Here’s what usually happens when I introduce myself to a new class:
Me: Hi, my name’s Linda and I’ll be your English teacher for…
Class: Oh, Linda! It’s a Latvian name.
Me: No, it isn’t.
Class: Yes, it is.
Me: No, it isn’t. You have the name in Latvia but it’s not a Latvian name.
Class: It is.
Me: It isn’t. It’s a Spanish name.
Class: No. It’s Latvian.
Of course, I’m more than happy to have a ‘Latvian’ name when my name day rolls around. Who am I to turn down wine, flowers and chocolates?
‘Linda’ aside, Latvian names can be very confusing for foreigners. A lot of them sound almost exactly the same and you get a totally different name just by changing one vowel or syllable slightly. During my first week of lessons, I was hit with Gundega, Gunita, Gints, Ginta, Gunta, Guntars, Gundars, Ieva, Aiva, Aiga, Einars, Ainars, Aivars, Laima and Laila. Try keeping all of those names straight in your head. Then add the giggle factor of a lot of the male names ending in what sounds like ‘arse’ – Renars, Edgars, Ojars, Oskars…
Of course, as a total newbie to the country, I wasn’t aware that all men’s names end in ‘s’ and 95% of women’s names end in ‘a’ so I didn’t even know which names were men’s and which were women’s. This led to some cringe-worthy moments, such as ‘Tell us a bit about yourself, Ginta’, while looking at Gints.
Fortunately, there are always around 6 Janises in every room, that being the most popular man’s name in Latvia. If in doubt, you can always call on ‘Janis’ to answer a question. One of them is bound to answer. If you keep your eyes moving around the room instead of settling on a particular student, hopefully they won’t notice that you can’t remember (or pronounce) anyone else’s name.
Unfortunately, I didn’t realise that the letter ‘j’ is pronounced like a ‘y’ in Latvian so I was calling on the non-existent ‘Janice’ for a while. After some sniggers and pitying looks, the students finally corrected me.
However, if first names are challenging, surnames are pure entertainment gold. Since I’ve been here, I’ve had the pleasure of knowing Mr Bear, Mr Pigeon, Mr Butterfly, Mr Little Fish, Mr Christmas Tree, and my personal favourite, Mr Cock (or Rooster if you prefer).
Reservoir Dogs could have been a totally different movie had it been written by a Latvian.