Rasa the car and Lithuanian names

The BBC has an article on a prototype car powered by hydrogen cells made by Welsh outfit Riversimple.  They have named the car Rasa, as in “tabula rasa,” Latin for “blank slate.”

I’m not actually going to say anything about the car itself, but I will say something about the name.  If you ever meet somebody called Rasa, they will almost certainly be female and Lithuanian.  Rasa is a very common name over there, but with Lithuanians having a unique language (bearing only a slight resemblance to Latvian, but nothing else), their being few in number, and the country itself being largely unknown you don’t meet many Rasas unless you’ve been to the place itself.  The Lithuanians converted late to Christianity – don’t ask me when, but they were one of the last in Europe to do so – and their capital Vilnius has so many churches that a message saying “meet me in the coffee shop on Ausros Vartai street beside the church” isn’t very helpful at all.  Due to this late conversion, which took place mainly via bribery with (if my tour guide is telling the truth) shirts being dished out to anyone who was baptised, many of the names in use in Lithuania are of pagan origin.  Pagan names are often based on natural, physical phenomenon, and I happen to know that Rasa means “morning dew”.  And I bet you anything you like the Welshmen who built this car were unaware of the connection when these photos were taken:

While I’m on the subject and rambling away, there is another peculiarity of Lithuanian names.  A man and a woman who are married will have a masculine and feminine version of their shared surname respectively, which is common in several languages (particularly those which are Slavic based).  But whereas in Russian any son will take the father’s (masculine) surname and daughter the mother’s (feminine) surname, in Lithuanian a daughter will have a slightly different surname again, indicating that she is not married.  Via Language Hat, this post explains:

Surnames in Lithuanian end differently depending on whether it’s a man’s surname, a married woman’s or an unmarried woman’s. Men’s surnames typically end in -us, -as, or -ys, as in Paulauskas, Adamkus, Bimbirys. Their sons would inherit the father’s surname, unchanged. However, neither their wives nor their daughters would bear exactly the same name. Thus, the wife of Paulauskas would be named Paulauskiene, but their daughter would be Paulauskaite.

The -aite suffix to a Lithuanian woman’s surname is an indication that she is unmarried (there are other suffixes, but this one is very common).  Which is why, when I saw Lithuania’s president Dalia Grybauskaitė on TV, I was able to casually observe that she was unmarried.

Erm, that’s all.

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19 thoughts on “Rasa the car and Lithuanian names

  1. Amazing what you can pick up in the oil business!
    or alternatievely hanging around websites and blogs!

  2. Around 1985, every other Soviet citizen knew that name: in 1983, a Moscow surgeon of Georgian origin successfully reattached the feet of a three-year-old Lithuanian girl, Rasa Prascevičiūtė, cut off by a hay mower. It was an unbelievable achievement but it was also exploited by Soviet propaganda from a friendship-of-the-people angle (diversity, Soviet style).

    You can’t make this up: “An emergency plane took Rassa to the airport, but then it turned out that they forgot her sliced-off feet on a kitchen table of her home. They came back for them, but discovered that they had no ice, so they wrapped them up together with frozen fish to keep them cold.”

    BTW, “rasa” is akin to the Slavic “rosa.”

  3. Hmm. You have a Balto-Slavic branch of Indo-European languages with two sub-branches being the Baltic and Slavic languages. There are only two Baltic languages – Lithuanian and Latvian. They diverged around 800 AD and remained at least someone mutually intelligible up to the 15 century or maybe later. So I would say closely related rather than distantly related. The difference between Lithuanians and Latvians is religious as much as anything – the Lithuanians being mostly Catholic and the Latvians being mostly Protestant and the two languages became a good deal more separate around the time of the Reformation and the conversion of Latvia to Lutheranism.

  4. @ Alex K.,

    I had a feeling you’d chip in with something interesting on this post, and you didn’t disappoint. 🙂 I notice the doctor high-tailed it to the US as soon as he was able…no doubt he’d have been less appreciated in ’90s Russia than a weightlifter turned thug.

  5. @ Michael,

    So I would say closely related rather than distantly related.

