How to maim a name Latvian-style

If you’re a man and you visit Latvia, be prepared for ‘I’ to become ‘we’ very quickly. And no, I don’t mean that a mad Latvian woman will attach herself to you with superglue – although there’s also a very real risk of that happening.

As I’ve previously mentioned, most men’s names in Latvia end in an ‘s’. But they don’t stop with Latvian names, oh no. They’ll Latvianize your name too, which might make sense in Latvian, but in English just sounds like you’re multiplying.

So be prepared for Robert to become Roberts, Martin to become Martinš, Edgar to become Edgars and Peter to become Pēteris. If you’re unlucky enough to be called Jack, you’ll likely be called Jacks – which is Irish slang for a toilet. My ex-boss has been protesting that his name is Trevor, not Trreffors, for around 14 years now but his plaintive cries fall on deaf Latvian ears.

There’s an ad on Latvian television for ‘The Following’ that’s been on-air for a few months now, but every time I see it I still crack up laughing when the voice-over says ‘Kevins Bacons’. Maybe I’m just easily amused.

Will and Jaden having an identity crisis

Will and Jaden having an identity crisis

In written form, names become almost unrecognisable. Looking at Latvian cinema posters is like a veritable who’s who. Not of anything, just who the hell is who. On a poster for Will Smith’s latest movie, he has become ‘Vils Smits’ and his son, Jaden, is now ‘Džeidens’. Tobey Maguire transforms into ‘Tobijs Magvairs’. If you want to test your Latvian deciphering abilities, try these actors and actresses on for size:

  • Džerards Batlers
  • Bredlijs Kūpers
  • Vudijs Harelsons
  • Maikls Keins
  • Ītens Houkss
  • Reičela Makadama
  • Kerija Maligana

Answers on a postcard to ExpatEye, Land of Misery.

However, my current favourite is Eric Clapton. Not only have the Latvians given him a name change, they’ve also given him a sex change.

Eric Clapton doing his best impression of a tree

Eric Clapton doing his best impression of a tree

If you’re wondering why he’s hiding behind a tree, you need to look at the small print. ‘Erika Kleptona’. Poor guy/bearded lady.

About BerLinda

Adjusting to life in Germany, after living in Latvia for four years. Should be easy, right?
This entry was posted in Humor, Humour, Language and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

96 Responses to How to maim a name Latvian-style

  1. fc says:

    I can see u don’t know yet Latvian, u say look at ,ērika kleptona . That is his name in Latvian in genetive . Like ēriks kleptons (who,what) and ,ērika kleptona (to ho it belongs like his concert) then there r more like with who ar ēriku kleptonu , and more ( 8)

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  3. As an American currently living in Latvia I get a kick out of how they Latvianize peoples names and movie and book titles, and also how anything in “o” is automatically safe and is left unchanged.

    • Expat Eye says:

      It always takes me a couple of minutes to figure out who is coming to town or who the movie star is 🙂 I have to sound it out in my head!

    • sbsbsb says:

      Sounds funny but it’s a MUST ,we latvians conjugate words so if ur name is jack in Latvian it’d be džeks not džek we need s to later conjugate the verb like I am going wit jack – Es eju ar Džek’u and we have like 8 this things

  4. Sančo says:

    You know, Linda O’Greidija – it’s easy with Šivona Hjūleta, Šineida O’Konora, Kiljens Mērfijs, Stīvens Rī – there’s always a chance to google and listen pronunciation but we still have problems what to do with Heather.. Hetera? Hītera? Hezera? Or Colin Firth… Kolins . . .?! 😀 And it’s not just one example!
    (I found your blog very enlightening and entertaining)

  5. gavin says:

    Hi, just wondering if you could take a crack at the Latvianisation of my name?
    In english it is Gavin.

    I’ve been informed my name has been latvianised (I put in an application for citizenship recently, but all the papers were latvian so the consulate had to fill them out for me), but have not received the documents yet – I am so excited to know what it could possibly be though!
    Is it simple? Does the v change? My last name is “Peters” – does that behave like the first name “Peter”?

