N for names

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Hello and welcome again to our regular Czech language programme, the ABC of Czech. It's time now for the letter "N" which stands for names. The typical Czech has two names - a first name and surname. Those who have been baptised have one or more middle names but very few people ever use them.

Hello and welcome again to our regular Czech language programme, the ABC of Czech. Today I'm here with Kamila Rosolova. It's time now for the letter "N" which stands for names.

The typical Czech has two names - a first name and surname. Those who have been baptised have one or more middle names but very few people ever use them. The Czech baroque composer Jan Jakub Ryba or the 19th century playwright Josef Kajetan Tyl would be an exception today.

It is not uncommon that parents pass their own first names on to their children. In some families, the same Christian name is handed on from father to son for generations. Although the choice of names is quite large in Czech, certain names were so popular with some generations that they became over-represented. For example the number of boys called Jan and girls called Jana - the equivalents of John and Jane - in the population is enormous.

Today, however, many people tend to give their children rarer names which will make them stand out more among their contemporaries. A large proportion of Czech given names come form foreign languages, Latin, Hebrew, Greek - those are mainly biblical names - or more recently from Western European languages. Another big group are Slavonic names which are usually quite long, such as Vladimir, the first name of the new prime minister meaning "world-ruler", which is rather appropriate, or Lubomir, the name of the new chairman of the lower house which means "peace-lover". The first name of President Havel, Vaclav, is an old Czech name meaning "more famous" or "more glorious". The anglicised form is Wenceslas. St Wenceslas or Svatý Václav is the patron saint of the Czech Lands. The surname Havel, on the other hand, is originally a Latin first name, Gallus.

A lot of Czech surnames are derived from first names. For instance, the surname of composer Leos Janacek, is a diminutive of Jan or John. Czech surnames are predominantly of Slavonic origin, but a large number come from German. For example, the Interior Minister Stanislav Gross has a perfectly Slavonic first name and a German surname. Women traditionally take their husband's name when they marry and female surnames have special endings. The wife of President Havel is Mrs Havlova and Mr Gross's spouse is Mrs Grossova.

Czechs also celebrate name days. Every day in the year has a name assigned to it. Originally, individual days were dedicated to specific patron saints. But as new names were coming about, the distribution has become pretty much random in the secular calendar. Name days aren't such a big event as birthdays but some days in the year are notorious because masses of people who have the same name celebrate at the same time. For example, everybody knows that the 19th of March is dedicated to Josef, a very common male name for the older generation. The reason is that most Josefs and their pals across the country get very drunk.

And that's all for now from me, Pavla - which comes from the Latin word for small, and Kamila - a girl of noble origin in Latin. Tune in again next week if you can. Na shledanou.


See also Living Czech.