Slovakia Personal Names
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Understanding customs used in surnames and given names can help you identify your ancestors in records. Learn to recognize name variations and see clues in names.
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Surnames[edit | edit source]
In the absence of a consistent system, names in Slovakia (similar to other European countries) were not stable for many centuries. Medieval people or even those of the 18th century, were not forced to use one official, very individual, and hereditary surname. It was enough if one could be more or less precisely distinguished by the society. Everyone had a given name, usually a Christian name. This was used during the course of his life in various forms.
For example, George could be used in Latin forms Georgius or Georg, in Hungarian György, in Slovak forms Juraj, Ďord', Juro, Jurko, Ďuro, Dzuro, Ďurko.
The first name was further supplemented with different characteristics:
- father's, mother's, or family name: Blaško derived from Blažej = Blasius; Matuška derived from Matúš = Matthew; Tomášek derived from Tomáš = Thomas.
- occupation: Kolár = Wheeler, Schmidt = Smith.
- place of origin: Ocovská - a native of Očová, Turčan - a citizen of the Turiec region, Horváth - Croat.
Our forefathers can have a variety of different names, depending on the nationality, mother tongue, language used, education, and other personal abilities of a writer (clerk, priest).
Such patterns lasted till the end of the 18th century, when under the reign of Joseph II, surnames became hereditary by law. In spite of that, various forms of one person's name appeared even at the beginning of our century. By the way, the unofficial, so-called "living" names are still used in Slovakia. Especially in the countryside, persons are distinguished by them in everyday conversation.
Development of Slovak Historical Surnames[edit | edit source]
It is generally known that people were originally distinguished by just one name. The first hereditary names, surnames, from Slovakia were recorded just in the 13th century. The oldest ones were created among nobility, later among town dwellers, but very soon we can find them also among country folk, the largest group of Hungarian society. They appeared first in the south and southeastern areas, from where they spread to other parts of the country. In the 15th-16th centuries, last names were in general use.
Slovakian surnames were influenced by the contacts with surrounding ethnic groups or emerging nations and by great migration. In the 13th-14th centuries, large groups of Germans settled in several regions of Slovakia, and they brought their own surnames to their new homeland. Further changes and imports of surnames accompanied the Valachian colonization (14th-15th centuries), Serbian and Croatian immigration (16th-17th centuries), and various Slovak migrations
The names of all these people were changing according to social, ethnic, historical, and political conditions. The name of each family developed in its own way. Many descendants of German families have preserved their original German names. In rare cases, we are able to define locality, period, and special circumstances of their creation from the names themselves. In the majority of cases, however, we can do this only approximately. Let's mention just several characteristics that will enable us to do the basic classification of Slovakian surnames.
There is just one group of surnames that often strictly reflects the ethnic background of the family ancestor: surnames derived from ethnic names Slovák, Tóth, Nemec, Polák, Rusnák, Chorvát, Horváth, etc. They tell us very clearly that the bearer of such a name settled individually in a community of different ethnicity. According to the language of this name, we can also guess the nationality of his neighbors (for example, Tóth could be a Slovak settled among Hungarians, because Tóth is a Hungarian word for a Slovak).
In some cases, we are even able to guess the period of such a surname creation and thus also the period of the ancestor's settling in Upper Hungary. For example, the surnames designating Croats (Horváth, Chorváth), very often appeared in the 16th and 17th centuries, during the mass immigration of Croats into the northern parts of Hungary.
A large group of surnames has been derived from first names (of men, less often of women). As an example, we can mention the common names
- Jančo, Janoška from Ján - John
- Štefanec from Štefan - Stephen
- Michalko from Michal - Michael
- Ďuriška from Juraj - George
- Balaša from Baláš - Blasius, the names of the old noble families
- Detrich, Meško, derived from old first names almost unused today
In Slovakia, surnames derived from localities are very frequent. The oldest ones were created among the nobility. Such names as Kubíni, Ostrolúcky, Sentiváni, Divéky were usually derived from small localities. Surnames such as Sučansky, Trenčiansky, Lipták refer to the local or territorial origin of the ancestor as well as to his migration from the particular locality or area; Sučansky from Suča or Sučany, Trenčiansky from Trenčin or the county of Trenčin, Lipták from the region of Liptov.
A further large group consists of surnames derived from occupations Kováč, Mlynár, Minárik, Švec, Szabó, Schmidt etc. They usually appeared in later centuries and reflect the family ancestor's occupation.
There are also other groups of surnames reflecting an ancestor's nature, mental or physical qualities, etc. And finally, there is a large group of surnames for which the origin or contents remains and will remain without clear explanation. 
Surname Changes of Immigrants in the United States[edit | edit source]
As Immigrants moved into English-speaking countries, their surnames were impacted in a variety of ways.
- Most of the time the surname spelling changed to accommodate the different phonetic spelling in the English language. In other words, the recorder tried to write the name the way he heard it.
- Surnames may also have been translated outright into English, sometimes with a slight twist.
- Within the community, such as the local parish, immigrants may continue to use the original name, while at the same time using English-language equivalents when dealing with local government, census takers, and other English speakers.
- Different branches of the same family may adopt various surname spellings.
- Prior to 1900, formal surname changes documented in local court records are relatively rare.
- During the early 20th Century, especially the World War I era, surname changes are recorded more frequently, as immigrants or, more often, their children, tried to adopt more neutral surnames.
Given Names[edit | edit source]
- Given names in Slovakia are called baptismal names (Slovak: krstné mená) even though today they are completely separate from the Christian baptismal names.
- Proper baptismal names given during infant baptism are still common in the countryside, yet they are only seldom used within the official name (if they are, they form the person's middle name).
- Generally, names in Slovakia can be of several distinct origins:
- Christian names often inspired by saints (e.g. Vojtech)
- Names of past kings and rulers (e.g. Ladislav)
- Modern names (e.g. Lukas)
- Names of ethnic minorities living in Slovakia (e.g. Béla)
- Traditionally, it was common to choose a given name for the newborn from within the family; grandfather and grandmother names being particularly popular. While this is no longer as common as in the past, it is still widely practiced especially in the rural areas.
Male Given Names[edit | edit source]
Andrej (or Ondrej)
Female Given Names[edit | edit source]
For Further Reading[edit | edit source]
- Matričný slovník: pomôcka na zapisovanie údajov do cirkevných matrík. Trnava [Slovakia]: Spolok svätého Vojtecha, 1999. (FHL book 943.73 D4m)At various libraries (WorldCat) Genealogical dictionary of names (Hungarian, Latin, and Slovak), professions (Latin and Slovak), and diseases (Latin and Slovak) found in Slovak parish registers. Text in Hungarian, Latin, and Slovak.
FamilySearch Library[edit | edit source]
Additional sources are listed in the FamilySearch Catalog:
References[edit | edit source]
- Slovak Surnames: What They Can Tell a Family Historian by Milan Šišmiš, presented at the FEEFHS Convention, Minneapolis in 1996. To read the article in its entirety see FEEFHS Journal 4:4 (March 1997).
- "Slovak name", in Wikipedia, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Slovak_name, accessed 6 March 2021.