Orthography of Estonian personal names on 19th-century grave markers and in church registers Cover Image

Nimede kirjutamisest XIX sajandi hauatähistel ha meetrikaraamatutes
Orthography of Estonian personal names on 19th-century grave markers and in church registers

Author(s): Pille Arnek
Subject(s): Language and Literature Studies
Published by: SA Kultuurileht
Keywords: personal names; epitaphs; Estonian language history

Summary/Abstract: In 19th-century Estonia the local tradition of name spelling displayed considerable variance, even among well educated men of letters. Not all variations were accidental, though. The article compares the Estonian personal names inscribed on 19th-century grave markers with the respective entries in birth and death registers. The epitaphs enable a glimpse of the language usage of ordinary people. The church registers were completed by pastors, while the text on the gravestone was inscribed by a blacksmith or stonemason, sometimes an engraver or the peasant himself. This enables a comparison between the spelling traditions of pastors (or other learned men) versus those of craftsmen and peasants. The analysis addresses Estonian epitaphs from 18 cemeteries, which contain about 500 names. The reasons for inconsistent name spellings in the 19th century are several and they often occur in combinations: the authority of landlords and pastors, the status of prestige of the German language, Estonian influences, the spelling reform, the persistence of old cognomens in parallel with recently received family names, etc. The authority of landlords was manifested just in the 1820s and 1830s, when they gave their peasants family names. The pastor's major influence, however, is reflected in first names as those were given in baptism. In addition, pastors were responsible for register entries. The landlords tended to prefer German-looking names. A comparison of epitaphs with church registers reveals cases where the pastor has been pro Estonianization whereas the peasant has preferred a more German-like name. But there are also reverse situations where the gravestone or cross bears a name spelt more Estonian-like than the one in the church register. Old cognomens, which have often been used on grave markers, even after theofficial campaign of giving family names, are less frequent in chrch registers. In many cases the headstone cross bears a short variant of the fisrt name, frequently used as alias. A lot of differences are due to the spelling reform. In general, spelling variance was found to be higher on grave markers than in church registers. The effect of dialectal (and other regional) influences needs further research.

  • Issue Year: LVI/2013
  • Issue No: 06
  • Page Range: 409-419
  • Page Count: 11
  • Language: Estonian