Notes on Selected Polish Surnames – 11


To: [email protected], who wrote:

… Just found your page…very interesting. If you could, tell me anything you can about my maiden name Wojtkiewicz.

The -ewicz suffix means “son of,” so Wojtkiewicz means “son of Wojtek, Wojtko,” something like that. The first part of the name could come from two sources: it can be a nickname for a person named Wojciech, meaning basically “son of Wojciech”; or it can come from the term wo~jt, an official who was a sort of village headman. So the name means either “Wojciech’s son” or “the wo~jt’s son.” It is a pretty common name, as of 1990 there were at least 2,624 Poles named Wojtkiewicz.

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


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

… I was just wondering if you would be able to search for the name Pryla. I was told by my grandfather that the correct spelling is Prywa. I’ve never met or heard of anyone with that name besides my immediate family and have been very interested in finding out why. I wonder if I’m the last male able to carry on the family name?

Reading those first two sentences, I wonder if the story got mixed up a little? Saying the name Pryla should be spelled Prywa is kind of hard to explain — but it makes perfect sense to say the name Pryla should be pronounced Prywa. That would mean the original Polish form was Pryl~a, where l~ stands for the Polish l with a slash through it, which is pronounced like our w. So maybe your grandfather meant it was originally Pryl~a, pronounced “PRI-wah” (the first syllable sounds like the start of the word “prim”); or maybe his parents told him that and it got confused somewhere along the line… In Polish Prywa would be pronounced “PRI-vah,” and there’s no reason that should be spelled Pryla; but as I say, Pryl~a pronounced “PRI-wah” makes perfect sense.

All these names appear to be related to an old Germanic first name Bryl or Brill or Prill. I can’t find anything on what that name might have meant, but it was a name used among Germans and Poles hundreds of years ago. So the surname Pryla or Pryl~a would mean basically just “Pryl’s son.”

As of 1990 there was no one in Poland with the name Prywa, but there were 50 Polish citizens with the name Pryl~a. They lived in the following provinces: Bydgoszcz (33), Gorzow (3), Katowice (6), Torun (7), Zielona Gora (1). There were also 15 named Pryla (no slash through the l and pronounced like an l), living in the following provinces: Bydgoszcz (10), Elblag (5). I’m afraid I have no further details such as first names, addresses, etc.

If you wanted to try to get addresses, there’s only one way I know of to try: have someone search the telephone directory for the province in question. This is not a sure thing, phones in private homes are far less common in Poland than here. But a search of the Bydgoszcz province phone directory, for instance, might turn up one or two Pryl~a’s and give you their addresses; you could write (the letter would almost certainly have to be in Polish) and see if there are any connections…

As you can see, it’s not an easy way to do things, and there are no guarantees. But I know no other way to try to connect with relatives in Poland, unless your research has already allowed you to establish exactly where they came from. The Polish Genealogical Society of America can do such searches for a reasonable fee — I believe there’s more about it on the PGSA Website under “Limited Research.” If not, you can write the Society and ask.

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


To: [email protected]

…Interested in knowing if you have any information on Wieszcholek or Wierzcholek.

Wierzchol~ek (l~ stands for the Polish l with a slash through it, pronounced like our w) is the standard spelling of the name, but it might also be spelled Wieszchol~ekbecause the Polish rz in that particular position is pronounced the same as Polish sz, like our “sh” — the name would sound to us roughly like “vyesh-HOE-wek.” This name comes from the Polish word wierzchol~ek, which means “top, summit, peak.” It might have been used as a nickname for someone very tall, or perhaps it referred to where someone lived, near the top of a hill — with names that originated centuries ago we can’t always tell exactly what they meant, only make reasonable guesses.

This is not a very common name, as of 1990 there were only 64 Polish citizens named Wierzchol~ek, living in the following provinces: Bielsko-Biala 1, Jelenia Gora 1, Kalisz 35, Nowy Sacz 1, Opole 2, Rzeszow 11, Wroclaw 13. They’re kind of spread out — Kalisz and Wroclaw provinces are in southwestern Poland, Rzeszow in southeastern, so there doesn’t appear to be any helpful pattern to the distribution. Unfortunately the data I just gave is all I have, I don’t have access to first names, addresses, or any other info that might help you get in touch with the Wierzchol~eks in Poland.

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


To: Patricia SZCZUDLO-SCHMIDT, [email protected], who wrote:

…Can you please give me a general meaning of my family’s name, Szczudlo?

According to Polish surname expert Kazimierz Rymut, Szczudl~o is an established Polish name (the name sounds like “shchood-woe”). It comes from the term szczudl~o, “crutch, wooden leg,” and appears in Polish records as early as 1407. Presumably an ancestor got this as a nickname because he used a crutch or wooden leg, and the name stuck. It is a moderately common name, as of 1990 there were 1,051 Polish citizens named Szczudl~o, with the largest numbers living in the provinces of Czestochowa (57), Katowice (157), Krakow (234), and Pila (76), and smaller numbers living in virtually every province. This suggests the name is most common in southcentral Poland, but is not restricted to that region.

… Another variation of the name that has cropped up is Szczudlowski.

