Our Lithuanian Names

by Alan Craig

Please note: I do not speak Lithuanian, and have no direct access to any native Lithuanian speakers. All my notes below are from research into the language, and I would be delighted to hear from anyone who finds grammatical or syntactical errors in this article. —Ed.

Before a researcher in Vilnius found a number of extant family records in the Lithuanian State Historical Archives (see Lithuanian records), the names we had for our Lithuanian family came from a very small number of documents: two Lithuanian birth certificate extracts (for my grandmother and her half-sister);  about a dozen Scottish birth, death and marriage records; just two Scottish census records from 1911 and 1921; and half-a-dozen US immigration records from the 1920s. The spellings across the Scottish records vary greatly, and this is probably for a number of factors: (a) scribal errors by registrars unable to interpret the phonetics as given by informants; (b) the informants giving inaccurate information from lack of knowledge; or (c) the low literacy of the informants.

It must be remembered that even at the turn of the nineteenth century, many surnames had not been fully standardised as they are today. The Lithuanian language was still banned in its homeland when our family left for Scotland around 1903, and it is likely most were educated (if at all) using Russian or Polish. Indeed, family records found in the Lithuanian State Archives were largely written in Russian or Polish (both Slavic languages quite unrelated to Lithuanian). So, spelling variation would be as true for Lithuanians as it was for Scots. Within our Scottish family names, there were a significant range of spellings right up to about World War I—for example: McMeekin is variously given as McMeken, McMechine, McMeeking and McMikan; Hannah gets Haney, Henie, Heny and Hanna; while Flynn was often Flin, Flint, Flinn, or Flynn. Therefore, it should be of no surprise that Lithuanian names would have diverse offerings as well.

Below is a list of records we have of BDMs for my first- and second-generation Lithuanian relatives (where the informant was also a first- or second-generation Lithuanian). This list includes records from both the Scottish National Records Office (marked in purple) and the ones we have from Lithuanian sources (marked in orange):

  • Mother, Patronele McKay: birth 1927; marriage 1949.
  • Grandmother, Petronėlė “Sarah” Šugždaitė: birth, 1901; marriage 1927
  • Great-grandmother, Petronėlė “Sarah” Melnikaitytė: birth 1864; 1st marriage 1886; death 1930
  • Great-grandfather, Jonas Šugžda (“John Sugistaff”): death 1941.
  • G-g-grandparents, Simonas Melnikaitis & Ona Vidrinskaitė: marriage 1864.
  • Granduncle, Pranciškus Šugžda: birth 1896; death 1896.
  • Granduncle, Vladislovas Šugžda: birth 1899.
  • Granduncle, Joseph Sugzda: marriage 1917.
  • Grandaunt, ”Maggie” Šugžda: death 1904.
  • Granduncle, John Shugesda: birth, 1904; marriage 1927.
  • Granduncle, Alexandra Shugesda (aka Sugzda)birth 1910.
  • Great-granduncleJuozapas Melnikaitis: birth 1867.
  • Great-granduncleJonas Melnikaitis: birth 1874.
  • Half-granduncleSilvestras Simanavičius: birth 1888.
  • Half-granduncleJuozapas Simanavičius: death 1888.
  • Half-grandauntOna “Annie” Simanavičiūtė, (Zinkevičius Dubickas): birth 1891; 1st marriage 1911; 2nd marriage 1938; death 1957.
  • Half first-cousin-1RMatilda “Tillie” Zinkewicius (aka Fletcher): birth 1911.
  • Half first-cousin-1RJaroslaw “Russell” Zinkiewicz (aka Fletcher): birth 1913; marriage 1938.
  • Half first-cousin-1RMalvina Zinkewicius: birth 1915; marriage 1937.

 

  “Sarah” died in 1973, but the informant was George McKay.
   Petronėlė married Jonas Šugžda between 1890 and 1894, but the record is missing.
  Malvina died in 1962, but the informant was John Whyte.

