Men's and Women's Surnames
- I didn't realize it was a law and not just tradition:
"Foreigners who marry here, and some Czech brides, may avoid -ova
By Lenka Ponikelska
Staff Writer, The Prague Post
(March 4, 2004)
With Czech women famous for their beauty and Prague known for its
romantic atmosphere, it is little wonder that 35 percent of marriages
registered at Prague 1 City Hall involve nationalities other than
Couples walking down the aisle here have a last hurdle to clear
before heading off on their honeymoon: choosing the bride's last
Traditionally, the last names of all women married here are formed in
accordance with Czech grammar rules that add feminine endings of -ova
or -a to all masculine surnames. Hence, you might meet Jan Novak,
whose wife is Jana Novakova.
This rule is set to change due to a bill on registries that the
Chamber of Deputies approved late last month. The bill will allow
Czech women who marry foreigners or who have permanent residence
abroad to keep their surname in the masculine form instead of using
their feminine derivatives. The same would apply to foreign women
marrying in the Czech Republic.
Lucie Malakova, a Czech who married an American, Richard Malak,
admits the feminine version of her name is a source of humor for her
in-laws back in America.
"My relatives don't understand the difference between Malak, Malakova
or Malakovi," she said. "Once, some e-mail arrived with the name
Malakova and my father-in-law deleted it because he thought he didn't
know the person. Also, we're used to receiving mail addressed to Mr.
and Mrs. Richard Malakova."
Although Malakova takes the issue in stride, other women in the same
situation have stronger feelings.
Kamila Murphy, 35, executive manager of the Czech Society for Human
Resources Development, said she didn't want to add -ova to her name
after she married an American.
"I was relieved to find out that Czech legislation allows an
exception for that rule when the husband's name ends with a vowel, as
in our case," she said. "If I became Murphyova instead of Murphy it
wouldn't just be the spelling but also the Czech pronunciation of my
surname that would be weird."
The Chamber of Deputies passed the bill Feb. 24. If subsequently
passed by the Senate, it will allow women marrying foreigners or
living abroad to use a masculine version of the surname and would
grant the same right to foreign women who marry here.
At present, Czech women can opt for the masculine surname -- but only
if they are a member of one of the minority nationalities recognized
by Czech officialdom: Bulgarian, Croatian, Hungarian, Polish, German,
Romany, Russian, Greek, Slovak, Ukrainian or Ruthenian. Czech
passports identify both the holder's citizenship and nationality.
Pavel Hrncir, the Civic Democrat deputy who entered the provision
into the bill, told the Czech News Agency it's unfair that for a
woman who prefers to keep the masculine version of a surname, "it
actually means giving up Czech nationality."
Jana Talmanova, head registrar at Prague 1 City Hall, said she is
asked 10 times a week about keeping the masculine version of a
surname. "It is a general rule that women marrying foreigners want to
avoid adding -ova to it," Talmanova said.
She said the current law has forced many women to give up their Czech
nationality. "Sometimes it's so absurd that brides of Czech
nationality want to be registered as Greeks, Ukrainians or
The same rule applies to foreign couples coming here to marry, often
leading to bizarre results, said Jana Masopustova of the Prague City
"When Mr. Parker marries Mrs. Parker here, it is not just her but all
the female names she has in her documents that have to be changed to
the Czech feminine version, according to the law," Masopustova
said. "So when she arrives back in America, I can imagine how hard it
must be to explain to the officials there how she got this -ova added
to her name. The result is she has documents with two different
Karel Oliva, head of the Institute for Czech Language at the Czech
Academy of Science, explained the linguistic reason for adding the
feminine endings to surnames. "The Czech language has a declination
system that applies to names also. When you keep a masculine version
for a woman it becomes undeclinable and it sounds strange," he
said. "The problem is insoluble, and every solution here is a bad
Some women don't want to abandon the tradition.
"Although I married an American, I am Czech and I don't feel [that] I
need to adopt an American style," Malakova said. "If I would have a
masculine version of my surname, I'd feel I was losing my