This Czech surname of BERKA was a medieval personal name meaning 'the son of Bernhard'. The popularity of this given name among the Normans in the centuries immediately following the Conquest of 1066, was greatly increased by virtue of its having been borne by St. Bernard of Clairvaux (circa 1090-1153) founder and abbott of the Cistercian Monastery at Clairvaux, and in Holland and Germany it vied with Arnold as the most popular given name during the 13th and 14th centuries. Another sanctified bearer of the name was St. Bernard of Menthin (923-1008) founder of Alpine hospices and patron saint of mountaineers, whose cult accounts for the frequency of the name in Alpine regions. It has long been a matter of doubt when the bearing of coats of arms first became hereditary and it was not until the Crusades that Heraldry came into general use. Men went into battle heavily armed and were difficult to recognise. It became the custom for them to adorn their helmets with distinctive crests, and to paint their shields with animals and the like. Coats of arms accompanied the development of surnames, becoming hereditary in the same way. The modern state of Czechoslovakia is going through a transitional phase as a result of the fall of the Iron Curtain. Its various regions encompassed the medieval provinces of Bohemia, Moravia, and Slovakia. The first two of these, where the language properly called Czech is spoken, were heavily subject to German cultural and linguistic influence from the Middle Ages onwards, being administratively a Crownland of Austria for much of the time until independence in 1918. This influence is reflected in the many Czech surnames derived from German, both from given names, and from vocabulary words. Occupational names are quite common in Czech as are nicknames, especially those referring to some physical feature. Many of the most common Czech surnames have the diminutive ending 'CEK', which is often found attached to these names.
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