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?

 

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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.)