Name of the Day: Laszlo

by appellationmountain on February 3, 2010

The dashing Ralph Fiennes wore this choice to an Oscar nomination in 1996’s The English Patient.

Thanks to Kelleita for suggesting László as Name of the Day.

Kelleita initially suggested Ladislas. Also spelled Ladislaus, both are common Latin versions of a whole cluster of Slavic names. There’s also the forbidding Russian Vladislav and the truly inscrutable Polish Wladyslaw.

László is Hungarian, and despite the exotic spelling, the pronunciation is straightforward – LAZ lo. The host of Sirius Radio’s Technofile wore the phonetic spelling Lazlow.

He qualifies as a bona fide classic in Budapest and remains in the Hungarian Top Twenty today. But in the US, László has never cracked the Top 1000.

The name has held on in Hungary doubtless because of the eleventh century saint, King László I. Born in exile during a time of civil unrest, László eventually held the throne and expanded his rule into neighboring Croatia. It’s said that he his prayers worked miracles, and one László legend is depicted on the walls of many medieval Hungarian churches: Before ascending to the throne, László spied an enemy soldier kidnapping a Hungarian girl. László gave chase and, with the girl’s help, lopped off the bad guy’s head.

The name traces back to the Slavic elements meaning glorious ruler, an association strengthened by in light of his reputation.

In 1992, Michael Ondaatje gave the name to his English Patient, who wasn’t English at all, but a Hungarian desert explorer. If you’re the one person who hasn’t seen the movie, I’ll spare you the spoilers, but Ondaatje based the character on a real life explorer by the same name, also active in 1930s Egypt. Like the fictional figure, he was suspected of spying. Unlike the English Patient, the real life László Almásy lived long after World War II, doing time in a Soviet prison and eventually ending up back in Egypt as part of the Desert Research Institute in Cairo.

The silver screen gives us a second Laszlo, Casablanca’s Czech resistance leader, Victor Laszlo. If you remember, Ilsa met Rick in Paris, believing her husband dead. He’s a noble figure to Rick’s opportunistic cynic, but it is Rick’s sacrifice that ultimately saves the day.

Others have worn the surname, including:

  • Hungarian-born writer Miklos Laszlo, best known for penning Parfumerie, which later became The Shop Around the Corner;
  • Philip de László painted the well-born in the early 20th century.

A few other usages are less inspiring:

  • Cartoon Network’s Camp Lazlo includes a Brazilian spider monkey named Lazlo;
  • The Dr. Who universe includes a part-human, part-pig answering to the name;
  • 1985’s Real Genius – featuring a pre-Top Gun Val Kilmer – included a mysterious character called Lazlo Hollyfield, a genius who retreated to an underground labyrinth rather than let his groundbreaking research be used for weapons technology at fictional Pacific Tech.

All of this lends Laszlo a vibe somewhere between quirky and heroic. With lilting-L names from Lila to Lily all the rage for girls and Leo quite current for boys, Laszlo isn’t as far out as he first appears.

It’s an offbeat choice. But if you’ve just met yet another baby Silas or Rufus and worry that your favorite names are rapidly becoming mainstream, Laszlo might just be different enough to satisfy.

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