Latvian Terms of Endearment

A Plethora of Diminutives, part 1

Latvian Terms of Endearment

Dacīte and her kaķītis, Tincis, which is not included among the nicknames but is the main character in a Latvian children’s book that I loved.

The other day I was editing a chapter of my novel, As Wind to Flame. One of the characters is named Louisa. Rereading the chapter reminded me of the time I read it to my critique group. They wanted to know who Lu was. Who was Lulu? Since there were only three characters in the scene, one of them a guy and the other Louisa’s sister, Thea. It seemed obvious to me that when Thea said Lu or Lulu she was talking about Louisa. I had one character call Louisa “Baby” because the girl is Thea’s younger sister and often behaves like a baby. I was the only one to whom the nicknames seemed an obvious reference to Louisa.

Too many different nicknames was the group’s consensus opinion. Only three nicknames were too many? I felt sorry for the members of my group. Such a paucity of nicknames. Unlike other European languages, English has a shortage of diminutive. I’m a Latvian. Multiple nicknames are common among us. Over the years I’ve had many nicknames. I counted a total of fifteen terms of endearment that people who are fond of me have called me. The poor Americans had only one, maybe two nicknames.

Some of my nicknames are diminutive variations of my first name, Dace. Dacīte and Dačuks. Both are common variations. The “-īte” suffix is a common way to turn a name into a diminutive for girls and women whose names end with an “e.” One friend came up with his own original version, Dacele. I thought that was kind of sweet. The diminutives for women’s names that end with an “a,” as in Ausma, the suffix becomes, “-iņa,” Ausmiņa. The “N” with the “tail” is pronounced like the Spanish “N” with a tilde.

Men’s names, both first and last end with an “-s” or an “-is.” Diminutives follow the same rule. I have a half-Latvian friend with an Anglo name, Scott. He was pleased when I gave him the Latvian nickname, “Skotiņš.”

(note: Unless they have a diacritical mark, letters in the Latvian alphabet have only one pronunciation. Since in the name Scott, the “c” is pronounced like a “k” that’s how it’s said and how it’s spelled in Latvian. The Latvian “c” is pronounced almost like the “ts” in tsar.)

Back to terms of endearment.

Dūda is a popular nickname for girls and women. It derives from the word, dūdo, the cooing sound made by doves. I guess that to parents Dūda must have seemed like a fitting endearment for cooing baby girls. I’ve been called by every single variation of Dūda–Dūdele, Dūdiņa, Dūcītis (yes, sometimes masculine suffixes show up in girls’ nicknames) and Dūc. My cousin and I were both called Dūda by our mothers. It’s sad that neither of us has a mother to call us Dūda and other endearments anymore.

Dūja, a dove.

Oops! I left out a couple of variations of my name. The rule for diminutives is, “the smaller, the dearer.” Dačuks is small. Dačukiņš is even smaller and thus more dear. Dacele could become Dacelīte. 

I’ve lost count of the various variations.

Some nicknames are the same as the ones Anglos use. For instance “Kitten,” which becomes Kaķītis, and also Mincītis, Pincītis, and Incītis. My mother called me Kaķītis and Mincītis. I once knew a Latvian woman called, Pelīte, little mouse. The names of birds also come into play. Dūjiņa, little dove. Cālītis, little chicken. Pūcīte, little owl for when a child is being a crosspatch. I guess to Latvians owls look grumpy.

Pūce. Owl. It does look kind of cross, doesn’t it?

Yep, I’ve been told not to be such a cross little owl.

When I was a baby I must have had pink cheeks because I was known as apple blossom ābeļziediņš and čupčiks. I don’t know where čupčiks came from. Maybe it came from the Kewpie doll-like tuft of hair I had on top of my head. At least that’s what I imagine.

After I posted on Facebook about my many nicknames some of my Latvian and half-Latvian (fractional Latvian) friends wanted me to give them Latvian nicknames. So I did. I hope they enjoy their diminutive Latvian names of endearment. 

If you want to give yourself, your spouse, child, or another loved one a Latvian nickname, you now know where to begin.


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14 thoughts on “Latvian Terms of Endearment”

  1. I am Latvian living in US and I have called my boys (and our cat) many, many nicknames. I guess, it must be the Latvian cultural thing. My boys have been Peciņas, Beciņas, Mīļumiņi, Cookies, Murmulīši and lately-Saulītes. My cat probably is very confused since I call him everything possible (Minčuks, Runčuks, Runčelis, Kaķis, Kaķelis, Minka and many more) but his actual name. It seems that the actual name is saved for special occasions and for when you are in trouble..


    1. The more nicknames and diminutives, the more loved the person, including fur persons. You’ve done a great job with nicknames. I suspect your cat knows them all.


  2. My grandfather always called me by the nickname Zintuchina (phonetically spelled since I don’t know how to spell it in Latvian) I often wondered where he came up with that. Thank you for this post, it explains very nicely.


  3. My father called me Pelīte until the day he died. I was also called Guntina, Guncuks, Guntiks and meitiņa. So sweet to remember that!


  4. I remember reading the European or Nordic saying “ a much loved child had many names”. It helped me understand better all the nicknames and diminutives lavished upon my 3 brothers and me by my Latvian parents! I do it with my children quite a bit, too! In the DNA?


  5. In Ireland we would use nicknames much more than your American experience but nothing like the Latvians do! I don’t think English lends itself to it as much as other languages but it could just be a cultural thing. In Ireland nicknames are often insults, we have a strange sense of humour!


    1. I like people with strange senses of humor. I’m not surprised that the Irish have more nicknames than Americans. I think Brits and Aussies do, too. Yep, it’s a cultural thing. I’ll be writing more about that.

      Liked by 1 person

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