Oh, for the love of Gábor!

Paulo Rebêlo
The Budapest Sun
– 21.dezembro.2006
link original

The holiday season is a time when people get along more, cherish each other and even find themselves to be a little more romantic. In other words, it means that nine months from now we’ll be seeing hundreds and hundreds of shiny-lovely-little-Hungarians being born in Budapest. It is the joy of nature, the magic of procreation. There is only one minor problem: they will all be called Gábor.

In the beginning of my stay around the city, I thought it was just my personal impression, perhaps the wrong stereotype that we, as foreigners, commonly carry about a place we don’t know. Perhaps it was by chance that I was meeting dozens of Hungarians with the same name, five out of 10 called Gábor.

But after few months and a few wines shared with a lot of Gábors later, I have realized there is an ancient and unsolved mystery in Hungary about people’s names. And it should remain unsolved, because it seems no one can clearly explain why on Earth this happens in Hungary. Some say it’s due to the role of having the family name before the first name. Hard to buy that.

If you meet a male Hungarian, the chances are that his name is Gábor. Or Sándor. If not, try György, László, Zoltán or István. If he turns out to be none of these, please shake his hand and thank his parents on my behalf.

I have lost count of how many Gábors and Sándors I’ve met. I do agree the names are nice and imposing, but why so many? The lovely Hungarian women are in the same boat as well. It is impossible to count how many Eszters, Ildikós, Judits, Zsuzsannas and Gabriellas you will find along your way in Budapest.

During my first weeks in Budapest, I went to a small reunion party where I met a nice guy called Gábor. He introduced me to another friend who, guess what, was called Gábor too. How should I call them? Just call me Gábor, they said. Yes, I know, I understand your name, but how… well, never mind. After a couple of glasses of the always-good Hungarian wine, we started to talk about politics. At that time, I realized I still didn’t know much about Hungary’s politics – perhaps I still don’t. By the way, what’s the mayor’s name? Big news, it’s Gábor. Perhaps I’d have more luck with the President. Oh, no. His name is László.

I came up with this silly idea to investigate the unsolved mystery about Hungarian names, and the results were even sillier. My first attempt relied on Hungarian art movies. I watched flicks such as Kontroll, Taxidermia and Szabadság Szerelem, just to mention three really enjoyable films.

And there they are, directors and actors: Gábor, Sándor, Zoltán, Eszter. All there, plenty of them, every time. There’s also Valami Amerika, which is sort of a cliché, but I could not stop watching it thanks to the incredible beauty of the actress who plays the role of Eszter. Oh my God, her real name is also Eszter! What are the odds?

If you watch any American movie, you’ll soon realize that most Latin people are called Juán, Jesús, Carlos or Maria. However, if you visit any country in Latin America, although we have a lot of Carloses and Marias, they’re nothing like as common as the Gábors and Sándors.

It is not a bad thing, it is just funny. As a matter of fact, I am pretty sure there’s a cultural meaning (I hope) behind all the paranoia about naming the children after Gábor or Sándor. But, hey, there is also a whole bunch of very nice and historic names out there. Please, think about that in nine months from now, especially after the excess of good Hungarian wine you’ll probably have in the holiday.

After all, it’s not only about the magic of procreation. It is also about the magic of replication… of Gábors.