Report on the formation and activities of the Onomastic Department of the Society of Hungarian Linguistics

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András Mező (1939–2003)

András Mező, Hungarian linguist, name researcher and historian was born in Vasmegyer, Hungary on 28 November 1939 and was associated with Eastern Hungary throughout his life. His parents established themselves in Nyírbogdány during his childhood and it was there the little boy started his elementary school studies. His experiences gained here were deeply ingrained into the way of thinking and emotions of this impressionable child. He started high school studies in Kossuth Lajos High School and then graduated from Vasvári Pál High School, where he took his matriculation exams in 1958. In the same year he enrolled as a Hungarian and History major at the Faculty of Arts of Kossuth Lajos University in Debrecen. Finishing his studies successfully, he turned towards linguistics, since even as a student he had been involved in the data-collection work for the “Új magyar tájszótár” [New Dictionary of Hungarian Dialects] and, as a result of the recognition by his teachers, he had been given the post of ‘demonstrator’, helping with the teaching and research work of the institute. In 1961 his paper was accepted at the Student’s National Scientific Conference. He graduated in 1963 as a teacher of Hungarian and History.

In 1963, he married Margit Horváth, a teacher of Mathematics, who was also graduating at that time, and they moved to Nyíregyháza where they both found employment. Two sons were born to their happy marriage: And­rás Attila and Szabolcs Árpád.

From the very beginning of his career in 1963, András Mező was linked with the Department of Hungarian Linguistics of the Teacher’s Training College of Nyíregyháza where he worked as an instructor, then as an Assistant Professor in 1969, an Associate Professor in 1972, a College Professor in 1976 and a University Professor in 1997.

His death was a substantial loss for the College of Nyíregyháza where he had worked as a successful teacher throughout his life. He was appointed as the Head of the Department of Hungarian Linguistics (in 1984), and as Deputy General Director (from 1979 to 1990). For Hungarian linguistics and especially for onomastics, he was an outstanding figure, with original views, eagerness and devotion, having been very active in his field of study and achieving great results.

His activity as a professor can be recognised without any reservation. His lectures, seminars, practical courses were characterised by a theoretical and methodical care and quality based on sound scientific considerations.


is scientific career was unbroken, too. He defended his dissertation for the status of University Doctor in 1965 at the University of Debrecen under the title “Nyírbogdány földrajzi nevei” [Geographical Names of Nyírbogdány] and he was granted a candidate’s scholarship at the Hungarian Academy of Sciences in 1969, with Lajos Lőrincze as his consultant. Even his dissertation for the degree of University Doctor indicated his commitment to pursue research in onomastics. His attention was oriented towards official placename-giving. His candidate’s dissertation was defended in 1978 under the title “A magyar hivatalos községnévadás” [Official village name-giving in Hungary] and later it was published under the title “A magyar hivatalos helységnévadás” [Official place name-giving in Hungary] (Budapest, 1982, 407 pages) but the related work of 575 pages entitled “Adatok a magyar hivatalos helységnévadáshoz” [Data for official place name giving in Hungary] could not be published until 1999 (it was published finally in Nyíregyháza), for reasons beyond his control. He wrote another work to obtain the doctoral title of the Hungarian Academy of Sciences and it was entitled “A templomcím a magyar helységnevekben. 11–15. század” [Patrociny in Hungarian placenames between the 11th to 15th centuries] (Budapest, 1996. pp. 1–314). Granted the title, he received his habilitation in the same year (with his thesis entitled “Vizsgálódások a magyar helynevek és személynevek körében” [Examinations of Hungarian placenames and personal names]) at Kossuth Lajos University, and was given the title University Professor in 1997.

Naturally, his scientific work was motivated by other aspects than merely obtaining titles.

Even the preparation of his doctoral dissertation referred to above indicated that an impetus was guiding him towards onomastics. However, in parallel he was interested in other topics, related to history (Nyírbogdány történeti földrajzi nevei [Historical-geographical names of Nyírbogdány], Nyíregyháza, 1965; A földrajzi nevek és a településtörténet [Geographical names and settlement history], in: Szabolcs-szatmári Szemle, 1966; Nyírbogdány. Tanulmányok a község történetéből [Nyírbogdány. Studies in the history of the village], Nyírbogdány, 1969; A régi Nyíregyháza [Old Nyíregyháza], Nyíregyháza, 1973 — the two latter with co-authors etc.). All these rather lengthy articles prove his ability to form independent opinions as well as a deep knowledge of historical sciences and the ability to bring his studies to successful conclusions.

Relatively few publications were made by András Mező in the field of placename research (A Várdai-birtokok jobbágynevei a XV. század közepén [Peasants’ names of the possessions of the Várdai family in the middle of the 15th century], Kisvárda, 1970; Szabolcs megye rovásadó-összeírása 1453-ban [Tax census of Szabolcs County in 1453], Nyíregyháza, 1985), but again, these are quite valuable as to the topic in question.

However, his most valuable studies were written as a result of deep study of geographical names.

