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Surnames

Czech names are composed of a given name and a family name (surname). Czechs typically get one given name – additional names may be chosen by themselves upon baptism but they generally use one. With marriage, the bride typically adopts the bridegroom's surname. [1]

Surname Language Variation

  • 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 phonetic 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 .


Inflection

  • 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 Notice the name endings alter when placed in the grammar of the marriage.
  • Josef, syn Ludvíka Ryby a Františky roz. Sýkorové = Josef, son of Ludvík Ryba and Františka SýkorováAgain, notice the inflection change in the name endings.
  • z Prahy = from Praha (Prague); v Praze = in Praha; do Prahy = to Praha This demonstrates how extremely inflective the language is.

Inflection Differences in 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

1. Most adjective surnames end in for males and for females.

Male

Female

Černý Černá
Novotný Novotná
Veselý Veselá
Palacký Palacká

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

Male

Female

Krejčí Krejčí
Jirků Jirků

Names from Nouns

1. 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

Female

Novák Nováková
Haneš Hanešová
Bartoš Bartošová
Havlík Havlíková
Krk Krková
Šlytr Šlytrová

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

Male

Female

Kučera Kučerová
Homolka Homolková
Housle Houslová
Mičko Mičková
Štýblo Štýblová

3. 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

Female

Bechyně Bechyňová
Vlčiště Vlčišťová
but
Ditě Ditětová
Hrabě Hrabětová

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

Male

Female

Moravec Moravcová
Šálek Šálková
Horáček Horáčková
Broškev Broškvová
Mandel Mandlová or Mandelová

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

Male

Female

Danĕk Daňková or Danĕková
Bartonĕc Bartoňcová or Bartonĕcová

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

Male

Female

Wagner Wagnerová
Nagy Nagyová


Surnames Historical Development

  • Before record keeping began, most people had only one name, such as John.
  • As the population increased, it became necessary to distinguish between individuals with the same name. The problem was usually solved by adding descriptive information. John became John the smith, John the son of Matthew, John the short, or John from Prague.
  • At first surnames applied only to one person, not to the whole family. After a few generations, these names became hereditary and were passed on from generation to generation.
  • Surnames developed from several sources. For example:
    • Occupational
    • Geographical
    • Patronymic
    • Descriptive or nickname
  • The nobility and wealthy land owners were the first to begin using surnames.
  • Merchants and townspeople then adopted the custom, as did the rural population. This process took two or three centuries.


While Czechs share relatively few given names — roughly 260 names have a frequency above 500 in the Czech Republic — there are tens of thousands of Czech surnames (singular and plural: příjmení). These are similar in origin to English ones and may reflect:

  • a personal characteristic of someone's ancestor (such as Malý – "small", Veselý – "cheerful", Železný – "iron")
  • occupation (Kovář – "blacksmith", Kolář – "wheeler", Sedlák – "landowning farmer", Kočí – "coachman")
  • the first name of a relative (Marek – "Mark", David, Eliáš – "Elias")
  • animals (Liška – "fox", Zajíc – "hare", Jelínek – "little deer", Ježek – "hedgehog", Kocourek – "little tomcat")
  • especially birds (Sokol – "falcon", Čermák – "black redstart", Kalous – "asio", Sýkora – "titmouse", Holub – "pigeon", Čáp – "stork")
  • plants (Konvalinka – "lily of the valley", Růžička – "little rose", Fiala – "violet", Javor – "maple")
  • especially fruits and vegetables (Jahoda – "strawberry", Hruška – "pear", Cibulka – "little onion")
  • food (Oliva – "olive", Makovec – "poppy cake", Slanina – "bacon")
  • places of origin (Slezák – "Silesian", Moravec – "Moravian", Němec – "German")
    • also in a form of adjectives (Rosický – "of Rosice", Nepomucký – "of Nepomuk")
  • actions, usually in past simple (Musil – "(he) had to", Pospíšil – "(he) hurried up", Zdražil – "(he) raised the price", Hrabal – "(he) raked")
  • things (Procházka – "stroll", Chalupa – "cottage", Svačina – "snack", Kučera – "a curl of hair")
  • and many others[1]

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

Czech Prefix Meaning Czech Prefix Meaning

Blaho-
Bohu-
Bole-
Bor-
Boži-
Brani-
Breti-
Broni-
Dali-
Dobro-
Draho-
Hori-
Hosti-
Hvězdo-
Jaro-
Krasno-
Kraso-
Křeso-
Květo-
Ladi-
Libo-
Lido-
Lubo-
Ludo-

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

Luti-
Milo-
Miro-
Msti-
Radi-
Rati-
Rosti-
Slavo-
Sobě
Stani-
Svato-
Sveto-
Světlo-
Vac-
Vit-
Vladi-
Vlasti-
Voj-
Vrati-
Zby-
Zde-
Zeli-
Zito-

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

Female

Jaroslav Jaroslava
Bohumil Bohumila
Vladimír Vladimira
František 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.

Given Name Language Variation

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. The following online source contains given names translated into 23 different European languages, including English:

  • Janowowa, Wanda, et al. Słownik imion (Dictionary of names). Wrocław, Germany: Zakład Narodowy im Ossolińskich, 1975. (FHL book Ref 940 D4si; film 1181578 item 2; fiche 6,000,839.) Names are listed alphabetically by the Polish name, as the author is Polish. An index at the back gives the Polish form of each name. Use that name to find the 23 translations in the main list.

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 difficult foreign names for American names. This occurred often with given names and to a lesser extent with surnames.

Given Names

Given names usually were simply translated to their American counterparts:

Jan

John
František Frank or Francis
Kateřina Catherine
Alžbĕta 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

Appleton
Krejčí Taylor
Procházka Walker

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

Kořista

Corrister
Nožíř Norris
Hudec Hudson
Maršálek Marshall
Šimáček Smack
Lapáček LaPache
Vančura 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

Kokoshka
Kučera Kuchera/Kuczera
Jelínek Yellineck
Chudec
Hudetz

For Further Reading

References

  1. 1.0 1.1 "Czech name", in Wikipedia, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Czech_name, accessed 25 February 2021.