Naming names

I’ve never been too crazy about my first name, Anita. Anita always felt ill-fitting and uncomfortable. I never met other girls named Anita until college. Someone in my dorm yelled “Anita! Phone call!” Seconds later, not one but two other Anitas almost collided with me at the dormitory’s pay phone. (This was during the Dark Ages – 1969 – before smart phones or even stupid portable phones.) We looked at one another in surprise. None of us had ever encountered another Anita of our own age before, let alone two Anitas.

Deep inside, I felt almost offended at meeting them. I had become so accustomed to going it alone through the crowds of Barbaras, Patricias, Donnas and Debbies in high school, that I felt Anita was my own personal cross to bear. Nobody else could have it! Unless I could trade it for Lynne or Linda. Linda was doubly acceptable to me because it was an Estonian name as well as an American name popular for female babies in the early 1950s. But my Estonian immigrant parents may have considered Linda a bit old-country. My mother explained once that they considered Anita a nice international name for me. Furthermore, it was a diminutive of Anna, my mother’s name. Anna was also the name of a great-aunt and one of my great-grandmothers. And my father’s middle name was Anton. Eventually I continued the tradition by giving my older daughter the middle name Ann. But I’ve never felt truly reconciled to the name Anita.

It could have been worse. I could have gotten a real old Estonian name like that of one of my great-grandmothers, who was evidently called Gröta. I discovered this recently while searching through online copies of old Estonian Lutheran Evangelical Church parish records and finally finding the recorded marriage of my great-grandfather Peter Laur, son of Jürri, to a Lisa Püsnik, daughter of Gröta, way back in 1878. I stared at that name for a long time. The records are written in old-fashioned German, and sometimes the handwriting is impossible to decipher. In this case the script was fairly readable, and it said Gröta. I had never come across such a name in all my searches.

Great-Grandmother Gröta

I have seen names like Krõõt, which looks and sounds gosh-awful, like the sound of someone vomiting heavily after a night of imbibing potent Estonian vodka. But Krõõt is merely an old-fashioned Estonianized spelling of Greta, sometimes short for Margareta or Margaret, but often enough just a sinple one-syllable first name of the kind 19th century country Estonians loved. I’ve also found Krööt, a slightly different spelling, in church records. And I’ve seen the name Kreet bestowed among contemporary Estonians.

I don’t know how reliable or up-to-date the website namerank.com is, but to my very great surprise, it states that Kreeta is the 7th most popular girls’ name in Estonia, with Kreet at 11th place and Kreete at 47th. For those of you who don’t speak Estonian, Kreet is pronounced something like crate.

However, the Estonian Interior Ministry states that the top girls’ names of 2014 are as follows:

Sofia (102), Eliise (74), Maria (73), Mia (71), Lisandra (60), Mirtel (59), Sandra (58), Emma (55), Laura (55), Darja (50), Arina (49), Milana (48), Alisa (47), Anastasia (47), Lenna (47), Liisa (47), Anna (45), Viktoria (4), Elisabeth (44), Polina (44), Marta (42), Aleksandra (39), Marleen (38), Hanna (37), Nora (37). Kreet, or Greta don’t even make th3 list.

Boys: Rasmus (91), Artjom (89), Robin (83), Martin (80), Oliver (74), Romet (71), Sebastian (70), Robert (68), Artur (64), and Maksim (63), Markus (60), Marten (60), Karl (58), Kristofer (58), Oskar (57), Daniel (56), Hugo (56), Henri (55), Mark (54), Nikita (53), Kirill (52), Sander (52), Kevin (51), Aleksandr (50), Daniil (50).

In June, 2014, the top 15 female names included Grete at 6th place. The others are 1. Sofia, 2. Liisa, 3. Darja, 4. Lisandra, 5. Mia, 6. Grete, 7. Maria, 8. Marie, 9. Aleksandra, 10. Anastassia, 11. Eliise, 12. Emma, 13. Lenna, 14. Marleen, and 15. Melissa.

Sorry, namesrank.com. Your rankings are not very close to reality.

