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Introduction to Personal Names

Many old documents and certificates that surface when searching through family papers will be written in German or Latin. Because of the many languages encountered in Czech records, it is not unusual to see several variations of an ancestor's name depending on the language of the record. An ancestor may appear as Wenceslaus in his Latin birth record, as Wenzel in his German marriage record, and as Václav in the Czech birth records of his children.

Another example is the Czech name Vojtěch; in German it is Albrecht; in Latin, Adalbertus. Fortunately, not all names differ so markedly. The Latin Josephus is easily recognized as Czech Josef. A listing of given names with translations in English, Czech, Latin and German is found on the Wiki.

Surnames may also be affected by the language in which the record was written. Some priests simply translated the surname into the language of the church register. For example, the Czech surname Černý could be translated to Schwarz. Similarly, Nový, Novák, Nováček, Novotný, and Novotníček could be translated into German as Neumann.

Usually surnames were not translated, but simply altered to fit the spelling and grammar of the language used in the parish register. It is not uncommon to see Czech surnames changed according to German spelling rules. Thus we find Čermák - Tschermak, Šebek - Schebek, Havlíček - Hawlitzek. Likewise, German surnames often are seen with Czech spellings: Schultz - Šulc, Schreier - Šrajer, Schmidt - Šmid.

Grammatically, there are two types of surnames: nouns and adjectives. Surname endings will vary according to the gender of the person. Female surnames are usually feminized with the basic endings: -ová or .

In English some words have different endings depending upon how they are used in a sentence. A few examples of this are they-their-them, he-his-him, and who-whose-whom. This changing of words according to grammatical usage is called inflection. Czech is a Slavic language and as such is extremely inflective. All nouns and adjectives, including names of people and places, are subject to changes that can be a source of confusion to anyone not familiar with this language and their complicated grammar. Here are some examples:

  • manželství mezi Janem Mikuleckým a Anežkou roz. Krplovou = marriage between Jan Mikulecký and Anežka Krplová
  • Josef, syn Ludvíka Ryby a Františky roz. Sýkorové = Josef, son of Antonín Ryba and Františka Sýkorová
  • z Prahy = from Praha (Prague), v Praze = in Praha, do Prahy = to Praha

Surnames

Historical Background

In earlier centuries throughout Europe, one name was usually sufficient. But as populations increased it became necessary to distinguish between individuals with the same name. The problem was usually solved by adding descriptive information. Thus we find John the tailor, John the son of Nicholas, John the short, John the newcomer, or John from Moravia. When these "surnames" first came into being they were applied only to one person and not to the whole family. In time, these names became hereditary so that they passed from generation to generation.

It is not possible to determine the exact year or even the century when hereditary family names were taken. In most countries, the process took two or three centuries to become universally established in the society. Hereditary names were first used by the nobility and wealthy land owners. Later the custom was followed by merchants and townspeople and eventually by the common village folk.

Surnames in the modern sense were first used among Byzantine and Venetian nobility about the ninth century. From Venice the practice spread to much of Western Europe. By the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries the custom was widely practiced in Britain and France. In Central Europe; Germany, Hungary, and Austria; including the area now in the Czech Republic, the practice was well established by the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries.

Male and Female Surnames

Czech surnames are affected by gender. For example, a woman's surname must have a feminine ending. Although all surnames are nouns, they come from various parts of speech; adjectives and nouns. Surname endings vary according to the type of surname, i.e. whether from a noun or adjective, and the gender of the person.

Names from Adjectives

Most adjective surnames end in for males and for females.

Male
Černý
Novotný
Veselý
Palacký

Female
Černá
Novotná
Veselá
Palacká

Other types of adjective surnames end in and in . These surnames are the same for females as for males.

Male
Krejčí
Jirků

Female
Krejčí
Jirků

Names from Nouns

Noun surnames end with a consonant or a short vowel (a vowel that doesn't have an accent mark). Noun surnames are feminized by adding the ending -ová.

Male
Novák
Haneš
Bartoš
Havlík
Krk
Šlytr

Female
Nováková
Hanešová
Bartošová
Havlíková
Krková
Šlytrová

Surnames that end with an -a, -e, or -o drop the final letter before adding the -ová.

Male
Kučera
Homolka
Housle
Mičko
Štýblo

Female
Kučerová
Homolková
Houslová
Mičková
Štýblová

Surnames ending with are quite uncommon. These usually simply drop the before adding the -ová. Some however keep the and add a -t- before adding the -ová.

Male
Bechyně
Vlčiště
but
Ditě
Hrabě

Female
Bechyňová
Vlčišťová

Ditětová
Hrabětová

Surnames that end in -ec or -ek (or rarely -ev or -el) drop the -e- before adding the -ová.

Male
Moravec
Šálek
Horáček
Broškev
Mandel

Female
Moravcová
Šálková
Horáčková
Broškvová
Mandlová or Mandelová

Uncommon surnames ending with -ĕk or -ĕc may or may not drop the -ĕ-.

