Notes on Selected Polish Surnames – 10


To: Dolores Kazantzis, [email protected], who wrote:

…We’re going to Poland in April – unable to learn where my ancestors where born, but would love to know anything about my mother’s maiden name Jarmulowicz and my father’s name Rutkowski.

As regards the name Jarmul~owicz (the l~ stands for the Polish slashed l, pronounced like our w), the -owicz suffix means “son of,” so it means “son of Jarmul(a/o).” Jarmul/Jarmula/Jarmulo could come from the root jarm- meaning “yoke” or “noise,” but I strongly suspect in this case it comes from an Eastern Slavic (Ukrainian, Russian, or Belarusian) name we’d spell as “Yermolai” or “Yarmolai” (from a Greek name meaning “clan of Hermes”). The one thing we’re sure of is that the name started as a patronymic, a name formed from one’s father’s name, and the father was called something like Jarmul, Jarmula, Jarmulo; that may have been a Polish name from the root meaning “yoke” or “noise,” or it may have been the fairly common Eastern Slavic first name Yermolai. As of 1990 there were 281 Polish citizens with this name, scattered all over Poland but with the largest numbers in the provinces of Warsaw (34), Katowice (23), Lomza (20), Suwalki (52), and Wroclaw (26) — I see no useful pattern there, the Jarmul~owiczes basically live all over Poland. (Unfortunately I don’t have access to further details such as first names, addresses, etc.).

The one thing I do see that might be a little helpful is that if Jarmulowicz does come from that East Slavic name, it probably is from the Belarusian form, rather than Ukrainian or Russian — in those languages it’s usually Yermolai, in Belarusian it is Yarmolai. In other words, that Jar- beginning (which is pronounced like Yar- anyway) suggests the name more likely originated in Belarus than in Russia or Ukraine. And I notice a lot of the Jarmul~owiczes live in Suwalki and Lomza provinces, up in northeastern Poland, near the border with Belarus. So while it isn’t certain, there is some evidence to suggest your family probably came from northeastern Poland or western Belarus.

Rutkowski is a much more common name, as of 1990 there were 41,363 Poles by this name. They lived all over the country, here are the provinces with more than 1,500: Warsaw (4123), Bialystok (2048), Gdansk (1841), Katowice (1815), Lodz (1622), Plock (1596), Torun (1928), and Wloclawek (1567). Names ending in -owski usually originated as references to a place name, and we would expect Rutkowski to refer to villages name Rutka, Rutki, Rutkowo, etc. There are at least 9 such places in Poland, so without a lot more detailed info there’s no way to make an informed guess as to which one your ancestors came from. Sadly, that’s the way it is with most Polish surnames based on place names: the only way to know which place your people came from is if you have so much info on them that you probably already know exactly where they came from! Once in a while a surname will give you a useful clue, but not often.

Anyway, I hope this info is a little help to you, and I hope your trip to Poland is wonderful!

William F. “Fred” Hoffman, Author, Polish Surnames: Origins and Meanings


To: Anthony Jablonowski, [email protected], who wrote:

…I was looking thru your Polish Surname book, which I recently purchased, for a translation of a family name, Niemojewski. I tried matching up with all possible variations for a meaning but I didn’t have any luck. Can you please help me out?

People who bought the book and want to contact me with requests for more info are welcome to do so! There are so many Polish surnames I couldn’t hope to include them all, and I could not include all the info I have on the ones I did list. But E-mail and the Web allow me to share some of the info there was no room for in the book.

As of 1990 there were 175 Polish citizens named Niemojewski (one reason it wasn’t in the book, as a rule I didn’t have room for names borne by fewer than 300 people). They were scattered all over the country, with the largest numbers (20 or more) living in the provinces of Warsaw (30), Lodz (20), Radom (21), and Skierniewice (22). This suggests the name is most common in the central part of Poland (in its current borders).

Names ending in -ewski usually derive from a place name, especially ones ending in -ew, -ewo, -ewice, etc., so Niemojewski probably started out meaning “one somehow connected with a place named Niemojewo/Niemojow,” etc. Unfortunately, there are several different villages in Poland with names that could yield this surname, Niemojewo, Niemojewice, Niemojki, Niemojow, etc. One was an estate called Niemojewo near Inowroclaw in modern-day Bydgoszcz province; it was served by the post office in Parchanie, about 5 km. away, and the Parchanie Catholic parish church is probably the one to which people in Niemojewo went to register births, deaths, and marriages. As of 1583 this village was owned by a Mikolaj Niemojewski. I mention it to prove that this is at least one place the surname could come from; but as I say, there are several others, and without much more detailed info on your family there is no way to know which one applies in your family’s case. However, with luck and perseverance you may uncover enough info to settle the matter — if you trace your ancestors back to a specific area and one of these Niemojewo’s or Niemojki’s or Niemojow’s is nearby, that’s probably the place!

The root of these place names is interesting. Niemoj is an old Polish first name; Niemojewo and Niemojow just mean “Niemoj’s place.” Niemoj could have arisen in a couple of different ways, one from a term meaning “mute,” but one meaning is literally “not mine” (nie = “not,” mo~j = “mine”). Sometimes in olden days when parents had lost one or more child and ascribed it to evil spirits, they would name a child “Niemoj” in hopes of convincing the evil spirits to leave it alone — “This one’s not mine, no point bothering it, I don’t care.” Probably later on people just named kids that without thinking about what it meant, but that is one way we know the name got started! … I wish I’d had room for more info like this in the book!

William F. “Fred” Hoffman, Author, Polish Surnames: Origins and Meanings


To: Kurt Marhefka, [email protected], who wrote:

…Could you please e-mail me with a short message regaurding the city or region of origin for my last name, Marhefka? Possibly spelled Marchefka.

Unfortunately, the name Marchewka (the standard Polish spelling, of which the others you mentions are variants) is very common in Poland; as of 1990 there were 6,800 Polish citizens by this name, living all over the country. The largest numbers showed up in the provinces of Warsaw (422), Czestochowa (790), Katowice (501), Krakow (561), Radom (855), but the only pattern I see to the distribution is that Marchewka’s are a bit more common in the southern part of the country. The name comes from the noun marchewka, which just means “little carrot,” I believe often used as a kind of nickname for red-heads, so the name could arise anywhere Polish was spoken and there were people with red hair, i. e., anywhere in Poland.

