What’s in a Name?

Shakespeare’s Juliet asks:
“What’s in a name? That which we call a rose
By any other name would smell as sweet.”

We Germans from Suwalki might answer with a resounding, “Everything!”

Early in my research I was so excited to find the following: Wow!

Clifford Neal Smith and Anna Piszczan-Czaja Smith, the authors of the Encyclopedia of German American Genealogical Research, discuss German surnames, pointing out that many German family names may suggest their origin. One such surname particle is the suffix /-aitis/, /-atis/, /-at/, or /-eit/.  Further, they report that there are:

…Lithuanian surnames suffixes which are found in Germany among families formerly in [the] Memel, Tilsit, and Heydekrug administrative districts of East Prussia. In German, these suffixes [are] usually shortened to the –at or –eit form, thus Petschulat, Josupeit.[i]

To this list, I add the name Spurg-at.

Later I talked with Fred Hoffman at a Feefhs conference in Salt Lake and read more on his August 2006 posting.

Fred is the author of two books about Polish first names and surnames; he reports that it is common to find surnames in Lithuania that have been formed by adding endings to the root forms of Christian names, which have equivalents in most of the languages of Europe. PETRAITIS = “son of Peter,” JAKUBAITIS = “son of Jacob/James,” JONAITIS = “son of John,” and so on. Although “Spurg” (without the /–at/) is not a Christian name, Hoffman suggests that the /–at/ ending means “son of” in Lithuanian.[ii]

Other /–at/ names were also present among the German Lutherans from Lithuania as found in the church records at Immanuel Lutheran Church in Grand Rapids, Michigan, or recalled by members of the Spurgat families: Baltatat, Grigoschat, and Jakolat are examples.

An examination of the five books of births/baptisms, marriages, and deaths/burials in Wylkowiszki which contain the oldest recorded information about these Spurgat families shows an abundance of names with these suffixes. A partial list follows:

From 1843: Jan Gerdat, Ludwik Lowidat, Michal Raudonat

From 1844: Frydryk Brozolat, Jan Fuknat, Ludwik Prozat, Jezy Stepat

From 1845: Frydryk Atrat, Jan Endrukat, Frydryk Mateuszat, Frydryk Noruszat, Frydryk Szelkat

From 1846: Marcin Anckat, Frydryk Geruneit, Adam Zydat

From 1847: Leopold Dragonat, Jan Grygat, Jan Petrat

From 1848: Karol Lutszat, Marun Nauyokat, Jan Nisleit, Henryk Wenskat

From 1849: Leopold Gragonat, Frydryk Spurgat

It is easy to see from these examples that this description fits the Spurgat name to the final “t.” However, other sources suggest other conclusions. Even though the records of the Spurgat families were kept in Polish and later Russian, these Spurgat families were German in name, first, last, and always.

The next post will contain a bit of historical information pertaining to these names..


[i] Clifford Neal Smith and Anna Piszczan-Czaja Smith, Encyclopedia of German American Genealogical Research (New York and London: R. R. Company, no date), 94.

[ii] Polish and Lithuanian Surnames, posted by Fred Hoffman 26 August 2006 by <WFHoffman@prodigy.net> at <http://groups.yahoo.com/group/LithuanianGenealogy/>, data downloaded 20 February 2008.

About suwalkigermans

I started family research in 1993. My first two books focused on my maternal grandparents. Both families came from Kreis Rosenberg, West Prussia, to Big Rapids, Michigan. I left the Spurgats from Wylkowiszki in the Russian Empire as the third book because of the difficult and challenging research it required. After I published the book in 2010, I wondered what to do next. I thought I might try to share some of my research with others and maybe at the same time, by going digital, someone would find me. When you read the comments, you will see that happened. The best part of all this is helping others.
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1 Response to What’s in a Name?

  1. Julie says:

    Hello, my family name is Nisleit. My great-great grandparents are buried near what is now Vilkaviškis in Lithuania (Was East Prussia). Four of their sons came to the United States between 1905-1913 including my great-grandfather. Do you have any other information on the surname Nisleit? Or perhaps Pluszkat/Pluskat, Helfensteller, Forstreiter, Monenshein or Kater. Thank you so much!

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