    I’ll let you know once I find out what my ‘official’ name is 😉

  6. My god, your blog and observations about our culture are absolutely fabulous! 🙂
    I say it as a latvian who has lived abroad for a while, returned home now to settle down and who has enjoyed a lot looking for weird things in other cultures from my own latvian perspective. So I mean, reading your observations really is engaging and seeing how others perceive us ir really fun and actually

    You know, a small nation like ours does not receive a lot of intelligent attention for some reason.

    Please, keep writing and don’t lose faith in latvians or get dissappointed because of grumpiness of some of us.

    • Expat Eye says:

      Hi Maruta, thank you so much for your comment – I really appreciate it! I do lose heart every now and then when I get negative comments but I love writing this blog so something always happens to get me writing again!

      I wonder if you would be interested in writing a guest post for me? I want to do a series over Christmas as I’ll be taking a little break! I have a girl who left LV when she was young but dreams of coming back; a guy who left for around 20 years, came back but then decided to leave again… I want a third one from someone who left but came back and is happy here! 🙂 Interested?

      • Yes, I am definitely pro coming back to one’s homeland once have traveled and seen a while. I mean you go for some experience, and then apply it for your own there back home, I believe that’s what all that open border thing really is for.
        After living for a while in Stockholm and Singapore (well not that long) I really feel that Latvia truly is my home, my type of place and the cultural network to live in and where I do fit in better than somewhere else.
        Well, I should agree to participate in a guest post (as an exception form the rule of all those emigrating Latvians),
        it is just that recently I have not had enaugh time even for my own blog to write something, but I might try 🙂

        For some reason the browser does not allow me to post this, I just keep clicking..

      • Expat Eye says:

        It would be great if you could! I could send you a rough outline to help you put it together if it makes it easier for you? My email is if you want to send me a message privately!

  7. Schtals says:

    First of all you live in the shittiest part of center of Riga. There is concept called “your micro-cosmos”. Just pick a different route and change the block you live in.
    Secondly this article makes me want to emigrate again.

    • Expat Eye says:

      Oops 😉 Don’t go – we need all the people we have left! I quite like the contrast of living here and going in and out of Old Town every day – different route each day as you say. Always some new little cafe or shop or other interesting feature popping up!

  8. Grim says:

    The idea is that in Latvian everything is spelled exactly as it is pronounced and all nouns must be declinable. It can create some confusion (Ērika is actually the possessive case of Ēriks, i.e. the equivalent of Eric’s), but ultimately I think its way easier and more sensible than English where every other word is an exception of some sort.

    • Expat Eye says:

      I know it SHOULD be easier but somehow it’s not! I find that if I make a tiny error with pronunciation/word stress, nobody can understand me! And yes, English pronunciation and spelling can be rough! 🙂 Thanks for your comment! Linda.

  9. Denīze says:

    About Clapton, it is written “Concert tickets for Eric Clapton concert”. Ērika Kleptona koncerta biļetes. It is correct and not FEMALE.

    • Expat Eye says:

      Hi Denīze, I know! I’m not that dumb – although sometimes it might seem like it 😉 I know it’s perfectly correct in Latvian – my point was that it just looks funny to a native-English speaker. Nothing more! Linda.

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  11. Mannenbach says:

    Right! As a fan of linguistics I also dislike this rule (whole set of rules) and it really is one of the rare rules in Latvia I ‘d like to change. Let’s see how it goes when I’ll change my passport and name to my married one – Mannenbach. Many -bachs in Latvia – Rozenbahs etc. since it’s Germanic name, but I’m sure I’ll be asked to transliterate it into Manenbaha and among American Latvian folks it’d be Mannenbacha (-ch stays according to language rules from 1930s). For a very long time Latvians had only one form of last names (both males and females) i.e. Mr. or Mrs. Apinis and I think that was great practice. And until 19th century it was the best – “Sveiks, Viļņu Jāni!” /”Hey, Jānis of Viļņi!”/ No last names just the household/estate name or name of kin “Viļņi”. There are many types of Latvian. I bet the older Latvian folks in Ireland and Britain have their own type. I’m amazed what people do with their names here – sometimes Americanizing, sometimes unnecessarily Latvianizing foreign names. I’m running a newsletter and we don’t ever change foreign names. On the other hand, I also don’t like ignoring all diacritics of Latvian names when they’re used internationally (Kalnins instead of Kalniņš is also an identity distortion). English is one of the rare Indo-European languages that does not have any special signs or diacritics but many languages do and it helps with the guesswork of pronunciation. I’m absolutely for Latvians not distorting foreign names and foreigners not distorting Latvian names.