Names and their popularity appear to be a passion of kodueestlased, the term among Estonian-Americans for those born and raised in Estonia. The Estonian Interior Ministry, undoubtedly due to popular demand, publishes annual and even monthly lists of the most popular baby names in the nation. It’s nice to know that my personal passion for names is in my genes.

At any rate, Krõõt and its variants are probably the same as Gröta, although the use of the first letter G in Estonian nomenclature isn’t that common. When I did an internet search for Gröta and similarly spelled names, I found it was used at one time in Sweden and Norway. Did some long-ago immigrant pass a parent’s name along to an Estonian-born daughter, thereby setting off a trend?

Lots of Grötas

For trend it was, at least in the area of Pangodi, a small community in Tartu county. It was called Spankau by the German barons who lorded it over the Estonian peasantry for many centuries, and Spankau was where my great-grandmother Lisa Püsnik was born. By the way, a good resource for looking up the Estonian version of an old German place-name is this: https://de.wikipedia.org/wiki/Liste_deutscher_Bezeichnungen_estnischer_Orte

When I started browsing through the parish records for the congregations (Nõo, Otepää and Suure-Kambja) serving residents of Pangodi in the mid-1800s, I was startled to find at least a half-dozen women bearing the name Gröth.

Unfortunately the interior ministry probably didn’t notice that trend, most likely because it didn’t exist at the time. Estonia was ruled by Russia, the Russians having ordered the German barons to free Estonians from serfdom in the early part of the century.

Be nice

I suspect that was just about the last nice thing they did for Estonians, who had to battle furiously for their all-too-brief first period of independence at the end of World War 1. Then, like a very bad case of the flu that simply will not go away, the Russians came back at the end of World War 2 and took Estonia over again, at least until 1991. And now, like a bloodthirsty vampire, it once again appears to be threatening the freedom of its tiny, ethnically distinct neighbors Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania. What will it take for the Russians to grow up and get over their obsession with us? To learn to live and let live? To respect national boundaries?

 

The Lumi mystery

I have a tiny old photograph of an old, old woman who wears a long peasant scarf on her head. It’s what my mother called a paabuska, what Russians call a babushka. My mother often wore a headscarf, which embarrassed me as a teenager because I thought she looked like a peasant. I used to beg her not to wear one for parent-teacher meetings.

The woman in this one inch by one inch black and white photograph is my great-grandmother, Leena Susi. When he gave me the photo shortly before he died, my father told me her maiden name was Leena Lumi. The word lumi means snow in Estonian, just as susi means wolf in some old Estonian dialects and in modern Finnish.

My Estonian cousin, the daughter of my father’s sister, drew up a family tree for me, and she too knew this ancestress as Leena Lumi before she married our great-grandfather Jaan Susi in 1878..

However when I began digging for more information as it became available online, I found that others had posted information on Geni.com saying that this particular Leena (or Lena) bore the maiden name Hammas (which means tooth). I found a copy of a church record posted online of the marriage of one Jaan Susi to one Lena Hammas on May 14, 1878, possibly in the town of Valga. But search as I might, I could never find any record of a marriage between a Jaan Susi and a Leena Lumi.

I put the matter aside for a couple of years. Then I went back to Geni recently and discovered links to parish records indicating that a brother of Lena called himself Jaan Hammas alias Lumi. This Jaan Hammas aka Lumi, and his wife Lotte Katarina Hammas-Lumi, as she was evidently called, gave all five of their children the surname Lumi.

And in another church record I found that Lena’s nephew Jaan Hammas, son of her brother Endrik, had officially changed his surname, and that of his wife , Elise Annette, to Lumi on november 3, 1938. Endrik’s other children Peeter, August and Minna all went by the last name Lumi.

The children of Lena’s brother Kusta Hammas, Adolf, Gustav and Albert, all  used the name Lumi.

So at some period of time in the early part of the 20th Century, or even earlier, various members of the Hammas family changed their name to Lumi.

