17 Dec 2018
Blog

Hungarian Names: Challenges For Fuzzy Name Matching


The main façade of the Fisherman’s Bastion.The seven stone towers with their pointed tops symbolize the leaders of the Hungarian tribes who conquered the country in 896 AD. Image credit: Wiki Commons Dennis Jarvis from Halifax, Canada. License: https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0/deed.en

The U.S. might pride itself on being a “melting pot” of cultures, but when it comes to a melting pot for names, Hungary is king.

To start, Hungarians (or Magyars) don’t originate in Europe. Current consensus places their origin in the southern Ural mountains.1 The ancient Hungarians had very close contacts with Iranian and Turkic neighbors, especially once the nomadic period began and this influence is reflected in the huge number of Turkic and Iranian loan words in the language.2 For these reasons, Hungarian is not at all related to its European neighbors.

From the 10th to 16th centuries, Hungary spanned numerous ethnic groups: Slovaks, Czecks, Croatians, Serbs, Slovenians.3 One of the largest influences was the Ottoman Empire (modern day Turkey) which occupied Hungary for over 150 years.

Multiple Name Origins

When the Hungarians established their kingdom in their current country’s location in 1000 AD, their king converted the country from paganism to Christianity, taking the name of King Stephen (in Hungarian: Szent István király). Parents started giving children Christian names, resulting in the loss of most names of true Hungarian origin, however a few names linked to historical figures or Hungarian legends survive. Some Hungarian boys names that survive include Attila (from Attila the Hun) and names of the original Hungarian tribe leaders– Árpád, Előd, Ond, Kond, Tas, Huba, and Töhötöm. Some of the original Hungarian girls names in use include Réka, Emese, Tímea and Enikő.

Unlike some other languages, there are not clear morphological markers to determine whether a name is for a boy or girl (such as the English “-ina” suffix which often indicates an English girl’s name). Yet there are no unisex names in Hungarian. It is worth noting, though, that on the whole Hungarian girls’ names, especially, seem to conform more often than boys names to the “standard European” layer of Latinate forms. There are a huge number of girls’ names, for example, ending in -a, and not very many boys’ names that do. So while there are definitely many exceptions (e.g. “Attila”), a name ending in -a is very likely to be a girl’s name, and a name that is completely unfamiliar in form to non-Hungarians (a “Zsombor,” say) is somewhat more likely to be a boy’s name than a girl’s.4

The vast majority of given names are listed in a list of registrable (“anyakönyvezhető”) names maintained by the Linguistic Institute of the Hungarian Academy of Sciences. Parents wishing to give names not in this list need to gain approval from a committee of linguists from the Academy.5 Middle names are usually not given, although at one time it was fashionable to give two given names.

Hungarian surnames are a mix of many ethnicities. Particularly pre-WW II, names of Jewish, Yiddish, German and Slovak ancestry were directly translated into Hungarian either by meaning (e.g., Schneider to Szabó, both meaning “tailor”) or phonetic transliteration (e.g. Kohn to Kovacs) or kept the original spelling (e.g., Horn, Deutsch, Staller, Keller, Rockenbauer, Hoffmann).6

Given names borrowed from other languages may have multiple possible spellings due to when the name was borrowed: Andrew translates to András (coming from the biblical Greek form Ανδρέας) or Endre (borrowed via Latin);7 Jake translates to Jakab or Jákob. Popular given names may come from religious or important cultural figures. For example, Erzsébet is a girl’s name after the princess Saint Elizabeth of Hungary and Katalin after Saint Catherine of Alexandria. For boys, Béla is after the name of four medieval Kings of Hungary, and György for Saint George.8

Nicknames

As with many languages, there are “irregular” nicknames which you would be hard pressed to figure out from the original name. The Hungarian “István” (“Stephen” in English) has the nickname “Pisti”.

But there are also formulas for creating nicknames. Depending on if the vowel in the name is a “low tone” (a, o, u, á, ó, etc.) or a “high tone” (e, i, é, í, etc.), the suffix ³“ka” (for low tones) or “ke” (for high tones) is appended. If the name ends in a vowel, sometimes a “cs” is inserted before the suffix.9
Thus:

Name Regularly Formed Nickname Method
Réka Rékacska rule-based
Árpád Árpí truncation
Árpádka rule-based
Tímea Tími truncation
Tímeácska rule-based
Sára Sárika irregular, rule-based
Saci truncation
József Józsika irregular, rule-based
Jóska truncation+rule-based

The repeated application of rules (suffixation, left truncation, right truncation, reduplication, etc.) yields an incredible diversity of nicknames for any given Hungarian name.10 For example, the girl’s name “Anita” has at least nine nicknames (Ani, Anika, Ancsa, Anitácska, Anitus, Nita, Nitus, Nici, Nicike)!

Name Order

Hungarian names are traditionally written as family name followed by given name (although the order is reversed when it appears in foreign language texts), so name order can trip up name matching if two texts use different name order.

Married Names

Finally, Hungarian allows for up to five different ways for a married woman to write her name and three different ways for married men. Besides the usual (for Westerners) of keeping one’s surname or adopting the surname of the spouse, a man may also hyphenate his surname and his wife’s. For the woman, she may add the suffix “né” to her husband’s full name to adopt as her surname or to use in addition to her full name name (with or without her maiden name).

Consider the case of Szendrey Júlia (wife) and Petőfi Sándor (husband) where Júlia and Sándor are their given names.11

Szendrey Júlia can choose to become:

Married Name Style Comment
Szendrey Júlia Unchanged, keeping maiden name Popular among more educated women
Petőfi Sándorné Adopts husband’s name, appending -né (But to friends, she would say: “But call me Júlia”) Equivalent of Mrs. John Smith in English
Petőfiné Szendrey Júlia Adds the suffix -né to her husband’s family name+her full name Frequently used
Petőfi Sándorné Szendrey Júlia Adds the suffix -né to her husband’s full name+her full name Less popular due to length
Petőfi Júlia Takes her husband’s family name and keeps her given name Popular in modern times

That’s a lot of name combinations and variations to consider when matching names! Lucky for you, starting with Rosette Cloud version 1.11, its name matching and name translation functions support Hungarian names, taking care of the complexity for you. Give the endpoint a whirl by signing up for a free trial account of Rosette Cloud.


End notes

1. Source: Hungarian linguist, Adam Jacobs (Boston, MA), consultation via email Dec. 1, 2018
2. Ibid
3. https://heraldry.sca.org/names/magyarnames1012.html
4. Ibid Jacobs
5. Ibid Jacobs
6. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hungarian_names
7. Ibid Jacobs
8. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hungarian_names
9. Hungarian native, Anita Balogh (Boston, MA), November 30, 2018, who with Jacob also provided the nickname examples in the table.
10. Ibid Jacobs
11. Example taken from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hungarian_names