Working out the spelling

As outlined in the article Lithuanian Language, daughters and wives each traditionally use different forms (Miss and Mrs) of the male ‘root’ name, and this can be particularly confusing when trying to work out who’s who. Now that we have a number of records issued in the Lithuanian language, it has become easier to identify proper spellings for individual family names. The internet has also been particularly useful in finding common forms of these names. Here you can find not only lists of thousands of Lithuanian names but, of course, the personal social media sites of many living Lithuanians, and Wikipedia articles on prominent and historic figures. So, using the naming conventions explained in the article, I have constructed the following table giving the theoretical male, wife and daughter versions of the Lithuanian names in our family tree:

Male form
(Mr)
Wife form
(Mrs)
Daughter form
(Miss)
Šugžda Šugždienė Šugždaitė
Klimas Klimienė Klimaitė
 Melnikaitis  Melnikaitienė  Melnikaitytė
 Vidrinskas  Vidrinskienė  Vidrinskaitė
 Stepšys  Stepšienė  Stepšytė
 Vencius  Vencienė  Venciūtė
 Simanavičius  Simanavičienė  Simanavičiūtė
 Zinkevičius  Zinkevičienė  Zinkevičiūtė
Dubickas Dubickienė Dubickaitė
Yokubaitis Yokubaitienė Yokubaitytė
 Pridatkas  Pridatkienė  Pridatkaitė

However, once the family reached Scotland, they generally adopted regular English-language conventions. First, almost universally, the family stopped using Lithuanian diacritics—for instance, Šugžda soon became Sugzda and/or Shugesda (even Sugistaff ). Second, wives and daughters began to use only the male version of the family name. My grandmother and her older half-sister (recorded as Petronele Juze Sugsdaite and Annie Samanavicute) are the only ones I found who used something approaching the daughter form of their maiden names (both without diacritics and with spelling changes). Interestingly, my mother signed her name as Patronėlė Craig on her 1950 application to migrate to Australia (note the diacritics!).

My grandmother’s half-sister, Annie, had three children by her first husband, Jonas Zinkevičius — the two daughters were registered as Zinkewicius: no daughter form, no diacritics, and note the introduction of the non-Lithuanian ‘w’ to replace the traditional ‘v’ (the name is actually Zinkevičius, which means ‘son of Zinkevič’ — somewhat like ‘Johnson’ or ‘Williamson’). The family not only Anglicized their surnames, but took on common given names too: ‘Jonas’ became ‘Johnny’; ‘Bronislovis’ became ‘Bernard or Barney’; ’Jaroslav’ became ‘Russell’; ‘Petronėlė’ became ‘Sarah’; and ‘Ona’ became ‘Annie’. Within a few short years, some had dropped their Lithuanian surnames as well: Barney Šugžda became Barney Sumervial; Jaroslaw and Matilda Zinkewicius became Russell and Tillie Fletcher; and Annie’s second husband was Vincas Dubickas, who soon became Willie Dobbins and later William Savage.

Pronunciation guide

The Lithuanian alphabet and pronunciation guide on this site will help you get some idea of how our family names are pronounced; however, it will still be hard to pick up the nuances and inflections of a native speaker. To assist, I’ve made a short list of names with some phonetic guides to help a little more (the stress is in italics):

  • Aleksandras = Ah-lehk-sahn-dras
  • Dubickas = Du-bits-cus
  • Juozas = Yo-ah-zahs (Jospeh)
  • Lauckaimis = Lowtz-kay-mis
  • Marijampolė = Mahri-yam-po-lay
  • Melnikaitytė = Melni-kay-tee-tay
  • Petronėlė = Pat-ron-ay-lay
  • Stepšys = Step-shees
  • Simanavičius = Si-mahnah-vich-us
  • Šugžda = Shugz-da (really Shugjz-da, but that’s difficult to express)
  • Vidrinskaitė = Vid-rins-kay-tay
  • Zinkevičius = Zin-kay-vich-us
  • I sveikata = Ee svay-karta (a drinking toast)