It seems reasonable to conclude that Lena Susi decided to change her maiden name retroactively to Lumi as well, and that became the name handed down to her descendants.

Why?

I haven’t the slightest idea. Was there something bad associated with the Hammas name? In all probability, the name Hammas was originally bestowed on a family of newly freed Estonian serfs by their former German baronial masters between 1822 and 1835. Prior to the naming times, many of the peasants were called only by their first name and distinguished from one another by the name of the manor where they lived.  A serf named Jaan living on the Püsnikko manor might be called Püsnikko Jaan.

There was a second wave of name changing in the 1920s-30s when some Estonians with German surnames exchanged them for ones that were taken from the Estonian language, according to Professor Aado Must in his writing called Onomastika in the Estonian Folk Archives, at http://www.ra.ee/apps/onomastika/index.php/et

Onomastika unfortunately is in Estonian. But it has a neat little search tool whereby one can enter an Estonian name and quite often find the name(s) of the baronial manor(s) where it was first bestowed. The tool shows that the name Hammas was given to people in living on the Karste, Atla, Sääre and Roosna-Alliku manor estates. In my ancestors’ case, Karste was the most likely place, specifically Liivimaa kubermang (Livonian government) / Võru maakond (Võru county)/ Kanepi kihelkond (Kanepi village) / Karste mõis (Karste manor).

The change from Hammas to Lumi couldn’t have been related to the Estonianization of German surnames in the 1920s-30s because Hammas is not a German name as far as I know.

One nice thing about this research is that I have discovered a few relatives in the U.S., distant cousins with the surname Lumi. (Even if the name was originally Hammas.)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Long time no see

It’s been almost a year since I last posted on this blog. Sometimes I have episodes of depression that keep me from doing things, and sometimes life just gets hectic. Last winter, it was depression. Then it was the garden. At the moment, things are extraordinarily hectic because of an upcoming family wedding, but please allow me wish all of you a blessed Samhain and a happy Halloween. Once things simmer down again, I fully intend to continue researching and posting what I find out about Estonian name-days and bits of folklore that strike my fancy.

blessings,

Anita

Daaniel to Rahel, names for December 11-17

Let’s travel back in time to December 11, 2013.

I left off posting about Estonian name-days after the week of December 4 through 10, with the exception of Toomas on Dec. 21, in order to prepare for the holidays and celebrate them. Now let’s catch up on the names and dates that were missed.

Daaniel on December 11

December 11 is the day for the Estonian names Daaniel, Taaniel, Tanel, Tani, Taano and Tonno.  Raivo Seppo, in his book Elavad Nimed, adds Tanil, Tanjel, Tann, Tanni and Tannil. All are masculine names and are Estonian variants of the Hebrew-derived name Daniel, which means “God is my judge.”  The name-day honors St. Daniel the Stylite, born circa 409 CE in Syria.  In Finland, the names for the day are Taneli, Tatu and Daniel. In Sweden the names are Daniel and Daniela.

Aivar, Aiver and Aivo on December 12

The names on the Estonian name-day calendar for December 12 are  Aivar, Aiver and Aivo, all male. Seppo says they derive from Ivor, a Scandinavian name.  The website Behind the Name says Ivor comes from the Old Norse name Ívarr, which was derived from the elements yr “yew, bow” and arr “warrior.” The Scottish and British name Evander is also derived from Ivor. http://www.behindthename.com/name/ivor

But why was Aivar chosen for this particular day? It sounds a little bit like the female names Ivana and Giovanna. Looking at the names for the day in other countries, one sees Johanna F. v. C in Austria, Ivana Franciska in Croatia, Chantal in France, Johanna in Germany and St. Giovanna Francesca Frémyot di Chantal in Italy. These all derive from Saint Jane Frances de Chantal, who died Dec. 13, 1641 CE and was canonized in 1767. The saint’s feast day is now generally celebrated in August, but also December 12, which is closer to the anniversary of her death. Source:  http://www.catholic.org/saints/saint.php?saint_id=60

December 13: Lucia

Lucia is the name for December 13. It is no coincidence that this is also the feast-day for  St. Lucia (Lucy) of Syracuse, a martyr of the early 4th Century CE who is considered a saint by the Roman Catholic, Anglican, Lutheran, and Orthodox Churches. The name Lucia is based on the Latin word for light, lux.

Other Estonian names for this date are also feminine: Hele, Ele, Ere, Loviise, Luise, Viise and Lutsia. Seppo adds Heleri and replaces Ere with Eleri in his book, Elavad Nimed.  Hele and Ele  can mean bright, pale, or fair, so they also refer to light. Lutsia is an Estonianized spelling of Lucia.The names  Heleri and Eleri derive from Hele, according to Seppo.

Loviise and its shortened form Viise correspond to the English name Louise, the feminine of Louis. The name Louis comes from Latin Ludovicus, a form of the Germanic name Ludwig, which derives from the Germanic name Chlodovech, “famous warrior”  according to the website Behind the Name.  Obviously Loviise and Viise have nothing to do with light, but were probably chosen for this day because they sound a bit like Lutsia.

December 14: Eho, Hengo and Hingo

The names for December 14 are Eho, Hengo and Hingo, all masculine. I presume Eho is the male form of Eha, which means evening twilight. Hengo and Hingo derive from hing, soul or breath.

There is a St. Fingar whose feast-day is Dec. 14, so Hengo and Hingo could have been chosen for their resemblance to the saint’s name. Born in Ireland, St. Fingar was martyred in Cornwall, England in the 5th Century CE.

December 15: Kalli. Kelli, Kulla, Killu, and Halli

Kalli. Kelli, Kulla, Killu, and Halli are the names for December 15, all feminine. Darned if I know why they were chosen for this day. I can’t find any saints with names that resemble any of these.  In Poland, Celina is one of many names for this day, but it’s not used in other European countries.  Heimo is the name for the day in Finland.  Kalli means dear or precious, Kelli means bells, Kulla means gold and Halli means frost.

Adelheid on December 16

The December 16 names are Adelheid, Adeele. Ethel, Aade, Aale, Teele, Haide, Aliide and  Liide, all female. Adelheid is also the name for the day in Germany and Austria, with the nickname Heidi in Germany;  Albina and Adela in Croatia;  Albína in the Czech Republic; Alice in France; Aletta and Etelka in Hungary;  St. Albina in Italy; Alvine in Latvia; Albina and Alina among other names in Lithuania;  Adelajda, Ado, Albina, Alina and Ananiasz in Poland,  and Albina in the Slovak Republic. Finland’s day-names are Auli, Aulikki and Aada. Source: http://www.namedaycalendar.com/december

Catholic saints honored on December 16 include St. Adelaide of Burgundy (French, d. 999 CE), St. Ado of Vienne (male, French, d. 875 CE) and St. Albina of Caesarea (Palestinian, martyred c. 250 CE). You can see the connections between the saints’ names and the name-day names easily. The name Ethel in the Estonian list was probably added because it sounds a bit like the Adel in Adelheid. The names Adelaide and Adelheid come from the Germanic name Adalheidis, which means  adal “noble” and heid “kind, sort, type.” Source: http://www.behindthename.com/name/adelaide

Rahel and Raili on December 17

For December 17, the names are Rahel and Raili; in Finland it’s Raakel.  Rahel and Raakel are versions of the name Rachel, but I can’t find any connection to saints’ days or names in other European countries.  There was a male St. Briarch of Brittany (Welsh, abbot in France, d. 627 CE) honored on December 17, whose name has some similarity to Rachel.  Source:  http://www.greenspun.com/bboard/q-and-a-fetch-msg.tcl?msg_id=007PVC 

In Greece, Rachel is one of a number of Biblical names chosen for December 14. The name comes from a Hebrew word meaning “ewe.”

Jõulud, Joulu, Juhla, Jul, Yule and Yalda

Jõulud is — actually I should write are, because the word jõulud is plural — the most important holiday(s) in Estonia.  The holiday period lasts from St. Thomas’s Day, December 21, to January 6, Three Kings Day or even longer if the Yule beer lasts.

