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 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.
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.
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).
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).
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).
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).
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 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).