So, like the majority of Polish surnames, this one doesn’t offer any helpful clues on where the families bearing it originated. It’s pretty clear many different, unrelated families from many different parts of the country ended up with this name.

William F. “Fred” Hoffman, Author, Polish Surnames: Origins and Meanings


To: [email protected] (Mike Kumiega), who wrote:

…I am not big into genealogy, just interested in my heritage. I have not been able to obtain any information on my name or history from relatives or informal sources. The information that I have been able to obtain indicates that my grandparents came to the US in the time period of 1897-1902 from the area of Tarnow in SE Poland. I would be happy with any information you might be able to provide, even if it is only to put a meaning to the surname, much like the surname “cooper” refers to the barrel makers trade.

I can’t provide as much info as I’d like on Kumiega, but I have a little info that may be relevant.

First, the frequency and distribution of the name. There are two forms, Kumiega and Kumie~ga (here the e~ represents the Polish nasal vowel written as an e with a tail under it, pronounce much like en). As of 1990 there were 215 Kumiega‘s; the overwhelming majority (168) lived in the province of Tarnow, with small numbers in a few other provinces. Kumie~ga was a bit more common and more spread out, there were 568 Kumie~ga’s, but again, the huge majority lived in the neighboring provinces of Tarnow (271) and Tarnobrzeg (96) in southeastern Poland. This strongly suggests that your ancestors came from the heart of Kumiega country, and that the area you’ve identified is likely to be the area where this name originated and is most common.

Unfortunately I have no access to any further data, such as first names, addresses. If you want such data, you might try seeing if you can find someone to do a search of the Tarnow province phone directory; the Polish Genealogical Society of the Northeast, 8 Lyle Rd., New Britain CT 06053, does this at reasonable prices, but I’ll warn you, there are problems. The way these books are organized, a search for a particular name tends to take several hours, plus phones in private homes are not as common in Poland as they are here — so there’s no guarantee any of the Kumiega’s listed would be any kin to you, or at least not close kin. Still, it’s the only way I know of to try to get specific addresses. If you want to go this route, you’d probably be better off pursuing your research to find out first what specific villages in Tarnow province your ancestors came from, since the name is so common in that area — focusing on a specific village or two would narrow the focus of the search and increase the chances of a respectable pay-off.

As to the origin of the name, the only root I can find in Polish (or any other Slavic language) is the word /e,> which means “godfather,” also “crony, pal.” Poles (and Russians and Ukrainians) often use this term to refer to close buddies, guys you hang around with, as well as an actual godfather. There is a related verb kumac~ sie~, “to hobnob.” The -iega suffix is not an extremely common one in Polish names, but we do run into it occasionally. In this context Kumiega or Kumie~ga would probably refer to “my buddy’s kin,” something like that. So if someone was regarded in the village as a good old boy, everybody’s pal, the name Kumiega might get attached to his family as a kind of nickname, eventually becoming their surname.

That’s the best explanation I can come up with. None of my sources discuss this name, so I’m having to make an educated guess, so to speak — but I think the chances are good this is reasonably close to the truth.

William F. “Fred” Hoffman, Author, Polish Surnames: Origins and Meanings


…I have another favor to ask. On my grandfather Mohylowski’s death certificate, signed by my father who is now 7 years deceased, I see the maiden name of my great-grandmother. This is written in, everything else is typed. The death certificate is from 1947. It gives her name as Rose Mohovak. I see no Mohovak in your book, and of course, Mohovak with a “v” doesn’t seem Polish to me, anyway. What do you think? This is another surname I have never come across. I’ll do a search on the Internet — Switchboard — to see if there are any occurences of this name in the US.

No, this doesn’t make sense as a Polish name. However, it seems there’s a Ukrainian connection to your family, and Mohovak could be a rendering by English phonetics of a name such as Mokhovak, which in Cyrillic would look like MOXOBAK. I looked that up in my big Ukr. dictionary, and the root mokhov- deals with “moss” (in Polish the same term is mech). Some words from this root include mokhove boloto, a term for “moss-bog,” and mokhovik, a term for the wood grouse, a kind of bird. So a surname Mokhovak makes sense as a reference to where a person lived (near a mossy area) or perhaps as a reference to this or some other kind of bird or animal. (By the way, the word Moch in German means something similar, “marshy place”!). This name is apparently not used by anyone in Poland, though there are a couple of Mochowicz’s; and I have no data for Ukraine, but I bet it’s not so rare there!

William F. “Fred” Hoffman, Author, Polish Surnames: Origins and Meanings


To: Nan Krushinski, [email protected], who wrote:

…I am researching the names Krushinski and Dembowski (Debowski) from one or all of theses areas – Poznan, Dulsk, Ripien. I am not able to find any information at all. Can you help me?

In Polish spelling the names you’re interested in would be spelled Krusin~ski or Kruszyn~ski and Dembowski or De~bowski. Both these names probably originated as references to the names of places with which the families were connected — if noble, they owned them at one point, if peasants they worked and lived there or traveled there often.

Krusin~ski probably originated as meaning “person from Krusin” or something similar. There is at least two places by this name, Krusin in Czestochowa and Torun provinces. It might also be Kruszyn~ski, which suggests an association with places named Kruszyn, Kruszyna, etc. There are at least 15 villages with names that could, and probably did, generate the surname Kruszyn~ski. So without very detailed info on the family there is no way to say exactly which places are referred to. If you can find a Krusin or Kruszyn near your families ancestral villages, that is likely to be the right place. As of 1990 there were 5,573 Poles named Kruszyn~ski and 862 named Krusin~ski, but the names are too common and too spread out to offer any useful clues.

The same is true of Dembowski/De~bowski (spelled either way). The root is the word da~b, “oak,” and there are at least 20 villages named De~bow, De~bowo, etc., all meaning essentially “the place with the oaks,” or else “place associated with a fellow named Da~b or De~b” (probably as a nickname). As of 1990 there were 9,745 Poles named De~bowski and 2,475 named Dembowski.