The word jõulud is the equivalent of Yule – it means Yules. Both the words jõulud and Yule harken back to the pagan festivals of feasting and honoring the return of the sun at midwinter that preceded Christianity and Christmas.

When we speak of midwinter and midsummer, it does not refer to  a day in the middle of the period from Dec. 21 and March 21, or a day in the middle of the period from June 21 and Sept. 21. In some  pagan concepts of time, winter, or the cessation of the growing season, is said to begin around the fall equinox and last until the spring equinox. Likewise, summer means the six months, more of less, when plants grow, flower and go to seed between the spring equinox on or about March 21, and the fall equinox, on or about September 21 in the Northern Hemisphere.

In other words, midwinter is the day halfway between the fall and spring equinoxes, the day of the winter solstice, which usually happens on or about December 21. Midsummer is the day of the summer solstice, on or around June 21.

Ukon juhla

Variations of the word Yule or Jul are used in place of the word Christmas in Scandinavian countries,  including Finland. I note here that before 1316 CE (Common Era), the Finns called the summer solstice Ukon juhla. Ukon refers to Ukko, one of their old pagan gods, (Uko or Uku in Estonia) and juhla means celebration. I presume juhla means the same thing as jõulu, which would lead to the conclusion that Yule originally meant nothing more than “celebration.”

According to Wikipedia:

“Yule is the modern English representation of the Old English words ġéol or ġéohol and ġéola or ġéoli, with the former indicating the 12-day festival of “Yule” (later: “Christmastime”) and the latter indicating the month of “Yule”, whereby ǽrra ġéola referred to the period before the Yule festival (December) and æftera ġéola referred to the period after Yule (January). Both words are thought to be derived from Common Germanic *jeχʷla-, and are cognate with Gothic (fruma) jiuleis and Old Norse (Icelandic and Faroese) jól (Danish and Swedish jul and Norwegian jul or jol) as well as ýlir, Estonian jõulud and Finnish joulu. The etymological pedigree of the word, however, remains uncertain, though numerous speculative attempts have been made to find Indo-European cognates outside the Germanic group, too.” Much more about Yule at this link: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Yule

Yalda

I’ve also run across speculation that the word Yule might be connected with Yalda, an Iranian holiday that takes place on the winter solstice, usually December 21. It celebrates the victory of light over darkness, and the renewal of the Sun. The word Yalda means birth, and at one time  it marked  the birth of the Zoroastrian god of light Mithras. More information: http://www.farsinet.com/norooz/yalda.html

Mithraism became popular among members of the ancient Roman military, and they celebrated the birth of Mithras on December 25. This holiday was called Natalis Solis Invicti (nativity of the unconquerable sun.) Eventually that date was adopted by the Christian church as the official date of the birth of Jesus.

As I’ve mentioned in previous posts, the evening of December 24 is when Estonians celebrate Christmas. In many pagan traditions, as well as in Judaism, holidays start at sundown on the evening before the official day.

In Estonia, December 24 is called jõululaupäev, which literally means “bath day for Yule.” In the past, Estonians headed for the saun, steamed off the accumulated dirt of work and the big house cleaning that took place on December 21, and put on fresh clothes. Some still do this. Some attend an early church service at 3 or 4 pm, then head home for the traditional dinner of roast pork. sauerkraut and blood sausage.  The holiday officially starts when the first star is sighted in the sky.

The Yule Elder, jõuluvana, is Estonia’s version of Santa Claus, and brings presents while the family is at church. During the Soviet years, when religious observances such as Christmas were forbidden, a secular holiday took place on New Year’s Eve, and gifts were delivered by Father New Year.

(This was going to be posted on December 24, 2013, but the holidays got a bit hectic. I am just now recovering from jõulud and the subsequent Polar Vortex.)

Black Thomas and Yule Hay

The Winter Solstice, that still point in the turning year before the days begin once again to lengthen, is today.

