What's in a name?


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Martina NavrátilováMartina Navrátilová Ahoj and welcome back to Radio Prague's ABC of Czech. Today we are looking at Czech surnames.

The most common surname in the Czech Republic is Novák, which is closest to the English "Newman". Over eight percent of the names in the Prague phone book are Novák. Related to Novák is Novotný, which is also quite a common Czech surname. There also exists Nový and Nováèek but these are not as common. Can you guess where these names come from? Novák, Novotný, Nový and Nováèek. The best clue is from the adjective nový - meaning new. Novák, Novotný, Nový and Nováèek are surnames given to newcomers by the inhabitants of a village or community. It makes sense.

Another surname given for similar reasons is Procházka but this name was usually given to someone who walks or wanders. The name Procházka comes from the verb procházet se - to walk. The verb procházet se has many different meanings and uses in Czech for example, to go by, to pass through, to traverse, to come through. The verb for returning in Czech is navrátit se, can you think of a Czech surname that has the verb navrátit in it? You've got it - the Czech-born tennis player Martina Navrátilová! Even though her family must have been given the name Navrátil a long time ago, it still suits her, given that she retired and then returned to tennis! Or maybe she should have been called Skála, strong as a rock, coming from the word skála - rock.

Procházka is the name for people who wandered and Novák and Novotný for newcomers, but what about people who stayed in the same place? Let's have a look at surnames related to land ownership and status.

While most of us immediately associate the surname Dvo"ák with with the Czech composer Antonín Dvoøák, the surname Dvoøák is connected to the time of serfdom, and referred to a farmer having his own farm. Apparently it comes from the Czech word for courtyard or farmstead - dvùr. The common name Svoboda, meaning freedom in Czech, referred to a freeman, as opposed to a serf. The surname Sedlák belonged to peasants having a large piece of land, Sedláèek to peasants having a small piece of land.

Not all people had a large plot of land. A name for someone who just had a bit of land was Chalupa or Chaloupka, from the Czech words for cottage chalupa or little cottage chaloupka. Chalupník was also used for someone who had a cottage but the literal translation of this one is 'inhabitant of a cottage.' Do you recognize the ending -ník? It is common in words like worker - dìlník. And one last one before we say goodbye. The Czech word for garden is zahrada and a gardener as you might guess is then a zahradník, so someone who had a garden would be Zahradník. We hope you've enjoyed today's programme on Czech surnames and their origins. Until next time! Na shledanou! And take care! M"jte se!