    I said “bear a slight resemblance” because if you show a Lithuanian a piece of simple Latvian writing they can’t read it (I tried this on somebody, who just happened to be called Rasa), and vice versa. Nor can they speak to one another in their own languages and get by, in the way a Bulgarian can with a Russian. I met one Lithuanian who was from near the Latvian border who spoke both languages, and she said anyone who could do that would be able to see similarities and similar roots, but that’s about it.

    The difference between Lithuanians and Latvians is religious as much as anything – the Lithuanians being mostly Catholic and the Latvians being mostly Protestant and the two languages became a good deal more separate around the time of the Reformation and the conversion of Latvia to Lutheranism.

    I’m not so sure…I’m ploughing through a history of the 30 Years War right now, but retaining details is extremely difficult given how complicated it is! But I got the impression that Lithuanians – at least those in Vilnius – look south more than north, and have more in common with, and a bigger rivalry with, the Poles than the Latvians. Vilnius was until the end of WWII a Polish city, which did come as a bit of a surprise to me given it took me about 4 visits to figure that out.

    One thing I do know is that both the Lithuanians and Latvians think the Estonians are slow and backward.

  6. I’ve had Lithuanians tell me that the two languages merge into one another to some extent as you approach the border. That’s “tell me” rather than demonstrate, though, so I will defer to you on that. (There are multiple dialects of each language, though, so it might work differently for different people). As for Bulgarian and Russian, some of that might be due to there having been a long tradition of teaching Russians to Bulgarians, rather than the closeness of the languages. Most Bulgarians understand at least a little Russian, which also means they have a better sense of what words Russians are more likely to understand when they are talking to Russians. I suspect there is much less in the way of Lithuanians learning Latvian, and vice versa.

    And religion may just be a reflection of that north versus west thing, yes. Lithuania shares history west with Poland (and also Germany to an extent). Catholicism comes from that. Latvia looks north to Sweden, and Lutheranism comes with that. (Latvia also seems more Russian influenced – in terms of the look of the place, at least – than either Lithuania or Estonia, to me). Estonia looks north to Finland.

    I tried to book a weekend in Tallinn recently, and discovered that I couldn’t really do it. Whereas there are multiple flights a day between London and Vilnius, Kaunas, and Riga, there are only eight flights a week to Tallinn, and there are three days of the week with no flights at all. My desired Friday night out Sunday night back schedule (or even Saturday morning out and Monday morning back) just couldn’t be done. This probably means that the Estonians are not trying to attract British stag parties (which is probably good) but it also means that they aren’t looking west the way the Lithuanians and the Latvians are. This kind of surprised me.

    (The “people in neighbouring country x are stupid” meme can be a strange one. Consider the Armenians. They tend to be considered hard working, industrious, well educated and smart almost everywhere. High levels of the Russian government are full of them. I was chatting to a teacher in an international school in Beirut last year, and she told me that her Armenian students are the most industrious hard working ones who are going places. Go to their neighbour Georgia, however, and the Armenians are the butt of jokes for their obvious stupidity. So…)

  7. I’ve had Lithuanians tell me that the two languages merge into one another to some extent as you approach the border. That’s “tell me” rather than demonstrate, though, so I will defer to you on that.

    I’m gonna ask my friend and find out.

    This probably means that the Estonians are not trying to attract British stag parties (which is probably good) but it also means that they aren’t looking west the way the Lithuanians and the Latvians are. This kind of surprised me.

    This doesn’t surprise me much: when I visited Tallinn I found it leant far more towards Scandinavia and Finland than the rest of Europe. Riga did too, but to a lesser extent. Vilnius didn’t seem to at all.

    I agree about the stupidity thing. I don’t think anyone takes it seriously, and the Estonians I met were quite happy to laugh at themselves over it.

  8. @Tim: In the 1990s, I worked, briefly, for what would soon become a very successful investment bank. The chief accountant for the Russian subsidiaries was a former cardiac surgeon.