Yes, obviously that name comes from same root, but you want to be very cautious about concluding that Szczudl~o and Szczudl~owski are variations of the same name. They both come from the same root, and in a rare cases the same family might have gone back and forth between the two versions before settling on one. But in most cases they prove to be different and unrelated in any way except linguistically. The -owski suffix usually refers to a connection with a place name; in this case, you’d expect it to mean “person from Szczudl~ow, Szczudl~owo, Szczudl~a,” something like that. (I can’t find any such place on my maps, but that probably means it was too small to show up on them). The place, in turn, would take its name from that root szczudl~o, perhaps because they made wooden legs there or sold them, something. So the two surnames are related in meaning and origin, but in most cases families bearing them would not be related.

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


To: Henry Allen [SMTP:[email protected]], who wrote:

… I would simply like to ask if the surname Reetz is a Polish name. I have learned that there is an area of Poland by this name.

In Hans Bahlow’s Deutsches Namenlexikon he lists Reetz and says it is a Slavic place name in the Prignitz area and east of it; he says there was also a Reetze near Luechow. So this is one of many names that started out Polish or Czech and became Germanized — there are a great many such names, especially in western Poland and eastern Germany. After all these centuries it is hard to say what Reetz started out as in Polish; another of my sources lists a village called Reetz by the Germans which the Poles callRecz (near Choszczno in Pomerania), and there was another called Reetz which the Poles call Rzeczyca Wielka (near Miastko in Pomerania). So there isn’t just one place I can point to and say “This is Reetz,” and thus there isn’t one Polish surname I can give as the equivalent of German Reetz. But the Polish equivalents would probably start either Rec-, Recz-, Redz-, Rzec-, Rzecz-, or Rzedz-.

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


…The question: How common/uncommon is Bielatowicz? ( I assume it’s root comes from “white”). Do you have any data on the surname? Is it isolated to this area of Tarnow? (Honestly I’ve been searching for this name as a present day surname with little luck anywhere)

Bielatowicz means “son of Bielat,” and yes, that name is connected with the root meaning “white”; it may have referred to a person who had a pale complexion, or white or fair hair, something like that. There were 366 Poles with this name as of 1990. As for distribution, it isn’t absolutely isolated in the Tarnow area, but that’s definitely the most likely area to find it. Here are the figures, broken down by province: Bialystok (5), Gdansk (8), Katowice (12), Koszalin (10), Krakow (38), Legnica (6), Lodz (3), Nowy Sacz (5), Poznan (1), Rzeszow (24), Tarnobrzeg (2), Tarnow (250), Torun (2).

I notice that the name Bielat itself is a little more widely spread; there were 667, with 207 of them in Tarnow province, 92 in Kielce province, and 78 in Tarnobrzeg province, and no other province having more than 50. This means we can’t assume all Bielatowiczes originally came from Tarnow province, that’s stretching the data a little farther than it will allow. But I think it is fair to say that most Bielatowiczes, and an awful lot of the Bielats, must surely have their roots in the southeastern part of Poland, with particular concentration in the Tarnow area.

I hope this is good news for you — so often I have to tell folks, “Sorry, your name’s common and there’s no hint on any area you should concentrate on.” At least with this name the data is pretty suggestive.

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


To: Betty Sala, [email protected], who wrote:

… I am curious about the name Sala. I am aware that it means “hall, meeting place, salon,” etc. in several languages, so I assume that it comes from a common root — perhaps Latin. It does not appear to be a very common Polish name and seems to be more common as an Italian name — even as the name of several Italian towns. Could it be that there was some migration from Italy to Poland? I would appreciate any thoughts you might have on this subject if you have the time.

Your ideas on this name can be right, but there are a few things I should add.

Sala certainly can come from the Romance root meaning “hall, meeting place.” This word exists in Polish, too, with the same basic meaning. So while it’s certainly true there were Italians who came to live in Poland — and we do find Italian names mixed in among the Polish ones — that doesn’t mean people in Poland named Sala are of Italian descent. They might be, but they might have gotten their name from an Italian word that came into Polish, rather than from Italian people who came into Poland.

Also, Sala originated in other ways. In fact, for most Poles named Sala the surname probably started out as a nickname for Salomon (Solomon). Sala would be a little like Sol or Sal in English, with the final -a in many cases meaning “of Sol, of Sal” and thus referring to Sal’s children. In Kazimierz Rymut’s book on Polish surnames, the “Salomon” connection is the only one he mentioned for Sala; in my book I added the possible link to the noun meaning “hall, room” because I thought it might be pertinent in some cases and thus was worth a mention.

By the way, as of 1990 there were some 4,502 Sala’s in Poland, living all over the country, with the largest numbers in the provinces of Bielsko-Biala (343), Katowice (378), Kielce (717), Krakow (678), Rzeszow (203) — this is an interesting pattern, it appears the name is most common in southcentral Poland, with some spillover to the southwestern and southeastern part of the country. However, there is virtually no province that doesn’t have at least a few Sala’s in it.

Anyway, that’s a little info on this name. Your ideas about an Italian connection are plausible and may well prove correct in some cases; and as I said, there definitely were Italians who came to live in Poland. But for most Poles the connection with the name Salomon would probably prove to be relevant.

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


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

… I say, could you possibly advise us on the frequency of the name Dubilas in Poland? We are doing research for some long-lost relatives in Argentina, whose grandmother was a Dubilas. Quite an unusual name, I believe, and it doesn’t sound particularly Polish. Maybe Lithuanian?

