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Surname Change in 1940

This week, I researched a family whose member changed their surname in 1940. Why did people change their surnames, and what laws regulated it?

Street view with a poster pillar
Created by Dall-E

Many of you have likely encountered a family member who changed their surname. Sometimes I've heard stories that it happened to avoid Soviet repression. However, surname changes took place during the time of independent Latvia, and the reasons were entirely different.

The reason for these surname changes was the Latvianization campaign and a new law. The Cabinet of Ministers adopted the law on December 21, 1939, and it came into effect the following day. Surnames could also be changed previously, regulated by the 1920 law. However, the new law expedited and simplified the process.

In What Cases Could a Surname Be Changed?

According to the new law, Latvian citizens could change their surnames for the following reasons:

  1. If the surname had a derogatory, ugly, or offensive meaning.

  2. If the surname was not euphonious.

  3. If the surname did not correspond to the person's nationality.

  4. If the surname consisted of several words.

  5. If the surname was too widespread.

  6. If there was another circumstance deemed sufficiently important by the Minister of the Interior.

What Surname Could Be Chosen?

When changing surnames, citizens had to choose good-sounding and less common surnames. It was forbidden to choose names with negative, ambiguous, or misleading meanings.

Moreover, Latvians had to choose exclusively Latvian surnames, while non-Latvians could not choose Latvian surnames.

Newspapers recommended: "Beautiful and melodious Latvian surnames can be found in our literature and place names."


Document excerpt
Reason for surname change: not Latvian and not good-sounding.

If a Family Changed Their Surname

Members of one family could only choose one new surname.

Spouses were allowed to change their surnames only after mutual agreement, submitting a joint application.

Children under 16 years old automatically received the same surname chosen by their parents.

Children older than 16 could disagree with their parents' chosen surname. They could also choose a different surname with parental or guardian consent.

What Was Not Allowed?

Surname change was not allowed:

  1. If the surname change infringed on the interests of third parties. For example, divorced wives who were forbidden by court order to use their former husband's surname could not hope to do so through a surname change. One also had to avoid infringing on the "commercial or professional interests of merchants, industrialists, or freelance creative workers."

  2. If the surname change contradicted good morals.

  3. For persons under court or investigation. However, persons who had served their sentence were allowed to change their surname. This was a novelty compared to the previous law.

  4. For persons who had lost their rights according to sections 27 or 28 of the Criminal Code, until the lost rights were regained.

  5. For the mentally ill and persons under guardianship due to a dissolute or wasteful life or who were declared bankrupt.

Surname Change Process

Applications for surname change had to be submitted to the Ministry of the Interior directly or through the local police precinct. The application had to include:

  1. The applicant's name, surname, date, and place of birth, family status, nationality, and residence.

  2. Names, surnames, date and place of birth, nationality, and residence of the applicant's children under 16 years old.

  3. The applicant's relationship to conscription, noting when and in which military unit they served.

  4. The reason for the surname change and the new surname requested.

The application had to be accompanied by a copy of the passport, birth and marriage certificates. These additional documents make surname change file a valuable source of information.

The surname change was announced in the "Valdības Vēstnesis" (Government Gazette), and objections could be raised within 14 days. Compared to the previous law, the process was much faster, as previously it was necessary to wait for 3 months. Thanks to the publication in the "Valdības Vēstnesis," family researchers can easily find information about surname changes on the website.

The surname change cases can be found in the Latvian State Historical Archives in the 3234 fund and in digitized form on the website. To obtain a link, use the PLUS paid code.

You can read the law here (in Latvian).



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