At the beginning of his career, his first book was “A baktalórántházi járás földrajzi nevei” [Geographical names of the district of Baktalórántháza] (Nyíregyháza, 1967) which is a synchronous collection. However, the author processed materials of the archives of the county, placename collections and the name material of other printed publications in addition to the contemporary name material of the district. He touched on theoretical issues when arguing against the proposals for structural analysis of Géza Inczefi for words other than appellatives, or when warned that some of Inczefi’s examples would not qualify as real placenames and were sometimes names taken by written sources only. In doing so, Mező oriented the attention of researchers on the thorough examination of the data as names and the necessity of source criticism (Megjegyzések a laza szerkezetű földrajzi nevekhez [Comments on loosely structured geographical names], in: Magyar Nyelv 64 [1968]: pp. 51–56).


e can find important ideas in his article entitled “A típusváltás. Egy fejezet helységneveink élettanából” [Type shift. A chapter from the physiology of our placenames] on the structures and typological features of placenames. “Historical typology is able to comply with the requirements of autonomous onomastics”, he explains, “when we add the system of the type shifts of placenames to it” (In: A Magyar Nyelvtudományi Társaság Kiadványai, Issue 183, Budapest, 1989, p. 144). However, his claim for autonomous onomastic research also appears at other points of his oeuvre.

András Mező dedicated several studies to the etymological issues of certain placenames but we would like to call attention to his dictionary of etymology prepared with Péter Németh (Szabolcs-Szatmár megye történeti-etimológiai helységnévtára [The historical-etymological dictionary of placenames of Szabolcs-Szatmár County], Nyíregyháza, 1972) before referring to these. The work of András Mező and Péter Németh presents historical and the linguistic features in their mutual dependence. In this book, we find the early history of villages still existing or destroyed in the meantime from the age of the Árpád dynasty in Szabolcs-Szatmár County together with a linguistic explanation of names. This work ranks among the best publications in local history, and, according to Miklós Kázmár, “is a quality work written on the basis of modern methodological principles and a careful philological apparatus” (in: Magyar Nyelv 70 [1974], p. 121).


rom the 1980s András Mező paid more and more attention to artificial name-giving, the phenomenon of official name-giving together with the history and the significance in onomastics of the latter. Such research had existed already before him, but not to an extent corresponding to the weight of the issue. That’s why it is really important for name research that András Mező dedicated a single monograph to this issue (A magyar hivatalos helységnévadás [Official placename-giving in Hungary], Budapest, 1982). This is the very first work of real significance and care which proved the importance and the necessity of the elaboration of the issue corresponding to its significance. It follows up the development of settlement names from the 18th century together with changes in old names, and the appearance and acceptance of new ones. His examinations lead us to draw an interesting theoretical lesson which is summarised by István Hoffmann, knowing the results of Mező, that “natural and artificial name-giving presents a lot of substantial correspondence and linguistic features rather connect than dividing types of settlement names as being rather different in this aspect” (Ma­gyar helynévkutatás [Hungarian place name research], 1958–2002, p. 127). The practice of the official change of names should benefit from comments and advice contained in this book even now. It is quite regretful that “Adatok a magyar hivatalos helységnévadáshoz” (Budapest, 1999), being actually the data collection of the work published in 1982 was published with a significant delay but it is still a very important piece of work in the field of onomastics.

As to old types of Hungarian settlement names, it was the so-called patrociny settlement names, that is, those formed from the patrociny of the church to be highlighted as early as in the 1980s, due to the merits of András Mező, which we cannot praise enough. He published several papers in this field. His extremely valuable “A templomcím a magyar helységnevekben (11–15. század)” (Budapest, 1996) was published as a monograph and is among the best partial summaries of Hungarian placename research. He provides us with an actually new and so far missed summary of a very significant field of onomastics, that of natural names derived from middle-age patrocinies, being of epochal significance from the beginnings of the spread in Hungary of Christianity, that is, the 11th century to the end of the formation of name types based on natural name-giving, that is, the end of the 15th. The topic of his paper is the so-called church placenames. His source material is huge, comprising 1,390 placenames derived from patrocinies. This book bridges a huge gap since such a comprehensive and complex analysis and discussion of a church name group was unprecedented before. This work, published in 1996 performs, a linguistic and culture historical analysis of our settlement names with a striking familiarity and depth. On the whole, we can say that it was a substantial piece of scientific work which, mainly due to its onomastic and linguistic/language historical character, is in the forefront of the interest of the Hungarian and foreign onomastic researchers, especially of those in the surrounding countries.

