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What’s in a Name? Discover Czech Republic’s Naming Traditions

Czech Republic’s naming process is steeped in tradition and cultural influence. Names carry a long, historical significance and are chosen with great care by parents. The use of academic titles in everyday life and the celebration of name days can come as a surprise to new expats, and the exclusion of middle names and patronymics can be a bureaucratic nightmare. Some names may be familiar, but others, such as Jíři, are unique to the region.

Czech Name Day (“Svátek”)

Czech Republic is not unique in its celebration of name days; many countries, usually of Catholic or Orthodox background, have this tradition. Each name in the Czech Republic has a name day, and they originally corresponded with the saints’ feast days. In modern day, name days carry little to no connection to their religious origins, but are days to give a gift and celebrate. Specific days can vary by country, so a name day for Czech Republic may differ in Slovakia or Poland. Some name days are also national holidays, like 28 September for Saint Wenceslas (Václav), the patron saint of the Czech lands. Official name day lists can be found online or in any printed calendar or datebook.

Middle Names and Patronymics

The use of middle names or patronymics isn’t practiced in the Czech Republic. Most forms only have sections for first and last names, so for paperwork purposes, the advice is usually to include the middle name in the first name section, or to exclude it altogether. Although, be consistent with your decision because a name change on documents that isn’t the result of an official name change can be flagged for suspicious activity.

Paperwork is complicated no matter where you go, but making sure you are using the same name every time helps prevent accusations of fraud or delayed paperwork.

Titles

Titles are a big deal in Czech Republic, just glance at any building’s doorbells and you’ll see an array of letters all over the door. These can come across as pretentious to new expats and are the cause of some confusion. An American friend of mine received her new bank card, but was annoyed she found a typo and had to return the card. The mistake? “Bc.” was inserted in front of her name. I explained to her that Bc. indicates a bachelor’s degree- no need to return it!

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Charles University has a helpful guide to Czech titles, as some differ from other countries.

Bc.Bachelor’s DegreeBachelor of Science
Ing.Engineer Master of Arts/Master of Science in technical fields of Economics
Mgr.Magister  successful completion of five–year university studies
MUDr.Medical Doctor successful completion of six-year university study in General Medicine.

Female and Male surnames

Men and women have variations in their surnames based on sex. If the surname is an adjective, such as Pan Veselý (Mr. Happy), his name will have a -ý ending, but his wife, Paní Veselá, will end in -á.

If the name is a noun, like Jedlička (“little fir tree”),  the male ending is simply the noun, Pan Jedlička, while the female ending has the addition of -ová, Paní Jedličková.

Surnames, when directly translated, can cause hilarious moments. In my first days at language school, the workbook had characters with names like Paní Fialová (Mrs. Purple) and Pan Čáp (Mr. Stork) and I chalked it up to the textbook authors being funny while helping us remember common nouns. I later learned as I met real-life Mrs. Purples and Mr. Storks that these were indeed true surnames.

It has been trending in recent years for women to keep the male version as her own. Mixed couples of Czechs and foreigners tend to also share one last name and not differentiate between male and female. When signing a marriage certificate and changing the woman’s last name, couples also have to decide at that time what last name any female children will carry.

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Most popular Czech names 

Czech Republic has far fewer names in circulation than less homogeneous countries like the United States or Australia. At the hospital during birth, a woman with a clipboard asks for the baby’s name, and any unusual baby names need to be approved first by the government, but for mixed-nationality couples, they give more leniency for non-Czech names. 

What are Czech families naming their children? According to the Czech Statistics Office, the most popular baby names for 2018 were:

GirlsBoys
1. Eliška1. Jakub
2. Anna2. Jan
3. Sofie3. Adam
4. Ema4. Matyáš
5. Tereza5. Tomáš
If this couple names their baby Jan, you might also hear them call him Honza, Jenda, Honzík, or Honzíček.

Most names also have several diminutives, or nicknames, associated with their formal names. These names can indicate closeness with the person or their age. For example, a woman named Tereza may be “Terka” with friends, and “Terinka” with her parents and grandparents.

No matter your name, wear it with pride, and be a bit forgiving to the barista if she spells it wrong on your coffee cup!

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