Czech names are composed of a given name and a surname. Czechs typically get one given name – additional names may be chosen by themselves upon baptism but they generally use one. With marriage, the bride typically adopts the bridegroom's surname.
In the Czech Republic, names are simply known as jména ("names") or, if the context requires it, křestní jména ("Baptism names"). The singular form is jméno. Generally, a given name may have Christian roots or traditional Slavic pre-Christian origin (e.g. Milena, Dobromira, Jaroslav, Václav, Vojtěch).
During the Communist era, parents needed a special permission form to give a child a name that did not have a name day on the Czech calendar. Since the Velvet revolution in 1989, parents have had the right to give their child any name they wish, provided it is used somewhere in the world and is not insulting or demeaning. However, the common practice of last years is that most birth-record offices look for the name in the book "Jak se bude vaše dítě jmenovat?" (What is your child going to be called?), which is a semi-official list of "allowed" names. If the name is not found there, authorities are extremely unwilling to register the child's name.
Czech parents remain somewhat conservative in their choices of baby names. In January 2004, the most popular boy's names were Jan (John), Jakub (Jacob or James) and Tomáš (Thomas). The most popular girl's names were Tereza (Theresa), Kateřina (Katherine) and Eliška (Liz or Elise). Throughout all the nine years, the name Tereza is ruling among girls born in January every year. There are much more girls of that name than those of the name on the second position. For six years, the second position belonged to little girls named Kateřina, who have lost recently to Eliška, later to Adéla and most recently to Karolína. Promotion of Eliška upwards to the most popular names was patient and slow, while Adéla kept near the top more steadily (during the last five years she kept the second to fourth position and only in 2007 she fell to the sixth). Quick jump in popularity belongs to Natálie, who remains for six years between the third and seventh position. Anna is celebrating her comeback to the fourth position (her fame was overshadowed only in 2002). Top positions were gradually cleaned out by Nikola (from the previous fourth position she left the first fifteen completely and later came back to around the tenth position). Kristýna holds tight among the top ten for eight years (the trend is, however, decreasing in the long term). Jumper of the last three years is probably Karolína (on the turn of the decades she kept right below the top ten, later her fame was waning, however, during recent years she jumped gradually to the sixth, seventh and even to the second position). Throughout the surveyed period, during the first four years popularity of Barbora was growing dynamically, but from 2003 she is on the tenth to fourteenth position. In the beginning of the period, Veronika was very popular; during five years she fell from the sixth position to the twelfth and later came back to the top ten for a while in 2006. Lucie was in the bottom among the most popular names during the last nine years, however, recently she can be found in the end of the top ten list and her popularity seems to gradually increase.
Names, like all nouns in the language, have grammatical cases; that is, they change depending on their role in the sentence. For example, one would say Pavel kouše sendvič ("Paul bites a sandwich"), but Pes kouše Pavla ("A dog bites Paul") and Pes ukousl Pavlovi prst ("The dog bit Paul's finger off"). Unlike the very closely related Slovak language, Czech has a vocative case, a form of a word used only when calling or addressing someone. For instance, one would say, Pavle, pozor pes! (Paul, watch out for the dog!).
While Czechs share relatively few given names — roughly 260 names have a frequency above 500 in the Czech Republic — there are tens of thousands of Czech surnames (singular and plural: příjmení). These are similar in origin to English ones and may reflect:
- a personal characteristic of someone's ancestor (such as Malý – "small", Veselý – "cheerful", Železný – "iron")
- occupation (Kovář – "blacksmith", Kolář – "wheeler", Sedlák – "landowning farmer", Kočí – "coachman")
- the first name of a relative (Marek – "Mark", David, Eliáš – "Elias")
- animals (Liška – "fox", Zajíc – "hare", Jelínek – "little deer", Ježek – "hedgehog", Kocourek – "tomcat")
- especially birds (Sokol – "falcon", Čermák – "black redstart", Kalous – "asio", Sýkora – "titmouse", Holub – "pigeon", Čáp – "stork")
- plants (Konvalinka – "lily of the valley", Růžička – "little rose", Fiala – "violet", Javor – "maple")
- especially fruits and vegetables (Jahoda – "strawberry", Hruška – "pear", Cibulka – "onion")
- food (Oliva – "olive", Makovec – "poppy cake", Slanina – "bacon")
- places of origin (Slezák – "Silezian", Moravec – "Moravian", Němec – "German")
- also in a form of adjectives (Rosický – "of Rosice", Nepomucký – "of Nepomuk")
- actions, usually in past simple (Musil – "(he) had to", Pospíšil – "(he) hurried up", Zdražil – "(he) raised the price", Hrabal – "(he) raked")
- things (Procházka – "stroll", Chalupa – "cottage", Svačina – "snack", Kučera – "a curl of hair")
- and many others
What is not shared with English but is similar to North American native languages is the extremely colorful nature of some Czech surnames, such as Brzobohatý (Soon to be rich), Volopich (Pricking an ox), Urvinitka (Tear a string), Rádsetoulal (Liked wandering around), Stojaspal (Slept standing), Vítámvás (I welcome you), Tenkrát (Back in those days), Skovajsa (Hide yourself!), Nebojsa (Don't be afraid!), Skočdopole (Jump in a field!), Vozihnoj (Driving with manure), Osolsobě (Salt for yourself!), Ventluka (Knocking outward), Rádsetoulal (Usurped in vain), Nejezchleb (Don't eat bread!), Potměšil (He sewed in the dark), Přecechtěl (He wanted anyway), Drahokoupil (He bought costly), Nepovím (Won't tell) or Blabla.