As of 1990 there were 107 Polish citizens named Dubilas, living in the provinces of Lodz (87), Piotrkow (19), and Zielona Gora (1). In this case, too, there appears to be a strong connection with Lodz province –Piotrkow province is just south of Lodz province, so we are talking about a very small, specific area in the center of the country.

Dubilas is an interesting name, because dub and las both make sense as Polish words — dub- is a root meaning “nonsense, idiocy,” and in other Slavic languages means “oak” (in Polish “oak” is da~b), and las means “forest, woods.” So you’d think Dubilas would mean “oak forest” — and yet the expression doesn’t seem to exist in Polish, I couldn’t find anything on it! You might be right that the name sounds Lithuanian, there is a word in Lithuanian dobilas meaning “clover,” also “sweetheart.”

I don’t have a lot of information about Lithuanian names, but you might write to Dave Zincavage at [email protected]. Dave is interested in Lithuanian names and has some books that may give some additional information about the name, whether it appears in Lithuania, how common it is, etc.

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


To: Adam P. Bejger, [email protected], who wrote:

…I saw your page on the PGSA site. Could you please tell me the meaning of the surname Bejger and an approximate location for this name. A possible original spelling of this name is Bejgier or Bejiger

This sounds and looks like a German name that has been somewhat polonized; there are and long have been a great many ethnic Germans who came to settle in Poland, German names are very common there. I can’t quite tell what the original German spelling would have been, it might have been Beiger or Beuger or several other possibilities. It only matters because I can’t really tell what the name meant originally without knowing what its German form was… As for Bejger vs. Bejgier, Polish spelling rules say -ge- is not a permissible combination, it has to be -gie-; so Bejger is closer to the original German form, Bejgier has been a bit more polonized because that spelling rule has been applied. But they are the same name, just spelled differently. Bejiger is almost certainly a misspelling or error in copying.

As of 1990 there were 628 Polish citizens named Bejger, scattered in small numbers all over the country, but with the largest numbers living in the provinces of Bydgoszcz (65), Torun (201), and Wloclawek (156), all in northwestern Poland and in areas that were long ruled by Germany and have many, many descendants of Germans living there… Bejgier is less common, there were 228 Poles by that name, with the largest numbers in the provinces of Bydgodszcz (16), Jelenia Gora (16), Lomza (20), Torun (43) and Wloclawek (70). Again, these areas are almost all in the former German partition, lands ruled by Germany from roughly 1772-1918 or, in some cases, 1945.

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


To: [email protected], who wrote:

… I would like to learn more about the surname Ruszkowsk. If you have information or can recommend sources, I would be most appreciative.

Names ending in -owski usually started as references to place names, often ending in -y, -i, -ow, -owo, etc. So we would expect Ruszkowski to have meant “person, family associated with a place called Ruszki or Ruszkow or Ruszkowo.” My Polish atlas shows 14 villages named Ruszki, Ruszkow, Ruszkowice, or Ruszkowo, and the surname could have gotten started as a reference to any one of them. As is often the case with a surname coming from place names applying to more than one place, the surname Ruszkowski is moderately common in Poland; as of 1990 there were some 3,820 Polish citizens by that name.

So unfortunately the name gives no clue as to a specific part of Poland the Ruszkowskis might have come from. However, if you have some luck with your research and find your ancestors came from a specific area, and then find a Ruszki or Ruszkowo near there, chances are excellent that is the place the family was named for.

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


To: [email protected], who wrote:

… Can you tell me about my maternal ancestory names, Kosel and Koprowski?

Koprowski comes ultimately from the roots koper, “dill,” or kopr, “copper.” But usually names ending in -owski derive from place names, so we would expect Koprowski to mean “person or family associated with Kopry, Koprow, Koprowo,” something like that. I can’t find any places by those names in my atlas, but that may just mean they were too small to show up, or have had their names changed, or have since disappeared or merged with other villages — it’s not uncommon to come across surnames derived from places of names we can’t find any more. As of 1990 there were some 4,921 Polish citizens named Koprowski, so it’s a pretty common name.

Kosel isn’t necessarily Polish in origin, but if it is Polish it probably comes from the roots kos, “blackbird,” or kosa, “scythe.” As of 1990 there were 331 Polish citizens named Kosel, scattered all over Poland but with the largest numbers in the provinces of Katowice (99), Lomza (33), Radom (31). I can’t see any pattern to the distribution (and, since many people ask, I should explain I don’t have access to any further data such as first names or addresses). The similar name Kosela is more common, there were 913 Poles by that name.

I should add that I recently received a book on Polish names of German origin, and it mentions Kosel as a Germanized form of a Slavic name, from Polish Koziel~ or CzechKozel, presumably from the root koziol~, “goat.” It also says the name can come from a number of places in Silesia called Kosel, of which the largest was Kosel, now called Koz~le, in Opole province — here again a connection with the root meaning “goat” appears to be relevant. So the name could be Polish from the roots for “blackbird” or “scythe,” but in a lot of cases it’s probably a Germanized form of a Polish name from the word for “goat.”

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


To: Samantha Opland, [email protected], who wrote:

… I saw your ‘Notes on Polish Surnames’ on the internet. I’m a (VERY) beginner at researching my family heritage. I know, for example that my great-great and great grandfathers lived in Slonim, Poland in the mid to late 1800’s. The names that I have are as follows:

Mishel Charlap – son, Yosef (Joseph Charloff/Charlaff) who married Sarah/Sara. They had a son, David Charlaff (dates believed to be 1878-1944).