My Old Farmer’s Almanac  for 2013 says winter begins 11 minutes past noon, which means the last minutes of fall are slipping away as I write. It doesn’t feel like fall or winter outdoors; the thermometer reads 62 degrees Fahrenheit, as though it were early May.  Tomorrow the forecast for Washington DC, just 15 miles from my home, is for a balmy 72 degrees.  Welcome, winter!

In Estonia, December 21 marks the start of Yuletide, which we call jõuluaeg,  jõulu being our word for yule. Alo Raun’s useful Eesti Keele  Etümoloogiline Teatmik, aka the Estonian  Etymological Handbook, says the word jõulud originated  from an Old Swedish word, iul.  Yule is also the pagan word for the Winter solstice.

It is also Toomapäev, the day of St. Thomas the Apostle, from the days when Estonians were Catholics, prior to the Protestant Reformation.

Toomapäev is considered the real start of the yuletide celebrations. In order to peacefully usher in the holidays, homes underwent a “seriously major cleaning,” (my translation) according to Lauri Vahtre’s book, Maarahva tähtraamat. The walls and ceilings were cleared of soot and grime; hence the phrase “Must-toomas välja!” (Black-Thomas out!)

Our friend Must-Toomas, undoubtedly named after the saint, was also known in some parts of Estonia as Tahma-Toomas, which also meant Black-Toomas;or as Tolmu-Toomas (Dust-Thomas) or Nõgi-Toomas (Soot Thomas), according to an article on the remarkable website http://www.folklore.ee. The article, “Clothed Straw Puppets in Estonian Folk Tradition” was written by Ergo-Hart Vastrik in 1991 and translated into English by Mati Limberg in 1997.  Link: http://www.folklore.ee/folklore/vol7/metsikx.htm

Sometimes the collected dust and soot was added to straw and old rags to fashion a kind of poppet figure.  In doing so, the female head of the household, the perenaine, symbolically tied into it all the bad luck, illness, grievances and dirt of the house. Then she secretly carried it to a neighbor’s house, under cover of darkness, and placed it next to a door or window. The neighbor, naturally, would not want Sooty-Toomas on her property either, so the figure was carried from house to house in the community over the course of the holiday season. Sometimes the poppet was called Christmas Toomas or New Year Toomas.

These straw poppets were still made as recently as 1987, according to Vastrik’s article, from which this excerpt is borrowed:

“Most accounts concerning the making of the figures at this time came from the parish of Juuru…  In Juuru, the custom was viable for a longer time than in the neighbouring parishes – the rite was carried out in Orguse and Härküla villages as late as 1987 … In 1929, the making of the New Year’s figure was described as follows:

“A figure of a man – Tahma-Toomas [Ash-Thomas] – is made of straw and old clothes and taken on New Year’s Eve to someone’s yard. The man has a letter in his pocket: my name is Tahma-Toomas. No one wants to have him in his yard by the morning, but takes the man to the neighbour’s yard. This is done to spite others. Once neighbours really started quarrelling and started throwing the figure over the fence until it was all tattered. The household in whose yard Tahma-Toomas is left by morning will not be able to work properly in the new year and their house will be dirty. When I was a child it was not done. Younger people started doing it. Tahma-Toomas or nääritaat [New Year father] or jõuluvana [Christmas elder]. ”

Of utmost importance in the Estonian household, was the requirement that the Yuletide beer had to be ready before the 21st. If not, it was believed that Black-Toomas would get into the beer and ruin it.

Doing work other than cleaning was unlucky on the 21st of December.  Spinning was forbidden, as was grinding grain with a mortar and pestle (probably to honor the grain goddess, since much of the day’s ritual centered on grain and beer).

When all the household was clean, the Yule rye-hay was brought indoors and scattered on the floors. In the distant past, this was done to honor the grain fairy/goddess/spirit, who brought joy and well-being to the household, according to Kustas Põldmaa in his book Nurmed ja Niidud.

To symbolize the grain fairy (or goddess), the female head of the household wove an elaborate yule-crown from fir branches, straw, reeds and/or pine roots, decorated with colored egg shells and wood shavings, in which candles were lit. (A virtually perfect fire hazard, if ever there was one.)