    • Expat Eye says:

      Wow, Jānis of Viļņi! must have caused some confusion – there could have been several of them! If not hundreds 😉 Yeah, I’m guilty of dropping some of the diacritics when I write Latvian names in my blog. I’m writing a post on Jānis today so I’ll make sure to remember to put them in!

  12. Gen Occupants says:

    Totally agree that following Latvian language rules is very funny,can you imagine how many hundreds thousands of names are wrong ,especially for people who is not Latvian.Because Latvia is an ex Soviet republic there are many people from USSR and their names sound stupidly for them.As I am not Latvian ,but I was born in Latvia and lived there for 26 years and God bless that I left that place,I can tell that it is most intolerant place,additionally every year in their capital SS Nazi Veterans marching.Hope that in next 20 years Latvians will dissapear from there and there will be nice place to live without people like Latviete .

    • Expat Eye says:

      I guess she’s entitled to her opinion too! I think we’ll see a lot more changes in the next 20 years – at least I hope so! Linda.

    • Lasma says:

      Wow, what a lovely thing to say. I can’t even imagine why you had negative experiences in Latvia at all. After hearing that you hope that ”in the next 20 years Latvians will dissapear from Latvia”, I can’t name one reason why every Latvian didn’t want to be your best friend.

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  14. Džuris says:

    There would be a bit more fun when trying to decipher French names like Šarls Ogistēns Kulons.

    As a Latvian I really prefer our way. If a person told you a name like Šon, how could you guess if he’s a Seán, Shawn or whatever? In Latvian you write down Šons. Can you spell Žerārs Depardjē in the French version without googling? I can’t imagine how can the strange people in other countries hear Kamī and Kirkegor but write Camus and Kierkegaard. There are even such languages (like English) where you can’t tell the pronunciation if you don’t know it beforehand.

    About the “s”. First of all, it is added only if the pronunciation ends with a consonant, so Albert Camus becomes Albērs Kamī. We need the letter because that makes the word declinable. “For Trevor” becomes “Trevoram” which sounds fine. English version, on the other hand, sounds like you’re multiplicating (4 Trevor).

    • Expat Eye says:

      Ha ha, oh god, 4 Trevors would be a bit much for this world! I can spell Gérard Depardieu without googling but then I speak French so I don’t have any problems with the spelling or pronunciation of those names. I don’t think I would have recognised his name from the Latvian spelling though…

      Irish names can be especially tricky for foreigners so I guess the Latvian system would simplify them a bit! How would you write Siobhán in Latvian?!

      I don’t really agree with your Seán/Shawn explanation though. If you needed to know, you’d just ask them how they spell it. In Latvian, there’s no option to do that and you’re basically changing the person’s name into something it isn’t. And anybody who doesn’t really know the Latvian characters would pronounce it as ‘Sons’ when reading it!

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  16. Laine says:

    I am still never quite sure if the person called forward during a meeting roll call is me or somebody else. My collegue, Līva, is always called “Laiva” (a boat in latvian). Aija has become “Aidža”, and I will not even start on Jānis.. So the Latvian method is not without some merit.
    And this from somebody whose child was born in Luxembourg, lives in Belgium and has both Latvian and British documents, thus forever creating confusion in the french, english and latvian speaking world.

    • Expat Eye says:

      Ha ha, gosh your life sounds complicated!! It was only when I started travelling that I became so grateful to my mother for calling me Linda – It seems to work pretty much everywhere! (Although, it was more like Leeeeenda in Poland!) If she’d chosen Siobhan or Aoibheann, I’d probably be experiencing your kind of problems!

  17. Latviete says:

    Brauc mājās. Beidz irgāties par Latviju un Latviešiem. Vairāk cieņas pret mūsu valsti un mūsu valodu! Latviešu valoda balstās uz gramatikas likumiem, kuri NEMAINĪSIES dēļ snobiskiem imigrantiem, kuriem nepatīk, kā tiek izrunāts viņu vārds.

    • Expat Eye says:

      Allow me to translate for those who don’t understand Latvian – Latviete says ‘Go home. Stop laughing at Latvia and Latvians. Have more respect for our country and language! The Latvian language is based on rules which we WON’T CHANGE for snobby immigrants who don’t like how their names are pronounced.’

