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Hungarian Genealogy: Research Tip #13


The theme of today's tip is: Hungarian Surname Origins & Meanings

The origins and meanings of Hungarian surnames can date back to well before the creation of the Kingdom of Hungary, and can be broken down into several categories.

Patronymic

Patronymic surnames are derived from the given name of male ancestors. They can appear several different ways in Hungary and are easily distinguishable. One variation they appear as is simply a male's given name, such as György, Péter, Mihály, Antal. Any given name could be a surname.

Another variation is slightly different in that it includes the suffix of -fi, -ffi, -fy and -ffy. This suffix, which as you see can has many spelling variations, means 'son' and when combined with a given name creates surnames very recognizable to English speaking countries. Examples of these surnames are Péterfi/Péterfy (Peterson), Jánosfi/Jánosfy (Johnson), Pálfi/Pálfy (Paulson).

A sub-category of patronymic surnames originates from the ancient clans or genus (nemzetség in Hungarian) of the early Kingdom of Hungary prior to the 13th century, with about 180 clans known to history. Some of the more recognizable names are: Aba, Baksa (or Baxa), Balog and Balog-Semjén, Csák, Dorozsma, Győr, Monoszló, Szemere, Tyukod and Zsadány. The -fi/-fy suffixes can apply to any of these names and clans. I must also note that many Hungarian noble families can claim descent from these early clans of Hungary, as well as some European royalty such as Queen Elizabeth II.

Matronymic

As with patronymic surnames and although rare, matronymic surnames are also easily recognized and taken from the given names of female ancestors. Ágota, Berta, Éva, Katalin and Rózsa are some of these surnames.

Aptronymic

Many of our Hungarian ancestors took on a surname reflecting the occupation or trade that they performed and were well known for in their community. Kovács, meaning smith or blacksmith, is one of the most common surnames in Hungary. Others include Biró (judge), Dobos (drummer), Juhász (shepherd), Lakatos (locksmith), Mészáros (butcher), Molnár (miller), Papp (priest or clergyman), Szabó (tailor), Takács (weaver) and Varga (cobbler).

Toponymic

These surnames explain where the original ancestors with these surnames came from or lived. A very large majority of surnames ending with the suffix -i or -y are prime examples. The -i and -y suffix, which are equally interchangeable, mean the exact same thing: 'from' or 'of'. We must not jump to conclusions though, as not all Hungarian surnames ending with -i or -y have this meaning: Borbély (barber) and Sovány (thin). Examples of toponymic surnames include Árvai, Csányi, Budai, Forrai, Mérai, Hagymási, Somogyi, Szatmári, Szilágyi, Váradi and Veszprémi (or Beszprémi).

Ethnonymic

Surnames derived from ethnic and cultural backgrounds are probably the most easily recognizable. Common examples of these surnames that most of us have probably seen during our research are Cseh (Czech), Görög (Greek), Horváth (Croatian), Lengyel (Polish), Németh (German), Olasz (Italian), Orosz (Russian), Rácz (Serbian), Sveda (Swedish), Török (Turk), Tóth (Slovak) and Zsidó (Jewish or Hebrew).

Appearance

Physical features are known to have been used as surnames and are quite common: Bajusz (moustache), Barna (brown), Erős (brawny, strong), Fekete (black), Fehér or Fejér (white), Fodor (curly hair), Kövér (fat, plump), Nagy (large, big; such as tall height), Szőke (blonde), Tar (bald) and Vörös (red).

Personality

Our ancestors were social and had unique personalities just like us today. A small portion of these surnames include: Baráth (friend), Csendes (quiet), Kecses (graceful), Kedves (kind), Nemes (noble, generous) and Ördög (devil or fiend).

Nicknames

Nicknames were as commonplace today as they were centuries ago. Most nicknames were a shortened variation of the original longer surname: Barta Bene (Bénjámin), Deme (Demeter), Fóris (Flórián), Jósa/Józsa (József), Mihók (Mihály), Pete/Pethe (Péter). Another example of these nickname surnames combines the -fi/-fy suffix mentioned above: Benefi/Benefy and Petefi/Petefy.

Objects or Things

In the end there's a good chance that when your surname doesn't fit any of the above categories, it could simply be a Hungarian word for something: Boros (bor=wine; may also reflect an occupation), Csuka (pike), Farkas (wolf), Kárász (Crucian carp), Medve (bear), Sörös (beer; may also reflect an occupation), Szarvas (deer) and Virág (flower).

Comments

  1. My hungarian surnames are Eisenbacher and Zwirn. What might they pertain too?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Both of these surnames are of German origin, so they don't have a meaning within the ethnic Hungarian language. Germans have been migrating into Hungary as early as the 11th century!

      Delete
  2. My last name is Spiesz. I'm not sure of the pronunciation of it. We have been pronouncing it SPEEZ. I think that might be wrong. Does anyone know how to pronounce it? My great great grandmother's last name was Rupprich. I'm not sure if they immigrated from another country before living in/near Budapest.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. You're pronouncing it correct. Rupprich seems German in origin, so those ancestors were likely originally from Germany and migrated to Hungary at some point. There were a lot of Germans in Hungary!

      Delete
  3. Is Toth historically pronounced with a long o (rhymes with both) or a short o? This was my maiden name and my family always pronounced it with a long o.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. It should be a long O, your family pronounces it correctly! The H should not be pronounced though.

      Delete
  4. My hungarian names are Jancsurak and Karpi. What might they pertain to?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Jancsurák is likely patronymic, as Jancsi is a nickname for János (John) and the -ók or-ák suffix making it plural. I'm not sure about Kárpi, though. I don't find the term in dictionaries or any gazetteers indicating it could have been taken from a place name.

      Delete

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