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This article was written according to the article Jak vznikala nase prijmeni (How did our surnames come into being) in Moldanova, Dobroslava :Nase prijmeni, Prague 1983 and completed by the results of personal research.
There are more than 40,000 variations of Czech surnames. If were taken into consideration, that the whole Czech Republic has 10 million inhabitants, it would mean, that in case of the equal distribution, some 250 inhabitants incl. children would account for one specific surname.
But the situation is in fact different . Some surnames are more or less common, some (and they have majority) are rare and are connected only with few families.
First twenty frequent surnames cover 6,92 per cent of total population.
First fourty frequent surnames account already 10,18 per cent and
First 100 surnames belong to 17,18 per cent of all Czech population.
I. THE ORIGIN OF CZECH SURNAMES
a) A Newcomer to a Village.
The most common family name in Bohemia and Moravia is the surname NOVAK (if translated into English, it could sound NEWMAN) .There is more than 1 per cent of our population (100 Thousands people) who have this family name. It was given by the fact, that the novelty was the first and most important sign of a newcomer who came to the closed community of old village inhabitants. The same ground have similar Czech surnames NOVOTNY, and less common NOVY or NOVACEK (dimin. form of NOVY or NOVAK). Who came from a wander was called PROCHAZKA (from verb to walk).
b) Social Status of the Name Bearer.
The second expressive distinguishing feature was the connection to land-owners. Besides the serfs (subduted people) there were free, independent yeomen or freeholders among the rural population. Thus he was given a surname SVOBODA (a free man) or DVORAK (a farmer having his free farm - DVUR = court, yard) . The farmer who had a big piece of a land was called SEDLAK, a smaller one SEDLACEK, in Moravia the equivalent was LANIK. Who, according to his social status owned only a small house without scarcely any land, was called CHALUPA, CHALUPNIK, CHALOUPKA (the same as cottager) or ZAHRADNIK (from zahrada - a garden).
c) Personal Features of an Individuum.
The personal features contributed to the surnames becoming. There was an overwhelming fair-haired (xanthochroi) population in our country in the past and a man with dark hair or face was an exception. Thus a surname CERNY (and equivalent CERNIK ) or in German parts SCHWARZ (in the Czech script SVARC) came into existence. Similar is the origin of surnames describing the temperamental and physical features of the bearer : VESELY (a cheerful man), KYSELY (sauer or bitter) , KYSELA KUCERA (a curly) RUZICKA (a small rose, a handful, nice man). Other examples are HLAVA, HLAVICA = a head, HUBA - a mouth, BRADA - a chin , NOZKA - a foot, esp. a small one, NOHA - a big foot etc.
d) First Biblical and Slavic Names
Most of surnames are derived from Christian first names, with many variations, derivates, formed also by plenty of suffixes. The most common surnames, derived form a first name are BENES(Benedict) or MAREK (Marcus). The derivates are for instance BENISEK, BENAK, BENDA, BENIK, MARECEK, MARKUS, MARKOVIC, MARHOUL, MARES, MARSALEK (could be derived also from marshall), MARSIK, MARTISEK. Very common are also family names URBAN, BARTOS (Bartholomew), HAVEL (Gallus), JANAK, JANECEK, JANOUSEK, JANDA (John), KASPAR (Caspar), KLIMA (Clemens), MACH or MACHACEK, MARTINEK (Martin), PESEK, PETRAK (Peter), VAVRA (Vavrinec- Lawrence), BLAZEK, SIMEK (Simon), STEPANEK (Stephan), TOMAS or TOMASEK and VACEK (Venceslaus). Not only biblic names were used, but also first names of the slavic origin, for instance JAROS (from Jaromir) , SOBEK (from Sobeslav), STICH (from Stibor). The commonly used suffixes were:
- a: HAVELA, BARTA, KUBA (Ja-kub), TOMSA (Tom-as)
There is another sort of Czech surnames, derived from local names. They are mostly formed by a suffix - ky, or -sky. Here are some examples: PRAZSKY from Praha, MOHELNICKY from Mohelnice, KOLINSKY from Kolin, PALACKY from Palacov or BILOVSKY from Bilov or Bilovec. The surnames derived from villages or towns, may be also in second grammar case (genitive): SKOUNIC, or SKAUNITZ, KLECAN (i.e. from Klecany), or may describe simply an inhabitant from a town: PRAZAN, PRAZAK (inhabitant of Prague). Here can be included the surnames, indicating a citizen from foreign country or region: NEMEC (came from Germany), SLEZAK (from Silesia), MORAVEC (from Moravia) or HANAK (a Moravian fertile region around Olomouc), SLOVAK (from the south of Moravia or from Slovakia).
f) Trade and Occupation.
