Earlier this month, my husband and I spent a couple of weeks in Prague, the capital of the Czech Republic.
Here are some of the names we spotted:
Our hotel was located in Wenceslas Square, which was named in honor of Duke of Bohemia Wenceslas I (907-935).
His name is a Latinized form of the Slavic name Veceslav, which is made up of the Old Slavic words veche, meaning “more, greater,” and slava, meaning “glory, fame.” (The name Václav is a contracted form of Veceslav.)
We didn’t spend much time checking out Wenceslas Square (which was mainly for shopping) but did hang out a lot in Old Town Square (which was more historical). One of the big attractions there is the astronomical clock:
The oldest part of the clock was created by clockmaker Mikuláš of Kadaň in 1410, making this the third-oldest astronomical clock in the world (and the oldest one still working).
The name Mikuláš is simply the Czech form of Nicholas, which can be traced back to the Greek words nike, meaning “victory,” and laos, meaning “people.”
Tyge & Tycho
Also in Old Town is a Gothic church called the Church of Mother of God before Týn. (The church is in the center of that top photo of Old Town Square.)
Danish nobleman and astronomer Tycho Brahe (1546-1601), who relocated to Bohemia toward the end of his life, is buried here. Tycho’s birth name was Tyge (pron. tee-geh), but he Latinized it to Tycho (pron. tee-ko) as a teenager.
According to the site Nordic Names, Tyge is a form of Tyki, which is the Danish form of Týki, which has several possible derivations. Tycho, on the other hand, is based on the Greek word tyche, which means “luck.”
Karel & Deniska
A short walk from Old Town Square is the Vltava river. From the early 1400s until the mid-1800s, the only way to cross the Vltava was the Karlův most (Charles Bridge; literally, “Karel’s bridge”) which was named in honor of 14th-century King Charles IV.
A gold-colored cross on the bridge parapet marks the spot where, in 1393, St. John of Nepomuk was thrown into the river and drowned. Behind the cross decorative railing on which people like to put love locks:
A couple of the locks:
I don’t know about the origins of Buka and Makc, but Deniska is a diminutive of Denisa, the feminine form of Denis, which comes from Dionysius, which is based on the name of the Greek god Dionysus, whose name is made up of elements referring to Zeus (dios) and the legendary Mount Nysa.
In that photo with the bridge with the railing, there’s a cluster of spires off in the distance. That’s the Prague Castle complex, which includes the Old Royal Palace, St. Vitus Cathedral, St. George’s Basilica, Rosenberg Palace, and Daliborka Tower.
Daliborka Tower, a former prison, was named after early prisoner Dalibor of Kozojedy (d. 1498). According to a legend that arose after his death, Dalibor learned to play the fiddle during his imprisonment and “people came from far and wide and listened, enraptured, to his soul-stirring playing.”
But an informational sign inside Daliborka debunks this myth:
The reality of Dalibor’s musical talent was, however, quite different: “the fiddle” was a nickname for an instrument of torture, a sort of rack on which the convicted man was stretched till […] the victim began “to fiddle” (change his tune, confess).”
The name Dalibor is made up of the Old Slavic words daleko, meaning “far, distance,” and bor meaning “war, fight.” (Daliborka is also the feminine form of the name.)
Getting back to the river…one of the other bridges over the Vltava is the art deco Svatopluk Čech Bridge, named after Czech writer Svatopluk Čech (1846-1908).
The name Svatopluk is made up of the Old Slavic words svetu, meaning “blessed, holy,” and pulku, meaning “people, folk.”
You guys know I love graveyards, but sadly I didn’t get a chance to see Prague’s famous Old Jewish Cemetery. (We walked by it a few times, but always on our way somewhere else.)
I do remember reading, though, that the oldest stone there belongs to a rabbi named Avigdor Kara (d. 1439). The name Avigdor may be based on the phrase Avi Gedor (I Chron. 4.18), which means “father of Gedor,” with the name Gedor meaning “wall” or “fence.”
Now let’s wrap things up with this gratuitous shot of St. Vitus Cathedral:
Have you ever been to the Czech Republic? Do you remember seeing/hearing any interesting names while there?
- Behind the Name
- Cohn, Rella Israly. Yiddish Given Names: A Lexicon. Lanham, Maryland: Scarecrow Press, 2008.
- Thoren, Victor E., John Robert Christianson. The Lord of Uraniborg: A Biography of Tycho Brahe. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1990.