Ethnic Bynames in Hungarian before 1600

by Kolosvari Arpadne Julia (mka Julia P. Szent-Györgyi)

© 2004 Julia P. Szent-Györgyi, all rights reserved

The following is the result of a quick run-through of Kázmér Miklós's Hungarian surname dictionary. I went through the list of names found at the end of the entry for Cseh (Czech), noting the date of Kázmér's earliest cite, the number of pre-17th c. examples, and the usual spelling(s) in that period. I wasn't particularly exact in my counts: The dictionary already represents only a selection of the available data, so the number of examples only very roughly correlates with the popularity of a name. I was similarly unsystematic in my selection of spellings: I tried to stick to one per name, except where the variations on a theme had too many possible permutations (Tót, for example) or where there were two equally common spellings. For the half-dozen names which only had 17th c. or later cites, I noted only the date of the earliest cite and the meaning.

The meaning of most of these names can be either ethnic or locative. For example, Tót can mean both "Slovakian (in ethnicity and/or language)" and "from the northern part of the Carpathian Basin". A couple of names on the list (Tatár, Török) have a third possible meaning: they could be given to those who, like prisoners of war and envoys, were somehow associated with the invaders.

Hungarian onomasticians (names scholars) disagree on when exactly hereditary family names[*] became the norm in Hungary. There is general agreement that family names existed everywhere in Hungary by the 15th century, but that these weren't fixed, and changed regularly and frequently. Legislation requiring fixed family names wasn't passed until 1787. Because of this ambiguity of heredity, we can't tell from his name whether a 15th or 16th century man called Nemeth Miklos actually spoke any German.

Like most things in Hungarian, ethnic bynames apply equally and without change to men and women. The one exception in this list is Móré, which applies to (young) men of a particular social class and nationality. By the 1500s, however, even this name would not be surprising as a woman's byname, because of the possibility of inheritance.

[*] Note that "family name" is different from "surname". Surnames or bynames, which are associated with individual persons, existed in Hungary by the 13th century. Like family names, they were fluid and changeable, especially at first. Surnames developed into family names, which are associated with groups of related people (families), and usually apply to multiple generations. The question under debate in Hungarian onomastics is this type of correspondence between a name and a whole group of people, especially the inheritance of that correspondence by subsequent generations.

Notation: ő stands for modern Hungarian long ö, which has two lines in place of the two dots.

Pronunciation: the headwords, which use modern Hungarian spelling, can in most cases be taken as a guide to pronunciation for the period forms. Consult a Hungarian language course for a full explanation of modern spelling rules. (They're not complicated. In fact, modern written Hungarian is as close to phonetic as a living language gets.)  Alternatively, see International Phonetic Alphabet Samples: Hungarian - Magyar for a chart showing the Hungarian alphabet transcribed into IPA. They apparently intend to link each symbol to a sound recording in mp3 format, but it doesn't work yet. In the meantime, the site "A Sound Reference to the IPA" has versions of IPA charts which actually do play sounds, in some browser and OS combinations. See the Academy of St. Gabriel's Member's Guide for a set of links.

Headword Translation Typical spelling(s) Freq. First cite
Bajor Bavarian Payor 10 1369
Besenyő Pecheneg Besenew, Bessenyew 28 1392
Bolgár Bulgarian Bolgar 30 1356
Bosnyák Bosnian, southern Slav Bosnyak 19 1508
Beszermény Ishmaelite (Muslim) Bezermen(y) 2 1521
Burkos Prussian Bwrkos 1 1570
Cigány Gipsy Czygan 44 1389
Cseh Czech Cheh 80 1344
Cserkesz Circassian Cherkesz 1 1589
Francus (probably) French Franchyws 3 1457
Görög Greek, or any merchant from the Balkans Geregh, Georeogh 21 1498
Horvát Croatian Horwath 84 1355
Jász Jazygian Jaz 29 1411
Káliz Ishmaelite Kalyz 1 1437
Kazár Khazar Kazar 3 1344
Kiskun Cumanian (from Little Cumania) Kyskwn 2 1503
Korontár Carinthian (Carinthia is Kärnten in German) Korontal, Korontar 8 1396
Kun Cumanian Kwn, Kun 84 1324
Lengyel Polish Lengel, Lengyel 39 1323
Litva (possibly) Lithuanian Lythwa 1 1551
Magyar Hungarian Magyar 80 1331
Mizser (poss.) a 10-13c. Turkic ethnic group Myser 27 1398
Móc a Rumanian ethnic group Mo(o)cz 2 1489
Móré Rumanian servant-lad or Gypsy man More 29 1443
Morva (prob.) Moravian Morua 1 1330
Muszka Russian Muzka 5 1521
Német German Nemeth 73 1364
Oláh Rumanian, Vlach, Wallachian Olah 73 1418
Olasz Italian Olaz 64 1374
Orbonász Albanian Orbonaz 17 1447
Orosz Russian or Ruthenian Oroz 39 1332
Örmény Armenian Ermen 6 1396
Polyák Polish Polyak 21 1409
Rác Serbian Racz 64 1401
Szász (Transylvanian) Saxon Zaz 85 1366
Székely Szekler, eastern Transylvanian Zekel 122 c. 1308
Szerb Serbian Szerb 1 1550
Szerecsen Saracen Zerechen 28 1396
Tatár Mongol, Tartar T(h)at(h)ar 44 1358
Tót Slovakian, northern Slav T(h)ot(h) 180 1320
Török Turk Thewrewk 160 1409
Zsidó Jew Sydo 45 1372
Names found only after 1600
Francia French 1720
Komán (probably) Cumanian 1727
Oszmán Ottoman, Osmanli 1614
Ruszin Transcarpathian Ukrainian (or Ruthenian) 1648
Sváb Swabian 1715
Tirpák Slovakian, esp. from the Nyíregyháza area 1632


Hajdú Mihály: Általános és magyar névtan (Osiris tankönyvek, Budapest: 2003).

Kázmér Miklós: Régi magyar családnevek szótára (Magyar Nyelvtudományi Társaság, Budapest: 1993).

Országh László, Futász Dezső, Kövecses Zoltán: Magyar Angol Nagyszótár / Hungarian-English Dictionary (Akadémiai kiadó, Budapest: 1998).