 

Names in the family tree

To preserve some of the history of our family names, I have used the traditional formats and spellings in the family tree for all those who were born in Lithuania. My grandmother was born “Petronėlė Juzė Šugždaitė”, and her birth certificate gives her mother’s maiden name as “Petronėlė Melninkaitytė”. However, we now know that the surname should have been Melnikaitytė and her father was Simonas Melnikaitis (means ‘son of Melnik’ or ‘Miller’s son’), and that is how their names appear in the family tree. When Petronėlė Melnikaitytė died in Scotland in 1930, her mother’s name (i.e. my g-g-grandmother) was recorded as “Ona Widrinskiute”; however, this was an Anglicization of the daughter form Vidrinskaitė and that is how I have recorded her in the family tree. Ona Vidrinskaitė’s father is now known to be Juozapas Vidrinskas, and this fits perfectly with the rule conventions we discussed earlier; however, her mother is Magdalena Venciūtė, so we can refer to the chart and see that her father’s name is likely to be Vencias.

All Lithuanian family members born in Scotland were registered with new forms of these names, and that is generally how they appear in the family tree (e.g. “John Shugesda”). However, Alexandra (“Alex”, the baby of the family) was also registered as “Shugesda”, but used “Sugzda” (no diacritics) for the rest of his life, so this is what I’ve used. Interestingly, Alexandra is a female name, and this is likely to have been a scribal error for the standard male Lithuanian name of Aleksandras.

Annie’s three children by her first husband, Jonas Zinkevičius, were all registered using Anglicized versions in the male form: (i) “Matilda Zinkewicius”; (ii) “Jaroslaw Zinkiewicz”; and (iii) “Malvina Zinkewicius”. Malvina used that version of her maiden name for the rest of her life, but Matilda adopted “TillieFletcher, while Jaroslaw became “RussellFletcher. The last two, therefore, appear in the family tree as: (i) MaltildaTilleZincewicius (aka Fletcher); and (ii) JaroslawRussellZinkiewicz (aka Fletcher). Tillie married Eugene Moore, so her children are, naturally, named “Moore”; similarly, Malvina married John Whyte. Russell’s children were all registered as “Fletcher” — so, the Zinkevičius name has now passed from the family tree.

The Sugzda/Shugesda/Sugistaff name still seems to be extant in Scotland for the descendants of John Shugesda: Andrew Shugesda married Henrietta Kerr in 1961 at Bellshill; while George Shugesda married Agnes Findlay in 1966 at Dalziel. The online database for ScotlandsPeople (National Records of Scotland) lists 10 births (4 females, 6 males) with the surname “Sugistaff” between 1971 and 2013 in the Bellshill-Motherwell-Shotts districts in North Lanarkshire. Alex Sugzda in New Jersey had four children, including two boys: Alexander Jnr., and John. Their children would bear the name Sugzda, but that will require a further investigation.

Notes on the name Šugžda

Research in Lithuania has turned up very little for the Šugžda name, so we have no background for that family earlier than about 1894. The researcher, who found so much for us on other family branches, commented that apart from the two births we have of Jonas Šugžda’s children in Lauckaimis (1896 and 1899), no other records in the Vladislavov parish include the name. If Jonas had been a child of a local family, you would expect to see the name popping up as cousins, siblings, nephews and nieces, and aunts and uncles were born, died or married—even if the records for some years are missing.

One conclusion you could draw from this absence of the name in the Vladislavov parish is that Jonas might have come from another district or province in Lithuania as an adult, and his family would likely have records in that unknown locality. A search on the Internet gives us hardly any hits for the name Šugžda, the most notable being Gediminas Šugžda, a Lithuanian footballer and later a trainer, who was born in 1968 at Telšiai in northern Lithuania. There are less than a half a dozen others with an Internet profile. So, is this a very rare name? Is it even Lithuanian?