The names you mention lead me to believe we’re dealing with Jewish ancestry, correct? This does matter, because while there is obviously considerable overlap in research methodology for Jews and Christians from Poland, there are also factors that can make the practical issues involved very different. Just for example, most Polish Gentiles had surnames by the 1700’s, often a century or two earlier, whereas most Jews living in the Commonwealth of Poland (which included modern-day Lithuania, western Ukraine, and Belarus, which is the country Slonim is in now) did not take surnames until required to by authorities in the 1800’s. This means that Jewish surnames were given during a period for which many historical records still survive, so we can trace them back sometimes and say things much more definitively about them than we can about Christian surnames, many of which were established long before the earliest surviving records.

If I’m right and the family was Jewish, I recommend using the library to try to get a look at two books. One is Alexander Beider’s A Dictionary of Jewish Surnames from the Russian Empire, ISBN 9626373-3-5, published 1993 by Avotaynu — you can learn more about it by visiting Avotaynu’s Web page at Beider mentions this name under the spelling Kharlap (as a phonetic rendering of the Cyrillic spelling); he also mentions it in his book on Jewish Surnames from the Kingdom of Poland (spelled there as Charlap because of Polish phonetics), and the info in both books is similar, but the Russian book has extensive introductory comments more relevant in your case. Beider briefly discusses the origin and meaning of the name, and gives references that tell “about the story of this family.”

Another book that might prove very helpful to you is the just-published Jewish Roots in Poland by Miriam Weiner, 1998, ISBN 0-96565-080-4. For more info see the Web page at It is a wonderful book, enormously helpful for doing research in Poland. Since your family appears to have come from what is now Belarus, it would be less helpful, but might still prove very useful.

Both these books are expensive, that’s why I recommend trying to get a peek at them through a library; you may find them well worth the money, but it’d be best to see them and know first. Weiner’s book is $50 + $8 shipping, Beider’s is $75 + shipping (right now I can’t find the catalog, so I don’t know how much shipping comes to).

Beider’s book suggests strongly that there is some real info available about the Charlap family, so I really think you want to get a look and see about following it up. A lot of times I have to tell people there probably isn’t much material on their specific families — in your case it just might be otherwise. I hope so, and good luck!

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


To: James P. Harlos

…I am researching my family’s roots and would like to know if my surname means anything. My ancestor was born in Zrenica, Posen and had the following variations of the surname: Harlos, Harl~os, Charl~os.

The variations all make sense: in Polish h and ch are pronounced exactly the same, kind of like our h but a bit more guttural, and we often see names spelled either way without it necessarily having any significance. The l~ is pronounced like our w, so the name would sound like “HAR-wose” (rhyming with the Spanish name “Carlos”) — and we often see it and the normal l confused, partly because in some regions of Poland there was a preference for one over the other, partly because foreigners are confused by the l~ and often just write it as l (e. g., when Poles emigrated).

This is not a very common name in Poland. As of 1990 there were only 4 Polish citizens named Harl~os, 2 living in Poznan province and 2 in Zielona Gora province (I’m afraid I don’t have access to further data, such as first names or addresses). There were 13 named Charl~os, 6 in Gdansk province and 7 in Leszno province.

None of my sources discuss this name, so I’m left to look in dictionaries for terms that might have been its source. I note that in Polish there is a root charl~- that means “poor person, beggar, wretch”; I also see there’s a Ukrainian root that Poles would spell the same way and means the same thing. So while the words beginning with charl~- are not all that common, they do exist, and they refer to a poverty-stricken person, a wretch, a beggar; and it seems likely Charl~os is a name deriving from that root. While -os is not one of the more common suffixes we see added to Polish roots to make names, it’s hardly unheard of, either.

All in all, that’s the best guess I can make — that the name comes from some rather rare words that all means basically “person who was poor and having a very tough time of it.”

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


… I saw your message on the Polish Genealogical site. If you have the time I need some help. Our family name is Wojton. My father emigrated from Poland around 1922-24 from a town/village called Janow. The problem is I don’t know what province. Mapquest shows 20 “Janow” listings in present day Poland. I thought that maybe you might be kind enough to tell from the surname where I should focus my search. I thank you in advance for your help. Regards, Louis Woyton.

I was afraid I wouldn’t be able to help at all — so often with Polish surnames there is no real clue to the specific area they came from, and as you’ve discovered, there are lots of Janow’s. But I looked up the name, and there is some info that might be helpful. Here’s the distribution by province for the 428 Wojton’s living in Poland as of 1990:

Wojton 428: Bydgoszcz 5, Czestochowa 3, Gdansk 10, Jelenia Gora 6, Kaliz 2, Katowice 32, Kielce 190, Krakow 5, Krosno 3, Legnica 7, Lodz 6, Olsztyn 13, Opole 6, Pila 7, Piotrkow 10, Plock 13, Przemysl 4, Radom 6, Rzeszow 66, Sieradz 2, Skierniewice 1, Slupsk 1, Szczecin 3, Tarnow 6, Walbrzych 7, Wloclawek 9, Wroclaw 5.

Obviously you may be unlucky and your Wojton’s might have come from one of those provinces with only 2 or 3 — but if you play the odds, it seems the most likely place to start is Kielce province. With 190 of the 428 Wojton’s (almost half), chances are reasonably good that’s where your Wojton’s came from. I notice there are at least 2 Janow’s in Kielce province, but at least searching them might be a manageable job… If you have no luck there, Rzeszow province, with 66, seems like the next place to try.

