Relating Plants And Common Lithuanian Names

Monday, October 3, 2016



If you've read my "Start Here" page or if you know me in real life, you may just know that I'm a super nerd. In fact, to solidify my super-nerd status, I completed a PhD in botany, focusing on ethnobotany, or how people use, interact with, and think about plants (both concrete and abstract). So, when I moved to the lovely country of Lithuania several years ago now, I had grand plans to study Lithuanian uses of and knowledge about plants. Life (both fortunately and unfortunately) intervened, so I was never able to complete what would be considered an "academic" study (for peer-review and publication, and blah, blah, blah). However, ethnobotany always stayed on my mind (as it would for any true super nerd, obviously), which actually wasn't so difficult as plants (and don't forget about fungus!) feature not so subtly in everyday life in Lithuania.

 So, what's all this about Lithuanian names and plants? 

If you've spent any time getting to know Lithuanians, even just to know their first name, you might be familiar with the name Ruta (or if you like chocolate, then you might know the name from the Lithuanian candy brand of the same name). Ruta, a popular female name, is also the name for the plant common rue (Ruta graveolens). Common rue is also the unofficial National Flower of Lithuania.

Ramune (female name) means chamomile (Asteraceae), which is a common plant used for tea -- a tea that is particularly popular in Lithuania.

Lina (female name), another popular Lithuanian name, means flax (Linum usitatissimum), which is a fiber crop used to weave linen. Linen is a common fabric in Lithuania; you'll see a huge number of stores selling linen goods in Vilnius.

Another botanical female name is Egle, which means spruce (a tree; Picea spp.). Moving to the abstract for a moment, let's look at the Lithuanian folk tale about Egle. Egle, the youngest daughter of a large family, was swimming with her sisters one day when she was forced by a serpent to become his bride. Fearing the famine and misfortune promised on her family if she tricked the serpent, she bravely married him, and in time, forgot her own family. Egle and the serpent eventually had their own children, three boys, Azuolas, Uosis, and Berzas, and one girl, Drebule. Many years later, after pleading with her serpent husband, Egle was allowed to bring her children to visit her former land and her family. Only Egle and her children knew how to return to the land of the serpents and were forbidden to share this information with anyone else. Drebule, however, told her uncles how to reach her father, and they killed him. Egle then cast a spell changing herself into a spruce tree, Azuolas into an oak tree (Quercus spp.), Uosis into an ash tree (Fraxinus spp.), Berzas into a birch tree (Betula spp.), and for punishment, Drebule into a aspen tree (Populus spp.) so she would forever remain trembling in the wind.

Moving onto another tree name that wasn't include in the story of Egle and the serpents, is Liepa, a female name that means linden tree (Tilia spp.). Additional ethnobotanical female names include Smilte (sandwort; Arenaria spp.), Roze (rose; Rosa spp.), Rugile (rye; Secale spp.), and Jolanta (violet flower; probably Viola spp.).


Other interesting but not botanical names include Ugne (fire; female name), Rasa (dew; female name), and Gelynes (flower garden; male name). See, it is actually pretty difficult to avoid ethnobotany in Lithuania!

Literature Cited

http://www.baltictimes.com/news/articles/6062/

https://europeisnotdead.com/disco/books-of-europe/european-fairy-tales/lithuania-egle-the-queen-of-serpents/

http://tikslai.blogas.lt/the-most-popular-lithuanian-folk-tale-1044.html

Today I'm linking up with Faraway Files and Wanderful Wednesday.

8 comments:

  1. This is really interesting! I'm currently studying to become a Master Herbalist so this is all very relevant to me at the moment #FarawayFiles

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    1. Thanks for stopping by, Gina! That is really neat that you are studying to be a Master Herbalist. My dad got a Master Herbalist certification a few years ago, which he applies to plant chemistry. It is all very interesting. What section are you currently studying for now?

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  2. I've heard Jolanta and Lina before but I had no idea they had an origin in botany!!

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    1. It's cool right? I love learning about ethnobotanically related things. Connections always come up in unexpected places :)

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  3. Lovely to discover your blog via #farawayfiles - looking forward to reading more about Lithuania, it's a country I know very little about!

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    1. Thank you for coming by! I have a ton about Lithuania so feel free to poke around or email me if you have specific questions!

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  4. This is very cool! I'm a botany nerd too so I love seeing how species names familiar to me translate to Lithuaninan. What an interesting field of study, and if I ever have a male child I want to call it flower garden :)

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    1. That is cool that you are a fellow botany nerd! Haha, I was considering the same name, because its meaning is entertaining. I also really like some of the female names.

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