Czech surnames

krejci-1-1024x819While working on a research problem in preparation for a consultation, I wanted to determine how common the surname Kucera was in the Czech Republic. A name that seems fairly unusual here in the United States is often as common as Smith back in the old country. I found a web site, Czech Surnames, that gave a great deal of information about the origins of different Czech surnames, but also had a listing of the top 20 most popular surnames in the country for the years 1937, 1964, and 1996. I discovered that Kucera, which means “curly,” was and is the ninth most common surname in the country. For the research problem in the consultation this was not necessarily good news, but it substantiated the above premise.

However, since I never stop at the surface with any research I do, I found myself looking through the top 20 list for what other surnames meant. At the end of that list there was a link to another page with more surnames, again with their meanings. It was while I was browsing through this list that I was struck when I saw the surname of Krejci – not from my research preparation but from my interest in hockey. David Krejci currently plays for the Boston Bruins. In looking at the meaning of his last name, I discovered that it was an occupational surname meaning tailor.

This reminded me of how often I have seen the Anglicization of a surname that looks very dramatic, but in actuality is simply the English word for the occupational surname. So your TAYLOR ancestor who is from Bohemia may have started out as KREJCI. Your CARPENTER ancestor from Germany would likely be ZIMMERMAN and if Czech in origin it could be TESAR or TESARIK. Some are not as dramatic, such as the German surname FISCHER becomes FISHER. But if your ancestor was Czech the occupational surname for a fisherman could be RYBAR (in addition to the more traditional German variation also seen in the Czech Republic).

Here are some other occupation Czech surnames:

  • KADLEC – weaver
  • KOLAR – cardwright
  • KOVAR – a smith
  • SEDLAK – farmer
  • VOJAK – soldier

One interesting aspect of some of the Czech surnames is that the artisans sometimes have nicknames derived from tools of the trade or something else associated with their business. For instance, someone with the surname JEHLICKA, which means needle, was likely a tailor, so TAYLOR would be the anglicized version of the name. The surname ROHLICEK, which means “a roll,” could change to BAKER once in America.

As in other localities, Czechs also have surnames derived from physical features or attributes, those derived from localities, regions, and foreign countries, or those representing plants and animals.

One of the most interesting things about family history can be the surname, and in fact it is often the one item we spend the least time researching, especially when it comes to our immigrant ancestors. In addition to tracing the family back, we should definitely consider the implications of the origins of the surname. It could open a research avenue for American genealogists.

About Rhonda McClure

Rhonda R. McClure, Genealogist, is a nationally recognized professional genealogist and lecturer specializing in New England and celebrity research as well as computerized genealogy; is compiler of more than 120 celebrity family trees; has been a contributing editor for Heritage Quest Magazine, Biography magazine and was a contributor to The History Channel Magazine and American History Magazine. In addition to numerous articles, she is the author of ten books, including the award-winning The Complete Idiot's Guide to Online Genealogy, now in its second edition, Finding Your Famous and Infamous Ancestors, and Digitizing Your Family History.

4 thoughts on “Czech surnames

  1. Interesting, isn’t it! I have a list of at least 50 English occupational names. Butler, Warden, Fletcher (puts feathers on arrows), Archer, Bowman…

  2. What a surprise to see an essay focused on Czech surnames . . . a good surprise! In 2014, I published a book about my father’s Bohemian/German ancestry, wherein the primary Bohemian surname being researched was Bílek from the 1650s until my GG Grandfather immigrated to America with his father and three brothers in 1867. Not long after settling in Minnesota, my Grandfather (Heinrich Bílek, 1852-1936) changed his name to Henry Benjamin White. As it turned out, the surname Bílek refers to the white of the egg, and he adopted the name White as his surname. As a point of reference, the Czechoslovak Genealogical Society International in St. Paul, MN offers several Czech-English dictionaries for sale through their book store.

    1. I am happy you enjoyed it. I was particularly interested in the surnames that were derived from tools of the trade when I delved into this deeper.

  3. Names on the Czech side of my family include Cizek, Srsen and Slama. Cizek is a common European finch (siskin), Srsen is a hornet, while Slama is straw. For the life of me, I cannot understand how someone is named after a bird, or of all things, a hornet. The straw makes some sense.

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