Where does the name litas come from?


The 1919 muštinis project was unsuccessful. Other possible names were also discussed (for example, there was even a suggestion to make the future currency grain-insured and name it “ruginis” (rye). Of course, this suggestion was not taken seriously), however, the economic reality of that time left no room for an introduction of a new currency. An opportunity to adopt a national currency and establish a national bank emerged only in the beginning of 1920s, when the economy became stronger and the international situation had stabilised.

After all, it was really necessary, since inflation levels were increasing on a daily basis and auksinas (ostmark) that was in circulation had significantly depreciated. In 1922, a national currency was a widely discussed topic. The Constituent Assembly of Lithuania formed the Economic Commission to make the most important decisions regarding this issue. It was led by Juozas Vailokaitis and its secretary was Vaclovas Vaidotas. A number of issues were being solved there, but the main objective was to determine the new currency’s value in gold. It was quite quickly decided that the currency would be pegged to the US dollar (1:10) and would equal 0.150462 g of gold.

The currency’s name was an important topic that prompted a lot of discussions. There were numerous suggestions for a name: auksinas, muštinis, dollar, krona, franc, grašis, lira, lietas, shield, vytis and so on. However, the majority of them were either not national or difficult to pronounce for foreigners. The Commission’s secretary, Vaclovas Vaidotas, had an idea that the currency’s name should be connected to Lithuania. In his memoir, he wrote that he noticed how in foreign languages Lithuania’s name starts the same – with “LIT”. By adding an ending “as”, Vaidotas created the word “litas”. By the way, around the same time (the name litas was discussed in August 1922), Latvia’s lats had already entered into circulation. This too may have inspired naming the new currency litas. Yet in the beginning, this suggestion was not greeted with enthusiasm. In the first vote on the currency name, most of the votes were for “auksinas”. A second vote was needed. Before it, Vaidotas actively campaigned to name the currency “litas” and succeeded in persuading most voters. In the final vote, “litas” was the winner. During the plenum of the Constituent Assembly of Lithuania, “litas” was the ultimate winner by 32 to 16 votes. There was not nearly as much discussion on what to call a one hundredth part of litas. Cent was decided upon almost unanimously, arguments for it being that litas was pegged to the US dollar and that this would be a way of showing respect to Lithuanian Americans. On 9 August 1922, the Constituent Assembly of Lithuania passed the Law on Currency and on 22 August, Antanas Stulginskis, the President of the Republic of Lithuania, signed it. On 2 October 1922, litas and cent banknotes linked to gold entered into circulation.

Last updated: 2021-07-08