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I've never thought about this much since I grew up with it, but my wife is a foreigner and she thinks Hungarian family names are the weirdest thing ever. Common family names include (the Hungarian equivalent of) lame, deaf, blind, devil etc. Did people have no say at all in their family names? Why did such names not prevail in English? I'm interested to hear about the situation in other cultures.

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    there are such names in english, ie Savage, Crook, and a lot more that were insults in old english that just nowadays dont make sense like Fogarty, Coot, Haines, Longbottom, etc. – ed.hank Jan 31 at 23:06
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    The examples you gave are really not common family names in Hungary. This is the list the 100 most common family names: hu.wikipedia.org/wiki/… Your examples like Vak or Siket are nowhere on this least. Frankly, I cannot even recall a person with these names. – Greg Feb 1 at 13:09
  • @ed.hank: Though Crook might well be derived from the earlier meaning of a bend, or something bent, as with a shepherd's crook, rather than the modern "dishonest person". – jamesqf Feb 1 at 18:31
  • @jamesqf - you are right, that is sort of the problem is there could be multiple meanings and they change over time. A couple other last names I have seen before though are Outlaw and Weak that have negative connotations. – ed.hank Feb 1 at 18:40
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    While this went on hold, so I cannot add a longer answer, you might be interested in checking out the recently published "Csaladnevek enciklopediaja" by Hajdu Mihaly (Tinta, 2010), which contains the etymology of about 1200 family names, and briefly surveys the family names originating from look of the person and nicknames. According to him, names with bad meanings were not considered offensive inside small communities, and they were mostly changed if someone moved to a new community or got promoted to a higher official rank. – Greg Feb 3 at 14:09
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I'm interested to hear about the situation in other cultures.

I'm Dutch. There are phone books full of weird Dutch family names. Such as Naaktgeboren (Born naked), Windzak (Windbag), Palingdood (Dead eel) and many many more. How did this came to be?

When the French took over the Batavian republic they enforced family names. Everyone who didn't have one had to register a name. Any name would do. Some people found it funny, and thought it would be a great joke on the French. Sooner or later the French would leave, and we simply forget about that silly nonsense.

The French did leave in 1813, and the kingdom of the Netherlands was proclaimed. Regretfully - for those jokers - the new king was very much in favor of family names and had no plans to abolish them. Their descendants still bear those names...

To rub salt(peter) in the wound: it is very expensive to change your name, be it your first name or family name. It can only be done in court and cost you a tidy sum of money (> E 5000).

Before the French enforced family names people were often known by nickname or were referred to by their family, such as Jan of Piet (Jan, son of Piet). That doesn't mean nobody had a family name, it simply wasn't regulated. Lots of people did have family names.

As a side note: when the French created the kingdom of Holland (and started to enforce family names), Napoleon appointed his brother Louis Napoleon king. As kings go, he was pretty decent. He even tried to learn Dutch - something quite unusual for royals, not to mention the French in general. He wasn't really fluent in the language and made some funny mistakes. The best known is him saying 'Heren, aanschouw uw konijn'. "Gentlemen, behold thy rabbit".

The Dutch word for king is koning. The word for rabbit is konijn. Sounds somewhat similar, but with very different meanings.

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    This does not answer the question when it comes to Hungary. Did the austrians impose family names in a similar fashion ? For most of Europe family names started to be in usage in the middle-ages, not at Napoleon's time. – Bregalad Feb 1 at 8:21
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    @Bregalad : Re:"most of Europe family names started to be in usage in the middle-ages" I have no source to offer, but I seem to remember that the peasantry (i.e. most of the European population) didn't use family names until the 18th century (or even later). – Evargalo Feb 1 at 9:54
  • When I've tried to research the topic, I've learned that Hungarian family names were created from the 14th to 18th century. Btw, in Hungary it is much cheaper to change your name, like 30 euros, yet people still stick to their family names. – domotorp Feb 1 at 10:10

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