Personal name

From Genealogy of the Ványi Family
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A personal name is the proper name identifying a person. In Hungary it is very similar to names used in other countries in the western world in a sense that it contains a given name and a family name. However the ordering of these names is exactly the opposite, that is family name comes first. This is also called eastern order.

Hungarian personal names

Until the 13th-14th centuries people had given names, but no family names. People in the lower class were only identified by their given names. Richer people were using the name of their land or their title in their names to identify themselves. For example Sándor, ban of Szörény had a title, he was the ban of the Szörény area. His son had land and was living in Karász, so he was known as Sándor of Karász. His son, however, was living in Edelény, therefore he was known as László of Edelény.

If there were more people with the same given name then their jobs (eg. smith) or some attributes (eg. big, german) were used. For foreigners in a town sometimes their originating place were used. It is worth noting that if someone came from a village with German ethnic majority, he might have been called German, even if he himself was Hungarian. Thus such names do not necessarily mean ethnicity.

Later starting in the 14th-15th centuries the children kept their father's distinctive name, this is how family names appeared.

After the family names became common, some landowners or noble people started to use the name of their land in their own name to identify the exact branch of the family. These nobility prefixes, however, were always written with small letters until they were banned by law in 1947.

Name order

In Hungarian normally the adjectives stand in front of the nouns, just like in English (eg. red car, big mountain). Thus when adjectives were used to identifiy people, these adjectives also preceded the names. Later when these adjectives became names, the only thing changed was capitalization, but not the order. Therefore in Hungarian the family name comes first and the given name comes second. This is called easter name order. When identifying people, jobs or places of origin were also used as adjectives, resulting in names of the same order. Some examples can be seen below.

Hungarian name meaning
Nagy János big John / John the big
Kovács István smith Steven / Steven the smith
Ványi Miklós Nicholas from Vány

This order also means that if someone has a second given name then it is not referred to as middle name, because it will be the last one.

Family names

As mentioned above, family names are originated in jobs, origins or other attributes. Until recently the family name has been passed over from father to the children, but now it is also allowed to have both parents' family name with a hyphen. Before 1947 some noble families also used prefixes identifying branches of the family, for example the Gaál family has several branches, one of them is the gyulai Gaál family. In this case the prefix is a reference to an ancestor of this family, who was the lord of the castle in Gyula.

Given names

Hungarian given names have various origins: Latin, Greek, Hebrew, Germanic, Slavic, Turkish, and there are some names with Hungarian origins. The spelling of the names have changed a little bit over time. In old documents often the Latin version was used.

Currently the Hungarian Academy of Sciences maintains a list of given names, and parents can choose from this list. If they want to choose a name that is not on the list, they have to apply for a permit.

In official documents the full version of the name is used every time. Formally, for example at work, people usually introduce themselves with their full names, eventhough informally often a nickname is used.

Sometimes people get a second given name, which is similar to middle names, but it is not common.

Married names

Until the 20th century married women took their husband's name with a -né suffix. For example the wife of Ványi Mihály was called Ványi Mihályné after they got married. Now, however, the law allows several options, for example if Ványi Sándor and Prinyi Katalin get married they can choose from the following options:

  • The wife takes her husband's name with a -né suffix, she will be called Ványi Sándorné
  • The wife takes her husband's family name and keeps her given name, she will be called Ványi Katalin
  • The wife takes her husband's name with a -né suffix and keeps her full name, she will be called Ványi Sándorné Prinyi Katalin
  • The wife takes her husband's family name with a -né suffix and keeps her full name, she will be called Ványiné Prinyi Katalin
  • Both keep their names
  • Both take a common family name either Ványi-Prinyi or Prinyi-Ványi
  • The husband takes his wife's family name, he will be called Prinyi Sándor