Sunday, July 22, 2007

Č

As long as I can remember, my name has always been a source of misunderstandings, mishaps and embarassing incidents. It all started when my mother decided to defy an ancient tradition (the firstborn son always receives his father's first name and both my grandfather and my father are named Imre/Imrich) and talked my father into giving me a different name. My father backed down insisting on the tradition being continued at least in some way and so two years later when my brother was born, they named him Imrich. Since people believed the tradition was honored the first time, for most of our lives, everyone always confused the two of us.
To make matters worse, instead of an honest-to-God Hungarian first name to go with my Hungarian last name, my mother picked out a name which couldn't have been more Slavic without sounding too 1836*. So here I am, stuck with the politically suspect combination of a Slavic first name and a Hungarian last name which has raised many a brow and lead to many a dumbass question of the "So what ethnicity are you then?" type. It's Hittite, by the way. I even gave that as my ethnicity at the last census and you can kiss my fat Neshite ass, Slovak National Party.
Then there's the way my last name should be correctly pronounced: the Hungarian "é" which is a long close-mid/near-close front unrounded vowel without a counterpart in Slovak** is usually heard as [i:] and the combination of "pl" with the final "ö" (i.e. [ø]) is simply too much to handle for most people. As you can imagine, calling a service hotline or introducing myself at the front desk of an office building is always a fun experience - "I'm sorry, did you say [tʃible]?" As long as I live, I will never forget the look on the face of the doctor in the ER in an English town (where I came in after a small accident of the 'pedestrian vs. motor vehicle' type) as he looked at my sign-in sheet and went "Um... Mr, er, [kɛpləʊ]?". The only non-speaker of Hungarian outside our family who has ever pronounced our last name correctly was the Vice-Dean of our Faculty (a professor at the Department of Slovak Language and Literature, of all people) at my graduation ceremony. Needless to say, this feat earned him the undying respect of the entire Hungarian branch of our family, especially my grandparents.
And finally, there's the whole written thing. Never in my life have I had an official document issued with my last name spelled properly the first try. My first passport was a particularly embarassing disaster: the accute accent on "e" was missing. As a result, I was not allowed to board a flight on one occasion because the name on the ticket (copied from my ID card) did differ in this rather insignificant aspect from the name on my passport.
At one point, my father - who has had to go through the same ordeal - started collecting various instances of misspellings of our name from things like official letters, ballots, participant IDs and such most which he came across during his politically active years. For a long time, my favorite item from that collection was Czőploi, taken from a wedding invitation. Every time I look at it I can just hear the person responsible thinking "OK, I'm pretty sure 'p' and 'l' were there somewhere and there was a digraph and one of them Hungarian letters, now if I could only remember which one and in what order..."
Long story short, I thought I'd seen it all. That was until Friday when I went to the post office to pick up my latest order from abebooks. Having opened the package and checked its contents, I was thinking of throwing the envelope into the next trashbin when my eyes fell on the address box:




Yes, you are indeed seeing what you are seeing: & # 2 6 8 , é p l ö. Someone wrote an HTML entity on an envelope.
I totally understand where this began: the webform on the abebooks page did not process the character "Č" - Latin capital letter c with a háček U+010C, HTML entity & # 2 6 8 ; - correctly (happens a lot) and thus this was printed on the order and the invoice. But how could someone actually write this as a part of a person's name, is simply beyond me. Do the good people in France really think our names contain ampersands and numbers? I hope not. Even if this was just a case of not paying enough attention, someone actually had to grab the envelope, pick up a pen, look at the invoice and wonder for a second or two just what the heck were those weird characters and numbers doing in a person's name. I am inclined to believe that that someone was not very IT-savvy and simply too puzzled to figure it out. So they just copied the name line over from the order. But still...
Be that as it may, I shall be proud to present this to my father to include in his collection. I hope it will have the same effect on him as it did on me, because when I looked at that envelope, I broke into a laughter the like of which hadn't been heard from me in years. That alone - and stories like this one - is compensation enough for all the trouble with my name.


* On April 24t, 1836, a bunch of Slovak patriots led by Ľudovít Štúr took a trip to the Devín castle to pledge their lives to the national cause. As a symbol of their dedication, each took a purely Slavic name. Some of those would still be quite OK today (Hurban's Miloslav, Maier's Jaromír etc.) , some of them... Let's just say that if you decided to name your newborn son Velislav, Zvestoň or Slavoľub, you might as well start saving up for therapy sessions right now.

