Wednesday, November 13, 2013

What's in a name? Lithuanian names may be the most original in Europe.

            Without a doubt, Lithuania is a country that is proud of its heritage. Vilnius boasts the largest Old Town in Europe, and the area is sprinkled with reminders of the city’s medieval beginnings. From the last remaining tower of Gedimino Castle to Vilnius Cathedral supposedly built on the site of a pagan temple, symbols of Lithuania’s unique heritage are always close by—and this is most apparent when one looks at Lithuanian names.

            Lithuanian names are a blend of the old and the new. Names such as Aleksandras, Monika, and Arturas look familiar to most foreigners as they are Lithuanianized versions of names found across multiple cultures. Biblical names, like Jonas, Lukas, and Marija, have also enjoyed popularity over the centuries into the present day. Some names have a more general meaning—such as Dalia, meaning “fate” (which happens to be the name of Lithuania’s current president, Dalia Grybauskaite). Other names are uniquely Lithuanian. At the beginning of the twentieth century, after gaining independence from a century of Russian occupation, Lithuania experienced a revival of names that beckoned to its rich past. These names span mythology, nature, and history. One very popular name is Vytautas, or Vytas for short. Vytautas was one of the most famous Grand Dukes in Lithuanian medieval history, and to this day the name connotes power, strength, and patriotism. 

Grand Duke Vytautas. See credits for all images below.

          Another historical name is Gediminas, the knight who founded Vilnius (along with the Grand Duchy of Lithuania) in the early 14th century. Besides the medieval tower that overlooks the city, and the statue of him and his horse near Cathedral Square, the main avenue of Vilnius also bears his name.

Gedimino Prospekt with Vilnius Cathedral at the end. 

        Other names reflect Lithuania’s natural environment; for example, the feminine name Eglė, which means “spruce” or “pine tree.” The name Gintaras (masculine) or Gintare (feminine) means “amber”, a naturally occurring stone that is a popular Baltic souvenir when set in jewelry. The feminine name “Rūta” is also the name of Lithuania’s national plant. 


A rue plant.

         This is just a brief overview of the multitude of names that exist throughout Lithuania. Looking at the meanings of these names gives a tantalizing glimpse of this country’s heritage—and these names ensure that that heritage is preserved and passed on through generations.


The following articles were used as references.

Tracevskis, Rokas M. “The Changing Fashions of Lithuanian Names.” The Baltic Times 21 Feb. 2002. http://www.baltictimes.com/news/articles/6062/

Schmalstieg, William R. “Lithuanian Names.” Lithuanian Quarterly Journal of Arts and Sciences 28.3 (1982). http://www.lituanus.org/1982_3/82_3_01.htm

“Lithuanian Names.” Behind the Name: The Etymology and History of First Names. Mike Campbell, 1996-2013. Web. 07 Nov. 2013. http://www.behindthename.com/names/usage/lithuanian

Image credits

Picture of Grand Duke Vytautas courtesy of Wikipedia at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Vytautas_the_great.jpg.

Picture of Gedimino Prospekt is author's own.

Picture of rue flowers courtesy of Pantry Garden Herbs at http://pantrygardenherbs.com/?attachment_id=11973.