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A personal name, like in most European cultures, consists of two main elements: the given name (vardas) followed by family name (pavardė). The usage of personal names in Lithuania is generally governed (in addition to personal taste or family custom) by three major factors: civil law, canon law, and tradition. Lithuanian names always follow the rules of the Lithuanian language. Lithuanian male names, as well as the rest of words, have preserved the Indo-European masculine endings (-as; -is), although the rules are not as rigid as Latvian names, which preserve masculine/feminine endings even for foreign names.
A child in Lithuania is usually given one or two given names. Nowadays the second given name is rarely used in everyday situations, the use of a middle name being considered pretentious. In addition to modern names, parents normally choose a name or names for their child from a long list of traditional names which may be:
It is the most ancient layer of Lithuanian personal names; a majority of them are dual-stemmed personal names, of Indo-European origin. These ancient Lithuanian names are constructed from two interconnected stems, the combination of which has been used to denote certain beneficial personal qualities, for example Jo-gaila mean "a strong rider". Although virtually extinct following the Christianization of Lithuania, they continued to exist as surnames, such as Goštautas, Kęsgaila, Radvila or in their Slavicised versions, as well as in toponyms. The existing surnames and written sources have allowed the reconstruction of names by linguists, such as Kazimieras Būga. During the Interbellum these names returned to popular use after a long period of neglect. Children are often named in honor of most revered historical Lithuanian rulers, making their names one of the most popular. They include Vytautas, Gediminas, Algirdas, Žygimantas. In line with the double-stemmed names, shorter variants containing only one stem were also used, such as Vytenis and Kęstutis. Since there are few pre-Christian female names attested in written sources, they are often reconstructed from male variants, in addition to the historical Birutė, Aldona, Rimgailė etc.
The use of Christian names in the Lithuanian language long predates the adoption of Christianity by Lithuanians. The linguistic data attest that first Biblical names were started to be used in Aukštaitija as early as in the 11th century. The earliest strata of such names originates from Old Church Slavonic; they were borrowed by Eastern Orthodoxy in their Byzantine versions. The examples of such names are Antanas (St. Anthony), Povilas or Paulius (St. Paul), Andrius (St. Andrew) and Jurgis (St. George). The later influx of Christian names came after the adoption of Christianity in 1387. They are mostly borrowed in their Polish versions: Jonas (St. John), Vladislovas/Vladas (St. Ladislaus), Kazimieras/Kazys (St. Casimir), etc.
There are popular names constructed from the words for celestial bodies (Saulė for the Sun, Aušrinė for Venus), events of nature (Audra for the storm, Aušra for the dawn, Rasa for the dew, Vėjas for the wind, Aidas for the echo), plants (Linas/Lina for flax, Eglė for spruce), river names (Ūla, Vilija for River Neris).
Some names were created by the authors of literal works and spread in public use through them. Such names were invented following the rules of the Lithuanian language, therefore it is sometimes difficult to tell whether the name is fictitious and had never existed before. Notably, Gražina, Živilė by Adam Mickiewicz, Daiva by Vydūnas, Šarūnas by Vincas Krėvė and others.
There are some popular names of gods and goddesses from Lithuanian mythology that are used as personal names, such as Laima, goddess of luck, Žemyna, goddess of earth, Gabija, goddess of fire; Žilvinas, a serpent prince from the fairy tale Eglė the Queen of Serpents, Jūratė, goddess of the sea, and Kastytis, from the legend about Jūratė and Kastytis.
A distinctive practice dominated in the ethnic region of Lithuania Minor, then being a part of East Prussia, where Lithuanized German personal names were common, such as Ansas (Hans), Grėtė (Gretchen), Vilius (Wilhelm) among Prussian Lithuanians. Some of them are still in use among Lithuanians at present.
The choice of a given name is largely influenced by fashion. Many parents may name their child after a national hero or heroine, some otherwise famous person, or a character from a book, film, or TV show. In spite of this, a great number of names used in today's Lithuania have been in use since the ancient times.
