For most common Slovak surnames:

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Council of Trent

Historically, people had only one, given, name. What we know as the last name developed gradually, along with bureaucratic record-keeping, from attributes used to distinguish persons with the same first name. The canonical effort to standardize people's last (and first) names started in Catholic Europe with the Vatican-sponsored Council of Trent (1545-1563).


The representative of Habsburg Hungary that included Slovakia, Croatian George Draskovich (Drašković), Bishop of Quinque Ecclesiae (Pécs), is the third seated person from the left.


Although the practice of maintaining the same last name within a family had become quite common in the Habsburg Empire, where the Slovaks lived, by the 1600s, it was not formalized until the Imperial and Royal Edict on Family Names of 1787 – perhaps the first law on names in Europe.


People sometimes assume that a diminutive like Petrík always meant "little Peter" and, therefore, "child." Not at all when employed as a family name or a nickname. It would typically distinguish two families in the village with originally identical names – "the Peters" and "the Little Peters."

Petrák, Petrovský, Petrík, Peteraj, Petriš, Peter, Petrov, Peterka, Petráň, Petríček, Peterko, Petrech, Petráš, Petrovický – all these are real Slovak family names based on someone's first name Peter in the distant past.


Only some of the names in the confounding list above have a potentially diminutive ending, but none of them meant "a son of." Family names of the Habsburg lands, which includes the Slovak family names, were not formed to express "a son of..."

Last names in -ík

Q: Did my Slovak last name mean "a son of..."?

"A son of..." was not a concept that played a role as last names developed among the Slovaks and were eventually made obligatory by the Habsburgs. If anyone ended up with a family name derived from a person's first name, it was because the derived name was already quite traditional for a particular household in the village, where it would typically distinguish two households with originally identical names (see the sidebar). It all goes back to individual nicknames, not to concepts like "a son of." The latter derivation (Peterson) was the case in Scandinavia, not in the Habsburg lands.

Nicknames to family names

What happened in Slovakia was that someone was customarily nicknamed, e.g., Johnnie in the distant past, and then his whole family, household, farm, manor was referred to with that nickname (Andrew of the Johnnies, Mary of the Johnnies, etc.). Then the number of the Johnnie-households (and the Pete-households, and the Mike-households...) in the village multiplied, and new nicknames gradually replaced the old ones in order to distinguish them all. The core name was sometimes kept, and a variety of endings differentiated the households.

Multiple name variations

Although it may appear almost unfathomable when viewed through English, a multitude of variations like those on Peter (see the sidebar) are perfectly regular and took place on a massive scale in Slovak. There was no "meaning" in these endings when they were employed in nicknames and eventually family names. They were merely variations of the original first name Peter. The variations were "petrified" when the last names were decreed and entered in government records.

The Slovak ending -ík in Petrík is a common derivation, meaningless in the formation of family names. It is just one of the possibile endings in this function.

If a person's first name is Peter and someone calls him Petrík, it can mean all kinds of things (the ending is not monosemantic): "little Peter," "Pete," "short Peter," "hey, Peter!," "I'm-being-dismissive-about-Peter," "dear Peter," "that guy Peter," "Peter, my buddy," etc. And the same meanings can be associated with other endings attached to Peter. None of that, however, has any bearing on how the variation became someone's registered family name.