** No matter what the Wikipedia says, there ain't no way in hell the Hungarian "é" in "hét" is the same vowel as "ee" in German "Seele" or the long variant of the Polish "e" in "dzień". No fracking way. Hungarian "é" is both more close and more front than either of those.

36 comments:

zmjezhd said...

Great entry! The department chair at my university mispronounced my surname, which consists of two open syllables (i.e., CV-CV) with no diacritics, when I received my AB diploma. And he, a linguist! Sigh. I liked your ethnicity response. Usually, I put down Other and pencil in Ligurian just to confuse the statisticians.

michael farris said...

As cool as both a hachek _and_ and umlaut in the same name is, as far as I can tell your name (Čéplö?) violates both Slovak and Hungarian orthographic rules. Shouldn't the final letter be ő instead of ö?

I thought modern Hungarian didn't allow final ö (or o) and requires the long version of both. Is this archaic (like ch instead of cs in some names) or dialect?

bulbul said...

zmjezhd,
thanks :o) I love Ligurian, it even sounds kinda sci-fi-ish and is bound to confuse the hell out of most statisticians.

michael,
as far as I know, it is an archaic word, e.g. here, item no. 16. You will only find it spelled with a short ö in names. It's modern versions, like in cséplőgép = "threshing machine", all have a long ő.
I cannot recall any such rule, but then again, it's been years since I've taken a peak inside "A Magyar Helyesírás Szabályai". You may very well be right, I will try to find out more.

John Cowan said...

/me sighs.

I have a perfectly simple five-letter surname with no diacritics whatsoever, yet few who can spell it can pronounce it, and few who can pronounce it can spell it.

michael farris said...

Just did some (very) superficial checking in google, and only found Cséplö (once) as a variant of Cséplő used outside of Hungary, while Cséplő appears to be a fairly common name.

I'm slightly reminded of a popular singer in Poland a few years ago, who was an ethnic Pole from the Czech republic.

She billed herself as Halina Mlynková which is neither Czech
(Halina Mlýnková) nor Polish (Halina Młynek, since Polish doesn't officially use feminizing suffixes like -owa or -ówna anymore).
She said that was how her name was officially recorded in Czechoslovakia (which didn't allow for ł in official documents and required the feminine suffix).

I love how in Central and Eastern Europe even simple proper names can turn into horribly complex messes.

bulbul said...

john,
um, [kowɘn]?


michael,

that's weird, I got over 600 ghits for short ö.
Also, I wonder what makes a name not-Czech, not-Slovak, not-Polish or not-Hungarian. Surely names do not have to conform to any rules of grammar, so what makes Mlynková less Czech than Mlýnková? And where would Fischer or Klaus stand on the Czechness-non-Czechness scale? :)

michael farris said...

"that's weird, I got over 600 ghits for short ö"

Well I can't consciously control whether google treats ö and ő the same or differently. When I first searched with ö most of the results had ő... when I retried it, I also had the 600 or so hits (most of which seemed to originate outside of Hungary).

"I wonder what makes a name not-Czech, not-Slovak, not-Polish or not-Hungarian"

Etymology? That said, the etymology of names has (or should have) no real connection with the linguistic and/or cultural self-identification of people. I've met Polish people with last names that are clearly non-Polish (German, Romanian, Italian, Greek, African and English) but who are clearly and unambiguously Polish (as far as I'm concerned).

The name Fischer comes from German, but many people who bear it cannot be called German (because they're Czech, Polish or whatever).

"Surely names do not have to conform to any rules of grammar"

But they do! (I think it's cool though it can get frustratingly complicated) I bet your name originally had a final short vowel which most Hungarian speakers lengthened as the prohibition against short final o / ö took hold in Hungarian.

Czech (and Slovak?) still requires feminine endings for womens last names while Polish doesn't (except for adjectives in -ska, -cka of course).

I'm also curious as if (and how) you decline your last name.

"what makes Mlynková less Czech than Mlýnková"

The fact that it's demonstrably a Czechified version of a non-Czech name (even if it has a close cognate in Czech).

bulbul said...

Well I can't consciously control whether google treats ö and ő the same or differently.
And how about quotes? They work pretty well for me.

Etymology?
OK, yeah, that works. But only for the purposes of historical linguistics.

Czech (and Slovak?) still requires feminine endings for womens last names
But is that really a rule of grammar? It seems more like an arbitrary bureaucratic rule, since it was - until recently - applied to foreign names and even pseudonyms as well, e.g. Marylin Monroeová and Greta Garbová. Ugh.

As for the declination, we've always treated our name as conforming to the 1st masculine paradigm "chlap", although it does not end in a consonant.
Thus: N - Čéplö, G - Čéplöa, D - Čéplöovi, A - Čéplöa, L - Čéplöovi, I - Čéplöom.

michael farris said...

