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What’s in a name? If you were to ask a Hungarian, it would seem quite a lot. Each day of the year is allotted its own name, and with it a cause for celebration for anyone called by that particular name. But wander the streets of Budapest – or Hungary as a whole – and you’ll quickly notice some names are far more prominent than others. Here’s the history of those names, and why they’re so significant.
By far and away the most common name in Hungary, it’s one you’ll likely encounter numerous times when interacting with the Hungarian people. Meaning ‘Stephen’ in English, it’s most prominently seen in Budapest’s Szent István Bazilika – or Saint Stephen’s Basilica.
St Stephen was the first King of Hungary, a Grand Prince of one of the tribes of the region who was the first of his family to become a devout Christian, ultimately going on to unite the Carpathian Basin and form what would become modern-day Hungary.
Still referred to as ‘The Greatest Hungarian’ to this day, Széchenyi – also an István – was a soldier, writer and political theorist. Early in Széchenyi’s life, at the turn of the 19th century, he explored much of the rapidly growing Europe and was inspired to assist his homeland in gaining similar growth.
As part of his work he helped establish the Hungarian Academy of Sciences, helped to develop the transportation infrastructure for the country and pushed for a removal of the feudal system in favour of a much more modern political system.
There are numerous roads and structures named after the man throughout Hungary, but in Budapest the most famous are the thermal spa at Széchenyi Baths and the iconic Széchenyi Bridge. He was a prominent figure in the construction of the latter, which would become the first bridge to connect the two sides of the Danube.
If you’re heading to the epic parliament in Budapest, you’ll likely see the name Kossuth Lajos, the square the building is at is named after this important Hungarian politician.
Kossuth and Széchenyi were both at odds, with the former gunning for Hungarian independence from the Habsburg Empire, in essence separating from Austria. His history is a long one, but it was Kossuth who would sow the seeds for what would become the nation of Hungary.
When it comes to female names, Erzsébet – or Elizabeth – is definitely one of the more common. Pronounced erz-jay-bet, the most recognizable landmark with this name is one of three major bridges connecting downtown Pest to Buda, the one with the familiar white cables. With so many notable figures with the name Erzsébet, not all public uses of this name refer to the same figure. Some roads or buildings are named after Elizabeth of Hungary, a saint and religious figure who lived in the 13th century. But this busy bridge is named after Elisabeth of Bavaria, commonly referred to as ‘Sisi’. She was an empress of the 19th century who lived a tumultuous life. She would ultimately go on to live in a palace at Gödöllő, just outside of Budapest.
Meaning Francis or Frank in English, Ferenc is such a popular name that it’s attributed to a number of historic Hungarian figures. Key among them are Deák Ferenc and Liszt Ferenc, the latter being the same name of Budapest’s international airport.
Deák Ferenc has a central square named after him, and the busiest metro station of the central line, where three of the four lines meet. Deák Ferenc was a politician around the same time as Széchenyi and Kossuth, favouring a softer approach to independence than Kossuth’s more aggressive stance. He ultimately led to a political compromise that allowed Hungary to gain a degree of separation from Austria after the its initial defeat in the 1848 War of Independence.
Liszt Ferenc, on the other hand, was a noted musician and composer who also lived during the time. He went on to become the most famous Hungarian composer and toured much of Europe. The Royal Academy of Music was built in his honour, in addition to a number of roads, buildings and even wines.
Another key bridge in the central area of Budapest is named after Margaret, and connects to the island in the middle of the river by the same name. This area is a large parkland, a place that residents of the city use to relax in the summer months, or go running around its edges. While the name itself isn’t commonly seen among the Hungarian people any more, it gets its name from Saint Margaret, whose monastery was located on the island and can still be seen today.
Most will recognise this name from the main avenue that runs from downtown Pest to the City Park, with continental Europe’s first transportation system running beneath it. Though the name has changed numerous times, it was restored in 1990 after the fall of Communism. Its name comes from Gyula Andrássy, one of the key proponents of the boulevard’s construction and the Prime Minister when its construction was decreed in 1870.
Tourists will find it hard not come across this name while in Budapest, whether at the gorgeous Art Nouveau hotel and thermal baths complex or by traipsing to the top of the adjacent Gellért Hill for the best view of the city.
The hill – and later the nearby Gellért Spa – was named after Saint Gerard Sagredo, who was the first bishop of Hungary, and had helped convert the country into a Christian state. The hill was named after him in the 15th century. He was killed in the pagan uprising of 1046, and though the tales vary in the specifics – some say he was rolled down the hill in a barrel, others suggest a two-wheel cart – each story ends with his body being thrown from the top into the Danube.