I wish this data could have simplified your task a lot more, but at least it might be some help. Now you know focusing on a Janow in Kielce province is more likely to pay off than looking in, say, Tarnow province. You still may have a lot of work to do, but I hope maybe this will save you some trouble.

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


To: [email protected], who wrote:

… Thanks so much, William, for your translations of my ancestral surnames. I just recently ordered your book from the PGS. I also thank you for listing some village names that I will definitely look into to see if great-great- greats came from perhaps these other villages.

I’m glad my info helped, and I hope you find the book even more helpful. I like the idea of the book and Web page because they complement each other. In the book I didn’t have room for a lot of info on individual names, so I discussed background info at length; on-line I don’t have time for a lot of background info but I can discuss individual names in more depth. Put them together and I think you have a pretty good source of information… As for the villages, they are crucial — Slavic names seldom contain enough info in them to tell you exactly where they originated, but if you can match them up with a specific area, your chances of hitting paydirt are much better.

Could you possible look at two other surnames? They are: Levitsky

The name Lev/Lew is definitely part of the picture. Actually the name Levistky could get started several ways, but the most likely way in most cases is this: a fellow named Lev has sons, who are called Levichi or Levitsy (the suffix just meaning “son of”), and then places associated with them end up being called Levichi or Leviche or Levitsy or Levitse, then people who come from there are called Levitsky (Polish spelling Lewicki). So usually Levitsky would break down as meaning “person associated with or coming from the place of Lev’s son.” It wouldn’t have anything to do with the city of Lviv, in fact most likely you’re looking for a village named Levitsy, Levitse, something like that.

… 2. Brutka (Ukrainian surname) from Strilbychi, Ukraine. My cousins pronounce it : Brit-ka (first syllable is stressed and has a short i sound). I dont know its original Cyrillic spelling, but it would have to be pronounced either: Britka or Brutka (Broot – ka).

I can’t find anything under the Brut- root. There is a Ukr. root that would be rendered bryt- in the Roman alphabet, meaning “shave, shaved” — in Cyrillic it looks like this:

6 P I/I T –

the 6 is the letter standing for B. Names from this root would be pronounced with a short i sound and stress on the first syllable. It seems plausible this root could be related to the name, “Brytka” may have originated as a nickname given to a person who was clean-shaven — that would set him apart, which is how nicknames got started — and eventually the nickname might have stuck as a family name… Anyway, that’s the only thing I can find that appears likely to be relevant.

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


To: [email protected], who wrote:

… Interested in any information on the surname Wozniak. It was my paternal g-grandmother’s maiden name.

This is a very common name in Polish, as of 1990 there were 81,390 Poles named Woz~niak. The root is woz, wagon, cart, and woz~niak is a term meaning “saddle horse.” This surname would probably be much like “Carter” in English, referring to a fellow who drove a cart. It might also be connected to woz~ny, a court crier or beadle, but in most cases I expect it’s linked to the meaning “carter.”

… Do you have any information on Dygton?. I am not absolutely positive of the spelling. It appears to be one of my paternal g-grandmothers. I think she was from Tarnow.

There was no record of anyone by that name in Poland in 1990, and I must say it doesn’t even look “right” to me — I have to suspect the spelling has been mangled. If the spelling’s right, none of my sources give any info on the name.

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


To: [email protected] (Niziolek, Ron J)

… Is the name Niziolek in your book or do you have any references to it — family trees, immigrants about 1900, locations in Poland etc. If so let me know, I may be interested in your book.

It is mentioned, but no name is discussed in great detail — there just wasn’t room in the book, instead I concentrated on giving an extensive list of names, tell what basic root they come from, and say what kind of names they are. Then readers can go to the first half of the book and read the chapters that give more info on how names of that sort arose. So if you want anything detailed, I’m sorry, I just didn’t have room for it. What I give is basically this: Niziol~ek (the l~ stands for the Polish l with a slash through it, pronounced like our w) comes ultimately from the root niz- meaning “low, short.” One Polish name expert links it with the term niziol~ek meaning “imp, sprite.” It is a pretty common name, as of 1990 there were 3,429 Poles named Niziol~ek, and another 2,592 named Niziol~, which is the same root without the diminutive suffix -ek.

… I am willing to share what I know if some one else is interested in compiling a Niziolek Ancestry.

If you have a Web page with this info, contact the Webmaster of the Polish Genealogical Society of America, Don Szumowski at [email protected]. He can put a link on the PGSA Website so that folks interested in this name can visit your page and see whether there are any connections that might prove mutually helpful. When I next revise my surname page I will include this note so that anyone visiting there can see your address and contact you.

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


To: Daniel Wells, [email protected], who wrote:

… I happened to come across your links site, and was just wondering if you had any info on the name Kolacki, I didn’t see it in your list, that is my grandfathers name, he came from Warsaw, I am trying to trace some lineage back to poland, but so far have not had any luck, any info on the name would be greatly appreciated, thank you

Kol~acki (the l~ stands for the Polish slashed l, pronounced like our w) is a moderately common name. As of 1990 there were 1,179 Poles by that name, living all over the country; the largest numbers lived in the provinces of Bydgoszcz (130), Konin (116), Leszno (71), Lodz (73), Poznan (217), Szczecin (64) (there were 40 living in Warsaw province).

