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The Farm Changes Its Name

Why were farm names changed during the interwar period? What was the purpose of these changes, and how did it happen?

Old Farm in Latvia
Photo from family archive

This week has been dedicated to participating in a 7-day challenge on family history research, writing and reading dramatic life stories and exciting research discoveries. One of my entries was about my ancestors' homestead, which was renamed "Mednieki" (Hunters) in the 1930s. The previous name was "Ejuši," but since there were two farms with this name in the parish, it needed to be changed. This fact led me to question the Latvianization of place names in the 1930s. I wrote last week about the Latvianization of surnames, but the campaign also applied to place names and farm names.


The Law and Its Goals


On October 13, 1936, a law on the renaming of country real estate was adopted, aiming to eliminate non-Latvian names. In Kurzeme, Zemgale, and Vidzeme, many farm names were German, while in Latgale, they were Russian. The plan was to replace them with Latvian names. The name change could be proposed by either the parish council or the property owners.

However, instructions to the parish councils asked them to compile lists of names that they deemed necessary to change. New names were also to be assigned to properties previously marked only with letters and numbers in land registers. Many such marked properties were in Latgale, where former villages were divided into separate farms.


No to Manors


Since manors in their original sense no longer existed after the agrarian reform, it was decided that the names of these properties should also be changed in land registers and other documents. Former manor documents could use the term "saimniecība" (farm) instead of “muiža” (manor). For example, instead of "Burtnieku muiža" (Burtnieki Manor), it would be "Burtnieku saimniecība" (Burtnieki Farm). Manor centers that still had the word "muiža" in their names were renamed, for example, "Dreiliņu muiža" became "Dreiliņi".


Changing farm names was sometimes very complex. These were centuries-old names whose meanings and origins were no longer known. The fact that a name was not understandable to modern Latvians did not necessarily mean its origin was non-Latvian. At one point, it was even suggested to not rush with name changes and to change only those names that were clearly recognizable as German or Russian.


How Did the Renaming Happen?


Owners submitted their requests for renaming their rural homesteads to the parish council, which forwarded them to the district's rural municipality elder. The request had to include a property rights document and the new name. Compound names were not desirable, and parish councils had to ensure that there were no multiple properties with the same name within the parish boundaries.


If an owner did not submit a request within six months, the initiative was taken by the parish council. If it deemed a property needed renaming, it contacted the owner and submitted the request itself to the district rural municipality elder. The requests then went to the Ministry of the Interior, which approved them and informed the land registers.


By September 1939, nearly 56,000 renaming requests had been submitted, but only a portion had been reviewed. The renaming was practically completed in Kurzeme and Zemgale, but the most significant difficulties were in Latgale, where there were many Russian names and many properties marked with letters and numbers.


If you see one farm name on old maps and a different one later, the reason might be the renaming of rural properties in the late 1930s.

You can read the original law in Latvian here and the instructions here.


P.S. You can find the 7 Days for Family History challenge entries on Facebook by searching with the hashtag #7dienasdzimtasvesturei



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