Hungarian names

Hungarian names include surnames and given names. Occasionally there are more than one of the latter, but normally just one is used. In the Hungarian language, whether written or spoken, these names are invariably given in the "Eastern name order", or family name followed by given name (In foreign language texts, names are often given with the family name last). The Hungarian language is one of the few national languages in Europe to use the Eastern name order, among languages like Chinese, Japanese, and Korean, the Alemannic German dialect and some Basque nationalists.[1]


Modern Hungarian orthography is slightly simpler than that of the 18th and 19th centuries, but many Hungarians still use the older spelling for their names. For example, the letter 'c' is often written as 'cz'. Letters such as Q, W, X, or Y, which are usually only seen in foreign words, can also be seen in these older spellings of names, especially in old noble family names which stem from the Middle Ages. Some family names refer to a place of origin, and may be written ending in "Y" instead of "I". So someone from Szolnok may spell his family name "Szolnoky" instead of "Szolnoki" but only if the chosen Y variant of the family name is not a protected name of a historically documented noble family.

Unless acknowledged officially, such spelling variants cannot be used as legal names. Except in special cases, changing one's name to any historical or old-style written name is forbidden.[2]

Hungarian surnames

The Hungarian language normally puts family names first, except for foreign names, in Hungarian speech and text.[3] Some Hungarian surnames relate to professions, for example Szabó "tailor," Kovács "smith," Halász "fisher." Other surnames relate to non-Magyar ethnic origin. For example, common Hungarian surnames include Németh "German," Horvát "Croat," Tóth an outdated term for "Slovak" (now Szlovák in modern Hungarian), Oláh, an outdated term for "Wallachian", and Lengyel, "Polish".[4]

During the Austro-Hungarian empire, in the kingdom of Hungary people of non-Hungarian ethnicity — people of Jewish, German and Slovak ancestry — were encouraged to adopt Hungarian surnames.[5] Some people with German names translated them directly into Hungarian.[6] Some of them just magyarized their original German surnames into Hungarian forms, like Zsengeller, Scheiberné, etc. But many Hungarians of German descent retained their original surnames like Horn, Deutsch, Staller, Keller, Rockenbauer, Hoffmann, etc.[7]

A few given names are also used as family names, and this practice may confuse even a native Hungarian speaker. For example, in the unlikely case that a Hungarian speaker has never heard of Attila József, they would be unable to tell in an English context which of the two was his family name, because it could be either.

Hungarian given names

The origin of Hungarian names is closely related to the religious and dynastic history of the country. Many saints' names and royal names have Hungarian equivalents.

Female names

Male names

  • András: becoming popular after the King Andrew I of Hungary. This name was given to three monarchs and to several princes.
  • Attila: Because the Hungarian monarchs considered themselves direct descendants of Attila the King of the Huns, the name formed part of the popular culture.
  • Béla: The name of pagan origin was given to four medieval Kings of Hungary and nowadays is still commonly used.
  • Csaba: He was one of the sons of Attila, the King of the Huns.
  • Géza: The name of pagan origin was given to two medieval Kings of Hungary and to many princes, and nowadays is still popular.
  • György: The King (and Saint) Stephen I of Hungary not only honored Saint Martin of Tours, but also Saint George was since Hungary's early times one of the most important holy characters.
  • István: The first King of Hungary was Saint Stephen I of Hungary.
  • Imre: King Stephen's son was Saint Emeric of Hungary.
  • János: After John the Apostle.
  • József: After the Biblical characters called Joseph.
  • Károly: After the King of French origin Charles I of Hungary.
  • Lajos: After the King of French origin Louis I of Hungary.
  • László: The same happened with Saint Ladislaus I of Hungary.
  • Márk: After the evangelist Saint Mark.
  • Márton: After Saint Martin of Tours, who was born in the early Middle Ages in the territory of modern-day Hungary, before it existed as a country.
  • Mátyás: After the Christian Saint, name that became even more popular after the reign of the King Matthias Corvinus of Hungary (1458–1490).
  • Sándor: Alexander the Great's history was translated in medieval Hungary and made extremely popular during the 14th century.
  • Tamás: After the biblical figure Saint Thomas.
  • Zoltán: A popular name of pagan origin very common in modern times, Zoltán of Hungary was a tribal chief at the beginning of the 10th century.
  • Zsigmond: After the King Sigismund of Hungary, member of the House of Luxemburg and at the end of his life Emperor of the Holy Roman Empire.

Second given names and religious names

Hungarians do not commonly use second given names or what Americans call middle names, nor their corresponding initials. While it is increasingly frequent that they are given one, they tend to choose one they prefer to use.

When baptised, a child can get an additional name (baptismal name), especially if there is no saint who bears their name, so they take a name associated with a patron saint. In confirmation, children receive another given name, but it is not used. Both baptismal and confirmation names have religious significance only, and they are not on any official records.