      Actually, your comment has been somewhat of a revelation for me as I was able to understand and translate it myself – so maybe I do have some respect for the Latvian language after all! As for the rest of it, I really don’t care for your tone so I think I’ll leave it there.

      • Annie says:

        Great job translating! Latvian looks hard..I’m very impressed!

      • Expat Eye says:

        Thanks! The snobby immigrant part was pretty easy to get – the rest I managed to muddle through! It may or may not be correct haha!

      • Krists, Fan or royal( british) english says:

        Well, I have to say. You did a great job translating what latviete said. I couldn’t find a single mistake… But it may be because of my poor english skills. What I wanted to say is you are a great person and I love your sense of humor. And well I wanted to say that every single word you’ve written in you blog is true. As a Latvian who’s been living in Berlin(Germany) for 2 years now, It is quite strange when I visit Latvia and everyone is scowling at me again. Also it took me a year to feel comfortable smiling in public, saying ”thank you, excuse me’, may I?” all the time. Well time to stop my poorly constructed comment with a last words: Smile as much as you can and I truly believe you will be rewarded with a smile in return, after a while.

      • Expat Eye says:

        Thank you so much! Both for the comment and for the compliment on my translation skills! 😉 I’m glad you find the blog funny and see some truth in what I’m saying! I find that a lot of Latvians don’t really notice some of the characteristics until they move away and then come back! Hope you’re having a great time in Berlin – I love that city!! Linda.

    • Gustav August says:

      Stulbā latviete

  18. Bob Lewis says:

    I don’t think very much of this idea of changing names into Latvian versions! To say that itš confusing is putting it mildly!
    When my wife and I were arranging our wedding I had to go to an office of some govenment organisation which is dedicated to preserving the virtue of the Latvian language! (I knew that France had such a thing, but I thought that there couldn’t be anywhere else where people would be so daft!) My name had to be officially translated into Latvian – so as to appear “properly” on all the documents!
    So, instead of being a common or garden :- “William Robert Edwin Lewis”
    I became :- “Vilijams Roberts Edvins Luiss”
    I still look the same, though!! Such are the problems of having enough Christian names to be a High Court Judge or a Bishop!! (I can’t think how “O’Grady” would appear!!)
    Keep up the good work!

  19. Mūdzis says:

    Although there are exceptions when it comes to some vowels, in the Latvian language each individual letter is usually pronounced in one certain way regardless of what sounds surround it, number of syllables, or other similar rules which can be found in other languages. So in Latvian there is no such thing as “g as in garden / g as in surge” because “g” sounds the same in all the words.

    It means that not “maiming” foreigner names when writing them in Latvian (i.e. basing the Latvian version of the name on the pronunciation rather than its written form – to avoid confusion, there is actually a separate law of how it should be done) may cause confusion, especially if we consider that the rules may vary from language to language (the English “chat” does not sound the same as the French “chat”, does it?). That may not be so troublesome if the name appears only in its written form, but what if one needs to read a Latvian text in which the names appears in their original form aloud? If the person has heard them before or knows the other language, it’s fine, yes, but what if not?

    In an alternate universe where names aren’t changed in Latvian your post probably consists of complaining of 1001 ways how Latvians manage to incorrectly read the same name. 🙂

    Well, of course, this system is not perfect either. As somebody already complained in the comments, some people may not be able figure out the original form, so perhaps it really should be better if it was given along with the Latvian version, and sometimes the name may undergo a transformation whose result to which one can only react with “WTF?”, and the people who adapt the names sometimes may be less than competent, but… yeah. Things are not always as simple as one would like them to be.

    (I hope it is possible to understand what I mean because I’m less than competent when it comes to explaining things.)

    • Expat Eye says:

      Thanks for your explanation! You explained it very competently – don’t sell yourself short! 😉 I know that there are sounds in the Latvian language that we just don’t have in English – I really struggle with the soft k (as in Kipsala) and the g (as in Girts). I don’t think I’ll ever be able to say them properly! So Latvians have to listen to me ‘maiming’ their language on a daily basis as well!

