What’s in a name – Hungarian names in Romania

Names in Romania can be a tense subject. For most of the one hundred years since a large chunk of Hungary was given to Romania as part of the peace treaties ending World War I, minority rights have been a constant issue. But there is one detail that rarely, if ever, comes up in the discourse: the use of given names.

Until the end of communism in 1989, the overwhelming majority of ethnic Hungarians were permitted to register their newborn only under the Romanian equivalent of the name of their choosing. Ethnic Hungarian given names in Romania were forbidden.

This may not strike English readers as a major problem, so let us put it in a way that may be easier to understand. Say you are an Irish couple living in Northern Ireland and decided that your baby girl should bear the name Saoirse. The authorities will, however, only allow her to be registered as Liberty, forcing her to use that name in her passport, graduation certificates, driver’s license and whatnot.

Now multiply this by at least one million and you will begin to understand the gravity of the problem. Psychologists and behaviorists have been studying for at least half a century how names shape identities – with people either wanting to live up to their given names or, conversely, disproving them.

To introduce and acknowledge a degree of personal bias: the author of this article bears the given name Dénes – a distant Hungarian iteration of the Greek god of wine and grape harvest, Dionysus. But in all his Romanian documents from birth certificate to university diploma he is Dionisie, quite a leap from the original. He has often even been addressed as such in various — mostly, but not exclusively – official situations.

Now let’s go back to our hypothetical Saoirse, who will have been addressed as Liberty throughout her life. She surely would be one miserable lass for it.

Ethnic Hungarians born in Romania after 1989 fortunately no longer have this problem, but those born before that watershed year have two choices: live the rest of their lives in this officially-induced schizophrenia or change their names.

Luckily, Romanian law now makes this both possible and relatively expedient. One can apply for a new birth certificate for a nominal RON 1 (20 euro cents) fee, and it will be issued no-questions-asked in a few days.

Romanian Name Change ID

If you happen to be married, the next step is to request a corresponding change in your marriage certificate for a similarly unsubstantial RON 2 fee, and, of course, wait another few days for it to be issued and visit your local municipality office again to pick it up.

Armed with the new birth and marriage certificate, you can finally apply for a new ID card for a RON 11 fee, still less than the price of a pack of cigarettes. If you also happen to have a car, things get more complicated: you also have to replace your car registration and driver’s license (add RON 134, the price of a dinner for two in a decent restaurant).

Romanian Name Survey

Finally, if you also want to travel outside the European Union (within it, your brand, spanking new ID card will do) add another RON 258 – roughly the price of a budget smartphone.

Simple, isn’t it?

Images: reader contribution in Nyugati Jelen, István Nagy


Author: Dénes Albert