Historic Names of Vilnius Streets.

Or, as the webpage itself has it, ИСТОРИЧЕСКИЕ НАЗВАНИЯ ВИЛЬНЮССКИХ УЛИЦ / Vilniaus gatvių pavadinimai / Nazwy ulic Wilno. As Anatoly sometimes says (though he says it in Russian), this post will hardly be of interest to anyone, but when the link was sent to me (thanks, Paul!) I felt such a rush of nostalgic pleasure I had to make it anyway. When I saw the title, I thought “Oh, I’ve posted about that on LH.” But a few minutes’ searching convinced me I hadn’t, and I realized I was remembering having run across either this or a very similar site in the prehistoric days before LH existed; it must have been one of the first sites that convinced me the internet was going to be extremely relevant to my interests, even the very esoteric ones. There may not be many people out there who care that Aukų St. used to be known as Судебная, Sądowa, and Ofiarna, and I may never need that particular bit of information myself, but boy am I glad to have it at my fingertips.


  1. Especially to our esoteric interests. The whole thing that makes an interest esoteric is that only a small fraction share it, but multiply that by 3.2 billion and the number becomes respectable.

  2. My mother and I visited Vilnius in 1979. The building we stayed in was located on Montvilos gatvė, near the intersection with Basanavičiaus gatvė (here). Then it housed a dormitory of the partshkola. It was a very pleasant stay.
    I understand Montvila was not popular in post-Soviet Lithuania and so the street name has been changed to Švitrigailos (Švitrigaila).
    However, the street name that has stuck for some reason is Lakštingalų (the genitive plural of lakštingala “nightingale”).
    I had a long trip down memory lane last summer, 35 years on and a couple of months after Mother died.

  3. I was researching the Vilnius neighborhood names just a few months ago when I realized that it’s possible to triangulate a mysterious composer, Floriann Hermann, to a certain point in space and time using references in his Op. titles and dedications (and one of the most telling was “Souvenir de Roubno. Polka dansante” which pointed to old Wilna)

  4. That lovely letter “ų” reminded me to ask? What kind of phonological process is it that changes nasalized vowels into long vowels? Is there precedent for it elsewhere?

  5. Wikipedia says that originally the ogonek denoted long nasal vowels, so Lithuanian isn’t an example itself.

    “Loss of postvocalic nasal with compensatory lengthening” happens all over, e.g., goose, but I would guess that /Vn/ > /Ṽː/ > /V:/ is the usual route.

  6. In addition, most of the streets also have Yiddish names, though these weren’t official, of course. Usually they are translations of the Polish names (as are the Russian and Lithuanian ones). A few of the Yiddish street names are simply the Polish ones, so Pylimo is Zavalne (Zawalna) Gas in Yiddish, and Mėsinių is Yatkever (Jatkowa) Gas.

  7. Geležinio vilko
    See Iron Wolf

  8. most of the streets also have Yiddish names
    And Gaono is named after the Vilna Gaon (1, 2).
    Some Jewish people have surnames that go back to Vilnius localities: Antokolsky and Zhirmunsky (from Žirmūnai).

  9. Yes, Gaono is a good example (“Goyens Gas” in Lithuanian Yiddish). As for Vilnius-based Jewish names, someone once told me that the name Wirszup is somehow connected to Užupis.

  10. Here is a similar list of Tallinn street names.
    Predictably, gone are Kingissepa/Lauristini/Lenini/Kalinini etc tees, puiestees, tänavs and põiks.
    But nature has always been well represented in the toponyms:
    There is Tamme (tamm, Oak) tänav and Tõru (Acorn) tänav nearby; Kadaka (kadakas, Juniper), Kase (kask, Birch), Vahtra (vaher, Maple), Piibelehe (piibeleht, Lily of the valley), Mooni (moon, Poppy), Maasika (maasikas, Strawberry), Kuuse (kuusk, Spruce), and so forth, and so on.
    Bird streets: Linnu (lind, Bird), Koskla (koskel, Merganser), Käo (kägu, Cuckoo), Tildri (tilder, Tringa), Västriku (västrik, Wagtail), Ööbiku (ööbik, Nightingale), Tedri (teder, Black grouse), Tihase (tihane, Titmouse), etc.

    BTW, I wonder if the gala in “lakštingala” and the gale in “nightingale” are at all related?

