Name Day (Névnap) celebrations are a popular tradition in Hungary. In Hungary, there is a registry of names that you can pick from when naming a child, and every child is given a name from that list. Each day of the year in Hungary is dedicated to 2-3 Hungarian names, and on that day, everyone who has those names gets celebrated. Name Day celebrations are similar but not as elaborate as birthdays. They are announced each day in the newspaper and on the radio, and throughout the day, Hungarians exchange celebratory greetings with the people whose names are being celebrated. Flowers and desserts are customarily given as small gifts, and a feast is often held in the evening with family and close friends to round out the day’s festivities. Where possible, the gifts and food are usually themed around the name being celebrated in associated recipes, cards, engravings, etc.
The informant participated in this tradition when he was living in Hungary as a child. He explained how many countries have Saint Day celebrations where everyone who has the name of a saint gets celebrated, but Hungary made this more inclusive by expanding these celebrations to include names from Hungary’s pagan history as well.
I would like to argue that Hungarian Name Day celebrations, which are meant to be secular holidays, in fact, have a distinctly religious purpose. My informant made a point of mentioning that many European countries have Saint Day celebrations, where everyone with the name of a saint is celebrated on a certain day of the year. However, Hungary chose to expand this to also include names in its pagan history that were not related to the saints or other biblical figures. However, why they chose to do this, I believe, is something worth probing further. While on the surface it could be argued that it was simply to be more inclusive, this doesn’t seem to add up. To explain, my informant told me that Hungary has a predetermined registry of names that every parent must pick from when naming their child. There are two lists, one for boys and one for girls. There are no gender neutral options, he said, and there is no room for creativity or personal expression. This rigid naming convention seems contrary towards promoting inclusivity, and so I would like to push back against the notion that Hungary merely expanded this holiday to seem “more inclusive.” I believe that it may have been a way of getting more of the population to identify with what was traditionally a Christian holiday (Saint Days), and thus, even historically pagan families with pagan names would be drawn to celebrate their Name Days in traditional Christian fashion, receiving gifts and acknowledgement to make them feel special. The customary rituals, gift giving, and greetings throughout the day all contribute to the appeal and allure of this annual celebration. Name Day celebrations were arguably aimed at attracting more people to Christian holidays, and so I conjecture that this ostensibly “pagan” holiday was a way of subtly reinforcing and promoting Christian values.