Saturday, 8 June 2013

The Meaning of Čirkšis

A Bird By Any Other Name


One of the goals I set in writing and researching for this blog was to find out the meaning and origin of the Cirksis family name. When I started writing, there was literally nothing online about any other Cirksis in the world and I was starting to think I might be the only one left!

I know that my immediate family on the Cirksis side came from Nīca in Latvia and I have vague recollections of Janis Cirksis saying that the family name came from a bird. But questions remained: Did the family name originate in the Nīca region or did my ancestors come from somewhere else? And what exactly does Cirksis mean?

At this stage, I might be able to provide some -unconfirmed - answers. I say unconfirmed because it all comes from secondary sources at the moment. It may be that primary sources do not exist, or are too degraded to consult, which is why I have decided to post the information I have now. As further information comes to light I may post more.

I will start firstly with the spelling: I have seen the family name variously spelt Cirksis in Australia, Čirkšis in Latvia, Tschirkshe on records in Raduraksti and Čirkše on other (older) documents. So why so many different spellings?

From my understanding, the correct (Latvian) way of spelling Cirksis is Čirkšis for males or Čirkše for females. I have noticed that there are several female Čirkšis on Facebook so this spelling variation may be outdated or old fashioned now. Interestingly, I have not seen a male named Čirkše. In Australia we have dropped the inflections over the C and the s simply because the letters Č and š don't exist in the English alphabet. This has changed how most people pronounce the name - and I'm not pedantic enough to enforce the proper pronunciation.

The spelling Tschirkshe on Raduraksti is the German phonetic version. While Latvian as a language has existed for a long time, the standardisation of written Latvian happened only about 100 years ago. Until Latvians agreed on appropriate ways to spell names they were often written phonetically using the German or Russian alphabets. Because of their influence in the region, there may also be a Russian spelling for Čirkšis -though at this stage I don't know what it might be...

So far, investigations by +Antra Celmins  of www.celmina.com show that there were quite a few Čirkšis families -likely related - concentrated around Nīca-Barta near Liepaja in Latvia. At the moment, I couldn't say if there are any other Čirkšis families concentrated in other localities and I am yet to be able to find the first person(s) to call themselves Čirkšis. I believe it was around the 1820s when Latvian serfs took family names and records for Nīca on Raduraksti go back to 1711 so it may yet be possible to find the origin of the family name.

Finally we get to the meaning of Čirkšis. A new friend (and perhaps relative) of  mine on Google +Krists Cirksis  may have provided the answer: Čirkšis is pronounced in Latvian something like "Chirk-shis" and is based on the sound that birds make - chirping! This is also something that Antra mentioned in response to a question I posted on her blog here.  The name Čirkšis is likely to be based on the Latvian word for chirp - čirkstēt.

So I hope I have shed some light on the origin and meaning of the family name to which this blog is devoted to investigating. But perhaps you have some more information? If you do, please post it in the comments below!


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