European genealogy

Historical spelling variations of the same place name that commonly come up in genealogical searches in the European countries are usually avoided in favor of the modern version. For instance, the English town of York has been spelled as Yerk, Yourke, Yarke over the past ca. 600 years (also Eurewic even earlier), but historians and genealogists opt for its modern spelling York in accounts of the whole historical period.

Related place names

The non-native names of most municipalities in the Kingdom of Hungary had been derived from their original names: the Slovak place name Bystrica (based on "swift" and historically used in the sense of "a creek") had been adopted and adapted in Hungarian as Beszterce centuries before the drive to Hungarianize names began. Similarly, the Slovak name Segedín for the town of Szeged in today's Hungary had been derived from its Hungarian name.

Parallel place names

Some municipalities had well established, old parallel, unrelated names: the Slovak town of Trnava was called Nagyszombat in Hungarian, both names had been current for centuries before the drive to Hungarianize names began.

Mandated Hungarianization

Even after an initial selection of a Hungarianized version as a municipality's main name, the former kingdom's authorities would change the Hungarianized name of the same municipality yet again if they decided that its original Slovak or other-language name still transpired.

For instance, the gazetteers first mandated Bresztó, a Hungarianized version of Brestov (based on the Slovak for "elm"), as the only name of the then Rusyn and Slovak village.

The authorities then proceeded to obscure its origin entirely by replacing it with the invented Laborcbér (based on the Laborec River) in 1907.

Modern sources, expecting localities to have had a single, permanent offical name in the kingdom, sometimes erringly use an improvised name like Laborcbér, with the ephemeral existence from 1907 till 1918, for the municipality called Brestov (Slovak) or Berestiv (Rusyn) by its inhabitants since at least the 15th century through the present.

Genealogists' place name options

In the absence of official place names in the Slovak majority areas and the rest of the Kingdom of Hungary until the end of the 19th century, among the options in genealogical accounts are the place name used by the municipality's majority or the place name used for it by the genealogist's ancestors who lived there.

An ahistorical option, using the municipality's current name if different from the past, gives the readers the fastest orientation (see, e.g., Bratislava).

Another, perhaps the least efficient, ahistorical option is using the name mandated in the late 19th century, which neither represents the kingdom's preceding history, nor is conducive to locating the place today (see "Hungarianization" in the left sidebar).

A confusing option is only to copy the versions and spellings of the same municipality's name as they occurred in each parish or another historical document.



The last issue of the kingdom's gazetteer that recognized Slovak and other non-Hungarian place names.

Historical cum modern

In the multitude of instances like Švošov, when a municipality has had a consistent majority of the same ethnicity, or practically 100% of them as in the case of Švošov, readers of family genealogical accounts gain little from the plethora of spelling (and language) variations for each year or sequence of years when, e.g., a particular historical parish record happened to use one or the other of the versions. In a statement like "my ancestors lived in Švošov from the 18th to the mid-19th century," the modern spelling stands for the actual past and present name of the village as much as its other, historical spellings.

Historical place names in Slovakia, Hungary

Q: What should I call my ancestors' village, county?

Contrary to some assumptions, a number of the Kingdom of Hungary's Slovak and other villages, towns, and counties had multiple formally recognized parallel (as well as sequential) names represented in a variety of spellings for most of the 900 years of its existence. The formal assignment of a single name to each municipality did not come until a few decades before the kingdom's demise and was among the acts that precipitated it.

Official language

The main language of administration (rather than "the official language") and scholarship of the Kingdom of Hungary was Latin until the second half of the 19th century. It was no one's native language. Grade schools taught in the majority language of the area where they were located – Slovak, Croatian, German, Hungarian, Romanian, Serbian. Past the grade-school level, education relied heavily on Latin. The place names in the Latin documents were based on the names used in the kingdom's living languages.

Multiple place names till 1897

While controversies concerning the language of administration started with Emperor Joseph II's law of 1784 and gradually intensified, formal efforts to standardize place names did not begin to materialize until almost a century later, tentatively with the kingdom's toponymic gazetteer of 1863 and then its more comprehensive follow-up series launched in 1873 and published, on average, once every four years thereafter. Cadastre maps were compiled with place names in the language each municipality requested through 1867.


For instance, the 1873 gazetteer mandated the Hungarian Igló as the municipality's main name even though it listed its inhabitants as only German and Slovak, but it also included its German and somewhat misspelled Slovak names: Neudorf ("New Village") and Spišská Nová Ves ("Spiš [County] New Village").


Although the gazetteer listed the town's largest group as ethnically Hungarian (magyar) and its German (német) and Slovak (tót) inhabitants as less numerous, it still gave its name in all three languages, Kassa, Kaschau, and Košice in 1873.

The gazetteers, with side-by-side introductions in Hungarian and German, published one standardized name for each municipality followed, if applicable, by its standardized names in other languages through 1895. The series continued through 1914.

Mandated single place names

Budapest mandated a single, mostly Hungarianized, name for each of the kingdom's municipalities regardless of its majority language and despite many municipalities' objections in 1897, which Emperor Francis Joseph formally endorsed in 1898. It remained in effect during the following two decades as a factor that contributed to the collapse of the Kingdom of Hungary in 1918.

Spelling variations

What can appear as different place names to a non-native speaker, are mostly historical spelling variations of the same name. Below are examples from the historical records of the relatively young village of Švošov, founded in the late 15th century.

Slovak historical spellings

Ssossow, Sswuossow, Svossov, Swossov, Sswossow, Sosou, Šôšov. All of these versions stand for the same name of the village as used by its inhabitants that has not changed in over 500 years since its establishment, the differences reflect the historical variations in the spelling system used by the Slovaks.

German historical spelling

Schwoschow. During Emperor Joseph II's short-lived attempt to introduce German as the Kingdom of Hungary's language of administration, a record of the village in the German spelling system showed up in the late 18th century. It, too, represented (was roughly pronounced as) the stable name of the village used by its Slovak inhabitants.

Hungarianized spellings

Zwosso, Svossó, Suossó, Sóssó, Sósó. The first of these is a characteristic, spontaneous Hungarian attempt to spell Slovak place names ending in -ov/-ou that emerged centuries before mandated Hungarianization. The remaining versions, dating from the early through the late 19th century, are manifestations of the increasing efforts by the kingdom's authorities to impose a Hungarian spelling and pronunciation on non-Hungarian municipalities. But all of these, too, stem from Švošov, the Slovak name of the village that has been used by its inhabitants since its founding through the present.