Given names and bynames from 15-17th century Latvia.

by Rebecca Lucas (ffride wlffsdotter)

© 2020; all rights reserved
Created 15 November 2020, revised 25 March 2023.

Introduction to Latvian Names

This brief list of names was compiled from a handful of articles, that mentioned some dated forms of bynames from southern Livonia, today the territory of the Republic of Latvia. In particular, the articles consulted were focused on how these bynames had recorded Latvian language words and phrases, particularly descriptions of body parts (Balodis 2007; Laumane 2011), occupations (Balodis 2008; 2016), and aspects of daily life (Sehwers 1926). A large number of the occupational bynames, in particular, reflect the influence of Middle Low German vocabulary on the Latvian language, combining German words with Latvian suffixes (Siliņa-Piņķe 2020), and Latvian words with German suffixes. Similarly, the given names listed below were recorded by Middle Low German scribes, and therefore would not look out of place elsewhere in the German Sprachraum (Siliņa-Piņķe 2007, 2009).

It is also important to note that all of the given names, and the bynames in the Latvian language have one of two grammatical genders: masculine and feminine. This includes occupational bynames, relationship bynames, and ethnonyms that need to be in (grammatical) agreement. In the manuscript spellings listed below, however, it appears that scribes were not always careful to include these gendered byname endings. Women are therefore sometimes recorded with masculine bynames, when they are expected to bear feminine bynames in Standard Latvian. For example, in the present day, the masculine noun zaķis means "hare," but the expected feminine and masculine bynames would respectively be Zaķe and Zaķis. The noun for a particular type of woodpecker is the grammatically feminine noun dzilna, but both the masculine and feminine forms of the byname are Dzilna (Republic of Latvia 2004).

Additionally, women could be recorded with bynames that end in the Low German suffix -sche. Werth (2015:54,57) says that this is a feminine suffix, that was added to a family name to indicate a woman's affiliation with her husband or father (eg. Orttyge Syrulysche, Margrete Zelekassche). In the examples below, a woman could be recorded with a name that solely refers to the man to whom she was affiliated (eg. Martyn Owyessche, Gerke Lettousche), without recording her given name.

As I do not speak or read Latvian with any fluency, I relied heavily upon dictionaries to translate the meaning of bynames. There is therefore a very good chance that I have misinterpreted a name. I also suspect that the dictionay that I was primarily using did not clearly indicate Latgalian and Samogitian words, leading to me refer to everything as Latvian. As the majority of the interpretations of these names were made by Blese almost a century ago, it is possible that there are newer, or more likely, interpretations of these bynames that I have inadvertently overlooked.

Given names

The Middle Low German given names listed below reflect the history of colonisation and Christianisation of Latvia that occurred from the 1300s onwards. These names came from a very limited naming pool that was primarily derived from the calendar of saints. This limited number of recorded given names of Latvians during this period has been noticed by Renāte Siliņa-Piņķe. Siliņa-Piņķe (2007) noted in her examination of a financial register from 15th century Riga, that only 11 given names were shared between the 81 women recorded in the register. Similarly, the 645 men from the same register only used 105 different given names (Siliņa-Piņķe 2009). In the examples compiled for this webpage, there were only 14 names shared between the recorded women, and only 32 masculine given names used.

As this article relies on published sources rather than the original manuscripts, it is highly likely that the same individuals are listed multiple times. Therefore, the names below have not been grouped by frequency, but instead listed in alphabetical order. The header forms are in modern, Standard Latvian taken from Siliņš (1990). This decision was made firstly to assist people who already know the name they want in Standard Latvian. Secondly, this choice was made because of the risk of inadvertently continuing colonial practices by using Middle Low German-language forms as the norm (see below for more information).