    @Michael Jennings: Reasonably well-read Russians can understand written Bulgarian more or less OK because of the Old Church Slavonic (OCS) connection. On the one hand, OCS was based on a dialect of Old Bulgarian. On the other, OCS was a major influence on literary Russian, especially on the higher stylistic registers.

  9. I read somewhere once (I think in Anthony Burgess’ book ‘A Mouthful of Air’) that Lithuanian has a lot in common with Sanskrit, because both diverged relatively late from Proto-Indo-European. He mentions a story that a Sanskrit scholar of his acquaintance once managed to make himself understood in a Lithuanian village using Sanskrit. My own impression is that the letter A is the favourite vowel in both languages.
    The thing about shirts being handed out to pagans who wanted baptism was common practice by the Middle Ages. Neophytes usually received a white shirt or alb as part of the process. There is a story I once read about a Viking, captured by the Anglo-Saxons and (as was usual) required to submit to baptism as a condition of release, complaining that the alb they gave him was much inferior to the seventeen previous ones he had.

  10. It’s even simpler in Scotland. In law the wife doesn’t take her husband’s surname at all, she retains her own. She uses his (if she wants to) as a sort of courtesy title. That’s why when women are charged with crime you’ll see them charged in the style of “Jesse McGregor or Sinclair”.

    Unless, of course, the bastard SNP has changed this traditional system. Quite why those bastarding bastards call themselves nationalists when they keep uprooting national customs, God knows.

  11. Welsh invention, how unusual.

    It reminds me of those blue handicapped cars that you used to see parked up around soccer pitches in the old days. Other than that I like it, good to see that they have the foresight to use hydrogen as a fuel as opposed to batteries and the like.

  12. @ Stephen K,

    There is a story I once read about a Viking, captured by the Anglo-Saxons and (as was usual) required to submit to baptism as a condition of release, complaining that the alb they gave him was much inferior to the seventeen previous ones he had.

    Yes, my tour guide did mention that this multiple baptism thing went on a lot in Lithuania too!

  13. @ Bardon,

    Welsh invention, how unusual.

    Very! I can’t think of any other!#

    Other than that I like it, good to see that they have the foresight to use hydrogen as a fuel as opposed to batteries and the like.

    My thoughts exactly.

  14. Nikolai Kondratieff suggested that technology developed during the downswing of the long wave tended to outperform on the following upswing phase. Given that fuel cells have been around for quite some time, that we are in the upswing phase of this K-Wave and are heading towards a hydrogen based economy maybe the Welshmen are on to something here.

  15. I think that routing methane pipelines into steam reformers alongside nuclear power plants would be a good basis for larger scale hydrogen production.

  16. Aye, but to what end? Oil already supplies wonderfully convenient transport fuels.

    In fact, if you want synthetic transport fuels, there’s a case for learning to exploit coal and methane in a multi-step process that would have the approximate overall stoichiometry
    (n+1)CH4 + (n-1)C ->2(CnH2n+2)
    which (roughly) gives you transport fuel if n is big enough.

    Or find a way to run fuel cells on methanol rather then hydrogen; you can make methanol from nat gas, coal, or heavy oil fractions, plus water. Or even run combustion engines on methanol, or on ethanol denatured with a bit of methanol i.e. on “meths”.

  17. All good points there.

    Hydrogen is the ultimate and logical destination of the decarbonising of the hydrocarbon energy source trajectory that we are travelling on. Take our energy source evolution and you will see that we have been decarbonising throughout history and are currently at CH4 the next step is to get rid of the single C to arrive at pure hydrogen.

    I can see that compounds are a doddle for you so take a look at wood, coal, blubber, oil and methane and you will see the simplification of the compound by progressive removal of the carbon element and also the corresponding increase of power from the energy source so you could say a more efficient outcome.

    Energy transitions take place over long periods of time and they do not become exclusive energy sources as we still use wood, coal, oil, methane and blubber today in the hydrocarbon family and also have many other non hydrocarbon energy sources as well.

    If we start to see an increase in the technological advancements and the development of more production, storage, transport and use of hydrogen, which we are, then for me this is an indication that we have commenced the transition into the Hydrogen Age.

    Sometimes it is not clear why things are happening until long after they have.

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