So unfortunately with both these names there are too many places the name might refer to — only detailed info on the family will let you make an educated guess which one your particular ancestors were associated with. This is true of most Polish surnames coming from place names — it’s a shame, but that’s the way it is. However, it sounds to me as if you have some info that may help you focus on the right areas, so with some luck and persistence in your research you may uncover enough info to zero in on the right ones.

William F. “Fred” Hoffman, Author, Polish Surnames: Origins and Meanings


To: Jeanette Orton, [email protected], who wrote:

…Hi, my name is Jeanette Orton, maiden name Gaszynski. I am looking for any information you might have on the name Gaszynski. I’m not sure where to start to get ancestor information. I’m not sure if anyone is even left alive in the family that could provide anything.

The name Gaszyn~ski is not extremely common in Poland, but it’s not rare either. As of 1990 there were 486 Polish citizens by this name, with the largest numbers living in the provinces of Warsaw (45), Bydgoszcz (63), Kalisz (30), and Poznan (40), and smaller numbers in many other provinces. So they’re pretty well scattered, and I don’t see any useful pattern in the distribution. Unfortunately, I don’t have access to more detailed info such as first names, addresses, etc.

It’s tough saying exactly what the name came from. It probably refers to a person with a name beginning with Gasz-, a name root coming from first names such as Gabriel, Gawel, etc. Poles often took the first couple of sounds of a first name, dropped the rest, and added suffixes to form nicknames or by- names, so that the names I mentioned would yield Ga-, the suffix -sz- would be added, and then further suffixes would be added to that. So you can’t say it really means anything, it’s just a form of a first name, sort of like “Ted” vs. “Theodore,” “Jack” vs. “John” in English.

There is a village called Gaszyn in Sieradz province, and there might be more villages with similar names too small to show up on my maps — chances are your ancestors lived or worked in such places, or owned them if they were noble. Those places, in turn, got their names from the Gasz- I mentioned above. So in most cases I would expect Gaszyn~ski meant “person from Gaszyn,” which in turn was named for a prominent citizen who had a name beginning with Gasz- (or possibly Gach-, that’s also a root that could yield Gasz-).

I know this isn’t really a lot of help, but that’s not unusual for Polish surnames. Sometimes they give you a helpful clue, most of the time they don’t. If, however, you have some luck with your research and trace your ancestors to a specific area, then you learn that there’s a nearby place with a name beginning with Gasz-, chances are reasonably good you’ve found the place they took their name from.

William F. “Fred” Hoffman, Author, Polish Surnames: Origins and Meanings


To: Steven Pusiak, [email protected], who wrote:

…If you could assist me on the meaning/origin of my surname Pusiak, it would be very appreciated. The information on my family history is limited to that I know they were in the Bukowina province of the Austrian Empire as of 1850. This line converted from Greek Orthodox to Roman Catholic approx. 1880. I know from internet sources that a Pusiak was in Tartakow (north of Lvov) in the 1930’s. Also through the International Genealogical Index, I know that there was a Pusiakin Marggrabowa, Ostpreussen who’s Christening date was 1711.

According to Polish surname expert Kazimierz Rymut’s book Nazwiska Polako~w [The Surnames of Poles], Pusiak comes from the root pusz- as seen in old Polish pusz, “tuft of feathers,” or puszyc~ sie~, “to prance, preen, swagger” (the root seems to mean about the same thing in Ukrainian, which is relevant in your ancestors’ case). Presumably it originated as a kind of nickname, perhaps for someone who wore feathers as an ornament, or had a tuft of hair that stuck out, or who went around prancing or preening — all these centuries later it’s hard to say exactly what the connection was, we can only say what the word meant and speculate on why this particular name stuck.

Pusiak is not a very common name, at least not in Poland. As of 1990 there were only 176 Polish citizens with this name — of course, remember that data was only available for people living within the borders of modern Poland, so if this data were available for 100 years ago, or included Ukraine, the numbers might be higher. The Pusiak’s lived in the following provinces: Warsaw (9), Chelm (12), Jelenia Gora (6), Kalisz (4), Katowice (8), Legnica (1), Leszno (24), Pila (1), Poznan (39), Szczecin (9), Walbrzych (1), Wroclaw (2), Zielona Gora (60). (Unfortunately I have no further data such as first names, addresses, etc.)

This distribution may seem odd — why are there so many Pusiak’s in western Poland and so few in eastern Poland, which is where you’d expect to see them? I’ve seen this before, and think I know the answer: Operation Vistula. This was a massive program of relocation undertaken after World War II, when thousands (maybe millions?) of Ukrainians living near the new border with Poland were packed up and shipped off to populate the western parts of Poland, which had been seized from Germany and given to Poland. Huge numbers of Germans left the area to go to East Germany (not always voluntarily), and this left those newly-created western parts of Poland underpopulated. So vast numbers of people living in what had been eastern Poland were forced to relocate to western Poland. Ukrainians still have very bitter feelings about it and blame the Poles for it — which may be justified, but I strongly suspect Joseph Stalin is the one who deserves the blame. Anyway, it was a wrenching experience, and it also muddled things for those of us doing research. Very often the descendants of people we know came from western Ukraine now show up in western Poland. Chances are very good many of the Pusiak’s in Zielona Gora and Leszno province were living in Ukraine just a few generations ago.

William F. “Fred” Hoffman, Author, Polish Surnames: Origins and Meanings


To: Jay Evans, [email protected], who wrote:

…I would like it if you could tell me what the name Penczkowski translates or derives from. The name is my mother’s maiden name and I’ve also seen it spelled Pinkowskiand Penkowski by other aunts and uncles, but my grandfather always used the cz and said that was the correct spelling.

Pinkowski and Penkowski are legitimate names in their own right, but it sounds to me as if you have reason to believe Penczkowski was the original form of the name, and that’s certainly plausible. I should mention that whenever you see a Polish name with en, you must also consider the likelihood that it will also be spelled Pe~czkowski orPa~czkowski, where a~ and e~ (which are often interchangeable) refer to the Polish nasal vowels written as a with a tail under it and e with a tail under it, pronounced like on and en, respectively. Thus you’re not just looking for Penczkowski, but also Pe~czkowski, maybe even Pa~czkowski. The most likely form is Pe~czkowski, as of 1990 there were 950 Poles by that name, only 10 named Penczkowski — so this affects the spelling you want to look for. The Pe~czkowski’s were scattered all over the country, with the largest numbers living in the provinces of Warsaw (74), Bydgoszcz (100), Ciechanow (65), Czestochowa (54), Katowice (52), Konin (60), Lodz (60), Lublin (52), and Poznan (67). I’m afraid I don’t see any helpful pattern in that distribution, the name is not concentrated in any one area.

