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The giveaway is that female surnames change after marriage, to not only adopting the husband’s but also taking the suffix ‘ienė’. So if your interlocutor says her surname is Petrauskienė, for example, then she’s married, to a man named Petrauskas. If she tells you her name is Kazlauskienė, she’s tied the knot with a chap called Kazlauskas. But if it ends in ‘aitė’, ‘ytė’ or ‘utė’, for instance Jonaitytė, Povilaitė or Butkutė, then she’s as good as young, free and single. Though muddying the water slightly is the fact that many divorced women choose to keep their married names.
Some brave Lithuanian feminists have attacked the fact that men do not have to change their names at all throughout their lives. So ladies hunting for a faithful mate never know when they meet a man if he’s married or not and just have to take their word for it.
Mirroring the growing trend of double-barrelled surnames in other countries, a few married couples are opting for the wife to keep both her maiden name and the husband’s name with a dash connecting them, while as usual the husband keeps his own name. But given the sheer length of your average Lithuanian name, this can result in absurdly (yet absolutely uniquely) stretch-limo full names and a real mouthful. Margarita Ciplinskaitė-Obolevičius, say.
There are around 50,000 surnames in Lithuania, a nation of some 3 million souls. Surnames’ origins are varied, as Juozas Kudirka writes in his book ‘The Lithuanians’. Some come from ancestors’ nicknames, such as Baltakis (white-eyed), Didgalvis (big-headed) or Kuprys (hunchback) while others originate from the names of trades as they do in other languages, like Dailidė (carpenter), Kubilius (cooper), Puodžius (potter) or Račius (wheelwright), or from local place names.
Locals love to ‘Lithuanianise’ foreigners’ names. If someone tries writing down your name, the chances are you won’t recognise yourself. If your name happens to be John Smith, in Lithuania you will become known as Jonas (pronounced ‘Yonas’) Smitas. Philip Jones will become Filipas Džounsas. Daniel Craig turns into Danielis Kreigas, or perhaps Džeimsas Bondas, or maybe even ‘dabel-ou-sevenas’. As you may have noticed, many male names end in ‘as’. So if you’re a bloke and you’re met with a furrowed brow when saying your name, simply try adding ‘as’ (but not ‘ass’) on the end.
Female names are much easier to convert and have few discernible differences from their western versions. Emily turns into Emilija, Gabrielle becomes Gabrielė, Camille transforms into Kamilė. In this way at least, life can be so much easier if you’re a girl.