Name Spotlight: Herkus


Identifiable with the Great Prussian Uprising’s most famous leader, this name now sets to become a more popular name in Lithuania, at least, for another year or two.


According to Mike Campbell from Behind the Name, Herkus is the shortened form of Henrikas, the Lithuanian form of Henry¹. But how did it exactly become like this? The next section should give you some insight.
Regarding its pronunciation, as a non-Lithuanian speaker, it is difficult for me to determine the exact pronunciation, but based on various written sources that I can find, the pronunciation, to my mind, is likely to be KHʲERR-kuws (KH being sort of like Scottish loch, RR being a trilled R and uw being sort of like English put) with a rising tone on the first syllable. KHʲ is the palatalised form of KH.


The man in question (known as Herkus Mantas in Lithuania) was the Great Prussian Uprising’s most famous leader (the uprising was one of the many that occurred in the 13th century), fighting against the Teutonic Knights and the Northern Crusaders². When he was taken hostage by the Teutonic Knights as a young boy, he might have been baptised as Henrikus but dropped the ‘n’ and ‘i’ in his baptismal name after his release and his familiarity with German military tactics earned his place as the leader of the Natangians’ forces².
The history of Monte from then on see-sawed in a way; he was successful in the Battle of Pokarwis (1261) but he got severely injured in the Siege of Königsberg, though he recovered and invaded the Chełmno Land with a large force the following year and attacked his enemies’ contingent in the ensuing Battle of Löbau while on his way back to Natangia (1263)². After 1263, he was never mentioned again in the chronicles for 9 years and the Teutonic knights became more successful in their fight, through support from the Pope and Western Europe, with the Prussian rebels starting to lose it as they were unable to capture cities and lay sieges to their enemy’s castles². By 1272, Herkus was forced to withdraw to the southern Prussian forests, along with his small group of followers, and by the following year, he was captured and hanged to death².

Herkus became a symbol of regaining freedom for the Lithuanians during the Soviet era with a historical drama, written by Juozas Grušas, that portrays him as a romantic hero and a 1972 film with the title the same as his Lithuanian name, directed by Marijonas Giedrys, that became one of the best-received Soviet-era Lithuanian movies.


Despite his legacy, Herkus, as a name, had been a very uncommon sight in Lithuania until very recently. Data from the Population Register Service (via reveal that, out of the 357 males named Herkus in the data, only 11.5% were born before 2000³.

Using the same data from a different source (Tėvų Darželis) for a more recent time period (1999-2015), this is what the chart below shows⁴:


Throughout the late 2000s and through to the first half of the 2010s, Herkus increased to its highest level for a very long while at the very least, rising from just 3 in 1999 to 56 in 2014. But take note this big jump in popularity in 2015.

From what I can gather, the most likely causes for the jump are two relatively noticeable births (though it’s unclear if it’s the first birth announcement, the second one, or both, for that matter, that potentially played the role of increasing awareness of this name):

  • The birth of basketball player Darius Songaila’s son⁵
  • The birth of businessman, poker player, politician and philanthropist Antanas Guoga’s twin boys (Herkus and Joris)⁶

From the Tėvų Darželis side of data, it is predicted that Herkus will jump 13 places from 29th in 2015 to 16th this year⁴.

What do you think of this name and/or this post? Leave your thoughts in the comments section below the sources. If there are any Lithuanians reading this post and would like to correct key bits of information, please do not hesitate to do so as any correction would be beneficial to other readers.

Main sources:
Behind the Name –¹
Wikipedia article on Herkus Monte –²
Statistics on Herkus from 1880-2013 at vardai.vlkk.lt³
More recent statistics on Herkus from 1999-2015 (prediction for 2016) at Tėvų Darželis⁴

News articles:
DELFI’s article on birth of Darius Songaila’s twin boys, written by Eiviltas Paraščiakas –⁵
15 Žmonės’ article on birth of Antanas Guoga’s son, written by Birutė Šarakojytė –⁶


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