Married names

There is a wide range of selection of a married name. Until about the 18th century noblewomen kept their names at marriage and their children received their father's name; it became compulsory only under the reign of Joseph II). When Hungary was under Habsburg rule and became influenced by Western European traditions, women became known by their husbands' names. So for example Szendrey Júlia, marrying Petőfi Sándor, became Petőfi Sándorné (the -né suffix approximately means "wife of", and this is the Hungarian equivalent of "Mrs." as in "Mrs. John Smith"). This was both the law and the tradition until the 1950s. During the Communist rule of Hungary, great emphasis was put upon the equality of women and men, and from that time, women could either choose to keep their maiden name or take that of their husband. Most women did the latter except for artists.

Now, the alternatives for a woman when she marries are as shown below (using the examples of Szendrey Júlia and Petőfi Sándor Júlia and Sándor are their given names):

  • Júlia can keep her maiden name, as Szendrey Júlia (now very popular, especially among more-educated women).
  • Júlia gives up her name, adds the suffix -né to her husband's full name, and will be called Petőfi Sándorné.
  • Júlia adds the suffix -né to her husband's family name, adds her full name and will be called Petőfiné Szendrey Júlia.
  • Júlia adds the suffix -né to her husband's full name, adds her full name and will be called Petőfi Sándorné Szendrey Júlia (less popular these days, because it is long to write).
  • Júlia takes her husband's family name, keeps her given name "Júlia" and will be called Petőfi Júlia.

The applicable law,[8] which used to give substantially different sets of options to women and men, was declared sexist and unconstitutional. The ensuing amendment, in force since 2004, also lists options for men. Thus:

  • Sándor can keep his birth name, as Petőfi Sándor (the most common choice).
  • Sándor takes his wife's family name, keeps his given name "Sándor" and will be called Szendrey Sándor (often considered when the wife's family name sounds remarkably better than the husband's one).
  • A further new option is hyphenation. In our example, the family name Petőfi-Szendrey or Szendrey-Petőfi will be introduced for one or both parties. A sole party not assuming the hyphenated form keeps his or her original family name.

Note that using opposing hyphenations (i.e. Szendrey-Petőfi Sándor and Petőfi-Szendrey Júlia) and exchanging names (i.e. Petőfi Sándor and Szendrey Júlia become Szendrey Sándor and Petőfi Júlia) are not allowed. Also, one can have a maximum of two last names. If one or both partners-to-be come to the marriage with more than one surname, they will have to agree which ones to keep.

Both the bride and groom have to declare at the wedding which name they will use, and they have to declare which family name their children will get (which can be changed until the birth of the first child). Children can get either parent's surname, if it is on the marriage certificate, but all children must have the same surname. Since 2004 they can also get a hyphenated name, but only if both parents kept their birth names at least as one part of their new name. Children usually get their father's surname, but hyphenated names are becoming more common.

Couples of the same sex are not allowed to marry in Hungary, so they cannot legally use each other's names[9] unless they change their names through a deed of change of name.

Women's names in everyday life

When a woman takes her husband's name in the traditional way, as in Petőfi Sándorné, her female first name no longer forms part of her official name, yet this is the name she will be called by even after her wedding, in all but the most formal contexts. Thus, Hungarian radio speakers and others often resort to a compromise like Kovács Jánosné, Juli néni (Mrs. János Kovács, aunt Juli) to indicate how the woman should be called by others. (Néni and bácsi, "aunt" and "uncle", are traditional polite forms to address older people, and, for children, to address all adults; it does not indicate a family relationship.)

Some women who officially bear the -né form will nevertheless introduce themselves with their husband's family name and their own first name (in our example, Kovács Júlia or Kovácsné Júlia, rather than Kovács Jánosné), to avoid confusion about how to address them.

If the woman takes her husband's full name, the couple can easily be referred to in writing as Petőfi Sándor és neje (Sándor Petőfi and wife), equivalent to the English form "Mr. and Mrs. John Smith". This can be seen on older tombstones in Hungarian cemeteries.

Hungarian law on names

By law, children born as Hungarian citizens may bear no more than two surnames (most people have only one; those who have two may hyphenate them). They can also have only one or two given names (religious names not included since they are not official, see above). Given names can be chosen by the parents from an official list of several thousand names (technically, one list for each gender).[10][11] If the intended name is not on the list, the parents need to apply for approval. Applications are considered by the Research Institute for Linguistics of the Hungarian Academy of Sciences following a set of principles.[12] Thus, names are approved if they are not derogatory or overly diminutive, can be written and pronounced easily, can be recognised as either male or female, etc. Approved names expand the official list, the newest edition of which is regularly published. A lot of recent additions are foreign names, which, however, must be spelled following Hungarian phonetics, e.g. Jennifer becomes Dzsenifer or Joe becomes Dzsó.

Those who belong to an officially recognized minority in Hungary can also choose names from their own culture, whereby a register of given names maintained by the respective minority governance must be observed.