"that works. But only for the purposes of historical linguistics"

That's all I think it should work for.

"it was - until recently - applied to foreign names and even pseudonyms as well, e.g. Marylin Monroeová and Greta Garbová"

until recently ... you mean it's not done anymore? I'm crushed. I liked that the medicine woman was called Doktorka Quinnová in Czech.

Let me take a quick look at a Czech tabloid .... hmmm Gisele Bündchenová, J.K. Rowlingová, Pratibha Pátilová (new president of India) aaahhhhhhh you had me scared for a minute.

Strangely, for female Czech names the -ová is carried over into Polish (Vondráčková) but the Russian endings -ckaja / -skaja are always shortened to -cka / -ska, the Russian figure skater is always called Irina Słucka in Polish....

bulbul said...

I don't know about Czech, but already in the last version of "Pravidlá slovenského pravopisu" (2000), the rules for "prechyľovanie" (which is how adding -ová to form a female name is called) were slightly relaxed and now they allow the original form of the name to be used, even if only in the Nominative. E.g. J.K. Rowling and Gisele Bündchen.

But don't worry, Dr. Quinnová shall forever remain in our hearts with a suffix :o)

zmjezhd said...

Ligurian [...] even sounds kinda sci-fi-ish.

Yeah. Just another (language | people) from outer space. I asked a colleague of mine from Trenčín why he had never told me that Slovak had umlauts (as in mäkčeň). He then told me that it also has circumflexes (drunken, upside-down carons) as in kôň. Diacritical hill and dale. Now, I'm the first to admit I don't know nearly enough Slovak (OK, I know next to none), but I felt I had a handle on its alphabet.

John Cowan said...

I pronounce my name [kawɘn]. [kowɘn] is indeed the most common mispronunciation: I have even been accused, indirectly, of being a self-hating Jew who changed his name from "Cohen", though I am neither "Cohen" nor Jewish.

The pronunciation [kawɘn] has been current since the 1920s. The story is that when my father (1904-1993) signed up for his high-school football (i.e. American rugby) team, the coach asked him his name. "[kowɘn], sir", said my father. "You're [kawɘn]!" said the coach, and it stuck, and what's more, it spread to his younger siblings and their descendants too.

Etymologically, the name is < Ir Mac Eoghain 'son of Eoghan', originally a pagan name but later taken as the equivalent of Ioannes.

As for spellings, I have learned to expect almost any pair of vowels: Cowen being the most common, followed by Cowin, Cawen, Cawan, etc. with occasional excursions into Cahan, Cohen, and Cahen.

Language said...

Until I see evidence that Czech has followed the same sad path of kowtowing to internationlizing hegemonic spelling, I will continue to believe in the old rules that provided me with such delight when I was in Prague: movie posters with Meryl Streepova and the like.

John: Be grateful it's not Keohane.

michael farris said...

"we've always treated our name as conforming to the 1st masculine paradigm "chlap", although it does not end in a consonant"

More annoying questions:

1. what do you do with the ö since AFAICT Slovak doesn't have one? Is it pronounced more or less like Hungarian? Like Slovak o or e? Elided? Something else?

2. What about females with the same last name? Does it take -ová (or Slovak equivalent) does it get declined at all?

2. What about the plural (all gender possibilities)?

Feel free to tell me to go chase a cat, if you answer these questions I'll probably just think of more.

bulbul said...

john,

thank you for the exhaustive explanation, I stand corrected (and a bit more wise than before).

michael,

1. There was a time when I had a laissez-faire to other people mispronouncing the "ö" as "o" or "e". But after a few run-ins with some arrogant idiots ("There is no 'ö' in Slovak, so make up your mind"/"This is not a Slovak name, you need to have with Slovakized" etc.), I've adopted a personal policy: you'd better bloody well pronounce the ö correctly (i.e. the Hungarian way) or you'll get a quick lesson in phonetics and/or a swift kick in the nuts.

2. Same as with the declination - "ö" is treated almost like a consonant, so my mother is pani Čéplöová (and you'll find a few occurences of "Cséplöová" on Google, too). Most of the time, this is pronounced as it should be, i.e. [...øova:] or variants thereof, depending on speaker's ability to pronounce the vowel. But sometimes, especially in dialect, the [ø] is replaced by [i] and a glide is inserted, giving [...plijova]. Same thing happens with declination, by the way.
What's interesting, I've heard both forms used by the same speaker within the same conversation. The first one - the correct one - was used when they spoke Standard Slovak and Hungarian and the one with the glide when they spoke dialect.