  11. Apparently not; English –gale is from OE galan ‘to sing, yell,’ which is related to Gothic goljan and Russian галиться ‘jeer at.’ Presumably if the Lith. –gala were related, it would be mentioned here. (Incidentally, the accent on the Lithuanian word is on the second syllable: lakSHTINgala.)

  12. Trond Engen says

    Juha: Tedri (teder, Black grouse)

    Interesting, in at least two ways.

    First, it looks like a borrowing from North Germanic — but apparently a lost eastern form. No. tiur < ONo. þiðurr points to PNG *þiðura- and Sw. tjäder < OSw. þiæður to PNG *þeðura-. The Estonian word has *te- < *þe- (like in OSw.), but *-ur > *-er without u-breaking of the preceding vowel.

    Second, the ambiguity between “black grouse” and “capercaille” that is found in other IE languages can be followed into Germanic.

  13. Trond Engen says

    Or it might be Baltic: Lat. teteris “(male) black grouse”, Lith. tetervà “(female) black grouse”. Also Ru. téterev “(male) black grouse”.

  14. Just for comparison, the Russian feminine is тетёрка [tetyorka].

  15. David Marjanović says

    moon, Poppy

    Speaking of loans, that’s German Mohn.

    BTW, I wonder if the gala in “lakštingala” and the gale in “nightingale” are at all related?

    All I can imagine is that the whole thing is a loan… and having it go from Baltic to Germanic (with folk etymology) would make more phonetic sense than the other direction (with random assimilation of n…l to l…l, admittedly interesting replacement of the foreign velar fricative [x] by the velar + fricative cluster [kʃ], and apparently random accent shift). But then I have no idea if a Baltic etymology is available.

    German Nachtigall lacks the second /n/. But that could be random; German does that (König “king”; Pfennig ~ Pfenning “penny”).

    Presumably if the Lith. -gala were related, it would be mentioned here.

    Specifically in this section.

  16. gala is very common ending in Lithuanian place-names.

    The word means ‘end’, ‘point’, ‘place’, ‘swamp’, also related to words with meanings of might, power, murder, torture, also a root of common modal verb meaning ‘to be able’.

    finally, it’s a component in geographical and ethnic names which means belonging to an ethnic group or nation – Latgale, Zemgale, etc.

    Take your pick…

    PS. Personally, I’m inclined to chose the latter and derive the word from verb lakstyti – the word means to run, hurry, hustle, but apparently also used to mean “to fly”.

    So the word could be etymologized as “of the flying kind”

  17. But then I have no idea if a Baltic etymology is available.

    There is a book in Latvian:
    Konstantīns Karulis. Latviešu etimoloģijas vārdnīca. Rīga: Avots 1992. ISBN 5-401-000411-7.
    Anyone speaking/reading Latvian?
    Incidentally, the Latvian word is lakstīgala, with no n either, but with a compensatory lengthening of the i.

  18. It turns out I have this book on my computer.

    I read the article.
    I don’t really know Latvian, but I gathered that Karulis can’t explain -gala part either. He mentions possibility that it could have been borrowed from German Nachtigall, goes on to explain Indo-European origins of gala (singer), cites examples from German and Italic languages and ends with

    “varbut šis izoglosas kadreiz ietverušas ari baltu valods”

    perhaps this isogloss at some point covered Baltic language area

  19. valodas

  20. it might be Baltic: Lat. teteris “(male) black grouse”, Lith. tetervà “(female) black grouse”.

    ETY concurs, but Nykysuomen etymologinen sanakirja adds another possible explanation: it may have arisen as a name reflecting the typical calls birds make, and there are names in sister languages, such as кӹдӹр in Mari, tur in Udmurt and kǒtõr in Khanty.

    Other Baltic loans are harakas “magpie”, rästas “thrush”, and hani “goose.” (A non-avian loan, one of many, is sild “bridge.”)

    Germanic loans are haugas “hawk”, korp“raven”, and kana “hen.”

    A surprising development was kull “bird of prey; hawk; kite”: in Finnish, kulli has come to mean “penis”, parallelling the development of cock in English.

    A Russian loan is varblane “sparrow.”

    I have come across surprisingly few common FU names so far: vares “crow”, pääsu “swallow”, and kala “fish.” I wonder if the last is related to the IE hvalr/squalus and the Turkic balıq.

  21. David Marjanović says

    and the Turkic balıq

    That’s interesting. To my limited knowledge, the Nostraticists have not so far proposed a [kʷ]–[p] correspondence; it sort of seems like the kind of thing they could overlook. That could be worth taking a look at.