On language, colonisation, and a note for SCA members

To quote the diplomatic words of Karina Naumova (2014:1), over the centuries "personal names in the Latvian language have experienced highly significant changes, caused by different factors, mainly by the tendencies of a particular time as a result of changes in the governing culture." From the 13th century, until the 19th century, the primary lingua franca spoken and written in the territory of Latvia was the Low German language, the form of German that was widely spoken along the southern shores of the Baltic and North Seas at the time. When the earliest surviving examples Latvian words and personal names were written down, this was done by people who were ethnically and culturally German (Jansone 2010; Strenga 2021). They relied upon on the orthography of their mother language to capture the sounds of Latvian, with varying degrees of success. The dominance of the Middle Low German language in society from the 13th century onwards was a result of the "violent colonisation of the Baltic area" by the German bishops and the broader Catholic Church as part of the Baltic Crusades (Grünthal 2015:55). This cultural and physical violence included forcefully converting the indigenous pagan Balts to Christianity and instituting new systems of governance where the Middle Low German-speaking colonisers became the ruling elite.

This legacy of colonisation may have some ramifications specifically for participants in the Society for Creative Anachronism (SCA) looking for a pre-1600s Latvian language name. Within the context of the current ruleset used for the registeration of names by the SCA's participants, name elements are required to be attested prior to 1650 "i.e., found in a period document.... Minor spelling variants are allowed when those spelling variants are demonstrated to be compatible with the spelling conventions of the time and place of the attested name" (Society for Creative Anachronism, Inc. 2023).

This approach differs significantly from how personal names are written down in the present-day Republic of Latvia, where names must always conform to a standardised Latvian orthography. Deviation from these spelling rules has been interpreted by the State as a "distortion of the existing system, imposing a threat to the existence of the language as such," and that the enforcement of orthographic norms is undertaken to protect the language (Naumova 2014; Jędrysiak 2018; Kļavinska 2021). The correct transcription of names into the Latvian language also serves to ensure that the element's pronunciation is preserved, and importantly allows Latvian language users to incorporate the name into the language's grammatical system.

A possible solution to this issue was announced in August 2022, when the President of the Society for Creative Anachronism released an Oral Tradition Resolution. This resolution directed officers in the SCA "to develop a protocol for the full recognition and approval of aspects of cultures not based wholly on written documentation, but sufficiently shown to be in existence during the period covered under SCA guidelines" (Fulton 2022: 4). Given that the written records, that this article is based upon, were recorded in Latin and Middle Low German documents rather than the Latvian language, then it is likely that future people wanting to register a Latvian name with the SCA's College of Arms may have the option to use Standard Latvian orthography. Currently, however, only names based upon the attested manuscript forms are acceptable.

Further sources

If you are interested in finding more examples of given names or bynames from the territory of Latvia, I recommend looking at Blese's Latviešu personu vārdu un uzvārdu studijas for further examples. I cannot currently recommend Siliņš's Latviešu personvārdu vārdnīca for the purposes of finding historical forms of names as, firstly, Siliņš often only provides the earliest known date of a particular name, but not necessarily how it was spelled in the original source, making it difficult to trace backwards (Siliņa-Piņķe 2015). Secondly, due to the book being published posthumously, there are a number of names listed where the editor was unsure of Siliņš's source, making it almost impossible to determine where the name was originally recorded (Siliņš 1990:31).


Given names

Note: The header forms are in modern, Standard Latvian. See above for further details.


The bynames have been grouped together by theme.The expected gender of the name's bearers has been indicated below, with fem. for feminine, mas. for masculine, and ? where it is unknown. The abbreviation dim. is for a diminutive byname.

Feminine given names

Masculine given names



Body parts, and sounds of animals


Body Parts and General Appearance

Feet and legs


Head and face



General Appearance



Personality Traits

Plants and Fungi

Food-related Bynames

Occupational Bynames

Agriculture and Food Production



Craft Trades

Other, or unclear occupational bynames

Relationship Bynames

Locative bynames

General toponyms

Locative bynames ending in -nieks (mas.) or -niece (fem.)



All links active as of 25 March 2023.