      • glic an ear says:

        Actually it is not entirelly true – not all letters in Latvian sound as they are written – there are different e sounds, that even latvians sometimes struggle with. If you know how latvians pronounce letters without diactrics, then try them this way:
        ģ actually pronouces as dj
        ķ -> tj
        č – tš
        Rest of diactrized cosonants should be much easier to master once heard.

      • Expat Eye says:

        The ģ and the ķ are really tricky! And the 3 different o sounds! My students were laughing at me saying ‘Ogre’ yesterday 😉

  20. Anita says:

    My favourite one is Michael Jackson – Maikls Džeksons – and George Michael – Džordžs Maikls. Sometimes you are used to LV names that u have no idea how to Google them when u want to find more info in English :))

    But I still prefer that then being a Dutchman, called Dick – one of the most common Dutch male names…

    • Expat Eye says:

      Very unfortunate! In English, Dick is short for Richard but in Dutch, it’s just Dick – short for nothing! Wow, Džordžs Maikls – when I was young, I thought that George Michael would be the man I would marry (obviously I didn’t know he was gay at the time!) – I could have been Mrs Maikls 😉

      • Agnese says:

        Well, you actually would be Mrs Maikla, because also the surnames change according to gender.
        I’m not a big fan of Latvianizing the names either, but that’s there for two reasons – getting the same pronunciation as original and declining (Latvian uses endings of words for what is done in English by prepositions)

      • Expat Eye says:

        Oops, Mrs Maikla – silly me! I really struggle with these endings! I know a few forms of each word but still don’t really know how to use them correctly! Bet es censos! Soli pa solim!

    • rjschutte says:

      We had a prime minister whose name was “WIm Kok”. Although he was quite popular in Holland, I have no clue what kind of reactions were triggered when he visited native English countries or had visitors from native English countries. But I have a vivid imagination and I do see those people keeping a straight face when greeting him and immediately turn around laughing in silence 🙂

  21. Pecora Nera says:

    Did you get to see him?

  22. I see now why it’s much easier just calling everyone Janis…

  23. Lasma Kokina says:

    There is actually no gender mistake there. It’s just genitive case which indicates possession, hence the change from Ēriks to Ērika. Similarly, with the name Jānis it would be Jāņa house, with Pēteris: Pētera house etc. The endings of nouns (including proper nouns) change according to what you’re willing to say.

    • Expat Eye says:

      Yeah, I had it explained to me! Erika Kleptona koncerta biletes – the tickets of the concert of Eric Clapton! I’m getting better! It just sounds funny in English!

  24. lauretabcn says:

    Hahaha! My first week in Riga I saw an ad of a concert of…Dzo Kokera. I thought the man in the picture was a latvian musician quite similar to Joe Cocker. Some days later I realized he really was Joe Cocker with a latvian name ^_^
    Russians do the same stuff…thanks god in Spain we don’t!!

    • Expat Eye says:

      Ha ha, Dzo Kokera! The Latvian imitation artist! I hope you didn’t miss out on the concert because of the misunderstanding!

  25. Aggie says:

    Vudijs – Woody….
    Makadama – Mc ….

    13 years ago Irish people changed our names too… my husband become John, my friend – Peter, but with my name they had problem, big problem… My best friends name was easy to pronounce, so they left it the way it is…. little girl who born in Ireland 13 years ago, from Evija become Eibhiya…

    there is one exception in Latvia, my little nephew was named Antonio and parents wouldn`t let them to change them name on Antonijs. So, at least there is one Spanish name officially living in Latvia.

    As I always said, you can`t change peoples name, and I hate when they change actors and singers names in Latvia…

    • Expat Eye says:

      It can be quite entertaining sometimes but mostly just confusing! I have to say it out loud to myself in a Latvian accent and then hopefully I can make it out! I have a Scottish friend here and we know a girl called Baiba (not so difficult) but he just can’t get his head around it so he just calls her Baby all the time 😉

  26. bevchen says:

    OK I’m guessing…
    Džerards Batlers – Gerald Butler
    Bredlijs Kūpers – Bradley Cooper
    Vudijs Harelsons – Not a clue….
    Maikls Keins – Michael Cane?
    Ītens Houkss – errrm, pass
    Reičela Makadama – The first bit could be Rachel…
    Kerija Maligana – Kerry something? Maybe?

  27. pollyheath says:

    Poor Erika… He’ll be totally covered by that tree by the time of his concert…

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