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Lithuanian surnames

By tradition, Lithuanians have two names - the surname, inherited from one's father (more rarely, from mother) and the given name. Surnames appeared in Lithuania with the introduction of Christianity when at baptism people were given a Christian name which was, as a rule, used before the ethnic name. This was how from the very beginning Lithuanians got surnames of foreign origin. Among the privileged classes surnames took root much sooner (in the first half of the 15-th century) where as among the peasants surnames became established as late as the 17-th century or even later. To the present time 50,000 surnames have been registered in Lithuania. The majority of them are of foreign origin derived from proper or common nouns of other languages.

Surnames of Lithuanian or Baltic derivation constitute rather a small percentage. Their origin is usually traced to ancient Lithuanian personal names such as Budrys, Girdenis, Tylenis, Vilkas, Amantas, Bukantas, Rimgaila, Vizgirda, Tarvydas. Other surnames can be traced to common nouns which were used as nicknames such as Baltakis "White-eyed", Didgalvis "Big-headed", Kuprys "Hunchback", or to names of trades and professions such as Dailide "Carpenter", Kubilius "Cooper", Puodzius "Potter", Racius "Wheelwright", or even to place names such as Bugailiskis "from Bugailiai", Pazeimys "from Zeimys", Puniskis "from Punia" and so on. Surnames of foreign origin came to Lithuania at different times and in different ways. There are surnames of Latin, Greek, Hebrew, Slavic, Germanic, Tatar and other origin. Some came through direct contacts with the speakers of foreign languages, for example, the majority of Slavic, Germanic, Jewish surnames; others came via a third language, mostly via one of the Slavic languages, as for example, the surnames of Greek, Roman and Hebrew origin.

The greatest number of Lithuanian surnames and first names are derived from Greek names which came to Lithuania via the Slavic countries or Western Europe together with Christianity, for example, Aleksas, Aleksandras, Andrius, Dionizas, Eugenijus, Ipolitas, Jeronimas, Jurgis, Kipras, Kristupas, Leonidas, Petras, Steponas, Zenonas. Moving from language to language these names changed their outer form and became the linking elements between different languages. A lot of them developed into surnames, for example, Andrius (from Gr. Andreas "manly, courageous") gave the following surnames Andraitis, Andriulis, Andriejauskas, Andriukaitis, Andriukevicius, Endrasius, Endriukaitis, Indriulaitis and others, 245 surnames have been derived from Petras, 170 from Grigas, 160 from Jurgis, 145 from Steponas, 140 from Ambraziejus, 115 from Aleksandras.

The most frequent surname in Lithuania is Kazlauskas, the second place in popularity belongs to Petrauskas.

One of the peculiarities which strikes the foreigner is the difference between the male surnames and those of married and unmarried women. The surnames of married women are formed by dropping the ending of the male surname and adding the suffix - iene, for example, Katilius - Katiliene, Varnas - Varniene, Zujus - Zujiene (or Zujuviene). Thus, the suffix - iene carries the same meaning as the English Mrs. used before a married woman's name. The surnames of unmarried women are formed by adding the suffixes - aite, - yte, - ute, - te, for example, Katilius - Katiliute, Zujus - Zujute, Varnas - Varnaite, Banys - Banyte. The second half of the 20-th century saw the emergence of a new tradition for married women, artists in particular, to use their maiden names.



next previous contents
Next: First names Previous: Vilnius, the capital of Lithuania

J. Kudirka "THE LITHUANIANS"

Copyright ©, 1996 Lithuanian Folk Culture Centre.