Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Beauty of Names

An article and a blog post I read last month got me thinking about names.

Linda of Expat Eye on Latvia recently tweeted about the waning popularity of the name Jānis, which once was ubiquitous in Latvia, but has now fallen out of favor. She was referring to this article, which explains that in 2013 the most popular names for boys were Roberts (267); Markuss (228); Gustavs (208); Daniels (206) and Artjoms (195). In comparison, twenty years ago in 1993, the top five names were Jānis (657); Artūrs (483); Edgars (477); Kristaps (379) and Mārtiņš (366).

In terms of girls' names, last year the most popular ones in Latvia were Sofija (255); Marta (225); Emīlija (221); Anna (212) and Alise (208). In 1993, the most popular names were Kristīne (476); Laura (408); Elīna (327); Linda (286) and Santa (265).

Over at Confuzzledom, Bevchen put together a fascinating list of most popular baby names in various countries. It turns out there is a lot of overlap nowadays...many children are being given very international sounding names, which I think is a bit of a shame. For example, recently in Estonia, Latvia, Scotland and the U.S., the top girls' name was Sofia, Sofija, Sophie and Sophia, respectively. Emma took top billing in Canada and the Netherlands.

Growing up in the Latvian-American community, I am accustomed to kids having rather international names. These are names that can be pronounced and spelled by both Latvians and Americans. Examples include Roberts, Pēteris, Ēriks for boys, and Māra, Kristīne/a, Larisa for girls. Having been named Daina by my parents, I have always struggled with instructing non-Latvian speakers on the proper spelling and pronunciation, but on the whole I love my name precisely because it is so distinctly Latvian (and, well, Lithuanian).

Like many Latvians, my sister and I did not have middle names. Naturally, as kids tend to be, we were envious of our friends who did have middle names. One of the ways we would kill time while sitting in the back of the car on our way home from Latvian school on Saturday afternoons, or while on some road trip was to figure out what our middle names should be. Even as a child I was down-to-earth and practical, so the name that I stuck to for many years as my "fake middle name" was Anna. It was a name that Latvians, Americans, and Germans would all recognize, be able to spell, and pronounce.

Thanks to Linda I discovered the Latvian government's name database. Input any given name (Kristaps or Zane, for example, not Bērziņš or Kalniņš), and you will quickly find out how many folks in Latvia have that name. What a treasury of mostly useless, but entirely engrossing information!
The woman depicted on the Monument of Freedom is Riga is named Milda

For example, you can find that there are only 936 women in Latvian named Milda. However, there are six with the first name/middle name combination Anna Milda, and six each named Milda Emīlija and Milda Marija. Good to know, right?

To save you, my dear readers, precious time, I have toiled many hours to find information about a few names that might interest you. These are not necessarily the top names per se, they are just ones about which I was curious and suspected some of my readers might be, as well.

The database includes only those people who are are registered as residing in Latvia. In other words, those of us who have Latvian citizenship but live outside of Latvia are not included in the numbers. I've listed women's names here; I might list men's names later. If you happen to be a non-Latvian reader: yes, all Latvian women's names end in -a or -e.
  • Kristīne: 14,868
  • Ilze: 12,130
  • Liga: 10,497
  • Ieva: 9,248
  • Diāna: 9,001
  • Lidija: 7,726
  • Linda: 7,614
  • Liene: 5,485
  • Daina: 4,875
  • Māra: 4,473
  • Madara: 4,461
  • Ruta: 4,197
  • Ligita: 3,362
  • Anda: 2,947
  • Ksenija: 2,757
  • Laila: 2,242
  • Ruuta: 2,066
  • Lauma: 1,562
  • Andra: 1,201
  • Vilma: 1,059
  • Leontine: 425
  • Izabella: 274
  • Isabella: 19


  1. Ooh, this is fascinating. I had to grin a bit at Santa though. I wonder if little Latvian Santas realise that their name conjures up images of a fat man in a red suit in the English-speaking world?

    My name is as English as they come - Beverley is an old-English name associated with the town of Beverley in North Yorkshire. Germans have real problems spelling/pronouncing it! My siblings, meanwhile, all have names that wouldn't be at all out of place in Germany (ok, one of my brother's would be pronounced differently). Ironically, I'm the only one who lives abroad!

    1. Yes, I know of at least one anecdote with a Santa. Somebody in a U.S. airport needed to page her - a couple of days after Christmas, and the page operator refused.

      My name, Daina, means 'song' in Lithuanian, and has come to mean 'folksong' in Latvian. Hence my pen name. :)

  2. Wouldn't it be fascinating to be able to compare this database to a "Latvian citizens outside Latvija" one? I have a feeling that although there might be some similarities, that many of the popular names in Latvia would not be so popular outside due to possible pronunciations in English. For example, Liene. Ilze. Lidija. I grew up "Leanne" after five years of unsuccessful corrections on Liene, and therefore envy your Daina :)

    1. I do feel your pain, because the woman who was principal in my elementary school for several years never ever learned to say my name. I was "Diana" to her. And I get called Dana and Diana very regularly at doctors' offices, and even by people who have known me for a while.

      Some of the "more Latvian" names seem to have been more popular outside of Latvia. When I was a baby, that summer at GVV there were 5 or 6 Dainas among the approximately 180-200 students!

  3. Ooh, I'm 7th! Nice! Very interesting post! You did more research than I did - I just messed around with it :)

    1. You are definitely lucky that you have a "Latvian" name. Imagine if you were Jennifer, then Latvians would insist on latvianizing that to Dženifera!

      Yeah, I love these kinds of statistics...So that database is like a little gold mine to me!


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