Determining what the name comes from is pretty difficult, because there are several possibilities. It could come from kol~acz, “cake, wedding-cake” — if you’ve ever heard of the Czech pastries called “kolaches,” it’s basically the same thing — or it could come from kol~at, “noise, din.” Without any really solid info to go on, my guess is that it comes from a place-name, meaning “family from __.” The problem is, there are several places that qualify, for instance, the villages of Kol~ata and Kol~atka in Poznan province. Those 217 Kol~acki’s in Poznan province probably got their name from there. However, it’s harder to say exactly what place a Kol~acki in Warsaw would get his name from.

I know this doesn’t really help you much, but it’s so often that way with Polish names. You often can’t point to one origin and say “This is definitely it.” And I’m afraid this is one of those names.

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


To: Tim Budrewicz, [email protected], who wrote:

… I have just begun a search of my family name. What info I have is very limited. I have researched only a handful of Budrewicz‘s in America and have had contact via the internet to a Budrewicz in Poland who explained that the name was not widespread to say the least there. I would appreciate any info that you could give me…

The suffix -ewicz means “son of,” so the name means “son of Budry, Budre, Budrus” something like that. So the question is, what does that root budr- mean? Ancient records mention a first name Budrys or Budrus which comes from Lithuanian budrus, “alert, watchful”; also in Polish budrus is a term meaning “a Lithuanian.” So the name means “son of Budrus” = “son of the alert one,” or else “son of the Lithuanian.” It is not at all unusual, by the way, to see “Polish” surnames that are connected in form or meaning with Lithuanian names or words, and vice versa.

All things being equal, you’d expect to find a name like this most often in northeastern Poland, near the border with Lithuania (in fact, there is a village Budrowo, from the same root, in Suwalki province, which is in that area). However, over the course of time people have scattered quite a bit; also after World War II millions of people were forced to relocate from the areas east of modern Poland to the western part of Poland, so we find Lithuanian, Belarusian, and Ukrainian names scattered all over Poland. As of 1990 there were 644 Polish citizens named Budrewicz, and they were literally all over the country. The provinces with the largest numbers (more than 30) were: Warsaw (40), Elblag (47), Gdansk (40), Jelenia Gora (34), Olsztyn (52), Slupsk (36), Suwalki (31), Szczecin (45), and Wroclaw (54). Most of those provinces are in northern Poland, but I see no really useful distribution pattern there; it’s a shame we don’t have data from before World War II, when things got mixed up so badly.

By the way, the Lithuanian form of this name would be Budrevicius or something similar. You might want to contact Dave Zincavage (E-mail: [email protected]) to ask if he has any sources that shed light on the name and whether it’s found in Lithuania. He is quite interested in Lithuanian names and might be able to add something to what I’ve given.

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


To: Kathleen Davis, [email protected], who wrote:

…I recently found your web site through a link from genealogy search web site. After reading your page I thought perhaps you could help me. I am trying to find information on the Polish surname Buruffski. The name belonged to my maternal grandfather (who I never knew)…

As of 1990 there was no one in Poland named Buruffski, and that spelling looks all wrong to me. Most likely the spelling was changed at some point, to make it easier to pronounce; this may have happened during the course of emigration, or it may have happened while your ancestors were still in Europe. If, for instance, they lived in the areas ruled by Germany about 1772-1918 the Germans, who tried to wipe out the Polish culture and language, may have changed it without asking. In any case, that spelling is not likely to be the correct original spelling, which you will probably need to get anywhere with your research. The question is, what was the spelling? I can’t be sure, there are many possibilities. The two most likely, from a phonetic point of view are Burowski or Borowski — the first is pronounced something like “burr-OFF-skee,” the second like “bore-OFF-skee.” It’s not hard to see how either could be mangled into Buruffski. Going by numbers alone, Borowski is the more likely choice: as of 1990 there were 24,889 Poles named Borowski, living all over the country, as opposed to only 84 named Burowski (of whom 55 lived in Krakow province, and a few scattered here and there in other provinces). In some ways, that first syllable of Buruffski suggests it was Burowski, and that might be easier for you — the other name is so common it’s hard to get anywhere with it. Still, with names you really can’t jump to conclusions, sometimes you look at the original form and what it ended up as and you’re left scratching your head and wondering “How on earth did it get changed to that?”

I’m afraid you’ll have to try to find some other records that give the names and especially the place of birth in Poland for your ancestors – the surname alone just doesn’t give you enough to go on. That’s usually the case, by the way, folks often contact me hoping I can give them a hot clue that’ll take ’em right where they need to go. Usually I have to disappoint them (and I hate disappointing people). Still, better to tell the truth than encourage them with false hopes that will inevitably be dashed!

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


To: Tony Dankowski, [email protected], who wrote:

…My name is Anthony Dankowski… Is Dankowski a common Jewish name? And what does Dankowski mean? I do not know anything about my grandparents but I am told they were killed during the war…

Names ending in -owski usually started as a reference to an association between a person and a particular place, and the names of those places generally end in -i, -y, -ow, -owo, etc. I would expect Dankowski to mean “person from Dankow, Dankowo,” something like that. There are at least 8 villages named Danko~w, plus several more named Dankowice that the surname could conceivably derive from. So unfortunately the name Dankowski does not narrow things down much, families coming from any or all of those places could end up being called “Dankowski.” The names of those places, in turn, come from names meaning “of, belonging to Danek or Danko,” and would refer to some connection between the place and men named Danek or Danko who owned them, founded them, were prominent in them, etc. Danek in turn is a nickname or short form of such first names as Daniel and Bogdan.