The male head of the family traditionally carried hay into the reha or grain drying room, flinging it up to the rafters. If a lot of the hay got caught up in the rafters, tradition held that there would be a good crop of grain the following summer .

Of course today’s Estonian name for the day is Toomas (Thomas) and it’s variations. Toom, Tom and Tommi.  Raivo Seppo’s book Elavad Nimed adds the names Maas, Toomes and Toomus.

Wishing you a blessed Yule, a clean home, beer without soot in it, and an abundant crop of rye in the coming year!

From Varja to Juta: Name-day calendar for Dec. 4 through 10

So many names!

As I go over the Estonian name-day calendar, I find so many unfamiliar names. Some of them are out of date and were seldom used during my lifetime. There are trends in name-giving in Estonia, just like there are in the United States and other countries.

Remember back in the late 1970s, when it seemed as though every baby girl was named Jennifer, and every baby boy, Scott?  In the 1980s names like Tiffany, Ashley, Courtney and Jason became popular.

My 1969 high school classmates mostly had names like Barbara, Patricia, Susan, Linda  or Donna. You never see anyone naming their daughter Barbara or Susan now. The boys in my class were called William or John or Robert or Mark. Male names tend not to vary over the years as much as female names.

Last year, in 2012, the top five girls’ names in the U.S. were Sophia, Emma, Isabella, Olivia and Ava. The top five boys’ names were Jacob, Mason, Ethan, Noah, and guess what? Good old William is still up there at number 5.  http://www.behindthename.com/top/

Looking over the top 50 girls’ names for last year, I found only one – Elizabeth – that appeared among my classmates. By contrast, there were 10 boys’ names in the top 50 that I recall from high school.

No Estonian names?

Now here is a curious thing. The Estonian website nimi.ee shows the top names for boys and girls for the month of October, 2013, and not a single one of the most popular names was of Estonian origin; the closest anyone came was with the name Kristjan.

The top 10 boys’ names in Estonia two months ago (in order of popularity) were Martin, Kaspar, Marten, Daniel, Gregor, Robin, Kevin, Mark, Aleksandr and Artur.  For girls, they list Maria, Sofia, Elina, Karolina, Laura, Melissa, Adele, Alisa, Elizabeth and Mia. A few of the top  names, notably Gregor, Aleksandr, Sofia and Elina, indicate the significant number of Russians living in Estonia. http://www.nimi.ee/?m1=3

Barbara on December 4

On the Estonian name day calendar, we begin with Dec. 4 and variations of the name Barbara, this being the feast day of St. Barbara.

Estonian names for the day are Barbara and its Estonianized variants Barbo, Parba, Varve, Varja and Varju. In his book Elavad Nimed, author Raivo Seppo adds the male names Paabu, Paap and Paapu and female names Parba, Parbara, Parbu and Varbu as additional Estonian adaptations of Barbara. Varja and Varju have an additional meaning in Estonian: shade.

The website Behind the Name says Barbara originated from the Greek word βαρβαρος (barbaros), meaning “foreign”.  St. Barbara is believed to have lived in either Turkey or Egypt during the 3rd Century CE.

December 5: Selma

The Dec. 5 names are Selma and Selme, both female. Seppo’s book adds Selmar, which I presume is masculine.  In Finland, the name for the day is also Selma; in Latvia it’s Sabine. 

There is a St. Sabbas or Sabas, a 5th Century abbot who founded monasteries in Palestine, who is honored by both the Catholic and Orthodox traditions this day.  However I doubt Selma and Selma were chosen for this day because of the saint.

Behind the Name says Selma comes from the male name Anselm which contains the Germanic elements god and helmet.

St. Nicholas on December 6

Who else but Jolly St. Nicholas would be the namesake for Dec. 6?

Estonian names for the day are Nigulas, Nigul, Nikola, Niilas, Nils, Klaus, Laas, Laus and Niilo, all masculine names derived from Nikolaos, the original Greek version of the name.

