Vitauts Take 11: What’s in a Name?

Vitauts Take 11: What’s in a Name?

A friend of mine came over this weekend, and he tried to talk to my father, but he didn’t know how to say his name. There was an awkward exchange where he asked dad, and then me, “What is your name again?”Vitauts Blog - 14

I think dad has gone through this same experience most of his life. I’m sure in Latvia, everyone just knew how to say “Vitauts.”

Vytauts the GreatAfter a little research, I have come to found that the name is probably Lithuanian in origin dating back to Vytautas the Great who was a Lithuanian ruler way back in the Middle Ages. 

Latvia is a close neighbor of Lithuania, so it’s easy to see how the name could cross the border. According to one baby name website, there are fewer than 300 people in the world who have this first name, and my dad is one of them.

Vitauts: The closest pronunciation I can do in English is /vit-touts/. When we lived in Yutan, even after twenty years, people still just called him “Pastor” because they didn’t want to risk the humiliation of mispronunciation. The name rolls naturally off of my tongue, but probably because I’ve been saying it for forty years. It was interesting to see again, how new people have to be taught how to say my father’s name.

Sometimes we will call him “Vito” or “vittuts” which is a dull way of slurring it together as some midwesterners seem to do. But for the most part, he has just been Vitauts Grinvalds. He doesn’t know why that name was chosen from him. I have twenty relatives named “Janis” or “John,” that seemed to be the name of choice in Latvia. But I only know one Vitauts.

So next time you see him, practice carefully. See if you can get it right on the first try. He will be very proud of you if you do!

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