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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One comment on “Naming names

  1. Aet Singer says:

    Wow, Anita, you were lucky! I hate weird names. I’ve been permanently traumatized. – Aet (which was apparently a very cool, antique Estonian name – denoting parents of rare good taste & culture). Thanks a lot, folks

    Love your blog. I went to camp there too.

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