Hungarian Name Days

A name day sign hangs in a Hungarian flower shop window.

Written by  September 20, 2012
Adelina discovers what's in a name.

What your name is has great significance in Hungary. Beyond the fact that it is your identity, you celebrate your name as if it were your birthday.

Hungarians are required to select from a list of approved names when naming a newborn child, however, anyone can propose an addition to the list of names. Each name is associated with a day of the year (or multiple days, if it is a common name) and that day is known as your “name day”—a day where everyone with that same name can celebrate. Name days are public knowledge, available on calendars, online and in the newspaper, making it easier to be celebrated in workplaces and schools, as opposed to birthdays. For example, a friend of mine received a text message from his mobile provider on his name day.

This tradition of name days has been occurring for centuries. The day of each name day are selected from a variety of sources. Some names are associated with certain days on which historical figures made history. Other days are routed in religious figures. However, with time, this association to Christianity isn’t as prevalent and these days are mostly treated as a day to celebrate.

As with English, some names are more popular than others and because of the limited number of names available, you’ll find yourself knowing a dozen Gábors or Támas or Zsusannas, to name a few common ones. For those names with more than one assigned name day, the parents normally choose when they celebrate their name day—usually as far as possible from birthdays and other important family events. And because there are more names than there are days in the year, many days have more than one name associated with it. Such an interesting system—it is almost as if you have two birthdays a year!

One of my Hungarian friends just celebrated her name day. While customs are different with every person and every family, in general there is some sort of small celebration. The celebrations are very minor—usually a small gathering—and typically involving pálinka (a type of brandy) and presents are only symbolic.  

For my friend, we went out for a fish dinner (rare in a landlocked country) along the banks of the Danube River. To wish someone a happy name day, you say boldog névnapot! Its pronounced “bulldog nave-na-pot." Now that I have been in Hungary for over a year, I’ve grown accusomted to wishing my Hungarian friends and colleagues boldog névnapot on their name days, but I still find the concept fascinating.

My name, Adelina, does not exist in Hungarian, but Adél is fairly close. So next January 29, you know what I’ll be doing! I’ll be celebrating my (Hungarian) name day.

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Adelina Wong

Adelina Wong, originally from Vancouver, BC, is currently living and working in the beautiful city of Budapest, Hungary, where she is the Digital Marketing Assistant for Flikli, an animation production studio. She loves food and travel, and is happiest when she can combine both. Catch up with her on Twitter or on her blog.

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