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.
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.
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.
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.
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.