But wait,  there’s more! Seppo’s book includes the following derivatives:  Klass, Klaes, Klais, Klaos, Kleis,  Laes, Lais, Laos, Lass, Lauks,  Miglas, Migu, Migul, Migulas, Miilas, Miklas, Nigis, Niglas, Nigles, Nigol, Nigolas, Nigu, Niil, Niiles, Niiku, Niklas, Nikles, Niklus and Niss.  Estonians certainly know how to get the most out of a name, don’t they?

None of these Estonian  names is female, though in other languages there are feminine variants of Nicholas such as Nicole, Nikki, Nicolette, Colette, Coline, Nicoline, Lina, Nika and Nikolasa. http://www.behindthename.com/name/nicola-2

According to Behind the Name,  Nicholas and its variants come “from the Greek name Νικολαος (Nikolaos) which meant “victory of the people” from Greek νικη (nike) “victory” and λαος (laos) “people”. Saint Nicholas was a 4th Century CE bishop from Anatolia who, according to legend, saved the daughters of a poor man from lives of prostitution. He is the patron saint of children, sailors and merchants, as well as of Greece and Russia. He formed the basis for the figure known as Santa Claus (created in the 19th century from Dutch Sinterklaas), the bringer of Christmas presents. http://www.behindthename.com/name/nicholas

Sabiine on December 7

It’s tough to follow a popular act like St. Nick. The Estonian names for Dec. 7 are Sabiine, Piine and Sabrina, all feminine and based on the name of an ancient Italic tribe called the Sabini. 

The names were probably assigned to this day because they somewhat resemble  the above-mentioned  St. Sabas as well as St. Savin, honored Dec. 7, and St. Sabinus, who is honored Dec. 11. Seppo includes the nicknames Piina, Sabi and Ine as well. Piina has an additional meaning in Estonian: to torture.

Külli on December 8

Külli, Küllike, Külliki, Külve and Külvi are the Estonian names for Dec. 8. All are feminine. In Finland, the corresponding names for the day are Kyllikki and Kylli. Finns use the letter Y in place of the Estonian  letter Ü, but the pronunciation is approximately the same.  These names are based on a character in the Finnish national  epic called the Kalevala. Kyllikki was the wife of Lemminkäinen, one of the major characters in the tale. The names stem from the word küll, which means enough or plenty.   I don’t know why those names are assigned to Dec. 8.

Raido on December 9

Dec. 9 is for the male names Raido, Raidu, Raigo, Raiko, Raid, Rail and Rait. Seppo adds the name Raidur.

I tried looking up saints’ names to see if any of them bore a resemblance to today’s names, but didn’t find any.  I have absolutely no idea why these particular names were assigned for Dec. 9. If someone reads this and knows the answer, please post a comment about it.

It’s likely that this set of names originated from Raido, one the alphabet runes used by various northern European peoples including the Anglo-Saxons, Vikings, Danes and other Germanic tribes. Estonians used these runes as well. This image of Raido is pasted from http://www.runes.info/images/16raido.jpg

Raidō, which means ride or journey, “is the reconstructed Proto-Germanic name of the r-rune of the Elder Futhark, the oldest form of runic writing. Other names for this rune include rad, reið and raidho,” according to Wikipedia.  https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Raido

December 10: Juudit, Juta

The Dec. 10  names are Juudit and Juta, while the Finns have the similar name Jutta for that date.  The German name-day calendar has Jutta on December 22, presumably in honor of  St. Jutta of Diessenburg, whose feast day it is.

Juudit of course is from the biblical Judith. The Coptic Church honors her  on Sept. 17.  According to Wikipedia, the name Judith  is from Hebrew: יְהוּדִית, Modern Yehudit Tiberian Yəhûḏîṯ; meaning praised or female Jew, and is the feminine form of Judah, according to Wikipedia. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Book_of_Judith

Next week I’ll write about Daniel, Aivar, Lucia, Eho, Kalli, Adelheid, Rahel and their Estonian variants.