3. I don't think I've ever our name used in plural in Slovak (either standard or dialect). I imagine same rules as above would apply, i.e. Nominative plural "Čéplöovia" etc.

hat,

for you, I too shall remain true to prechyľovanie! Now excuse me, I'm off to get my daily dose of Law and Order. Hm, what will I choose? SVU 6x19 where past catches up with Bensonová (and where Danielle Panabakerová gueststars) or The Original, episode 12x01, which marks the first appearance of Serena Southerlynová?

adela said...

only found d post now, too busy these days, but thanks for d good beginning of this day ;)
well, away from this linguistic mišmaš and into d real experience: i know what u r talking about: instead of Valíčková (no meaning in this group of letters) i've been turned into Malíčková (Miss Littlefinger), Balíčková (Miss Packet), Paličková (Miss Cane or Wand, as u wish), Valčíková (Miss Waltz), Malčíková (any connection with "malčik"? don't have russian types here...)
hopefully i won't find myself one day as val_ & # 2 6 8 kov_ ...

Wamut said...

as they might say in Kriol,

"Bobala det Slabomirr!"

David Marjanović said...

Wow. You have it worse than I.

(...after I got used to how the French automatically pronounce my surname. Unlike most other people, they never ever hesitate.)

My first name was deliberately chosen to be international. So far this has worked.

bulbul said...

wamut,

this might be the first time in a very long time I am forced to use the following phrase:
"Translation please?" :)

David,
I shudder to think what the French do to your name on daily basis...

BTW, as a part of my new job I was forced to deal with a certain software giant both on the phone and via email. As a result, I have three new versions: Cepl, Čopl and Čepele. Oh goodie.

David Marjanović said...

Well, French is so nicely graphemic that people never go through a "Ma... Ma... what???" phase. They simply ignore the accent (which is, of course, missing in most written instances of my name), stress the last syllable, and use [ʒ] and [k].

After a pause, Austrians tend to get it right (as far as possible), but often the (admittedly unusual) -rj- turns into -ri- or -rij- even in writing. One version I remember is MARIANJOVIC.

Rozzen said...

Wow, Duane was right, your blog is so great ! I've only read this one pot for the moment but it talks etymology, what more could one want ?

And wow, your name just blew my mind. I mean, we all knew the Soviets were bad and stuff, but actually giving people numbered names ? That's going a bit far.
Is the ampersand to indicate you're the eldest child ?
:)

Anonymous said...

Nice post, but let's give the French the benefit of the doubt, shall we? "#268, éplö" could easily be mistaken for part of the address.

Also, does Abebooks ship from France? US mailing labels still have French translations on them...

Stephen said...

Once, while working in a post office sorting depot I came across an envelope which had been addressed in carefully handwritten misencoded Cyrillic - which is to say, all accented capital "I"s and "O"s. I doubt it ever reached it's destination..

DoublyHelical said...

nInteresting post for me to read- my great grand-parents left the Austro-Hungarian Empire to come to the USA. My great-grandfather was surnamed "Kamola" from Oscxadmiza, Hungary. He married my great-grandmother from Znettimek, Moravia. I guess I am Bohemian-Hungarian?

Adrian Bailey said...

Re last post: I wonder what Oscxadmiza is supposed to be?

Favourite -ova: Madonnaova

My friend Jon Gresty's wife's surname is Grestyova, but I thought it would've been cool if it was Gresta. (He's an Englishman living in SK.)

Re: the o-umlaut in your name. I think that the Slovak authorities never really distinguished between long and short umlauts. What's the situation in the telephone directory? Are the umlauts differentiated?

Jon tells me that Slovakia has a very high ratio of surnames per capita, because of all the variations in transliteration from Hungarian, German, Polish, etc.

bulbul said...

Adrian,

Madonnaova
Roflcopter. That's even better than Delennová (the Minbari character from Babylon 5). I had to suffer through five season of that...

Oscxadmiza could be Slovak Oščadnica (near Čadca), I'd have to check if there are any municipalities with a similar names in Hungary proper or other former parts of the Kingdom.
I was checking phone directories and such while working on a NLP project recently and I think you're right, the authorities usually don't make any distinction between ö and ő.
Slovak surnames, that's another story. I'd love to do a thorough study, I even collected a lot of fascinating materials, but this stupid (though, admittedly, well-paid) day job keeps interfering with such noble pursuits.

John Cowan said...

Coming back here years later to show this off to some markup-geek friends, I feel obliged to link to this кракозя́бры picture.

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