German surnames are also common in the Czech Republic; the country was part of the Austrian Empire before 1918 and had a large German population until World War II. Some of them got phonetically normalized and transcribed to Czech (Müller (miller) as well as Miler; Stein (Stone) as well as Štajn, Schmied (Smith) as well as Šmíd, Fritsch (Frič), Schlessinger (Šlesingr), ( etc.). Some of them retain their original German surnames e. g. : Gottwald, Feiersinger, Dienstbier, Berger, Koller, Klaus, Franz, Forman, Ebermann, Lendl, Ulihrach, Gebauer, Kaberle, Vogelstanz, etc.
Many of Czech surnames occur in a diminutive form, e. g. Sedlák – Sedláček, Polák → Poláček, Novák → Nováček, Zajíc → Zajíček, Němec → Němeček, Kalous → Kalousek, Havel → Havlík → Havlíček, Kovář → Kovařík → Kovaříček, Holub → Holoubek, Kocour → Kocourek, Cibula → Cibulka, Petržela → Petreželka, Chalupa → Chaloupka, Čáp → Čapek, Beran – Beránek
As in English-speaking countries, Czech females traditionally receive their father's surname at birth and take their husband's name when they marry. However, the names are not exactly the same; the endings differ to fit into the Czech language's systems of gender adjectives. For example, the tennis players Cyril Suk and Helena Suková are brother and sister; Suková is the feminine form of Suk. In fact, Czech female surnames are almost always feminine adjectives. There are several ways of forming them, depending on their male counterpart:
- If the male surname is a masculine adjective (ending in -ý), the female surname is simply the feminine equivalent. Thus, a girl whose father's surname is Novotný would have the surname Novotná .
- If the male surname is a noun, the female surname takes the suffix -ová, making it a feminine adjective:
- Novák becomes Nováková
- Horáček becomes Horáčková
- Svoboda becomes Svobodová
- Navrátil (in the literal meaning of "he returned") becomes Navrátilová, i.e. not declined into Navrátila ("she returned")
A few Czech surnames do not differ for men and women in the nominative case (the case used for the subject of a sentence). Those include surnames whose male form is genitive plural, (e.g. Jirků, Janků) and those whose male form is an adjective with the suffix -í (e.g. Tachecí, Jarní). Note that these are only identical in two of the seven grammatical cases; in the other five, the male and female forms differ, as per the soft adjective declension. The woman's surname is also not declined if it is of foreign origin and adding the suffix -ová would be awkward or unfeasible: Olga Walló, Blanka Matragi.
Otherwise, -ová is still added, even when speaking of foreigners ("Angela Merkelová"). Because gender-marked suffixes are inherited in the Czech grammar and also because the gender of a person could be told straight from the surname regardless of the context, Czechs tend to add a feminine suffix to the surnames of Czech as well as foreign women surnames. Thus, e.g. American first lady Michelle Obama is referred to as Michelle Obamová in the Czech press. Science Fiction writer Ursula Le Guin appears in Czech translations as Ursula Le Guinová. This phenomenon is not universal, however. In recent years, there has been lively discussion whether or not to change foreign female surnames in public use (such as in media references etc.). Supporters of abandoning this habit claim that adding a Czech female suffix to a foreign surname means deliberately changing a woman's name and is therefore both misleading and inconsiderate, whereas traditionalists point out that only by adding the suffix can the name be used as a flexible feminine adjective within a naturally sounding Czech sentence. Although the discussion continues, the majority of newspapers and other media still use the "adopted" versions.
Until 2004, every woman who married in the Czech Republic and wanted to change her name had to adopt a feminine surname, unless her husband was a foreigner whose name ended in a vowel or she was a registered member of a Czech minority group, such as the Germans. A law passed in 2004 allows all foreign women, and Czech women who marry foreign men, to adopt their husband's exact surname.
As in English-speaking countries, some Czech women decide to keep their maiden name after marriage or adopt a double surname. A couple can also agree to both adopt the woman's surname, with the husband using the masculine form.
Surnames in the plural
Surnames that are nouns in the masculine singular:
- Novákovi - the Nováks
- rodina Novákova - the Novák family
- bratři Novákovi - the brothers Novák
- sestry Novákovy - the sisters Novák
Surnames that are adjectives in the masculine singular:
- Novotní - the Novotnýs
- rodina Novotných - the Novotný family
- bratři Novotní - the brothers Novotný
- sestry Novotné - the sisters Novotný
All forms of the surname Novotný are adjectives in the plural; their endings depend on the gender and case. The form Novotných is in the genitive case.
- Czech declension
- Czech orthography
- Czech language
- Czech name days
- Slovak name
- Slavic names
- Slavic surnames
- Knappová, Miloslava (2010) [1st pub. Jak se bude jmenovat, 1978]. Jak se bude vaše dítě jmenovat? (in Czech) (5th expanded ed.). Praha: Academia. p. 784. ISBN 978-80-200-1888-5. Lay summary.
- "Stát rozhoduje, jak se bude jmenovat vaše dítě"
- Czech Ministry of the Interior, "Četnost jmen a příjmení," 18 May 2007(Czech). Retrieved 19 July 2008.
- Williams, Gwydion M. (2012-07-08). "2008_09_05_DSC01465 | Flickr - Photo Sharing!". Flickr. Retrieved 2012-08-15.
- Lenka Ponikelska, "Law would mean surname options," The Prague Post 4 March 2004. Retrieved 24 June 2007.