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.

{ 15 comments… read them below or add one }

Julie August 29, 2014 at 9:52 PM

Funny to stumble across this! We had a baby boy in December in Austin, TX and named him Laszlo. We obviously love the name!

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Mil April 12, 2011 at 4:01 PM

Was my Maiden name. Not a clownish name at all! Very distinguished Hungarian name and absolutely nothing clownish about my dad. Don’t let one silly cartoon ruin a wonderful name. So glad to see it was name of the day!!! Don’t forget that former actor Peter Lorre’s real name is Laszlo Lowenstein!

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Penny March 19, 2011 at 9:53 AM

Just woke up after having a dream that I should name my unborn baby Lazlo. So I googled it and came across this great site. Interesting !

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appellationmountain March 20, 2011 at 4:52 AM

Penny, congrats on your baby-on-the-way. Great name! Let us know if you choose it :)

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Lola February 14, 2011 at 3:01 PM

Don’t forget Laszlo from “Meet the Robinsons” He’s one of the weird Uncles who live in the giant flowerpots. Funny stuff, that movie. And fun to watch. It’s one of Josie’s favorites.
I don’t know how I missed Laszlo! It’s a family name for me and I think it’s rakish & snazzy. But Ken thinks it’s “too too much” for a kid. Which baffles me; yes to Cornelius but no to Laszlo? I’m still working on him (and the possible kid) but Yeah, Laszlo makes me smile, how bad could he really be? :D
Laszlo’s cool.

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enzian February 24, 2010 at 9:13 AM

Laszlo Jamf is a somewhat unsavory character in Pynchon’s “Gravity’s Rainbow.”

(lit. snob) But considering the number of people who actually read Thomas Pynchon, much less remember what they read, I’d say it’s still pretty safe. (/lit. snob)

http://gravitys-rainbow.pynchonwiki.com/wiki/index.php?title=Laszlo_Jamf

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appellationmountain February 24, 2010 at 10:30 AM

I would probably love Thomas Pynchon. But yes, that’s probably an obscure reference. Now if they introduce a Laszlo to the new Melrose Place

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S February 6, 2010 at 5:24 PM

There’s also Bauhaus artist Laszlo Maholy-Nagy – which is where I first heard the name

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appellationmountain February 6, 2010 at 6:00 PM

More and more reasons to embrace Laszlo! Thanks, S.

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H February 3, 2010 at 7:48 PM

Very interesting! The only Laszlo I’d ever heard of was Laszlo Toth, who took a hammer to the Pieta, and then Lazlo Toth, a pseudonym for someone who wrote funny letters to big corporations. Lovely name and interesting history.

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appellationmountain February 3, 2010 at 9:54 PM

Those are two famous Laszlos that I should NOT have missed! Thank you, H.

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Eva February 3, 2010 at 6:13 PM

Ehh, Laszlo is not for me. It just sounds so … clownish. I used to watch Camp Lazlo a lot when I was younger so all I picture when I hear the name is that spider monkey! It is really fun to say though.

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appellationmountain February 3, 2010 at 4:17 PM

Ah, that’s a nice phonetic explanation of Wladyslaw, Sebastiane! It actually was my father-in-law’s middle name, and a family name, too. But when he came to the US, he decided it was too out there to keep, so he dropped his middle name altogether when he became a citizen.

Arthur and I once had a conversation about whether there was any possible way to use it for a child’s name, but decided it just didn’t work. Kelleita, funny he used Loddie – we kept wondering whether we’d call him Laddie.

We never really considered Laszlo, though … hmmm …

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Sebastiane February 3, 2010 at 3:57 PM

I love Ladislaus and Laszlo. Both incredibly handsome Eastern European names. The Polish version is pronounced (VWAH-dih-swahf), a common nickname is Wladek (VWAH-dek).

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Kelleita February 3, 2010 at 11:45 AM

Thanks, Verity, for doing this name! It was really fun to read its history! My grandpa, Ladislaus, went by “Loddie”, but I think Laszlo has far greater appeal nowadays.

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