Since our Šugžda family left Lithuania in 1902 as part of a migratory tidal wave (25% of the population in about 20 years), it always seemed probable that others of that name would have emigrated too — and it is well known that families often followed relatives who had left before them. Our family went to Scotland, so my first instinct was to search Scottish records for similarly spelt names; but almost all the ones I have ever found there are known to us (i.e. Jonas’s own descendants). However, there was one interesting variation that may be of interest. In 1911, a Jurgis Shusda was living at an address in Bellshill where our family had lived the year before, and he was a coal miner boarding with a Lithuanian family. However, apart from this possibility, there doesn’t seem to be any other branches of our Šugžda family anywhere in Scotland at any time. Given that many in the Scots-Lithuanian community adopted standard English-language names, they may just be camouflaged in the records — but it is hard to believe that none would ever surface if they had been there.

The next approach was to look for similar names in US records (where the vast majority of the Lithuanian diaspora went), and an early clue came when I discovered the name was sometimes written Szugzda (which is a Polish spelling). Ancestry.com is quite good at throwing up similarly-spelt names, so I conducted a search for that name or similar: and there were dozens! The best results came from immigration records (particularly Ellis Island and the Canadian border), and the US draft registration records for both world wars. Dozens of these documents recorded countries of origin, and often birthplaces, and I soon had plenty of ‘Szugzda’ look-alike names that claimed they were Russian, Polish, German or Lithuanian. Given that before World War I, Lithuania was diplomatically regarded as part of the Polish region of the Russian Empire, I wondered if many of those (like my family) claimed to be Polish or Russian just to be technically correct, even if they were actually Lithuanian.

My next step was to review all the records Ancestry.com had thrown up, and look for ones that specifically mentioned “Lithuania”. Excluding all others (and our own relatives’ records), I discovered 21 unique spellings that could be pronounced similar to ‘shugz-da’ (and all with a claim that the owners were born in Lithuania):

Schugsda, Schugzda, Segsda, Segzda, Shugesda, Shugzda, Sugazda, Sugsda, Sugzda, Sugzdis, Sukzda, Swegzda, Szagsda, Szagsda, Szegsda, Szuegzda, Szugsdas, Szugsdya, Szugsta, Szugzda, Szugzdys and Szuksda.

Most of these recorded multiple uses — and, indeed, our family commonly used two of them (Shugesda and Sugzda). There were, of course, examples of those spellings where the owner claimed only to be ‘Polish’ or ‘Russian’ without a mention of ‘Lithuania’; but I have ignored them here (although many of these could be Lithuanian, but giving a ‘technically correct’ nationality). Many of these records also gave a place of birth, but often the mangled spelling made them impossible to locate on modern maps. However, a few could be traced, and we have these places in Lithuania where some of those ‘Szugzda’ migrants came from:

Alvitas, Bartninkai, Girdiške, Grinkiškis, Kairiškės, Kovno (Kaunas), Liudvinavas, Šakiai, Skaudville, Suvalki, Vilkaviškis, Vilna (Vilnius) and Volkovisk.

Kaunas (then called Kovno) was the most common of these, and that’s only a short distance (70 km / 44 mi) from where our family lived at Lauckaimis. Alvitas and Vilkaviškis are much closer (both 10 km / 6 mi as the crow flies), and Bartninkai (30 km / 18 mi). The most interesting, though, was a Jonas Sugzda who arrived at New York from Lithuania around 1910 and later moved to Chicago, Illinois. He was born in 1889 in Luidvinavas, which is hard by the farm at Katromyslė that my g-g-grandfather Simonas Melnikaitis came from.

Sadly, after all that work, I couldn’t identify a single person in my list that had a demonstrable relationship to our family or the Lithuanian places they are known to have lived in — but the name is certainly Lithuanian, and even those who lived in Polish regions are likely to be from one of the many ethnic Lithuanian communities scattered around northern Poland before the wars.