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Helységnévváltozások Köztes-Európában (1763—1995)

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Péter Bencsik


You Say 'Lwów', I Say 'Lemberg'

Péter Bencsik, Helységnévváltozások Köztes-Európában 1763-1995 [Changes in the Names of Places in In-Between Europe 1763-1995], (Budapest: Teleki László Alapítvány, 1997)

The publication is the index to the map collection assembled by Lajos Pándi with the cooperation of Nándor Bárdi called “Köztes-Európa 1763-1993” [In-Between Europe 1763-1993] (Osiris-Századvég, 1995, 798 p.), which was very successful in Hungary. The index presents to the reader the most important historic names, and foremost official name changes, of settlements in the examined area for the given period.

The borders of states, political systems, and along with them the names of places and geographical phenomena changed rather regularly in the regions of conflict between the formerly great empires of Europe, mainly Germany and Russia. From the viewpoint of ethnicity and religion, the populations of the settlements in this belt (which was often turned into a mosaic of small nation-states) have remained remarkably pluralistic to this day, despite ethnic-religious cleansing and, for close to four centuries, they have been subject to repression by great powers. As a result, in given territories, e.g., the Polish-Russian, Polish-Ukrainian, Romanian-Russian, and Romanian-Ukrainian zones of conflict or in some of the perimeter regions of the Carpathian Basin, the names of important settlements have changed up to five to eight times since 1763. 

Among the especially ill-treated cities is Lwów, which until 1772 was Polish, and then passed through Austrian, Polish, Soviet, German, Soviet and Ukrainian changes of authority, - not including the front movements between 1914-1920 which brought with them Austro-German, Russian, Ukrainian and Polish authorities - going through a series of name-changes:  Lwów, Lemberg, Lwów, Львов, Lemberg, Львів, L’vov. We can find similar examples here in the area of the Carpathian basin, as well. For example, the largest city of the currently Serbian Bánság, the capital of the former Torontál county, Nagybecserek, has been, as a result of changes of authority (Austrian, Hungarian, Serbian (Yugoslavian), German, Yugoslavian), presented on various public administration maps with different names: Groß-Betschkerek (until 1867), Nagybecskerek (until 1918), Veliki Bečkerek (until 1935), Petrovgrad (until 1941), Großbetschkerek (until 1944), Zrenjanin (since 1946).

The expertly assembled 344-page index presents the most diverse name-change variations and the historic lessons drawn from them. It will serve as a useful aid for Hungarian and foreign historians and geographers in light of the seemingly chaotic nomenclature situation as described above. It is an indisputable fact that the In-Between Europe region, lying between the Laplands of Finland and the Greek Island of Crete, or spreading over the lands between the Elbe, Po, and the Dnieper Rivers, has to this point not been presented in a similarly detailed (it includes Latin, Cyrillic, and Greek names!), well-founded, and broadly-scoped manner. Referring to the outstanding name-place lexicon-dictionaries by Mihály Gyalay (1989) and György Lelkes (1992), and making an effort to create a territorial balance, the author does not describe the Carpathian Basin in more detail than the other territories in the index, which will increase its international utility and prestige.

The reader wishing to learn more about the place-name problems of given areas is offered a general description of published general and regional works of a similar nature (pp. 9-12.) and a bibliography reflecting an exceptional knowledge of the literature (pp. 93-99.). More than two-thirds of the publication is composed of the place-name listing which covers 4,000 settlements and approximately 11,000 name variations. This expertly edited (articulation, letter-type, abbreviations, directives, etc.) section will be of use to any reader, regardless of his/her language.  The current official names of settlements (or the formerly independent or somehow important quarters thereof) appear in bold print.

The listing includes information on the current and past states to which the settlements belonged, the relevant periods of time, and other living and “dead” name variations in the various In-Between European languages. A valuable part of this section is the register, which presents information on place-names in a large variety of Cyrillic - and Greek - lettered (e.g., Russian, Ukrainian, Serbian, Bulgarian) languages (pp. 306-344.). The historical lessons and connections, which can be traced through the name-changes presented in the listing section, are described by the editor in the chapter called “The History and Linguistic Background of Naming Places.” The naming of given settlements (generally like other geographical objects) - at least in the early stages - can be related to nature (e.g., size, form, layout), culture (e.g., persons or ethnic groups) or various events. In describing the practice of naming the author emphasized the practice of so-called official naming. In Hungary, 1898 serves as the date which divides the periods of unsystematic and systematic official naming. In most In-Between European countries systematic, official place-naming dates back only to the inter-war period, given that many countries became independent only then.

A particularly interesting section, which is supplemented by illustrative examples, introduces the reasons for name-changes. In the period of unsystematic naming, the disappearance of the motive for the original name, the change of landowners or the modification of man’s relationship to the land (expansion, contraction, transformation or switching, etc. of meaning) were the most common reasons for changing names. In the 20th century systematic name-changes usually followed changes in state authority - often related to ethnic structure - while domestic political factors, naming for persons and other indirect reasons were also common. The use of the book and orientation within the exceptionally complicated place-name changes of In-Between Europe are made considerably easier by supplementary chapters: e.g., “The Organization of Terms,” “Alphabetical Order,” “Name-Change and Pronunciation Rules,” “Name-Change Guide,” and “Pronunciation Rules According to Alphabetical Order.”

Appendix 1 offers an overview of maps and text concerning the changing of hands and detachment of lands, which has been one of the most important reasons for settlement name-changes. The informative maps are presented in the style of those of the above-mentioned “Köztes-Európa 1763-1993” [In-Between Europe 1763-1993] volume, whose precision, in some cases, could have been increased. Appendices number 2 and 3 (“The Names of In-Between European Countries in the Languages of the Region” and “Dictionary of Terms Found in Geographical Names”) make easier the use of the index and are a real treat for those who appreciate foreign languages and geography. While editing the publication the editor had to analyze a massive place-name database, which resulted in small mistakes in meaning in the descriptive sections and in the listing. The low number of mistakes in no way compromises the utility of the index, which is simply an indispensable handbook for those experts and casual readers interested in territory and in the specific topic. 

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