Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Hungarian Genealogy: Research Tip #5

The theme of today's tip is: Spelling Variations

The Hungarian language is one of the most complex languages in all of Europe. This list/post is aimed at being a guide to help understand all the possible spelling variations you may come across in your Hungarian research.

*The confusion between CZ and TZ:
The Hungarian language is infamous for the use of CZ, and sometimes it's [technically] inaccurate use of TZ. As for the pronunciation of CZ/TZ, it's pronounced as the "C" in "dance" or the "TS" in "pots". Although CZ and TZ are used interchangeably, CZ should always be the correct spelling. The TZ variation is more commonly found in older documents; 1800's and prior. Here are a few examples:
  • Bencze & Bentze
  • Berecz & Beretz
  • Czakó & Tzakó
  • Ferencz & Ferentz
  • Herczeg & Hertzeg
  • Koncz & Kontz
  • Kurucz & Kurutz
  • Lőrincz & Lőrintz
  • Rácz & Rátz
  • Vincze & Vintze

*The additional confusion between CS and TS:
All this confusion seems to stem from the letter C! With this instance, however, the pronunciation is completely different than it's CZ counterpart. CS and TS, in Hungarian, are pronounced as the "CH" in "chug", "chores", "church", etc. You must note that CS/TS & CZ/TZ are not interchangeable with one another. Their pronunciations are completely different and could entirely change the meaning of the word/surname. In some rare occurrences, you may actually see CS or TS appear as CH. Here are a few examples:
  • Ács & Áts
  • Cseh & Tseh
  • Forgách & Forgács & Forgáts
  • Kovács & Kováts
  • Kulcsár & Kultsár
  • Lukács & Lukáts
  • Szakács & Szakáts
  • Szücs & Szüts
  • Takács & Takáts

*Surnames ending in -H:

There are many surnames ending in -H, that don't always necessarily require the -H ending. They are all pronounced exactly the same, with or without the -H. It has been said that the addition of the -H ending was originally meant to signify nobility, but I have seen no proof of this.. so take that with a grain of salt. Here are a few examples of these surnames:
  • Balog & Balogh
  • Bernát & Bernáth
  • Herczeg & Herczegh
  • Horvát & Horváth
  • Német & Németh
  • Olá & Oláh
  • Tót & Tóth
  • Vég & Végh / Vig & Vigh
  • Virág & Virágh

*Surnames ending in -I and -Y:
Most surnames ending in -I are almost always interchangeable with -Y. But it's not always the case. Most cases involve surnames that are derived from places names. Here are a few examples:
  • Bagi & Bagy
  • Baranyai & Baranyay
  • Budai & Buday
  • Földi & Földy
  • Győri & Győry
  • Kállai & Kállay
  • Paksi & Paksy
  • Sári & Sáry
  • Szalai & Szalay
  • Váradi & Várady

*The rare usage of KS/X:
It's probably not often that you'll come across this combination, but it's out there. These variations are pronounced exactly as you would think: "X", as in "x-ray". Here are a few examples to help you understand it's usage:
  • Apraksin & Apraxin
  • Baksa & Baxa
  • Jaksic & Jaxic
  • Kokso & Koxo
  • Paksi/Paksy & Paxi/Paxy

*The rare usage of LY & J:
This combination is relatively more common than KS/X, but it may still be rare. It's pronounced as in the "Y" in "hay", "ray", "bay", etc. You would mostly see this in older records, probably mid-1800's and earlier. Here are a few examples:
  • Borbély & Borbéj
  • Erdélyi & Erdéji
  • Gulyás & Gujás
  • Király & Kiráj
  • Mihály & Miháj
  • Székely & Székej

*The shortening of OÓ to Ó:
This combination doesn't always necessarily apply to surnames, but it has been applied to the rest of the Hungarian language. It's pronounced as the "O" in "hole", "mole", "pole", etc. Here are a few examples of the common Hungarian surnames containing OÓ and their possible variations:
  • Joó & Jó
  • Soós & Sós

*The rare OL & Ó:
As mentioned above, Ó is pronounced as the "O" in "hole", "mole", "pole", etc. Because of this "OL" sound, it sometimes appears written as such. Here are a few examples:
  • Bódog & Boldog
  • Pógár & Polgár

*The confusion between S & SZ:
These two, S and SZ, are not interchangeable within the Hungarian language. In the Hungarian language, S is pronounced like the "SH" in "ship", "wash", "ash", etc. It's very similar to the Germanic "SCH", as in "schneider". With SZ, on the other hand, it's simply pronounced like an English "S", as in "pass", "bills", "eggs", etc.


  1. Excellent article, Nick! You've included some good information and examples for those researching Hungarian names. I recognized many of those names from my personal family tree. Thanks for sharing your observations!

  2. Great summary. I would caution people to be careful with the 'y' ending. Remember that 'gy', 'ly' and 'ny' have their own distinct sound.

  3. Excellent Nick! It helps those of us who are not fluent in Hungarian to correctly pronounce our Hungarian family name. It explains why my surname was changed to its American spelling. It's as close as it gets to sounding alike.

  4. Excellent Nick! So very helpful in learning how to pronounce Hungarian surnames for people like me who is not fluent in Hungarian. It certainly explains the Americanized spelling of my name which sounds almost the same as the Hungarian spelling.