Letter from Prague

Yes, it's time for my letter from Prague - MY letter, because in a little while Ita and I will be looking at listeners’ letters and answering them in this week's edition of Mailbox. Actually, my letter is inspired by mail from one of our listeners - Elizabeth Milewicz from Tasmania, Australia. She heard one of our programs about the bureaucratic limitations for choosing a name for your child. In Australia, she points out, you can call your child almost anything and she asks whether there are any limitations to people's surnames. I was thinking of Elizabeth at the beginning of this month, when I heard that the new law on marriages valid as of July 1st, changes some of the existing regulations dealing with people's names. First of all, you still cannot choose just any first name for your child, a limitation I'm not sure whether I consider all wrong. I mean, why should a child suffer all his or her life because their parents had a fantastic idea they thought funny or original at the time. But there is one change, we can now have two first names - or, rather, a first and a middle name. That wasn't possible before. Well, now that's no problem - if the names chosen are on the list of acceptable ones, and that's not as bad as it may sound, it's a long, long list including names you'd never think of. In fact, some parents use it for inspiration, if they can't come up with a name they'd like.

Now, surnames, those, of course, run in the family. You have your father's name, except if you happen to be a girl, in which case you get the female version of the surname, like your mother has. If your family name is, grammatically, an adjective, the feminine version of the adjective is used. White, for example, is bily, so Mr. White is pan Bily, but his wife is pani Bila. Which may complicate things when they travel abroad, but in this country it's considered useful - you know right away whether you're talking about a man or a woman. Now, if your family name is not an adjective, the suffix -ova is added to the male version of surnames. If the father's name is Novak, and you're a girl, you're Novakova, if it's Dvorak, you're Dvorakova. That's fine unless the surname ends on a vowel, which is usually dropped before the suffix is added, so that Mr. Smetana's wife is Mrs. Smetanova, not Smetanaova. If you're getting confused, just think how confused people with foreign names ending on two or three vowels have been getting. Have been, because that's the change as of July 1st. People with foreign names, members of minorities, or foreigners can now keep the same surname for both sexes. And so, our colleague Dita Asiedu, whose surname is, officially Asieduova in Czech, can choose to be just plain Asiedu as of now. And since my surname is Hungarian, I don't have to sign my letters, including this Letter from Prague - Szantova, any more, I can sign them just Olga Szanto.

Author: Olga Szantová
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