Thanks to Meg for suggesting Réka as our Baby Name of the Day.
Hungarian is a quirky language, different from most in modern Europe. Finnish and Estonian are cousins, all grouped together as Uralic languages – thought to have originated in the Ural Mountains, way back in the BCs.
And yet Hungarian and Finnish and Estonian given names usually look something like the names that you’d find elsewhere in Europe. Even though the languages are sharply different from their neighbors, common cultural influences – saints, historical figures, literary inventions – seem to have pushed the names parents give their children towards the center.
Réka is one of the exceptions. She first appears in the historical record as the wife of Attila the Hun. Actually, Attila had a harem – but it sounds like Réka was his favorite, or at least the one identified as his consort. Some records call her Kreka and others use Arikan or Hereka. It appears she was a well-born Hun, suggesting that the name may have a longer history of use than we know.
What we do know is that Réka is a huge hit in modern Hungary, where she’s been in the Top Ten for a few years. Her pronunciation is simple – ree kah. Plenty of modern Hungarian women wear the name, sometimes in compound form. My favorite? Tennis player Réka-Luca Jani.
This reminds me of something: Hungary is among those nations requiring parents to choose a given name from an official register, and has since the 1950s. If you’re determined to head off list, there’s an appeals process that seems rather stringent – the spelling must lend itself to easy pronunciation in Hungarian, brand names and other innovations are discouraged. Still, the number of approved names has risen steadily over the years – as has the number of applications to use a name not currently on the list.
But Réka is most definitely on the list, an established Hungarian appellation. Ríka appears, too, but here I suspect we’re dealing with an import.
Rika is a heard in other countries, a logical short form for names like Frederika, Henrika, and even Erika or Veronika. (It makes me think of Rico, a masculine diminutive used for names like Ricardo or Enrico in Italian and Spanish.) In Japan, she can also be a feminine appellation with multiple possible meanings.
She’s not a given name in Slovene, but reka is a word – river.
On sound alone, Réka succeeds. She’s short, but has a certain bite. For every parent who prefers Mia, Maya, and Ella, there are some who lean towards Meeka, Mara, and Elsa – still short, sweet, and complete, but also slightly more complex thanks to the extra consonants.
If you’re seeking something virtually unknown in the US but instantly comprehensible, Reka fits the bill. She’s an easy Hungarian import, one that fits into 21st century English without sacrificing her roots.