    (…he casually suggested a work the size of a PhD thesis.)

    That’s actually independent of the existence of Nostratic or for that matter Altaic: using loans to demonstrate that Pre-Proto-Turkic turned labiovelars into labials at some point would be very interesting in itself.

  22. Trond Engen says

    juha: Nykysuomen etymologinen sanakirja adds another possible explanation: it may have arisen as a name reflecting the typical calls birds make, and there are names in sister languages, such as кӹдӹр in Mari, tur in Udmurt and kǒtõr in Khanty.

    The close similarity with IE forms and the amount of borrowed names tip the scale towards IE for me. I’d rather look for an (older) IE origin for the PU word found in Mari and Khanty.

    The IE forms are derived (by Chantraine, at least) from a root *ter- “talk, chat” by a reduplicated pattern (*te-ter- “chatterer”). I’ve bored you with We’ve discussed the parallel to *bhe-bher- “beaver” (‘bher- “work, be restless”) here before, but also *we-wer- “squirrel” seems to fit, and possibly *pe-pel- (or some such) “butterfly”. I’ve spent the last day desperately trying to remember another one that I saw just recently and unforgiveably forgot to take note of. (The non-animals ‘wheel’ and ‘hail’ “icy precipitation” follow a similar pattern but are based on suffixed stems.)

  23. Trond Engen says

    My attempt on a strike-through didn’t work. Now I’ll have to self-deprecate even harder.

  24. I fixed it for you. (You have to use del tags.)

  25. Are we allowed to use del tags?

    Answer: Yes, we are.

  26. marie-lucie says

    JC: What kind of phonological process is it that changes nasalized vowels into long vowels? Is there precedent for it elsewhere?

    In Standard French, nasalized vowels are long (sometimes very long) when they are the last vowel in the utterance (of course excluding elided schwa).

    Perhaps I cited the following anecdote at some other time:

    I remember listening casually to a version of what seemed to be a French play on Radio-Canada, the French branch of national Canadian radio. The Canadian actors seemed to have been well trained in Standard pronunciation, except that they shortened the nasalized vowels in all their positions: in the phrase “Monsieur le comte”, used in addressing or introducing this noble character in the play, the word is utterance-final, so the vowel should have been quite long, but in (for instance) “le comte de Monte-Cristo”, or “le comte et la comtesse”, the word is within an utterance and the vowel is shortened. As a result of shortening all nasal vowels regardless of context, the actors’ delivery sounded unpleasantly abrupt.

  27. January First-of-May says

    I understand Montvila was not popular in post-Soviet Lithuania and so the street name has been changed to Švitrigailos (Švitrigaila).

    When I visited Vilnius with my mother in 2012, the hotel we stayed at was at the corner of T. Ševčenkos and Švitrigailos.
    The first time I discussed it with my mom (we just left the hotel), I jokingly said “на углу Шевченко и Свидригайлова” (on the corner of Shevchenko and Svidrigaylov).
    My mother looked at the street sign, in disbelief, and said “Shvi… tri… Svidrigaylov!” – and for the next few days she kept referring to the street by the name Svidrigaylov, even as I tried to explain otherwise. (Then again, I myself found it funny.)

    I forgot to add Сказки старого Вильнюса.

    I was lucky enough to get a signed copy of the fourth volume at non/fictio№17 (as that book fair is styled) last December.

  28. WP.ru says the name is in fact Lithuanian.

  29. @ January: That made me laugh. Thanks!

  30. Yes, me too!

  31. I’m moved to share the trivial fact that my unpublished novel contains a child psychologist named Dr. Swidrygieloff.

  32. marie-lucie says

    Not everyone here knows enough Russian to understand the jokes!

  33. marie-lucie: It’s not that much of a joke. Švitrigaila was a Grand Duke of Lithuania in the 15C, after whom the street in Vilnius was named in modern times. Because Russia conquered Lithuania, his name became the basis of the (unusual) Russian surname Svidrigailov, best known to Russians as one of the secondary characters in Dostoyevsky’s Crime and Punishment. Because he is a villain (though with some redeeming features) in the novel, it is apparently comic to Russians to see his name, or a close approximation to it, as a street name, which is generally used to honor someone. One might loosely compare the effect to that of going to a random German city and seeing a sign for the Pétainstraße.

