Why does only Hungary have surnames come first?

As far as I know (and I could be wrong) Hungary is the only nation in Europe in which the structure of the name is arranged in the style of the Chinese - the surname coming first and the Christian name second. Why is this? Does it have something to do with Mongol influence on the Magyars?

The Chinese have Christian names?

You know what I mean, smart aleck. (The same thing popped into my head as soon as I hit submit :stuck_out_tongue: )

I would hazard a guess that it is because the Magyars firmly retain the historical connection to their nomadic ancestors in as many ways as possible consonant with being a modern national society. Among them, of course, is the steppe tradition of family name leading.

Very interesting question.
This is definitely not confined to Hungarians. My mother and some relatives, reference certain people like this when speaking in german, especially if there were more than two people they knew equally well with the same first name. I think this is more of a provincial usage, perhaps it’s a phenomenon spread across rural areas of Europe.

The other explanation could be that my mother’s family came from an area that used to be part of Hungary but is part of Serbia today. I highly doubt it’s a language related thing though, because there were no Hungarian or Serbian borrow words (aside from food items) in the dialect, although there were some french ones.

The surname to my ears sounded like an adjective when it was used in a sentence, for example: “Which Katy? Smith Katy.” Sometimes it was: “the Smith Katy”. Oh, and the name was run togther into a single entity when pronounced: Smithkaty. I should add, that this wasn’t an “official” way of listing someone’s name, just a practical way of referring to someone in every day conversation.

This phenomenon is not unknown in English. There are many instances when people are called by their last names, in the military, or among male friends. In small communities people are sometimes referred to by their last names used as adjectives: “the Smith girl” or “the Gilmore girls”.

I’ve always thought it would be clearer to refer to ‘individual name’ and ‘family name’.

That way you don’t get expressions like “the surname (=‘last name’) came first”… and we could reserve the expression ‘Christian name’ for a name which is bestowed upon Christening. (Isn’t that what it really is anyways?)

This concludes this technical-writer pro-clarity nitpick. :slight_smile:

Slight hijack…

In Wales where there is a serious lack of imagination with surnames - for instance there are more Jones’s than you can shake a stick at, they add his trade to differentiate between them. Jones the butcher, Jones the baker and of course Jones the candlestickmaker.

(My woodwork teacher at school was nicknamed Davies the Wood and his son who also taught at the school was Davies the Splinter :))

I’ve heard, although I cannot confirm, that this is done in certain Bavarian dialects. But it’s only in the vernacular, not formal usage.

As being somehow who somewhat speaks Hungarian, the surname-first name construction just sounds very natural. Many Hungarian names are adjectival. Like, say, Nagy Janos (Big/Great John) or Fekete Peter (Black Peter) or Budai Zsofia (Sophie of Buda.) In Hungarian the adjective precedes the noun, hence this would seem to be the natural construction when qualifying a person’s name.

Problem is, many European languages follow the same adjective-noun sequence and don’t use that order in names. I don’t know why this is the case. For example, in Polish one can reverse the name order, but the difference would sound like the difference between “Black Peter” and “Peter Black” in English (Czarny Piotr v. Piotr Czarny in Polish.)

For me, the question is more like why didn’t more European languages follow the qualifier-noun sequence for names. One reason I suppose is then you do avoid any confusion between a person’s name and an informal description of that person.

Usage I always learned was “given name” vs. “surname” or “family name.” In English, of course, this was usually “first name” and “last name,” but contextually it would be used of Ngo Dinh Diem, Chiang Kai-chek, Hiroshige Ando (for some reason always rendered Ando Hiroshige), etc.

Isn’t Hungarian somewhat of a language isolate? I seem to recall hearing somewhere that the Earthly language to which it’s most closely related (and tenuously at that) is Korean (I specify Earthly because its closest relative is Klingon). Given that, it shouldn’t be any surprise that a linguistic construct might be different in Hungarian than in other languages of the region. It seems to me that name order is a largely arbitrary choice, and so Hungary just happened to flip the coin differently than other European languages.

Of course, one then has the question of why it is that Hungarian is so different from other languages in general.

There’s also the bulk of surnames which are geographical or occupational descriptions which don’t work as qualifier-nouns. “Smith Andrew” makes no more sense than “Andrew Smith”, but the latter is closer to “Andrew the blacksmith”. Likewise “John [of the] North”, direct French influences such as Dupont, and Celtic modifications such as Price and Prittchard (from ap Rhys and ap Richard, both ‘son of’).

It’s a member of the Finno-Ugric language subfamily, distantly related to Finnish (not suprisingly), but not to Korean.

Chronos: Hungarian is a member of the Finno-Ugric subfamily, even though its connection to Finnish is somewhat tenuous. It’s more closely related to Khanty and Mansi, which each have only a few thousand speakers. Estonian is also in this family, and it is much closer to Finnish than Hungarian is.

Hungarian is related to Korean in that they are both members of the Altaic Family. Or not. There isn’t a complete consensus here yet.


http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Altaic – Contains a disucssion of the Altaic controversy.
http://www.helsinki.fi/~jolaakso/fgrlinks.html – Has a Finno-Ugric FAQ. (Presumably in English.)
http://www.rpi.edu/~sofkam/magyar.html – A page on Hungarian.
http://www.country-studies.com/north-korea/the-korean-language.html

I’ll defer to one of our local linguists if one pops into this thread, but I’m fairly certain that the idea of Hungarian and Korean being related is a minority view among the linguists out there. Maybe this is a quibble, but I believe the last sentence in what I quoted from you, above, is a bit more optimistic-- making it sound like it’s a 50/50 toss-up when it’s not.

In French, people often address letters as SURNAME Firstname, or M. SURNAME Firstname. There may be other formal situations in which this would happen, but in most contexts the same order is used as in English.

If that’s how I come off I misspoke. It seems like a wonky theory to this non-linguist, too, but I thought I’d throw it in because Chronos had already mentioned it.

To me it makes sense that Finnish and Hungarian would be distantly related, but it makes a hell of a lot less sense that Hungarian and Korean would be meaningfully related. The evolution of any given language isn’t logical, but there is some rhyme and reason to mass population movements.

Hibernicus is right the French often put the familty name first in writing and when an official asks your name you would quite often be expected to go the surname first name route. Similarly in Italy colleagues may refer to each other by the surname only - when teaching there I found that the students had a hard time relating fisrt names to people they had known by surname for years. IMHO it is a matter of custom rather than linguistics.

Not so distantly. I know Finnish people and they can recognise a lot of words.

By the way, peoples in Hungary and Finland also trace back genetically. It shows up, among others, in suicide statistics.

That is true. But Finnish did travel into Europe from afar, so it’s not that weird a theory. It’s very likely to be related to a non-European language, at any rate.

Well, I can confirm that this is done in almost all Southern German dialects (Bavarian, Swabian, etc.)

It’s perfectly normal to call someone “Meyer’s Fritz” or “Schneider’s Hans”. Do note that the last name is used as a possesive. In other words, they are saying: “That is Hans from the Schneider family”

Define “a lot.” I speak a decent amount of Hungarian and there are very very few recognizable cognates between the two languages. I would even say that as a Hungarian speaker, at least, you’d probably find more cognates in Turkish and the neighboring Slavic languages than you would in Finnish.

Having heard Finnish being spoken, it sorta has the rhythm and sound of Hungarian, with the caveat of being completely incomprehensible to the Hungarian speaker. My Hungarian teacher also spoke Finnish, and she said there was no useful vocabulary similarity between the two languages. It was only the grammar structures that echoed Hungarian.