Dankowski can be a Jewish name, but it doesn’t have to be; Jews or Christians could have a first name Daniel or Bogdan (which means “God-given” and is thus a Slavic translation of Hebrew-based Biblical names such as Nathaniel or Jonathan), so a “Danko~w” or “Dankowo” could be a place where either religion lived, and thus Dankowski could be a name used by Christians or Jews. There just isn’t anything about the name that gives a clue either way. There are some names that by their very nature are unlikely to be borne by Jews or Christians, but this isn’t one of them. As of 1990 there were 2,539 Polish citizens named Dankowski, living all over the country. The largest numbers lived in the provinces of Bydgoszcz (233), Poznan (268), Torun (173), and Wloclawek (324), so the numbers are particularly large in north central and west central Poland; but those are provinces with large populations anyway, so I don’t know that there’s much to be concluded from that pattern.

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


To: David Goletz, [email protected], who wrote:

… looking for the surname Goletz. Have looked for it but haven’t found it. Talked to parents and they think it came from Golec. Can you help me?…

Well, I can help a little. Goletz is indeed a German or English spelling of the name Poles spell Golec (the Poles pronounce c as ts or tz), so your parents are probably right about that. As of 1990 there were 16 Polish citizens who spelled their name Goletz, as opposed to 6,474 named Golec, so it seems likely the spelling change took place after your ancestors left Poland; it makes sense they would change it so people around them would have an easier time knowing how to pronounce it… The 6,474 Poles named Golec lived all over Poland, with particularly large numbers in the provinces of Katowice (733), Opole (467), Tarnobrzeg (564), and Tarnow (593); I see no pattern there, apparently the Golec’s are not particularly concentrated in any one area. The root of this name is gol-, meaning “bare, naked.” Specifically, golec is or was a term meaning “naked person, poor person,” in the sense of one so poor he couldn’t afford clothes. This may be a bit of an exaggeration, but there are a lot of words in Polish meaning the same basic thing, so we have to figure there were plenty of folks so poor they went nearly naked. (As best we can figure, my wife’s ancestors’ surname, Holochwosc, means basically “bare- assed”!). This may not be the most complimentary of names, but believe me, when you start looking at the meaning of Polish surnames, this is a long wayfrom the worst I’ve seen!

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


To: Nancy (Kanczuzewski) Huff, [email protected], who wrote:

…my Dad’s parents were from Grandfather’s name was Adam Kanczuzewski, I haven’t found what city he was from. I heard he was from the Russian side of Poland. He came to the U.S. sometime between 1895-1900. My Grandmothers name was Teofila Mindykowski…(Her mothers maiden name was Rakoska)…

Names ending in -ewski or -owski usually started as references to a connection between a person and a particular place, which seems helpful — the names may tell where the family came from. Unfortunately, they’re not often all that helpful, because the places involved are too small to show up on maps, have changed their names over the years, have been absorbed by other communities, or a number of different villages use the same name. Thus Rakoski (Rakowska is just the feminine form) is a variant ofRakowski, which suggests origin in any of several dozen places named Rakow, Rakowo, etc. Those places got their names from some association with crabs, as rak is the word for “crab.” As of 1990 there were 11,007 Polish citizens named Rakowski, living all over the country, so I’m afraid that particular name doesn’t do much to help focus on a specific area.

As of 1990 there were 261 Poles named Mindykowski; the vast majority lived in the provinces of Bydgoszcz (113) and Gdansk (93) and Pila (25), all of which are in north central Poland. So in this case the name’s distribution pattern does help a bit — chances are very good your Mindykowski’s came from a rather small part of Poland around and west and south of the major city of Gdansk. I cannot find any villages named Mindykowo, Mindykow, or anything like that on my maps, but chances are there are or were one or two villages by those names somewhere in the area, and most likely the surname originated as a reference to those places, whose name comes ultimately from the root minda, “coin.”

The name Kanczuszewski probably comes ultimately from the noun kan~czuga, “whip, lash,” but again, it probably comes from a place that took its name from that word. There is a village Kanczuga in Rzeszow province (far southeast Poland), the surname could refer to that, or it could refer to other places too small to show up on my maps. As of 1990 there were only 7 Poles named Kan~czuz*ewski (the n~ stands for the accented n, the z* stands for z with a dot over it), living in the provinces of Warsaw (1) and Gorzow (6). There were 45 with the name spelled Kan~czurzewski (pronounced exactly the same, so it can be regarded as essentially the same name), living in the provinces of Gdansk (1), Gorzow (9), Katowice (1), Konin (29), Poznan (1), and Zielona Gora (4). (Konin province is the province due east of Poznan province, and you can usually find Poznan on any map of Poland, so that will give you at least a general idea of the area where the most Kanczurzewski’s can be found). Unfortunately I do not have access to more details such as first names, addresses, what I’ve given here is all I have.

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


To: Lawrence Mosiniak, [email protected], who wrote:

… I understand my family name Mosiniak is a rather uncommon name in most places in the world. Can you tell me something about it ? Or a place to look? I have read your book on surnames. Paul Kulas did give me some help.

I don’t know if I can add anything to what Paul told you, but I’ll try.