If one or both parents of a child to be named are foreign citizens, the given name(s) may be chosen in accordance with the respective foreign law.[13]

Treatment of Hungarian names in English and other languages

Outside Hungary, Hungarian names are usually rendered by the Western convention of other European languages. In English language academic publishing, archiving and cataloguing, different manuals of style treat Hungarian names in different ways. The Chicago Manual of Style 16th Edition (2010) reverses the Hungarian order to put given name first, but allows all diacritics on the name:

8.13 Hungarian names. In Hungarian practice the family name precedes the given name — for example, Molnár Ferenc, Kodály Zoltán. In English contexts, however, such names are usually inverted — Ferenc Molnár, Zoltán Kodály [...]

When indexing names, Hungarian names are re-inverted so the surname comes first in English indexes, the same as English names.[14][15]

Hungarian treatment of foreign names

This way of writing names is not used for people who are not Hungarian (or not from another country where Eastern name order is used). For example, "Tony Blair" will stay as "Tony Blair" in Hungarian texts. However, names of historical importance are generally translated and written in the Hungarian way, e.g. Kálvin János for John Calvin. Names from languages using a different script (Arabic, Chinese, Cyrillic, Greek, etc.) are transcribed according to pronunciation.

Leaders of countries are translated only in the case of monarchs and members of their families. For example, "Elizabeth II of the United Kingdom" becomes II. Erzsébet and "Pope Benedict XVI" becomes XVI. Benedek pápa, but "Fidel Castro" is not changed.

Before the 20th century, foreign names were often translated, for example, Jules Verne's name was written as "Verne Gyula", and a Hungarian pronunciation was used.

See also


  1. Robert Lawrence Trask The history of Basque 1997 "Finally, I must mention yet another of Sabino Arana's interventions. For some reason, Arana decided that the Basques should write their names surname first, .."
  2. "Official guide to changing person name in Hungary" (in Hungarian). Retrieved 11 September 2012.
  3. Merriam-Webster's encyclopedia of literature Merriam-Webster, Inc - 1995 -- Page vii "Hungarian names, which also follow family-personal name order, are, on the other hand, treated as English names." [with diacritics]
  4. Austin Sarat, Thomas R. Kearns Identities, Politics, and Rights 1997 Page 383 "For instance, among the most common Hungarian surnames are Horvath, which means "Croat," and Toth, which is an old (now considered derogatory) term for "Slovak."
  5. Stefania Ruzsits Jha, Reconsidering Michael Polanyi's Philosophy (2002), p. 7. "In the Hungarian part of the monarchy non-Hungarian ethnic people were encouraged to adopt Hungarian surnames and to learn the Hungarian language in addition to the several others they were already speaking."
  6. Pieter M. Judson, Marsha L. Rozenblit, Constructing nationalities in East Central Europe (2005), p. 41 "While some people with German names translated them directly into Hungarian (hence the draftsman Nikolaus Liebe — in English, Nicholas Love — became Miklos Szerelmey), others were more inventive in their choice of Hungarian surnames."
  7. Farkas, Tamás. 2009a. "Surnames of Foreign Origin in a Language Contact Situation. The Reasons and Ways of Their Changes and Their Influence on the Surname Stock in Hungary." In Wolfgang Ahrens, Sheila Embleton & André Lapierre, eds., Names in Multi-Lingual, Multi-Cultural and Multi-Ethnic Contact, Proceedings of the 23rd International Congress of Onomastic Sciences, 2008, Toronto: York University, p. 365-374.
  8. "1952. évi IV. törvény a házasságról, a családról és a gyámságról" [Act No. IV. of 1952 on Marriage, Family and Guardianship] (in Hungarian). Art. 25. Retrieved 2010-08-30.
  9. "Névviselés" [Person names] (in Hungarian). Retrieved 2010-08-30.
  10. "current list of approved male Hungarian given names" (PDF).
  11. "current list of approved female Hungarian given names" (PDF).
  12. "basic principles guiding the approval of new given names" (in Hungarian). Retrieved 2011-01-19.
  13. "1982. évi 17. törvényerejű rendelet az anyakönyvekről, a házasságkötési eljárásról és a névviselésről" [Decree-Law No. 17 of 1982 on Registers, the Marriage Procedure and Person Names] (in Hungarian). Art. 2731. Retrieved 2010-08-30.
  14. The Chicago Manual of Style, 16th Edition (9780226104201): University of Chicago 2010 16.79 Indexing Hungarian names ... In English contexts, however, such names are usually inverted; in an index they are therefore reinverted, with a comma added. Bartók, Béla. Molnár, Ferenc. ..
  15. "Indexes: A Chapter from The Chicago Manual of Style Archived 2015-02-26 at the Wayback Machine." Chicago Manual of Style. Retrieved on December 23, 2014. p. 26 (PDF document p. 28/56).

Further reading

  • Unconventional Anthroponyms: Formation Patterns and Discursive Function, Cambridge Scholars Publishing, 2014, ISBN 1443868620
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