  34. Svidrigailov is a villain in world famous classic novel “Crime and Punishment” by great Russian writer Fyodor Dostoevsky.

    Svidrigailo was a Lithuanian prince in 15th century (usually regarded as a villain too. He waged civil war in Lithuania committing many atrocities and betrayals, reminds me of certain Game of Thrones characters)

    While naming a street after prince Svidrigailo might be excused as naive Lithuanian nationalism, naming a street after literary villain Svidrigailov would be absurd beyond belief, that’s what the laugh is about.

  35. marie-lucie says

    Thank you JC and SFR! I understand now.

    I read Crime et Châtiment as a teenager, so that must be why the name Svidrigailov sounded vaguely (very vaguely) familiar. But I don’t remember the character at all.

  36. He’s the rich nobleman who made inappropriate passes at Raskolnikov’s sister while she was a governess in his mansion; later he is implied in the death of his wife and kills himself in the end.

  37. It’s also implied, iirc, that he’s turned on by very young girls, which was the point of my own unkind joke.

  38. Not sure if it’s the right thread, but just read a very interesting article about continuing multilingualism in Vilnius illustrated by this amazing example. Here is a translation:

    An employee of a clothing repair shop ends conversation with a Lithuanian customer. At this time, another client enters, greets in Russian. Both women answer in Russian, and the employee continues the conversation in Lithuanian:
     – Rytoj apie trečią bus padaryta. Gerai? Galite ir vėliau užbėgti, mes iki septynių dirbam
    (‘Tomorrow, by three o’clock will be ready. Good? You can come later, we work until seven ’).
     Then she turns to the Russian-speaking client:
     – Nu, davayte posmotrim… Nado primerit’. Vot syuda, pozhaluysta
    (‘Well, let’s see … We must try on. Here, please.’)
    While the client is changing clothes, the employee answers the phone, speaks in Polish, apparently, to someone from home:
     – Tak, mogę, tylko prędzej, jestem w pracy … Gdzie? .. A, tak, zapomniałam. Tylko najpierw zjedz obiad, dobrze? … No to wszystko, wszystko
    (‘Yes, I can, but only quickly, I’m at work … Where? .. Oh, yes, I forgot. Just have lunch before that, okay? .. Well, that’s all, all’).
     And again in Russian:
     – Tak… Nu-ka, pokazhites’…
    (‘So … Well, show me …’)

  39. That’s great, thanks for sharing it!

  40. Yeah, Vilnius is a great city! Švaros, nešvaros, mokykla, gamykla, mėsa, dešra, piena, duona, what have you!

  41. I was there in October, copying historic music scores in the National Library. (And, drats, I STILL haven’t finished the write-up of the story 🙁 ) Anyway the International library card request form was in English and I continued asking questions in English, but the librarians were confused. Switching to Russian helped, instantly. While waiting for my books to be delivered, I stopped in the library cafe, asking for my black tea and a pastry in Russian. Now the barrista was confused. Switching in English helped, instantly.
    (It may be an age group phenomenon – but so may be much of the old multilingualism).

    A truly awesome library BTW.

  42. The article I mentioned cites a lot of whining by Lithuanians coming into Vilnius from rural areas or Kaunas – why the capital of our great and independent nation speaks foreign languages, why can’t they speak just Lithuanian as anyone else, etc.

    And typical response from Lithuanians from Vilnius – that’s how the city is, you rural blokes just get used to it…

    I suppose your barrista was a recent migrant from the countryside – outside of Vilnius and a few other towns, Lithuania is overwhelmingly Lithuanian.

  43. Dmitry Pruss says

    overwhelmingly Lithuanian
    the rural area around Vilnius isn’t overwhelmingly Lithuanian, as it wasn’t subject to the cleansing of the Poles after WWII the way Vilnius was. In fact people speaking the local Polish dialect (like the seamstress in the quoted conversation) are more likely to be from the countryside of the former Wilna strip. But we’ve discussed it many times at Languagehat

  44. Incidentally I am currently working with the Komintern and Mezhdunarodnaya Kniga (1930s Soviet International publishing house) archives re-tracing the early years of Anna Louise Strong (back then she was still primarily an educator, and her American Industrial Workshops for homeless children were in all but name the project of my Swiss great-grandfather). The longest of her Communist Party Archive files spans from 1921 to after her death, and inside it, there are numerous manuscripts of “ALS”, including a cool account of her trip to Vilnius in 1940, and all sorts of things ethnic which transpired with the switches from Poles to Soviets to Lithuanians and ultimately to the Soviets. This fascinates me because another part of my family was stuck in Lithuania just then, marooned after the escape from Warsaw. One of them, a Warsaw University student and the future famous zoologist Bronislaw Honigberg, even re-enrolled in the medical school of Vilnius University, so I am certain that the education was still being conducted in Polish. These Honigbergs eventually took advantage of the Zwirtendijk-Sugihara visa affair and escaped through Moscow, Vladivostok, Tsuruga and Kobe; their siblings and cousins remained in Vilnius, not to be heard from ever again … they must be in the unmarked graves at Ponyary.

