-61; Nr. 11, p. 3-29.
7. Superanskaya A.V. Struktura imeni sobstvennogo. Moskva, 1969.