Usually names ending in -owski refer to a place name ending in -i, -y, -ow, -owo, etc. So this name probably started as meaning “person with some connection to a place called Penczkowo, Pe~czkowo, Pa~czkowo, Pa~czki,” etc. As you might expect from so many alternatives, there are several different villages in Poland this name might come from, including 2 Pe~ckowo’s in Pila and Poznan province, Pa~czkowo in Poznan province, and a few other possibilities. Without much more detailed info on the family, I can’t suggest any one place as the one likely to be relevant in this case. However, if you have a little luck with your research and manage to trace the family to a particular area, and a village with a name beginning with Pe~czk- is anywhere close, chances are good you’ve found the place the name originally referred to.

I know this isn’t a lot of help, but unfortunately that’s the way it usually is with Polish surnames — sometimes they provide a really helpful clue, but most of the time there are just too many possibilities, especially considering spelling variations, multiple places with the same name, etc. So if this info isn’t a lot of help, at least you’re not the only one with this problem!

William F. “Fred” Hoffman, Author, Polish Surnames: Origins and Meanings


To: Steven John Zuraff, [email protected], who wrote:

…I’m wondering if you happen to have any info on the name Zuraw. Apparently in Polish the word zuraw means “crane” or “gantry”. Does that have any significance?

Polish surname expert Kazimierz Rymut mentions the name Z*uraw (z* = the z with a dot over it, pronounced like the “s” in “measure”) in his book on Polish surnames, and he says that the derivation of the surname is from the noun z*uraw, “crane,” referring to the bird — apparently the meaning “gantry” came later. By the way, the Ukrainian word, though spelled in Cyrillic, is pronounced and means the same thing. Rymut mentions that in old Polish the word was Z*oraw, and it appears in records as early as 1204. I suppose the name may have started as nickname because someone reminded folks of a crane — maybe he was thin and walked a certain way? All these centuries later it can be hard to figure out exactly why a certain name got stuck to certain people, the best we can do is examine what the name means and suggest plausible interpretations. There are a lot of names from this root, including Z*urawek (little crane), Z*urawicz (son of the crane), Z*urawik (little crane, or crane’s son), and Z*urawski (coming from a place named for cranes). Z*uraw itself is one of the more popular ones — as of 1990 there were some 1,400 Poles with this name. They live all over the country, with the largest numbers in the provinces of Warsaw (80), Kalisz (88), Lublin (119), Rzeszow (89), Siedlce (101), Sieradz (85), Tarnobrzeg (228), and Wroclaw (96). The name seems to be a bit more common in southern and especially southeastern Poland, but not so much so that it suggests anything helpful to me.

William F. “Fred” Hoffman, Author, Polish Surnames: Origins and Meanings


To: Dr. F. Sikola Chevalier, [email protected], who wrote:

…I am a professor of French whose mother was French. My father was either of Polish, Ukraine or Hungarian ancestry. He was born in 1910 and placed in an orphanage at age two. I never gave much thought about my father’s origins, but now that he is no longer with me, I do wonder about it. His last name was Sikola, but he also went by the last name Banaszak at one time (when very young). His mother’s name was Dembkowski or something like that I think.

Well, Dembkowski is a common Polish surname, so that’s likely enough to be right, but it doesn’t help much because there are Dembkowski’s all over Poland. Banaszak is a name meaning something like “Ben’s son” — Banach is an old nickname, so to speak, from a variant form of Benedykt, “Benedict” (Benoit, s’il vous plait!), and when the suffix -ak (“son of”) was added to it, the guttural sound modified to the “sh” sound of sz: Banach + -ak = Banaszak. As of 1990 there were 5,410 Poles named Banaszak, living all over Poland, so that one doesn’t help much either.

Sikola is a rare name, as of 1990 there were only 2 Poles by that name, living in the province of Walbrzych in southwestern Poland (unfortunately I don’t have access to any further data such as addresses). It appears to come from a root meaning “to trickle, spurt,” and in vulgar usage “to piss.” Names ending in -ala and -ola usually denote someone who was in the habit of doing whatever the root of the word indicated, so this suggests Sikola was a name meaning “one who was always trickling, spurting.” I know this isn’t very complimentary, and I’m not trying to be offensive here, but all I can do is say what the word appears to mean — and I’ve heard of people with names with this root changing them precisely because they got sick of people making fun of them (cmp. the notes under Krzywosika). So it’s at least conceivable your father may have gone by Banaszak because that’s a perfectly ordinary, common name, not so easily made fun of… However, that’s pure speculation, which probably isn’t much help to you.

To be honest, when I saw Sikola I wondered if it was a variant of Sikora, an extremely common name (39,850 Poles by that name in 1990), coming from sikora, the titmouse (a kind of bird). I may be completely wrong, mislead by the similarity in sound, but I have seen r and l interchanged occasionally in names, and Sikora was the first thing that came into my mind. I just wanted to mention it so you can keep it in the back of your mind, just in case it ever comes up.

…On one form he filled out in WWII he said she was born in Russia, on another, Ukraine, on another, Poland. When I asked him about it, he said that the territory had changed ownership several times over history and he wasn’t sure. His half-sister, now deceased, said their father had Hungarian blood.

The most likely explanation is that he came from what was called Galicia, now southeastern Poland and western Ukraine — though from the late 18th century to 1918 this area was ruled by Austria, it has also been ruled by Poland and Russia, so the varying data on those forms would be quite comprehensible if he came from there. Also, when you get into that area there’s quite a mixing of ethnic groups over the centuries, it’s not out of the question that you might run into ethnic Hungarians. That whole area was ruled by Austria-Hungary, so there are some possibilities of connections.

