Feminine Names from the Gediminid Line of Lithuania

by Walraven van Nijmegen (Brian R. Speer)

© 2006 by Brian R. Speer; all rights reserved.
originally published 20 August 2006
last modified 20 August 2006

Part of the Medieval Names Archive

Contents :

Introduction :

Source and Period

All names in this article were extracted from the Gediminid genealogical tables found in Rowell's book Lithuanian Ascending. The Gediminids were the noble ruling family of Lithuania at the time, and they were descended from or otherwise related to a man named Gediminas who was Grand Duke of Lithuania from 1315/16 to 1341/42. (There is uncertainty about the calendar system for determining the year.) The period covered by Rowell's book is roughly 1295 to 1345.

No frequency information is included in this article. Although some of the names appear more than once, they do not always refer to different individuals. Also, not all of the individuals are native Lithuanians, so frequency data would not necessarily reflect the Lithuanian population at large. However, none of the names appeared in the source tables more than three times so there is little variation in frequency to report.

Language and Culture

Lithuanian is a Baltic language, closely related to Latvian and more distantly related to the Slavic languages such as Polish and Russian. The following unusual characters are found in the names listed below. Because these characters are not uniformly recognized by web browsers, they will here be represented with the notation shown below.

Early records of Lithuanian names written in Lithuanian are very rare. Until the 14th century, the language of the Lithuanian court and record was an early form of Byelorussian. A number of Russian names show up in the list below through marriage with the rulers of Moscow and Novgorod. In 1385, the Grand Duke of Lithuania married Jadwiga of Poland, uniting the two countries. From that time, Polish became the language of court and record in Lithuania. Many Lithuanian families adopted Polish forms of their names, and children were sometimes given Slavic names. So, for the period covered by this article, the relevant records were written in either early Byelorussian or Polish. This makes it difficult to know what spelling would have been used when writing in Lithuanian.

Some German names appear in the list as well. The Teutonic Order established a considerable presence for itself in the Baltic, and members of the order were ethnic Germans. As a result, German names spread into the Lithuanian name pool.

An additional cultural factor important for understanding Lithuanian names is religion. Even in the fourteenth century, some Lithuanian nobility were staunchly pagan. Those who were Christian were divided between Roman Catholics and Eastern Orthodox.

Names :

The period covered by Rowell's book is roughly 1295 to 1345. However, spellings of all the names are modernized, and so did not necessarily appear in these forms during the person's lifetime.

Some of the spellings are standard for Polish, some for Lithuanian, and others appear to have been transcribed from a Cyrillic spelling. I have not attempted to disentangle this aspect of the name data since I do not have a thorough frame of reference for evaluating Lithuanian spellings of these names.

Where I have able to determine that a name was borne by a foreigner who married into the Gediminid family, that fact has been noted in the lists below.

Given Names

As a result of the religious diversity in Lithuania during the period covered, the pool of given names in Lithuania includes a mix of native Lithuanian names alongside many Orthodox names. Very few names that are uniquely Catholic appear in the list, although a number of Germanic names do (e.g. Berta and Wilheida). Some of the spellings are clearly the result of Polish influence (such as Katarzyna), but others (such as Agafia) are not. The spelling Ul'iana seems to be a transcription directly from Cyrillic, with the apostrophe representing the Russian "soft sign". This seems to be another example of a modernism.

The presence of Orthodox Christian names is not unexpected, since Lithuania was divided between pagans, Catholics, and Orthodoxy at the time. Some royal marriages included a Catholic ceremony but others an Orthodox ceremony. If I'm reading the marriage tables correctly, then some marriages were even performed with both ceremonies!

Rather surprisingly, it seems that double given names were not uncommon for women in the royal line of Lithuania. This is quite a different situation from Poland, where women of this period had only one given name. Some of the double given names below appear with hyphenation, but some without. The hyphenation is inconsistent in Rowell's tables, with the same individual sometimes having the name hyphenated and sometimes not.


Feminine bynames in the same data include patronymics. These are bynames formed from the given name of the father, so a woman named Anna Gediminait{e.} would be the daughter of a man named Gediminas. Based on the preliminary findings, it seems likely that a Lithuanian woman living in Lithuania would have used a patronymic byname. In addition to the Lithuanian patronymic construction, some of the names in Rowell's tables are listed with a Slavic patronymic. Such cases seem to be used in cases where the father had a Slavic given name, and was probably Russian or Polish. There are also lots of examples of identification by placename, but all of these have been translated as English constructions (eg "of Volyn'", "of Wielkopolska") and they all seem to be of foreigners who married into the Gedimind line. There seems to have been quite a lot of Polish and Russian intermarriage with the Gediminids, judging by the number of placenames located in those nations.

Vitalija Maciejauskien{e.} has written a book whose title translates as the "Formation of Lithuanian Surnames 13th-18th Centuries". The book is in Lithuanian, but there is a summary of the book in German on pages 301-a306. This summary seems to indicate that for the period covered by Rowell (and this article) a person would have used a patronymic byname. Locative bynames do not seem to be common until the 17th century, and use the characteristically Polish -ski suffix once they appear.

The one thing that becomes quite clear from even a casual perusal of her book is the number of 16th and 17th century names recorded in Polish or near Polish spellings. Much of the remainder are recorded in Cyrillic, which is not surprising when you recall that Old Byelorussian was the court language until the union with Poland.

Further Reading :

The following books are recommended for additional information on the history and names of this period: