Friday, July 9, 2021

No More Mandatory -ová

I've written before that Czech names can be a complex thing.  One of the key differences is that surnames don't always match up.  Due to some patriarchal rules for names, and the lovely Czech grammar that treats surnames like adjectives, a husband will have a different last name than the wife.  A mother will not have the same last name as her son while a father and daughter will also have different names.  

Mr. Novotný and his sons will be called Novotný while his wife and daughters will be called Novotná.  That's because Novotný is the grammatically masculine version and Novotná is the grammatically feminine version. 

Most of the time, the feminine suffix is -ová.  So Mr. Novák and Mrs. Nováková.  The -ová is so common that the Czech press adds -ová to women's names automatically.  For example, German Chancellor Angela Merkel is written as Angela Merkelová.

Personally, I still see it as odd that a parent and child don't have the same last name.  Czechs aren't the only ones to do this.  It's the same in all of the Slavic countries, and I believe the Baltic countries, too.

Until 2004, every woman in Czechland was required to adopt the feminine version of her husband's last name.  There were few exceptions allowed in order to avoid the whole -ová thing.  Foreign women marrying foreign men in Czechland were exempt.  Czech women who married a foreigner whose name ended in a vowel were also off the hook.  Czech citizens with permanent residence abroad or women who had plans to live abroad could also request not to get the -ová.  I don't know how much but there was a fee for this.

A proposed amendment to the Registry Act made it past the Chamber of Deputies, 91-to-33, that would give women the right to utilise the masculine version of her husband's name.  The Senate had 30 days to debate the topic and if passed it would go to the President to be signed in to law.  Well, it passed.  So most likely in January 2022, women can choose to take her husband's masculine-form surname.  So both spouses will have the same last name.

Grammatically the -ová indicates ownership.  So a woman either belongs to her husband or a daughter belongs to her father.  Some view this as kind of sexist and archaic.  Others just view it is tradition and important for Czech grammar.

In Czech every noun is either masculine, feminine or neutral.  So a last name needs to be either masculine or feminine.  The argument is that if you can't decline a last name correctly then this could lead to miscommunication.  

I have a Czech colleague who took her Czech husband's (masculine) last name a couple of years ago.  I need to ask her how she did it.  I do believe that their daughter has the -ová form.  She's said that it really hasn't been a problem other than a few times on the telephone when people stumble a bit thinking the last name is an -ová when it isn't.

A few things that I found out...

  • The mandatory -ová thing is relatively new.  It only became mandatory in 1945.
  • Slovakia allowed women to decide on the -ová suffix several years ago.  The vast majority of women still go with the feminine form.
  • Poland also gave women the right to decide on the -ová suffix a few years.  It wasn't that disruptive.
  • Men can take their wive's name but they only get the masculine version.  There's no -ová for men.
  • If someone wants to change a surname then there is a 1000 Kč (~$47) fee.  The fee is waived following a divorce or a sex change.
  • A person can change their first name if the name is "derogatory, eccentric, ridiculous, distorted, or foreign".  The fee is 100 Kč (~$5).

I get how this all applies to women when they marry.  I don't know if the -ová thing will still apply when a child is born.  Can the parents now decide if their newborn daughter will take the -ová form or not?

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