Changing Kakason to Kaljula

Analysing database of Estonianizing surnames

Keywords: anthroponymics, surnames, Estonian history, name changes, national ­campaigns

Surname changes have taken place throughout their existence, but not so often as a result of a nationwide campaign. In Estonia campaign of Estonianizing foreign (mostly German) sounding names took place in 1920–1944 with 99% of the name changes taking place in 1935–1940. It stands out for its intenseness which resulted a surname change of every sixth person. Also, public access to the complete database of name changes already since the 1990s ( is unique when compared to other countries. Author of this article has amended the public version of the database for the last two decades and explains the arisen problems with it.

This article uses new data analysis methods to correct the total number of surname changers during the campaign (see Table 1). The resulting number of approximately 195,000 is smaller than has been estimated so far (210,000). Estonian population at that time was 1.13 million, thus the amount of name changers was 17%.

New names were often taken from a 1935 book of suggested surnames titled Eesti nimi (“Estonian name”). The book contains 15,595 suggested names and 30% of them were actually taken as a new name. Also 30% of all taken names (37% when counting all individual name changes) come from the book, in some municipalities even up to 83%. The public preferred shorter names from the book and the use of the book slightly increased year by year (see Figures 2 and 3). Average length of all taken names was seven letters (69% took a name with 6 to 8 letters), the most popular first letters being k (13%), r (11%) and l (10%).

The first letter of the old and new name matches in 57% cases, most popular preserved first letters being r and l (both 77% , see Figure 1). Tendency of preserving the first letter also increased in time. 10% of the names were taken only once, with the highest (up to 29%) number in municipalities of Petseri county. Taking an unique name also slightly increased in time. Almost the Pareto rule applies to surname changers: 73% of name changers used 22% of the overall choice of taken names.

Many more analyses can be made with the huge database, for example analysis of the vocabulary used in taken names, aesthetically motivated name changes, reused names (for example taking a wife’s maiden name as a new surname), geographical-chronological dynamics of name changes etc.


Fred Puss (b. 1976), Institute of the Estonian Language, Lexicographer-Junior Researcher; University of Tartu, Institute of History and Archaeology, PhD Student (Jakobi 2-222, 51014 Tartu),