The following book published in Budapest in 2003, entitled “Patrocíniumok a középkori Magyarországon” [Patrocinies in Hungary in the Middle Ages] is to make up for the omissions of the book referred to above (that is, the separation of patrocinies being homonyms or being different but related to one and the same name-giver) and, on the other hand, it wishes to call the attention of name research and name researchers to old church names being substantially different from those of our days and, at the same time, it provides research in the cultural history of the Middle Ages with a bulk of data published systematically. The author also considers the exploration of the motivation behind name-giving. The material itself reflects the variegated character and the extensive intellectual horizon of life in Hungary in the Middle Ages. The name material is discussed based on the latest results of contemporary onomastics and also elaborated and deepened.


ike all significant name researchers, András Mező paid a lot of attention to the pursuit of onomastic etymology and several valuable articles of his were published in this field, these being very accurately referred, reliable and witty etymologies (e.g., Földrajzi nevek Nyírbogdányból [Geographical names from Nyírbogdány], A nyíri-rétközi gyepű [The field in Nyír-Rétköz], Sza­bolcs-Szatmár megye falunevei [Village names of Szabolcs-Szatmár County], Nyíregyháza, Szocsogó — Újszomo­tor, Máriapócs, Hajdúszoboszló neve [The name of Hajdúszoboszló], Félegyháza, Ágasegyház, Fele, Szegegyház and many other etymologies of names — which are available in: Névtani Értesítő 21 [1999], pp. 13–14; and in: Névtani Értesítő 26 [2004]: pp. 231–236).

The researcher of thorough and deep theoretical knowledge explained his ideas in short but nonetheless invaluable articles, too, apart from his longer studies. These include his studies “Megjegyzések a laza szerkezetű földrajzi nevekhez” (in: Magyar Nyelv 64 [1968], pp. 51–56) which evoked much attention and discussion, and “A földrajzi nevek and a településtörténet” (in: Szabolcs-szatmári Szemle 1966/2, pp. 91–96) but his article on the “movement” of names is also worth considering (A helynevek vándorlása a közép­korban [The migration of placenames in the Middle Ages]. In: A Magyar Nyelvtudományi Társaság Kiadványai, Vol. 170, Budapest, pp. 23–28) which tries to formulate and clarify questions regarding the means and character of name migration.

Although we have not mentioned his educational and training work, he was a teacher to his core. Apart from research, he considered careful teaching work of primary importance together with the quality delivery of his lectures and seminars, the introduction of the students to the processes of scientific work, and this was how he managed to train students for science and research. He was consultant to a lot of theses and papers for the Student’s National Scientific Conference. His varied and suggestive activity as an educator included phonetics, dialect studies and historical linguistics as well. He paid attention to his students at the College, applying the quality and methods of university education both in thematics and in care. He had a determining role in the elaboration of the curricula and examination system of colleges, mainly in the fields of phonetics and historical linguistics.

During his work as a visiting professor performed with utmost care and quality both at the State University of Uzhgorod, Ukraine and the College of Pedagogy in Nitra, Slovakia, he served the Hungarian language and linguistics and the recognition abroad of the results of linguistics in Hungary. He was active in education at the PhD training in Hungarian linguistics of the University of Debrecen and in the Doctoral Committee of the Faculty of Arts, too, also representing the College of Nyíregyháza.


he range of his work in scientific life was wide and worth recognising. He was a member of the Committee of Onomastics, the Working Committee for Hungarian Linguistics, and the Committee of Linguistics of the Hungarian Academy of Sciences for years and the Hungarian Society for Linguistics appointed him as member of its board.

His editorial activities were also worth mentioning. He and Professor Mihály Hajdú launched the long-running Névtani Értesítő in 1979, which has since developed into a quality journal of onomastic research in Hungary and promotes the education of the future generation of scientists and the cohesion of the intellectual power of researchers. He had been very devoted to his work performed at excellent level as chief-editor of the Szabolcs-szatmári Szemle (later named as Szabolcs-szatmár-beregi Szemle) which became a journal of nationwide fame and is well recognised in scientific circles. He was a member of the editorial board of our most respected journal of linguistics, Magyar Nyelv, too.

His outstanding activities as professor, researcher and scientific organiser were appreciated by top awards which are almost too numerous to list, however, we dare to mention some of these. His educator’s work was recognised by the awards Kiváló Munkáért [For Excellent Work] (1980) and Kiváló Pedagógus [Excellent Educator] (1990); his oeuvre in linguistics and onomastics brought him the Csűry Bálint Memorial Plaquette from the Hungarian Society for Linguistics in 1984; he received the Bessenyei Award from the Town Council of Nyíregyháza in 1987, while the Municipality of Szabolcs-Szatmár-Bereg County rewarded him with Szent László [King St. Ladislaus] Memorial Plaquette and the Szabolcs-Szatmár-Bereg Megyéért [For Szabolcs-Szatmár-Bereg County] Prize (in 1995). He received the Széchenyi Professor’s Scholarship in 1999 which recognised his work performed at a very high level and expressed further confidence as to his successful research work in science.


inally, we should say that András Mező was a very versatile personality, active in all of his doings with responsibility, knowing no fatigue and working with care both in education and research. His oeuvre earned him respect and his devotion, readiness to help and good temper were always attractive. He lived for his family and for science, holding friendship in high esteem and was always ready to share real joys of life with others, while his affection for sports and music completed his rounded personality and ensured his inner harmony.

1 Здесь дам только эрзянские примеры.

1 В подготовке данной публикации мною использовано издание: Марийские лингвис­ты. Биобиб­лио­гра­фи­чес­кий сборник (ред. И. Г. Иванов–В. Н. Ва­сильев. Йошкар-Ола, 2005).

2 Книги, у которых не указано место издания, изданы в Йошкар-Оле.

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