As for how you could try to learn more, I don’t do research, but I think it’s worthwhile suggesting you join the Polish Genealogical Society of the Northeast, 8 Lyle Rd., New Britain CT 06053 — I believe their dues are $15 a year, they put out a very fine newsletter twice a year, and they have some pretty good sources for research throughout the northeastern U. S. (and many of their members come from Galicia). If there’s any group in the U. S. that might be able to offer some ideas for leads, especially regarding the Pennsylvania connection, PGS-NE is the one.

William F. “Fred” Hoffman, Author, Polish Surnames: Origins and Meanings


To: Chris Weidman, [email protected], who wrote:

… Found a name on your web site and I want to thank you for that information. Do you have anything on Golaszewski or Stasiak??

Stasiak comes from a nickname for “Stanislaw” — Poles often take the first couple of sounds from a popular first name, chop off the rest, and start adding suffixes; so Stas~is a popular nickname for Stanislaw, and when you add on the -ak you get Stasiak, probably meaning “Stan’s son.” Surnames meaning “son of” someone with a common name are themselves very common — as of 1990 there were some 19,870 Poles named Stasiak, living all over the country. Which only makes sense: this name could get started anywhere Polish was spoken and guys named Stas’ had sons, namely, everywhere in Poland!

Golaszewski is also a fairly common name, there were 4,302 Poles by this name as of 1990, scattered all over the country. The ultimate root of the name is gol-, “bare,” but this surname probably originated as a reference to a place name, meaning basically “person from Golasza or Golasze or Golaszewo” — any of those place names could generate the surname Golaszewski. As you might suspect, there are several different villages bearing those names, so we can’t pin down which one is that one your relatives took their name from. If you have a little luck with your research, however, you may find something that lets you focus on a specific area in Poland. If you do, and you locate a village nearby with a name beginning with Golasz-, that’s probably the one your ancestors came from.

William F. “Fred” Hoffman, Author, Polish Surnames: Origins and Meanings


To: Charlie Szoch, [email protected], who wrote:

… If you are still offering your services to provide basic information about Polish surnames, I would like to know if you have any information on my family name. My grandfather, Donat Szoch, immigrated to the USA in either 1900 or 1902.

Assuming that Szoch is the correct form of the name — and I have to, if we start trying to deal with possible variants we’ll never get anywhere, there are too many — there are a couple of likely sources for it. In Polish there is a rather rare or dialect term szoch meaning “bulrush,” of which the dictionary says: “1. Any of various aquatic or wetland herbs of the genus Scirpus, having grasslike leaves and usually clusters of small, often brown spikelets. 2. Any of several wetland plants of similar aspect, such as the papyrus and the cattail.”

The other root I find is German Schoch — a Pole hearing that name would spell it Szoch, so a German by that name who lived among Poles might well come to spell it that way. In German Schoch is a name from an old German word meaning “hay barn.” So it appears we’re dealing with a Polish name meaning “bulrush” – – and many Polish names do come from plant names, so that’s plausible — or a German name meaning “hay barn.” In both cases, the name probably got started as a reference to a feature near where someone lived; he lived near a prominent growth of bulrushes, or near a hay barn. From the info I have available, those seem the two most likely derivations.

The name is pretty rare in Poland. As of 1990 there were 71 Polish citizens named Szoch, and here is a breakdown by the provinces they lived in: Warsaw 10, Bialystok 14, Bydgoszcz 18, Katowice 1, Lomza 4, Lodza 1, Olsztyn 2, Ostroleka 1, Radom 1, Siedlce 10, Suwalki 9. Unfortunately I don’t have access to any more details such as first names or addresses. For what it’s worth, however, the name seems more common in northeastern and northcentral Poland, and Warsaw, Bialystok, and Suwalki provinces were areas ruled for a long time by Russia, so it would make sense a person coming from there would be listed on the census as born in “Russia-Poland.”

William F. “Fred” Hoffman, Author, Polish Surnames: Origins and Meanings


To: Gerald Zacharek, [email protected], who wrote:

… Found your address at the PGSA site. Wundered if you have info on the surnames Zacharek and Zachemska. They lived near Nowy Targ before 1900. My wife’s grandfather who came from Hungary thought Zacharek was of Bohemian origin but my grandparents and my father who was born in Budapest Hungary spoke Polish.

Regarding Zachemski (the -ska is just the feminine form, no other difference), here are notes I wrote on this name, also spelled Zahemski, for another researcher:

…This one did not appear in the book because it is so rare. 1990 government databases list no Polish citizen by this name. However, h and ch are pronounced exactly the same in Polish, so the spelling Zachemski is also relevant, and as of 1990 there were 21 Poles by that name, all living in the province of Nowy Sacz, in south central Poland. I have to wonder if this is a mangled form of some other name, because I can find no Polish root that Zachemski would come from.

[Added note, 27 Feb 1998: Unfortunately, I do not have any details such as first names, addresses, etc., for those 21 Zachemski’s in Nowy Sacz province. You might be able to get that info if you have a search done of the Nowy Sacz provincial phone directory. No guarantees, but that’s the only way I can think of to get such info. The PGSA and the PGS-Northeast, 8 Lyle Road, New Britain CT 06053, can do such searches, contact them if you’d like to inquire about what’s involved — WFH].

You know, it could be we’re dealing with a variant of a more common name, affected by dialect, mispronuncation, misspelling, something. The za- part makes perfect sense, it’s a prefix and a preposition meaning “past, beyond, on the other side of.” It’s possible, for instance, that this name was originally something like Zachel~mski, meaning “from the other side of Chel~m,” or “person from Zachel~mie,” the name of several villages that were “beyond, past Chel~m.” This makes sense too because that l~ is pronounced so softly that sometimes it is just dropped, which would yield something sounding very like “Zachemski.”

Also, a name Zachemba appears in the Surname Directory (very rare, only 8 bearers), and when the suffix -ski is added on that b sound would tend to disappear, again yielding “Zachemski.” That name doesn’t appear in the Directory either, but to me either Zachel~mski or Zachembski sounds “more Polish” than Zachemski.

