Latvian names, like in most European cultures, consist of two main elements: the given name (vārds) followed by family name (uzvārds). Up until recently the practice of giving a middle name was very rare, however since Latvian legislation allows giving of up to two given names in recent generations it has become more common to have a middle name as well.
Latvian male names end in 1st or 2nd declension masculine endings, either -s/-š or -is (with a handful of exceptions ending in indeclinable -o, such as Ivo, Raivo, Gvido, Bruno, Oto and only a couple belonging to the 3rd declension ending in -us, such as Ingus, Mikus, Edžus , Zemgus.) Latvian female names have the feminine 4th or 5th declension endings -a or -e respectively.
Latvian names always conform to the highly phonetic Latvian orthography and in the case of foreign born Latvian nationals or marriages between Latvian women and foreigners (whence they assume the family name of their husband) the foreign names are modified to conform to the phonetic spelling and to acquire the respective case ending. This has given rise to at least half a dozen lawsuits over the last couple decades, mostly ethnic Russian Latvian nationals not content with addition of case endings as well as a Latvian woman contesting her husband's name being transcribed phonetically in her documents (Mentzen alias Mencena v. Latvia case) where the plaintiffs were turned down as well as legal proceedings by a Latvian couple to allow them to register their child as Otto (instead of Oto) and a claim filed with UN HRC by a Russian-Jewish Latvian national Leonid Raihman whose claims were upheld.
The vocative case is used when addressing someone directly, for example, Jāni for Jānis. The diminutive form is often used to express endearment or when addressing children, for example, addressing Jānis as Jānīti (vocative diminutive).
History of Latvian names
The official records of Latvian names were often variously forcibly assimilated into the foreign culture dominant at times in Latvian lands. For example, local pastors, who were often of German descent, used to issue marriage and birth certificates with Germanized names: e.g., Kalns was written as Berg (both meaning "mountain" in Latvian and German respectively). Sometimes "de-Germanization" produced a slightly different name, e.g., Daugmants was Germanized as Daugmann and then de-Germanized into Daugmanis.
During the times when Latvia was part of the Russian Empire and Soviet Union, in official usage Latvian names were commonly russified. In particular, it followed the three-part pattern of Russian names: given name, patronymic, family name. Also, the masculine endings of first names were often truncated. For example, poet Imants Ziedonis was officially called Imant Yanovich Ziedonis (Имант Янович Зиедонис ).
See Name day#Latvia
Latvia is among the European countries that celebrate name days (vārda dienas), a celebration almost comparable in importance to that of a birthday. Some names and their name days bear a connection with important holidays, for example, arguably one of the most important holidays, summer solistice, referred to as Jāņi starts on June 23 with Līgo diena (name day for females named Līga) and continues through June 24 - Jāņu diena - name day for males named Jānis. Similarly Mārtiņi on November 10 coincides with the name day for males named Mārtiņš, Mārcis and Markuss.
Most common Latvian names
Below are the most common ethnic Latvian names. However taking into account the large Eastern Slavic diaspora (Russians, Ukrainians, Belarusians) that make up around one third of Latvia's population, names popular among the Slavic population make it high on this list, for example, the most popular male name in Russia Aleksandr (or Aleksandrs in its Latvian rendition) makes it as the second most common name in Latvia if all ethnicities are counted.
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