A Finnic-speaking tribe known as the Livs settled among the Latvians and modulated the name to "Latvis", meaning "forest-clearers", which is how medieval German, Teutonic settlers also referred to these peoples. The Germanic settlers referred to the natives as "Letts" and the nation to "Lettland", naming their colony Livonia or Livland.
The Latin form, Livonia, gradually referred to the whole territory of modern-day Latvia as well as southern Estonia, which had fallen under a minimal Germanic influence. Latvians and Lithuanians are the only surviving members of the Baltic branch of the Indo-European family.
Paternal haplogroups R1a and N1a1-Tat are the two most frequent, reaching 39.9% each among ethnic Latvians. R1a has originated in eastern Europe and is associated with spread of Indo-European languages. R1a of Latvians is predominantly M558 and compared to other populations also has the highest concentration of M558 among R1a. N1a1-Tat mutation originated in East Asia and had spread through the Urals into Europe where it is currently most common among Finno-Ugric, Baltic and Eastern-Slavic people. Latvians and Lithuanians have a predominance of the L550 branch of N1a1-Tat.
N1c1a was present in 41.5%, R1a1a-M558 in 35.2% and I1 (M253) in 6.3 % of the samples analyzed.
Latvians share a common language and have a unique culture with traditions, holidays, customs and arts. The culture and religious traditions have been somewhat influenced by Germanic, Scandinavian, and Russian traditions. Latvians have an ancient culture that has been archaeologically dated back to 3000 BC. Latvians maintained a considerable connection and trade with their neighbors. The first indications of human inhabitants on the lands of modern Latvia date archaeologically to c. 9000 BC, suggesting that the first settlers were hunters that stayed almost immediately following the end of the last Ice Age. Colonizers from the south arrived quickly, driving many of the hunters northward as polar ice caps melted further, or east, into modern-day Russia, Belarus, and Ukraine. The Roman author Tacitus remarked upon the "Aestii" peoples, thought to be inhabitants of the modern Baltic lands, suggesting that they were abound with formidable, yet peaceful and hospitable people. The Latvian peoples remained relatively undisturbed until Papal intervention via the Germanic, Teutonic Order colonized Kurzeme (Courland in English, Kurland in German), beginning in the first half of the 13th century. Papal decrees ordered the Teutonic Order to spread the "Word of the Lord" and the Gospel of Christianity throughout "uncivilized", "Pagan lands". Though these attempts to Christianize the population failed, and the Teutonic Order eventually redeployed southward, to the region of what was once known as East Prussia.
South-Eastern Latvia (Latgale), due to having a relatively large ethnic Russian population, has maintained a large Russian influence.
Latvians' ancestral language, Latvian, has been recorded since at least the 16th century. It developed into a distinct language by the 9th century. It is part of a distinct linguistic branch of Indo-European languages: the Baltic languages.
Another notable language of Latvia is the nearly extinct Livonian language of Baltic-Finnic sub-branch of Uralic language family, which enjoys protection by law. The Latgalian language (a dialect of Latvian) is also protected by Latvian law as historical variation of Latvian language.