Male
Danĕk
Bartonĕc

Female
Daňková or Danĕková
Bartoňcová or Bartonĕcová

In many cases, even German and Hungarian names are subjected to the -ová ending.

Male
Wagner
Nagy

Female
Wagnerová
Nagyová

Given Names

Historical Background

In the Czech lands, the major source of given names was the names of Roman Catholic saints. Many of these were borrowed from foreign sources including names of Greek, Latin, Hebrew and German origin.

Other names are of purely Slavic origin. Among these the most popular were compound names which consist of two Slavic roots joined together. The following list gives the meanings of most of the various Slavic prefixes and suffixes.

Prefix Roots

Blaho-
Bohu-
Bole-
Bor-
Boži-
Brani-
Breti-
Broni-
Dali-
Dobro-
Draho-
Hori-
Hosti-
Hvězdo-
Jaro-
Krasno-
Kraso-
Křeso-
Květo-
Ladi-
Libo-
Lido-
Lubo-
Ludo-
Luti-
Milo-
Miro-
Msti-
Radi-
Rati-
Rosti-
Slavo-
Sobě
Stani-
Svato-
Sveto-
Světlo-
Vac-
Vit-
Vladi-
Vlasti-
Voj-
Vrati-
Zby-
Zde-
Zeli-
Zito-

blessed
God's
more
warrior
see Bohu-
defense
ring out
see Brani-
further, more
good
dear, valued
mountains
guest
star
strong, fierce
beautiful
see Krasno-
strong
flower
see Vladi-
beloved
see Ludo-
see Libo-
the people
fierce
love
peace
revenge
joy
soldier
increase
glory
self
everlasting
strong (or Holy)
see Svato-
light
more
live
rule
homeland
warrior
return
remain
here (or do)
desire
life

Suffix Roots

-bor
-chval
-dan
-dar
-mil
-mír
-mysl
-pluk
-rad
-slav
-těch
-voj
-van
-vit

fight, warrior
praise
given
gift
love
peace
think
defense of people
joy
glory
haste
warrior
individual
life

Thus Vladimir means "rule of peace" and Dalibor means "continue fighting." Of course, not all suffixes are found with all prefixes.

In many cases male names had a female version created by adding -a.

Male
Jaroslav
Bohumil
Vladimír
František

Female
Jaroslava
Bohumila
Vladimira
Františka

Most Czech names (of all origins) end in a consonant (František, Jan, etc.) and female names usually end with -a (Kateřina) or -e (Marie). Most names have nicknames or diminutive forms which end in -a, -ek, or -ik. For example: Franta from František; Maňa or Mařka from Marie; Jarda or Jarek from Jaroslav, Pavlik from Pavel.

The records in the Czech Republic were kept in several different languages. The birth record of an individual may have been written in Latin and the marriage record may have been in German. Usually the given names were translated into the language of the document. In most genealogical reports from the Czech Republic, names are recorded as they appear in the original documents. This can cause confusion since an ancestor may appear as Vojtĕch in one record and Adalbertus in another. The name list given here includes most of the common names found in the Czech Republic and gives versions in Czech, Slovak, Hungarian, Latin, German and English.

Although this list includes many names; it should be noted that certain names are enormously more common then others. The directory for the city of Prague in l896 shows that 7O% of the male population bore the five most popular names: Josef 22%, František l5%, Václav l2%, Antonín ll%, Jan lO%. Other very popular male names were Karel, Vojtěch, Matěj, Jiří, Alojzy (Alois), Martin and Jakub. The same source indicates that among females 6O% bore the five most common names: Marie 22%, Anna 2l%, Josefa, 7%, Kateřina 6%, Antonie 4%. Other very popular female names were Františka, Barbora, Terezie and Dorota.

Male Given Names

(under construction)

Female Given Names

(under construction)

Americanization of Names

A serious problem for some researchers is to determine the actual name of their immigrant ancestor. Some ancestors in their eagerness to be assimilated into American culture, traded their dificult foreign names for American names. This occured often with given names and to a lesser extent with surnames.

Given Names

Given names usually were simply translated to their American counterparts:

Jan
František
Kateřina
Alžbĕta

John
Frank
Catherine
Elizabeth

Because some given names have no English translation, they were frequently changed to almost any similar sounding American name:

Václav = Wenzel, Venceslaus, Wenceslaus, William, Wesley, Wendel, James

Surnames

Sometimes the name change was simply a translation:

Jablečík
Krejčí
Procházka

Appleton
Taylor
Walker

In many cases the immigrant would choose an American name that sounded similar to foreign name:

Kořista
Nožíř
Hudec
Maršálek
Šimáček
Lapáček
Vančura

Corrister
Norris
Hudson
Marshall
Smack
LaPache
Van Cura

Some immigrants who were sensitive about the pronunciation of their names changed the spelling so that Americans could pronounce their names correctly:

Kokoška
Kučera
Jelínek
Chudec

Kokoshka
Kuchera/Kuczera
Yellineck
Hudetz


 

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  • This page was last modified on 9 July 2014, at 18:42.
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