That’s the end of the note on Zachemski. Zacharek is a name meaning “little Zachary” or “son of Zachary.” As of 1990 there were 953 Poles with this name, living all over Poland but with the largest numbers (more than 40) in the provinces of Warsaw (41), Bydgoszcz (73), Gdansk (47), Koszalin (81), Olsztyn (49), Ostroleka (140), and Torun (270). This suggests the name is most common in northcentral Poland, but is found elsewhere — which is really what you’d expect with a surname formed from a popular first name. Such surnames could and did originate anywhere Polish was spoken and there were fellows named Zachariasz (in Ukrainian Zakhar) who had sons, i. e., anywhere in Poland.

William F. “Fred” Hoffman, Author, Polish Surnames: Origins and Meanings


To: Stella I. Stanger, [email protected], who wrote:

…I really don’t like to take advantage, but I have always been curious about the family surnames of Chmelyk and Yuzda from Galecia.

Chmelyk is not tough, that’s a Ukrainian form, equivalent to Chmielik in Polish, and it refers to hops, the plant used in beermaking. Most likely the surname started out meaning “hopster” or perhaps “son of the hopster.” As of 1990 there were 13 Polish citizens named Chmelik, a spelling variation of Chmelyk. But as I said, Chmelyk is a Ukrainian form, it’s probably quite a bit more common in Ukraine, although unfortunately I have no source of data with which to check. (in Poland there are 372 Chmielik’s, so it’s not a really common name in Poland, but not rare either).

Since the sources I have are mainly in Polish, and Yuzda is a phonetic spelling of a name originally written in Cyrillic, I looked for the Polish spelling Juzda (Polish j is pronounced like our y) — but I struck out, no Juzda’s at all. At first I couldn’t find any root it might derive from. But then I noticed in the dictionary a note that helped — it mentioned, in connection with another word, that sometimes words beginning with J/Y are dialect variants of words with neither. In other words, Juzda/Yuzda can very well be a dialect variant of Uzda; this happens with other words, e. g. the word for “already” in Polish is juz* (pronounced sort of like “yoosh”), but in Russian and Ukrainian it’s uzhe — the main difference is that one puts a Y sound before the u, the other doesn’t. And uzda I can find, in Polish, Russian, and Ukrainian –it means “horse’s halter, bridle.” That may sound odd as a name, but there are many other similar terms that became surnames, probably starting as nicknames because a man made halters, or sold them, or used them, something like that.

So it’s plausible — not certain, but plausible — that Juzda is simply a variant of Uzda and meant originally “halter, bridle.” Neither name is common in Poland, but might be a little more common in Ukraine — as I say, I have no data on that.

William F. “Fred” Hoffman, Author, Polish Surnames: Origins and Meanings


To: Bob Mitchell, [email protected], who wrote:

…I checked “the book”, pp 468 for Story but the closest name is Storc. Story is on a baptismal certificate twice. Penmanship is very poor however I remember the surname Story being used at home a long time ago so I do believe it is a legitiminate Polish name. Unfortunately I’ve been blessed with rare surnames: Budarz (11) and Charamut(13). Is this another one?

You need to travel back in time and tell your ancestors to get easier names!

However, by comparison, this is a common one: Story was the name of 246 Polish citizens as of 1990. They were scattered all over, with the largest numbers (more than 10) in the provinces of Bydgoszcz (11), Elblag (14), Gorzow (25), Olsztyn (14), Rzeszow (38), Tarnobrzeg (40), Wroclaw (24).

As for the meaning, there are a couple of possibilities. The dictionary mentions stora as a variant of sztora, which means “window blind.” That seems unlikely as a surname root, but I’ve learned never to say “never”… However, when I first saw this name I thought “That just might be a dialect variant of Stary, ‘old.’ I wonder if it is?” Well, here in the Directory of Surnames in Current Use in Poland, right after Story, is an entry for Storybrat — now I know that is a variant of an established name, Starybrat, literally “old brother.” This proves that Story can occasionally be just a variant of Stary, also not an extremely common name (192) but not rare either. Given a choice between “window blind” and “old,” I’d go with “old” every time. Besides, in Polish the pronunciations of O and A are similar, they’re easily confused and switched.

So that’s my best guess: you’re dealing with a dialect variation of the word meaning “old.”

William F. “Fred” Hoffman, Author, Polish Surnames: Origins and Meanings


To: Gunter Koerner, [email protected]

…I have an ancestor with the last name Jaks/Joks. Is there some connection with Jaktor/Hektor? The first entries of this name appear in the register of the catholic church in the village Mikstat in the province Kalisz (formerly province Poznan) in 1803. I searched for this name in registers of several surrounding catholic, Jewish and Lutheran parishes. I could not find any references before 1803.

Polish surname expert Kazimierz Rymut mentions Jaks in his book on Polish surnames, saying that it derives from short forms or nicknames of the first names Jakub (Jacob) and Jakim (Joachim) — possibly others, too, but those would be the main ones. Another expert, Maria Malec, lists it among the derivatives of Jakub. So in most cases I would expect Jaks to be a short form of Jakub; in an individual case it might derive from the name Jaktor/Hektor, but those names are a lot less common in Poland than Jakub, so odds are Jakub (or Jakim) is the connection in question. One problem with this name is that it probably was, originally, just a nickname, and a halfway common one at that; with nicknames that became frozen as surnames, you can only go so far back before you don’t know whether the name should be treated as a nickname or surname.

It’s interesting that there’s a work called the Dictionary of Old Polish Personal Names [Slownik staropolskich nazw osobowych], a collection by scholars of the first few appearances of names in old documents. Jaks is mentioned briefly in a 1485 entry in the Poznan Council Records (“Iakx, cerdo ruff[us])”, and again in 1486. There are numerous citations of the name Jaksa/Jaksza/Jaxa. So these are old names. However, Jaks is probably common enough that you shouldn’t jump to the conclusion this fello was an ancestor of yours — I just wanted to show you that the name has been around a while!

William F. “Fred” Hoffman, Author, Polish Surnames: Origins and Meanings


To: [email protected], who wrote:

…Thank you for putting together the very informative home page regarding Polish surnames. Unfortunately I did not find Pilsudski. This was my mother’s maiden name. I would appreciate any information you may have regarding the surname of Pilsudski.