    Anna-Louise Strong brother Tracy Strong, the President of the International YMCA, was in Vilnius at the same time. The two argued like madmen; where she saw the seeds of the Communist paradise, he saw thousands of innocent refugees deported into Siberian camps. For those curious in the (terribly biased but amazingly detail-rich) acounts of the time, here’s ALS’s story

  45. Marvin L Frackt says

    My family lived at Ignatievskaia Street 12/3 in 1921.

    What is the name of the street now? Is the building still standing?

  46. Totorių gatvė
    (I guess it’s ‘the Tatar street’)

    The new address for Vilniaus gatvių pavadinimai

  47. PlasticPaddy says

    Looking at this site http://www.litvaksig.org/vilnius-map/
    you find a former Sw. Ignacego which is indeed parallel but south of the Tatar st. The modern name in Lithuanian appears to be Šv. Ignato gatve.

  48. No, there seem to have been two streets called Ignatievskaia Street at different times.

    Šv. Ignoto gatvė
    Ankstesnis pavadinimas (former name): K. Giedrio
    Kiti pavadinimai (other names): Dominikański , Sw. Ignacego , Игнатьевская , Поперечная

    Totorių gatvė
    Ankstesnis pavadinimas (former name): J. Paleckio
    Kiti pavadinimai (other names): Partizanų , Tatarska I , Tatarsка– Jezuicka , Totorių – Jėzuitų , Игнатьевская

  49. PlasticPaddy says

    Sorry I just saw the map from 1921 on that site and assumed that the overlay with the modern map was correct. The query was for people living there in 1921. But you seem to have better information.

  50. Man, historical street nomenclature is complicated!

  51. historical street nomenclature is complicated!

    to muddy the waters further, in great many historical documents the locations in Lithuania and Poland are marked by possession number rather than a street address. As I understand, possession numbers refer to the cadastral records of the cities, compiled in a more or less date-of-entry order. I couldn’t yet figure out how to translate these to street addresses. My one lucky break in Vilnius was with the family of the composer Florian Hermann, whose possession number was a consecutive number with the house of the pastor of the German Evangelical church at the German Street. The church compound includes 3 residential and office buildings in addition to the church itself, and Hermann’s father taught in the parish school there, so I was able to infer that the Hermanns also lived in the same compound.

  52. I am looking for the current address in Vilnius of what in 1946 was: Kamariu / Kanariu / Komariu / Konariu (?) no. 17.
    I have a picture with the address in handwriting.
    I would so greatly appreciate any help.

  53. I hope someone can help you with that.

  54. John Cowan says

    Not sure if it’s the right thread, but just read a very interesting article about continuing multilingualism in Vilnius illustrated by this amazing example.

    This sounds very familiar to me as a New Yorker with English and (usually) Spanish. Sometimes the mere presence of an X accent in the customer will trigger the employee to reply in X, as in Montreal. And of course there is usually more intra-sentential code-switching.

  55. Lars Mathiesen (he/him/his) says

    Since I do not have overabundant occasion to speak Swedish here in Copenhagen and thus a desire to practice my skills, I’ve been known to reply to Norwegians in Swedish even though their target language was English (or Danish).

  56. Trond Engen says

    @Anna: I have no knowledge of Lithuanian or Vilnius, but a little playing with Google Translate and Google Maps tells me that Kamanių gatvė means “Bumblebee Street” and that there are a few of those scattered across Lithuania. The one closest to the city of Vilnius is in what is now Mickūnai Eldership in Vilnius District Municipality. This may of course have been different in 1946.

  57. PlasticPaddy says

    In block C7 of the “Vilna” map from my previous comment, there is konarskiego, which would match your spelling with a Polish genitive ending. Maybe juha could help more.

  58. It’s now S. Konarskio gatvė.

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