Another big group of sournames is formed by those, derived from the names of occupation, or of social status (see above as well). Thus there is a surname of KOVAR (smith), KOLAR (cart-wright), KADLEC (weaver), RYBAR (fisherman), but also in German form FISCHER or FISER, MLYNAR or in German MUELLER resp. MILER or TESAR (carpenter). Adding a prefix or suffix or its deminutive form has already certain expressive meaning: NEKOVAR (a smith who is better to keep out of the way), TESARIK (a carpenter, rather small by the skill or height).
The social/class status has reflected in the family names MESTAN (=bourgher), SEDLAK or LANIK (a farmer), CTVRTNIK (a farmer who owned a quarter of a "lan"), CHALUPNIK (cottager), SVOBODNIK (a freeman), HRABE (count), BISKUP (bishop), or STAROSTA ( a mayor), RYCHTAR ( judge or sherif), SAFAR (administrator of a landlord´s yard). There is a plenty of surnames, based on the military rank and file: VOJAK, VOJACEK - soldier, but there is also a Czech name SOLDAN or SOLDAT as well, DRAGOUN, KAPRALEK (caporal), JENERAL (general).
The artisans received the nicknames, from which the surnames developed later , also according to their tools. Thus we can find a tailor named JEHLICKA (= a needle), or a baker ROHLICEK (a roll), or a butcher JITRNICKA (something like a white pudding). The examples of other surnames are for instance KLADIVO (hammer), PALICKA (pounder), KNEDLIK (dumpling), MOUCKA (flour), BUCHTA (cake) etc.
g) The Nature (Animals and Plants.
The nature provided a lot of insporation for the creation of the family names. A large group of surnames developed from the names of various animals, that either resambled the physical or character feature of a man: MYSKA (mouse), ZABA (frog), JELINEK (stag), JEZEK (hedgehog), VRABEC (sparrow), VRANA (crow), or BROUCEK (a dimin. form of a beetle), plants - FIALA (viola), CHMELA (hops), ZITO (rye), REPA (beet), MAKOVICKA (poppyhead), JAHODA (strawberry), SMRCKA (spruce), JEDLICKA (fir), or DOUBEK (oak).
h) Surnames describing the activity or status.
Very interesting and unusual group of surnames is that formed from present tense or past participle of verbs or even derived from full sentences. The example of perfectum: HRABAL (raked) , KOUPIL, SOUKUP is a surname developed form the trade of its bearer - a dealer, buyer, NAVRATIL (returned) or VRZALA (chirked, scraped). Sometimes if a thing was bought too expensively, the buyer was called DRAHOKOUPIL . Similar names (nicknames or even jeers) are PRECECHTEL (And-he-wanted-it-after-all), STOJESPAL (He-slept-standing), ZLAMALJELITO (He-broke-the-black-pudding). SNEDLDITETIKASI (yes, this surname really exists: He-ate-the-squash-to-the-child) or even NASRALVHRNEC (plse do not ask me to translate it).
i) Foreign Surnames.
Czech surnames also include the surnames of foreign origin. They can be found everywhere, where two Bohemian nations have lived peacefully together for ages. A numerous German surname in our countries is the surname MUELLER or MILLER. Czech people adopted German names by mixed intermarriages or when settled in German speaking region. These are mainly the surnames, describing their origin (PRAGER, POLITZER) or simply BOEHM (Czech). Some German names appeared in a prevailing Czech milieu with a German administrations, clergy or landlords. Former NOVAK was simply translated to NEUMANN and later again Czechinized to NAJMAN. SEDLAK thus became BAUER and later BAJER, KOVAR was changed to SCHMIED and later to SMID. Besides the German influence also another nationalities contributed to the surname creation in Bohemia and Moravia. VLACH (Italian) became later a synonymum for any mason. Original Italian names are preserved in Czech artist families CHITTUSI and STRETTI. We can find a few French family names as LE BREUX, ROHAN, BUTEAU. Their ancestors came here mostly after the French Revolution or as soldiers with the Napoleonic Army in the beginning of the 19th century. Common are Polish and some Hungarian names. Difference between Czech and Slovak names is not notable in all cases.
Twenty Most Common Czech Surnames
Surname - The Explanation of the Surname
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