Pil~sudski (I’m using l~ to represent the l with a slash through it, pronounced like our w) is a surname deriving from a place name, and the Polish name of the place isPil~sudy, in what is now Lithuania. I cannot find it on maps, so I do not known the Lithuanian name, but it is surely very similar, probably something like Pilsude. I did find this information in an 1890’s Polish gazetteer (Polish names are given first, Lithuanian names are given in brackets, when I could find them):

Pil~sudy, 1) a village in Rossienie [Raseiniai] county, parish of Gierdyszki [Girdiske]. 2) a manor and village, Rossienie [Raseiniai] county, parish of Skawdwile [Skaudvile], property of the Wojdyllos.

So there were actually two places named Pil~sudy, both fairly close to each other, near the town of Rossienie [now Raseiniai] in Lithuania; the inhabitants of one went to the Catholic parish in Gierdyszki to register births, deaths, and marriages, the inhabitants of the other went to the church in Skawdwile. The Polish leader Gen. Jozef Pil~sudski was surely of noble birth, and usually when you have a Polish noble name in -ski from the name of a place, it is connected with a manor — so I imagine the 2nd one was the seat of the noble Pil~sudskis, even though another family (Wojdyllo) owned it as of 1890 or so.

As of 1990 there were only 8 Polish citizens living in Poland who had the name Pil~sudski, living in the provinces of Warsaw (1), Gdansk (1), and Kielce (6). (I have no access to further details such as names and addresses, so I’m afraid the info I give here is all I can have). However, that data deals only with people living within Poland’s current boundaries — there may be more Pil~sudskis living in Lithuania, but I don’t have any info on that.

Since Pil~sudski was so important in Polish history, there are probably books on him and his family — you might write the PGSA (984 N. Milwaukee Ave., Chicago IL 60622) to see if one of the volunteers can find anything in the Library of the Polish Museum of America that would give background on the family. You might also want to write a gentleman named David Zincavage ([email protected]), he is very interested in Lithuanian research and nobility, he might have more info on the surname, the village, etc. If not, he may be able to recommend some places where you could learn more. It wouldn’t hurt to ask.

William F. “Fred” Hoffman, Author, Polish Surnames: Origins and Meanings


To: Joe Szulczewski, [email protected], who wrote:

… I ran across your web page while searching for info, places, & history on the net. My last name is Szulczewski…anything you can tell me about would be greatly appreciated.

Names ending in -ewski usually — not always, but usually — derive from the name of a place, and that name tends to end in -ow, -owa, -owo, -ew, -ewa, -ewo, or sometimes -y or -i. The most likely name would be something like “Szulczewo,” though any of the other possibilities (and more!) can enter into it. I can’t find mention in my gazetteers or maps of a specific village by the right name, although there was a Szulcowo some 80 km. from Kaunas in Lithuania, and another not too far from Vitebsk in Belarus. The fact that these places are no longer in Poland is no issue, at one time they were ruled by Poles and Poles lived there, also the inhabitants of the areas often identified themselves as Polish citizens regardless of their ethnic origin… There are also a few villages called Szulec that might come into play, but I see nothing to point to any particular one.

It’s worth mentioning that any name in Szulc- usually derives from szulc, the Polish spelling of German Schultz, equivalent to Polish sol~tys, meaning a kind of village headman or bailiff. So Szulczewski probably started out meaning “person associated with the village of Szulczewo (or the other possibilities),” and the name of that place in turn meant “the headman’s place.” This is relevant because a name like that could refer to just a very small settlement or farm that was owned by the local village administrator. So that name might be one used only by local inhabitants, it might never show up on any map or in any gazetteer, and yet such names generated surnames.

As of 1990 there were 1,159 Polish citizens with this name, so it is not rare. They lived all over Poland, with the largest numbers in the provinces of Warsaw (73), Bydgoszcz (74), Gorzow (70), Lodz (99), Plock (140), Poznan (145), Szczecin (94), and Wloclawek (126), and smaller numbers in virtually every other province. The only pattern to that distribution I see is that the name tends to be found mostly in central and western Poland, in areas once ruled by Germans (which is not surprising in view of the Schultz link). I should add that I have no access to more detailed info, such as first names and addresses.

I’m sorry I couldn’t offer you more in the way of specific pointers, but it’s that way with the majority of Polish surnames — there are just too many places with names from which a particular surname could arise. You’re going to find people with names begining Szulc- all over Poland, but especially in the areas closest to Germany. There just isn’t any clue in the name itself to help pin it down.

William F. “Fred” Hoffman, Author, Polish Surnames: Origins and Meanings


To: “Paul Gatz,” [email protected], who wrote:

… I have been recently searching for my grandmother’s maiden name to begin the quest of tracing my heritage. Her sister in law has tried, in the past, however, to no avail. Finding your website may give me a better chance at understanding just who I am, and possibly give my grandmother the gift of better knowing hers. The surname that I am looking for is Ogitzak.

I have looked through all my sources, and I’m afraid I have to admit I’m stumped. I can find nothing that appears to be related to this name. To start with, that is not a Polish spelling, although the name definitely appears to be Slavic; in Polish the tz would be spelled c, so I tried looking for Ogitzak or Ogicak, and found neither. There was no one in Poland with either name as of 1990, and none of my books shed any light on them. The only possibility I can think of — and it’s pretty far-fetched — is that the family with this name might have lived in the part of Poland ruled by Russia, and the name was changed. Russian doesn’t use the sound h, and Russians regularly turn h into g, so that in Russian I am called “Goffman” instead of “Hoffman.” If that’s relevant, the name might originally have been something like Ohidzak or Ohydzak; phonetically speaking, that is at least plausible. There is a Polish root ohyda that means “something horrible, dreadful, frightful, monstrous,” and it is theoretically possible that a surname Ohydzak might derive from that and then turn into Ogitzak due to Russian phonetic influence. If so, the name would mean something like “son of the frightful one, hideous one.” This is not a particularly pleasant name — although I’ve seen plenty of Polish surnames that meant things like this, and worse. I wouldn’t blame you a bit if you don’t take it this too seriously, especially since I’ve had to make several stretches just to get to it; also, there was no one in Poland with this name or any likely spelling as of 1990. So it’s far-fetched, as I said. But it’s the only thing close to an explanation I can find!

William F. “Fred” Hoffman, Author, Polish Surnames: Origins and Meanings


To: Albert Lammers, [email protected], who wrote:

…Please can you help? My wife is a Kuss from Lodz. Where might her family have originated from?

