It’s been a month since Russia’s savage, brutal invasion of Ukraine. It strikes close to home because of Latvia’s history of invasion by the Soviet Union and nearly fifty years of occupation. And because Latvia also shares a border with Russia. Unlike Ukraine, Latvia is a member of both NATO and the European Union. It’s the same with the other Baltic States, Estonia and Lithuania. If Ukraine falls none of the countries in Eastern Europe can feel safe. Maybe not even the rest of Europe.
All our hearts are broken. We can all too easily imagine what the Ukrainian people are going through. Our parents, grandparents, great-grandparents went through the same thing. We were robbed of our country and families who were unable to flee or who thought the Red Army would soon be driven out by the World War II Allies. Those who succeeded in escaping expected to be able to go back. They were mistaken. Nobody wanted to prolong the war.
I feel compelled to check on President Zelensky and to see how the Ukrainian people’s fierce resistance is going. I cry for them every day. So do many of my Latvian friends. Music tugs at our heartstrings, as music is meant to do.
This video shows a concert for Ukraine’s freedom that was held in Rīga, Latvia during the early days of the invasion. The song is called, “For the Country of My Birth” composed by a popular Latvian composer, Raimonds Pauls. Lyrics by Jānis Peters.
This song debuted in 1973 to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the first National Latvian Song and Dance Festival.
The lyrics reference the year 1905 when Russian army troops opened fire on demonstrators in Rīga killing seventy-three and injuring two hundred people.
The translation is my own. To me, the castle of light symbolizes hope.
Then came the fifth year, rain of blood fell
Destroying the tallest trees.
Let's become soldiers, our song will sow a storm.
Forever a castle of light rejoices from the hill.
This is not a lesson on how to do a genealogical search but the following information about Latvian names may be helpful in your search. Today’s post is longer than usual as the subject of Latvian names is pretty complicated. Don’t let that discourage you.
When Latvians emigrated to other countries, either they or immigration officials might have Anglicized their names. Some people, like my father, lopped a syllable or two off the family name long before he had to flee his homeland.
Today a woman from Australia was looking for relatives in Latvia and not having much luck. She had only a few names to go by. One of the people she was looking for was named Helmut. That’s an anglicized spelling. In his homeland, his name would be spelled, Helmuts.
The Latvian alphabet does not include the letter “W.” If you’re looking for someone with “W” in their name, try substituting “V.”
Men’s names, both first and last, have “-s,” “-is,” “-š,” or “-iš” as suffixes.
Women’s names, first and last, end with “-a” or “-e.” If she is using her father or husband’s name the suffix of her last name assumes the feminine ending. Which noun becomes the suffix depends on the spelling of the last name. If a last name ends with “-s” or “-š” the feminine suffix becomes an “-a.” Mr. Kalns’ wife or daughter’s last name is spelled Mrs. Kalna.
If the man’s last name ends in “-is” or “-iš” the feminine version of the name ends with an “e.” On the other hand, if the man’s last name ends with “-is” or “-iš” his wife or daughter’s last name is spelled with an “e” at the end. Mr. Cālītis’s daughter would be Miss. Cālīte. Latvians have no equivalent to Ms.
This is not a hard and fast rule regarding suffixes. Sometimes both the man and woman’s last name ends with a vowel as in the case of Mr. and Mrs. Timma.
Letters in the Latvian language have only one pronunciation, unless they are modified by a diacritical mark, which makes them critical (!) Search engines and genealogy sites may not find the correct name if the diacritical mark is missing. This is where Google comes in handy if you don’t have a keyboard with that function. Google has a version for the Latvian language, Google.lv. There’s a tiny icon of a keyboard in the search window, click on that and a larger version pops up which includes diacritical marks, click on the mark you need and the correct letter will show up in the search window. However, if the next letter in the word does not have a mark, be sure to close out the keyboard or you’ll get the wrong letter. The letters on the virtual keyboard are not in the same as on your real keyboard so it will take a bit of searching to find the right one.
The lady mentioned above was also looking for a relative whose name was Jacob. That’s an Anglicized spelling. The correct Latvian spelling is “Jēkabs” because in our language a “c” is never pronounced as if it were a “k.” The name Veronica is spelled, Veronika. A name like Veronica would be simple to change but figuring out the Latvian spelling of a name like Jacob can be a puzzler. If you don’t know the correct spelling of the name you’re looking for check an online Latvian Name Day calendar. You may have to go through all 365 days to find the right one.
