Mergers producing new names

Nils Niitra
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Photo: Meelis Meilbaum / Virumaa Teataja

Arguments over future names of merged parishes can lead to collapsed negotiations as happened recently in Ida-Viru County after Lüganuse parish refused to change its 13th century name and adopt that of Kiviõli, the history of which spans just 70 years.

Estonia might even get a town called Narva-Jõesuu around the city of Narva after the former parish merges with neighboringVaivara. Narva would become a bigger city inside a smaller one. There are other impressive agreements in the county: the new parish will adopt the device of Vaivara but the flag of Narva-Jõesuu.

Järva County is witnessing the formation of three parishes, one of which could be named Järva parish. And why not. Jaan could be from Järva parish in Järva County. Many parish heads completely ignore the expert panel of the place name council. Three Tartu County parishes are determined to call their merged rural municipality Peipsi parish even after the council advised parishes located near the top of the lake (Lake Peipus) to forgo use of that name.

The creation of the Võrtsjärve parish was avoided as the council managed to explain to the merging parties that Võrtsjärv is a great natural name that concerns all the parishes around the lake. A few parishes bordering the lake cannot be allowed to hijack its name. The parish in question will be called Elva parish instead.

Merging parishes looking to come up with entirely new names form another troublesome group creating archipelagos of gray on the heads of place name experts. Do you know the location of the future parishes of Põhjaranniku, Lääneranna, and Luitenõmme?

Chief language coordinator at the Estonian Language Institute, member of the place names panel Peeter Päll says that Estonia will be remade and we might not even recognize it after the administrative reform. People will ask “where is that” after hearing about a traffic accident in Luitenõmme parish.

“Local government heads have, in their frantic search for compromises, hardly given serious thought to the fact that the parish will keep the chosen name for a very long time,” Päll said.

Negotiators have tried to cross-breed names in some places – it is possible the merger of the Kehtna and Järvakandi parishes will result in a parish called Kehtnakandi.

The place names council recommends merged parishes use historical names of civil parishes or the names of new parish centers. As a third option the council proposes use of prominent names found in the merging parishes. Even though name candidates must be complemented with the council's opinion before landing on the government's table, the position is rather a recommendation.

The government has largely decided in favor of local governments in recent mergers – as long as parishes agree to merge.

Named after an oil mill

Lüganuse parish decided to pull out of merger talks with Kiviõli and Sonda parishes in Ida-Viru County last week over disagreements concerning the new name of the parish. Lüganuse parish fought for the place name council's preferred option of Lüganuse, while the final decision was to name the merged parish Kiviõli.

“I've told the heads of Kiviõli jokingly that their Soviet era town is just 70 years old – even Tartu lemonade is older than that,” Lüganuse parish elder Viktor Rauam said ironically. “It does not pay to trample 775 years of history underfoot.”

The history of the civil parish of Lüganuse stretches back to the 13th century, while the settlement of Kiviõli rose around an oil shale oil mill in 1922 and was given town rights as recently as 1946. The town's territory has also been part of the civil parish of Lüganuse in the past. What is more – the town of Kiviõli did not exist in 1957-1991 as the area was part of the city of Kohtla-Järve.

Peeter Päll said that naming the new parish Kiviõli is unfathomable. “We had AS Eesti Kiviõli in the 1930s if memory serves. And now they want to immortalize that name on the Estonian parish map?” he said.

Might as well come up with a new name

The merger agreement of the three parishes had already been drawn up and was waiting for the approval of parish councils. It is no secret, however, that the roots of the names conflict lie deeper. Kiviõli is a largely Russian-speaking industrial town, while Lüganuse is one of Ida-Viru County's Estonian parishes. The history of the Russian population in the area is hardly older than that of Kiviõli.

“Lüganuse parish is an Estonian place in terms of both language and mentality, even though the town of Püssi has both Estonian and Russian communities,” Rauam added. “I do not want to be the man who gets paid a year's salary for restoring the Kiviõli district.”

Third participant, Sonda parish, originally wanted an entirely new name. “The agreement states that we have a new device and flag, and we proposed taking a new name as well,” said parish elder Andreas Eiche. “In a situation where we are not taking anything from the old parishes, the local government could also have a new name.”

And so the sides discussed the names of Kesk-Viru and Virumäe for a time.

Eiche admitted that while the discussion initially concentrated more on the name of Lüganuse, the final decision was different. Eiche now asks which name is better known in Estonia and abroad, Kiviõli or Lüganuse?

“I dare say Kiviõli is better known, from the oil mill to motocross – Kiviõli is world famous in the latter aspect,” he said.

Võnnu in Tartu County is the center of an old civil parish of the same name and a parish today. However, a merger with the parishes of Mäksa and Haaslava will now cost Võnnu its historical name.

“It seems that the sides under no circumstances want to use the name of one of the merging municipalities,” Päll said. Residents of the future parish can vote for either Kagu-Tartumaa or Kastre at a local referendum. “Võnnu was among Estonia's largest civil parishes,” Päll said worriedly.

Because the government will consult the place name council, it is probable the public will hear several recommendations against ideas proposed by parishes. “Then we will have the local governments' opinion and the council's opinion,” Päll said. “This does not bode well.”

Minister of State Administration Mihhail Korb (Center Party) said that the problem of names cannot be underestimated.

“It is almost half the thing!” he said. “Parishes can spend as much time choosing the name as they do on everything else. Some mergers fall apart because of name disputes.”

The different name variants eventually reach the government. Korb said that the government views each case separately and is within its rights to change the name local governments have chosen, based on recommendations from the place names council. “We will take both opinions into account,” the minister said.