The short answer is, there’s no way to know. Kuss, in that form, appears to be a German name, perhaps from the root Kuss, meaning “kiss.” But it may be a variation of a nickname for a first name such as “Kosmo,” or it might be a Germanized spelling of a Polish name beginning with the root kus-, which can mean “small chunk of bread,” “tempt,” “short, scanty,” “a young boy,” etc. There just isn’t enough info to say anything more definite.

As of 1990 there were 70 Polish citizens named Kuss, living in the following provinces: Warsaw 2, Bialystok 3, Bydgoszcz 17, Ciechanow 2, Czestochowa 1, Elblag 1, Gdansk 5, Katowice 5, Legnica 14, Lodz 4, Lublin 5, Poznan 2, Szczecin 2, Torun 4, Wroclaw 3. If you are determined, you might be able to get hold of a Lodz province phone directory and see if any of the Kuss’es in Lodz are listed (they may not be, phones in private homes are by no means universal in Poland), and that might provide an address for someone to write to. Other than that, I’m afraid I’m out of ideas. The source from which I got the above data does not contain any more details such as first names and addresses, and I have no access to any such data. A telephone directory search is by no means certain to succeed, but it’s the only way I know of you might be able to learn more.

William F. “Fred” Hoffman, Author, Polish Surnames: Origins and Meanings


To: Michael Odahowski, [email protected], who wrote:

… I just discovered your surname meanings on the PGSA web page. It was wonderful to find that someone else had been searching for my surname (Odachowski). I was wondering if you might know anything about some other surnames in my family: Filipowski, Nowacki, Pies~ciuk, Plaski, Puszynski, Rzentkowski, Wisniewski.

Names ending in -owski, such as Filipowski, usually indicate association with a place name, often ending with -ew, -ewo, -ow, -owo, etc. I’d expect Filipowski to mean “one from Filipow, Filipowo, etc.” Those names, in turn, mean “Philip’s place,” Filip is the Polish form of our name “Philip.” Unfortunately there are at least eight such places in Poland, so there’s no way to know which one your Filipowski’s might have been connected with. As of 1990 there were 4,138 Polish citizens named Filipowski, living all over the country.

Nowacka is just a feminine form of Nowacki, and that comes from the word nowak, “new guy in town.” Names from nowak are exceedingly common — as of 1990 there 24,910 Polish citizens named Nowacki, scattered all over the country.

According to Polish surname expert Kazimierz Rymut, the name Pies~ciuk comes from a root meaning “to fondle,” perhaps it was a nickname for someone who was very demonstrative in showing affection, with lots of body contact. As of 1990 there were only 87 Piesciuk’s in Poland, living in the following provinces: Warsaw 8, Gdansk 6, Jelenia Gora 2, Katowice 1, Koszalin 14, Olsztyn 3, Ostroleka 1, Suwalki 4, Walbrzych 3, Wroclaw 1, Zielona Gora 10. There’s not really enough data there to give a useful pattern of distribution, they really are scattered all over the country.

Plaski appears to come from the Polish word plaski, “level, flat,” perhaps referring to the area where a family lived or perhaps to some quality or feature of their appearance or personality. As of 1990 there were 551 Poles by this name, with the largest numbers in these provinces: Warsaw 176, Katowice 50, Kielce 59, and Lodz 45.

Puszyn~ski comes from a basic root meaning “to preen, prance, strut,” or from an archiac word meaning “tuft of feathers.” However, names ending in -in~ski and -yn~ski are also usually associated with place names, and Puszynski probably indicates connection with a town or village. I can only find one likely candidate in my atlas, Puszyna in Opole province, so the Puszyn~ski family in this case may have come from there. However, there might be other villages named Puszyn, Puszyna, etc. that were too small to show up on the maps. As of 1990 there were 273 Polish citizens named Puszynski, with the largest numbers living in the provinces of: Bielsko-Biala 45, Kielce 58, Warsaw 26, and Wroclaw 19. This seems to indicate the name tends to be most common in southcentral Poland.

Rzentkowski probably indicates origin in a village named something like Rzentkow, Rzentkowo, Rzentki – I can find no such places in my atlas, but that may just mean they were too small to show up. This is a tricky name because there are several different ways to spell it in Polish: it could be Rze~tkowski (e~ stands for the Polish nasal vowel written as an e with a tail under it and pronounced like en, a~ stands for the other Polish nasal vowel written as an a with a tail under it and pronounced like on, orRze~dkowski, or Rzendkowski, or Rza~dkowski (the nasal vowels often switch), and so on. To make things worse, in Polish rz and z* (dotted Z) are pronounced exactly the same, so for each of these spellings you also have to consider variants with Z* instead of initial Rz. In Polish names, if there are several different ways of spelling the sounds of a name, you should not be surprised to see several different spellings of the name… As of 1990 there were only 25 Poles named Rzentkowski, 46 named Rze~dkowski, 1,265 named Rza~dkowski – this makes it very tough to say exactly which form of the name is relevant, and also what place name spelling we should be looking for.

The ending -ewski on Wis~niewski tells us this is another name indicating place of origin — in this case, from any of a jillion villages named Wis~niewo or Wis~niew, all taking their names from the root wisznia, “cherry-tree.” When a surname comes from a place name this common, you’d expect the surname to be common also, and Wisniewski is: as of 1990 there were 104,418 Polish citizens by that name, living in huge numbers all over the country.

… One last question. Could you recommend any web sites where I could look up the addresses of family members in Poland?

No, I’m afraid so far there are no such web sites. They’re just starting to get Polish phone directories on the Web – so far as I know, the Poznan directory is the only one up and running – and phones in private homes are less common in Poland than here – so even when all the directories are on- line, they won’t be very complete listings. As of now I don’t know of any way, on-line or not, to get addresses, other than to use the phone directories. The PGSA and its sister society PGS-Northeast (8 Lyle Rd., New Britain CT 06053) have sets of such directories and will search them for specific names for a fee; contact them if you want to know more. It’s kind of a long shot, but I don’t know of any other source of the info you want. Sorry!

William F. “Fred” Hoffman, Author, Polish Surnames: Origins and Meanings