Mosiniak is not an overly common name in Poland, only some 161 Polish citizens bore this name as of 1990. The root of the name is Mos-, which is like a short form or nickname for such first names as Mojsl~aw (literally “my glory”) and Mojzesz (Moses). Poles often took the first couple of sounds from a name, dropped the rest, and added suffixes. Thus Mos- could arise from Mojslaw or Moses, then Mosin would mean “of, belonging to Mos),” then -iak probably means “son of.” So to whatever extent you can translate the name, it would mean something like “son of, kin of Mojslaw or Moses.” That may seem kind of fuzzy, but names are that way — what does “Ted” mean? It’s just a short form of a name, “Theodore,” which did originally mean something (“gift of God” in Greek), but by the time the nickname “Ted” arose no one associated any meaning with it any longer. Same with this Polish name: it just means “son of Mos, son of Mosin, Mosin’s kin.”

There is also the possibility it might refer to a place: -iak with a form of a personal name usually means “son of,” but sometimes it’s use with place names. There is a village in Poznan province named Mosina, I can’t rule out the chance that Mosiniak started out meaning “person from Mosina.” The chances are good enough to be worth mentioning.

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


To: [email protected], who wrote:

… I am interested in finding out about my family’s history. All I know is that my parents came from Poland to the US about 1950. My maiden name is Plech. My mother’s maiden name is Zarobski. If you could give me some information about my surname, or how to find out more about my Polish history, I would appreciate it.

With Plech it depends on what the original Polish spelling was. If it was Plech, Polish surname expert Kazimierz Rymut mentions this in his book as deriving from the noun plech, “cuirass” (a certain part of armor, if I remember correctly). If it was Plecha, it could come from that root, it might also come from the term plecha, “bald spot, bare spot.” If it was Pl~echa (with l~ standing for the Polish l with a slash through it, which sounds like our w), then it probably comes from the root pl~cha, “flea.” As of 1990 there were 476 Poles named Plech, 76 named Plecha, and 460 named Pl~echa.

Zarobski is a bit of a puzzle. It’s not a very common name — in 1990 there were only 33 Zarobski’s living in Poland, most of them (25) living in Lublin province in southeast Poland. The name might refer to a village or community named Zarob, Zaroby, something like that, or it may come directly from the verb root zarobic~, “to earn, merit.” None of my sources mention it, so that educated guess is about the best I can do.

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


To: Ben Rosen, [email protected], who wrote:

…Hello my name is Ben Rosen I have been doing my family tree and I was wondering if you know any informaion about the last name Rosen or Wallach. I can’t find much stuff on either, I believe Wallach is either Russian or Polish and Rosen is German or Russian not sure.

Rosen and Wallach are both originally of Germanic (Yiddish) linguistic origin, meaning “rose” and “foreign” respectively, but there were lots of people with those names who lived in Germany, Poland, Russia, all over eastern Europe. One problem is that both names were so common that it’s hard to really pin anything down without detailed info one exactly where the specific families involved came from. There are three books you might be able to access through the library that will tell you more. One is Benzion Kaganoff’s A Dictionary of Jewish Names and Their History, Schocken Books, NY 1977 — I believe a new edition has recently been put out, I saw it on but don’t have the relevant publication info handy. Still, with any luck you should be able to find a copy thru a library. Kaganoff gives good explanations, his book is very readable and not too expensive, but sometimes his derivations are suspect.

More accurate, but less readable and considerably more expensive, are Alexander Beider’s two books, A Dictionary of Jewish Surnames from the Kingdom of Poland and A Dictionary of Jewish Surnames from the Russian Empire.” For more info on them, see the Webpage of Avotaynu, Inc. at Either book gives good background info, as well as some specific data on where people with particular names lived and what the names meant. With these books I would definitely recommend trying to get a look at them through a library or genealogical society — you wouldn’t want to spend the money to buy a copy unless you’ve seen first whether it’s worth it to you. But they do have some really good info.

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


To: Kathleen Staub, akst[email protected]

…I feel so lost. I have been doing genealogical research for 26 years, mostly in this country. I avoided the Trochowski branch for a lot of reasons. Now that everyone who resisted my efforts to connect with the “old” country is dead I can start really from scratch. Any info on the name Trochowski (Trohoski) would be helpful. I know my g-grandfather settled in Erie, PA and died there.

Names ending in -owski usually originated due to some link between the family and a place name, generally ending in -ow, -owo-, -y, something like that. I can’t find any villages named Trochy or Trochowo on my maps — there are probably such places but they are too small to show up. In any rate, that’s what the surname most likely comes from — it meant “person from Trochy/Trochowo.” The place, in turn, probably got its name from the root trocha, “small, little.” As of 1990 there were 509 Polish citizens named Trochowski, scattered all over Poland but with significant concentrations in the provinces of Bydgoszcz (144), Elblag (36), Gdansk (222), and Torun (33). These are all in a relatively small region, the northcentral part of Poland, in areas long ruled by the Germans.

If your ancestor settled in Erie, PA, you might want to investigate the Polish Genealogical Society of the Northeast, 8 Lyle Rd, New Britain CT 06053. They have a number of members in Pennsylvania, they might be able to help you make some contacts that would prove useful; the address I have for their web page is The Polish Genealogical Society of America is also pretty big in Pennsylvania, and has a lot of members from the part of Poland the Trochowski’s live in — you can learn more about the PGSA at their Website,

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