What’s in a name?

Get your ‘Name Day’ flowers here!

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.

Me: Fine.

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.

About BerLinda

Adjusting to life in Germany, after living in Latvia for four years. Should be easy, right?
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11 Responses to What’s in a name?

  1. Kārlis says:

    To confuse You a little bit more: “Jānis” and “Janis” are different names. “Janis” isn`t so popular (http://www.pmlp.gov.lv/lv/sakums/statistika/personvardu-datu-baze/?id=137&query=%22Janis%22&page=3 shows that 28 men have this name).

    • Expat Eye says:

      Oops, so every time I forgot the ‘ā’, I was actually only talking about 28 men!? I’ll remember it in future! If I keep writing this thing! 🙂 Linda.

  2. Anna says:

    Allow me to introduce myself, I am Ms. Squirrel 🙂 Oh and for a long time in the US I had a Slovak bf, Mr. Cricket. He and I spent quite a bit of time trying to draw a creature that would represent a hybrid of our names. AND make it cute!

  3. You were both right, sort of. Linda is a very old northern European feminine name, and completely unrelatedly, also a name with a Romance origin.

    There are other names with multiple, independent origins. For instance, the name Alyssa/Alissa can come both from the greek name for a plant, and from Phoenecian via Arabic, meaning “wanderer”.

  4. Pingback: How to maim a name Latvian-style | Expat Eye on Latvia

  5. Hi, this is a great article. I am a teacher from Latvia working in Cabmodia and you bet – a lot of my students have confusing names that I can’t pronounce (even after trying repeatedly) – so I now how that feels (including just looking around the class and pretending to know the students’ names). It is refreshing to have a foreigners look at Latvia – as of course when I think about “back home” there was noting confusing at all.

    • Expat Eye says:

      Thanks for the compliment! Yes, even when I feel like I’m saying the student’s name correctly, I’m always a little off! To me it sounds like I’m saying it exactly the same way they are but not to a Latvian person! I can only imagine how different the names are in Cambodia! How long have you been living there? What do you teach? Questions, questions… 🙂

  6. Pecora Nera says:

    Not one to upset anyone but Mrs Sensible said Linda is an Italian name, and I am not going to disagree with her. Linda comes from the adjective Lindo which means very clean.

    I have a sister who lives in the UK called Lynda I am sure her name comes from the Italian strega which means witch. But then I am biased and was forced to live with her until she left home to get married.

    Great post.

    • Expat Eye says:

      Thanks! Glad you liked it! I think it comes from the Spanish and means beautiful. I prefer that meaning anyway! Witch is ‘ragana’ in Latvian – good word I think!

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