Name Day – what is it, where it comes from, and how is it celebrated?
Open any Slovak calendar, and you’ll see that next to just about every day is written one or more names. There are only few days without an associated name. These are special holidays, and include January 1st (the Slovak Independence Day), May 1st (Labor Day or Sviatok Práce), November 2nd (day to remember those who passed away), and December 25th (Christmas Day). Next to September 24th, you will find Ľuboš (that’s me) and Ľubor, another variation of my name.
So what does this mean? On September 24th, everyone with the name Ľuboš receives presents. Pretty sweet! Before the advent of Facebook, only few people would know your birthday. But anyone who knew you by name, would know your name day (meniny). So name day is really a great way to receive presents one more time in the year – and from a lot of people.
Name day is celebrated fairly universally through out Europe. In the Czech Republic, it is called jmeniny or svátek. In Poland, it is mieniny. In Germany, Namenstag. The names differ from country to country, but few days are universal. February 14th is the name day of Valentín, or Valentine. See, name day is celebrated even in the United States…
History of Name Day
The tradition dates back to the Roman Catholic and Greek Orthodox calendar of saints. Both churches commemorated martyrs and saintly people by holding feasts in their honor on specific day (typically associated with the date of their death). As the number of saints grew, the calendars filled up, and some saints had to be moved to alternate dates, or even completely removed. Saint Nicholas Day (Deň Sv. Mikuláša), December 6th, is an example of this tradition. This is when anyone named Mikuláš celebrates his meniny.
Name Day Celebration
To remind folks, most popular newspapers list the current name day on the cover or on their website’s homepage. Name days are also announced on the radio and on TV. For example, the image to the right shows homepage of SME.sk, a popular Slovak newspaper. The image was taken few days after my name day, and shows that it’s Cyprián‘s day to celebrate.
So how does one celebrate name day? The custom is for your friends, colleague, and just about anyone who knows you to come and wish you “Všetko najlepšie!” (All the best). You may also receive small gifts, such as a box of chocolates, flowers (if you are female), or maybe even a bottle of wine or some liquor. It’s customary to invite people who come wishing into your home, and treat them to a shot of liquor (such as plum brandy, slivovica), or offer them pastries or other sweets. When I was in elementary school, it was customary for the person celebrating his or her name day to bring small treats for the classmates. I usually brought in candies or lollipops.
Where do the names come from?
The next question you may be asking is, “Does everyone get to celebrate name day?” Until 1989 (the end of communism) there was an official committee in Czechoslovakia that decided on what date does each name fall under. This committee was also in charge of assigning new names to the calendar. The committee basically took over the responsibilities that were previously delegated to the church. During the times when my mom was growing up, a priest would not baptize a child if that child’s name was not listed in the official church calendar.
However, after the end of communism, two things happened. First, the committee disappeared with the change of political system, and secondly, influx of Western media brought in new influences including new unique names. Nowadays, it’s quite common to find kids with non-traditional first names. Slovak names are also being adapted to “Western” spelling (such as Rebecca, but pronounced Rebeka, or Pawka instead of Pavka or Pauka). Even more exotic names are being picked by members of the Roma (Gypsy) community. These days, the duty to assign new name days has been (unofficially) relegated to the calendar publishers. This is why some new names may have conflicting days. There is even talk that the name day tradition may disappear in the future…
Wish someone Happy Name Day
Do you want to wish someone Happy Name Day? It’s easy. Check the Slovak name day calendar at Slovensko.com and wish them “Štastné meniny” (Happy Name Day) or “Všetko najlepšie” (All the best).
But what if the name is not listed? Even if your friend doesn’t have one of the new unique names, Slovak names come in many forms. These are called diminutiveness, and are a way to indicate that something is dear to you. It sort of like “papa / papito” in Spanish – or “dad / daddy” in English. For instance, Michal is a common boy’s name. But many friends may call him Mišo instead. Same with Katarína. This girl´s name often becomes Katka or Kaťa. Pavel becomes Paľo, Štefan Štefo, Lucia Lucka. Mariána may become Mariánka or even Maja or Majka (these are actually forms of Mária). When in doubt, just ask your friend.
Happy Name Day to you!