Lithuanian male and female names are different grammatically. Almost all Lithuanian female names end in the vowels -a or -ė, while male names always end in -s, and rarely in a vowel -a. When the male name ending in -a has its female counterpart, it ends in -ė, such as Jogaila and Jogailė. Female double-stemmed Lithuanian names always end in -ė.
Diminutives are very popular in everyday usage, and are by no means reserved for children. The Lithuanian language allows for a great deal of creativity in this field. Most diminutives are formed by adding a suffix. For female names it may be -elė, -utė, -ytė, -užė; certain suffixes are more common to specific names over the rest.
Also, as in many other cultures, a person may informally use a nickname (pravardė) in addition to or instead of a given name.
Lithuanian surnames, like those in most of Europe, are hereditary and generally patrilineal, i.e., passed from the father on to his children.
A married woman usually adopts her husband's name. However, other combinations are legally possible. The wife may keep her maiden name (mergautinė pavardė) or add her husband's surname to hers, thus creating a double-barrelled name. It is also possible, though rare, for the husband to adopt his wife's surname or to add his wife's surname to his family name.
The most striking peculiarity of the historical Lithuanian heraldic system, which is adopted from the Polish one in the Union of Horodlo in 1413, is that a coat of arms does not belong to a single family. A number of unrelated families (sometimes hundreds of them), usually with a number of different family names, may use a coat of arms, and each coat of arms has its own name.
The use of family names gradually spread to other social groups: the townsfolk by the end of the 17th century, then the peasantry. People from the villages did not have last names until the end of the 18th century. In cases like this their village of origin was usually noted in documents. The process ended only in the mid-19th century, and due partial Polonization of society at the time many names were influenced by Polish form of the name.
Based on origin, several groups of Lithuanian family names may be recognized.
A cognominal surname derives from a person's nickname, usually based a physical or character trait.
Examples of occupational surnames:
A toponymic surname usually derives from the name of a village or town, or the name of a topographic feature.
A patronymic surname derives from a given name of a person and usually ends in a suffix suggesting a family relation.
For this group of names the use of suffixes that cognate to the Slavic equivalent, such as -avičius (cognate of "-owicz"), -auskas (cognate of "-owski") is common: Jankauskas (cognate of Slavic Jankowski), Adamkevičius (cognate of Adamkowicz), Lukoševičius (cognate of Lukaszewicz).
Lithuanian surnames, unlike in the most of Europe, have specific masculine and feminine forms. While a masculine surname usually ends in -as, -ys or -is, its feminine equivalent ends in -ienė or rarely -uvienė for married women and -aitė, -utė, -iūtė or -ytė for unmarried ones. Examples:
|Father / husband||Married woman or widow||Unmarried woman|
Recently Lithuanian laws allowed women to use short form, without disclosing marital status (usually ending -ė instead of -ienė/-aitė/etc.: Adamkus –> Adamkė). These names are used, although traditional forms are still predominant. According to the Department of Statistics of Lithuania, the most popular feminine family names are:
Lithuanians pay great attention to the correct way of referring to or addressing other people depending on the level of social distance, familiarity and politeness. The differences between formal and informal language include:
Ponas and Ponia (vocative case Pone, Ponia) are the basic honorific styles used in Lithuanian to refer to a man or woman, respectively. In the past, these styles were reserved to members of the szlachta and played more or less the same roles as "Lord" or "Sir" and "Lady" or "Madam" in English. Since the 19th century, they have come to be used in all strata of society and may be considered equivalent to the English "Mr." and "Ms." There is a separate style, Panelė ("Miss"), applied to an unmarried woman.
The given name(s) normally comes before the surname. However, in a list of people sorted alphabetically by surname, the surname usually comes first. In many formal situations the given name is omitted altogether.
Informal forms of address are normally used only by relatives, close friends and co-workers. In such situations diminutives are often preferred to the standard forms of given names.