Diminutives can also complicate your search. The suffix “-īte,” (pronounced “ee-teh”) is used with feminine nouns (all nouns have gender-specific suffixes) to show affection or small size. As Latvians say, “The smaller, the dearer.” Usually, such endings are not used for women’s first names. Except that sometimes they are.
Mārīte is the diminutive for the name Māra and is generally used as an endearment by family and friends, whether the female in question is a woman the size of a female sumo wrestler or girl, a tiny elfin creature. But some parents give their daughter the name Mārīte as her legal name, a permanent term of endearment. The diminutive for a woman named Sarma is Sarmīte. Both are used as legal first names. If you know of a relative named Sarmīte but can’t find her in any database with that name, try looking for Sarma instead. Bitīte in Latvian means “little bee” but I know of no woman named Bite (bee) That doesn’t mean some woman isn’t out there whose moniker is Bite.
Men’s first names can also be turned into diminutives but I’ve never known of a man with a diminutive as his first name. That doesn’t mean it doesn’t happen.
The Latvian alphabet that is currently used is based on Latin orthography. However, if you’re searching for pre-1922 records they could well be written in German orthography which was used at the time.
Not confused enough? The Latgallain (Latgale) dialect will remedy that. The Latvian soprano Kristine Opolais is from Latgale (Latgola) In standard Latvian, her last name would be spelled Apaļais. Unfortunately, I can’t offer much help if you’re looking for someone with roots in Latgale. Try to find someone from the region to help you, perhaps someone in a local library or on a Latgaliešu (Latgalian) social media group.
I hope I’ve succeeded in making your search for Latvian ancestors a little less confusing.
Bizdings is not a plural word. In Latvian plural suffixes are often the letter “i.” Zirgs, is a horse. Zirgi are two or more horses. But some plural words do end with an “s.” Māja is the word for house. Two houses are mājas. “Let’s go home is, “iesim mājās.” A diacritical mark is necessary on each letter “A” to indicate “to home.”
Galva is the Latvian word for head.
Galvā, with the diacritical mark, means in the head. Or on the head.
Bizdings is exactly what it sounds like and is pronounced pretty much the same in English as in Latvian.
Bizdings galvā something buzzing and dinging in the head. In other words, a ding-a-ling. Nutty. A bit cracked.
I thought of the phrase bizdings galvā today because I was being stalked on a social media platform by a woman who had a headful of buzzy-ding-a-lings. She wanted to talk. She wanted to make friends. Even though I might chat with someone on the elevator or in the checkout line at the grocery store, I have little interest in talking to strangers. So we didn’t talk.
Ms. Bizdings and I had been friends for quite a while. I don’t remember for how long. She never posts anything that I’ve seen. She never comments on my posts. She wanted to talk one other time, a year, maybe two years ago. Or longer, for all I know. That’s how much she cared about being friends. Today she must have been off her meds.
Today the Bizdings woman didn’t give up so easily. When I asked what she wanted to talk about, she said she wanted to talk about “life.” I told her I’m not good at talking to strangers, that she should get to know me first by chatting on messenger. That wasn’t good enough for her. She called twice. I declined both calls. I told her she was being pushy. I had to translate the word, “uzbāzīga.” She agreed but kept persisting.
We’ve talked before, she claimed. Don’t you remember? No, because we’ve never talked. Oh, yes we have, she insisted. We talked about your novel. It’s about a pilot. Yes, there is a pilot in A Home for an Exile’s Heart, but my novel is not about him. He’s the love interest of my protagonist, a widowed Latvian refugee. That information is available on Twitter and in several Latvian Facebook groups. What must have seemed like the clincher, to prove we’d talked, she said she’d told me about the Latvian tradition of giving bouquets consisting of an odd number of flowers. Bouquets with even numbers of blossoms are only for funerals. Why she thought that was relevant to anything, I don’t know.
After admitting that she’s pushy, she gave me the thumbs up. I gave her the thumbs down. She thought that was rude. I unfriended her. Thank goodness she lives on the other side of the world.
This is what happens when we put ourselves out there on social media. I want people to read my book so I’m going to keep putting myself out there in hopes of attracting an audience.
I didn’t make a friend, but I got a blog post out of it. That’s something.