Notes on Selected Polish Surnames – 12


To: Ed & Monica Wolkowycki, [email protected], who wrote:

…I would be grateful if you could tell me something about the origin and meaning of Wolkowycki, my family name. Also would my family have a family seal or coat of arms? My father was from the Bialowieza area, his family had been there for generations…

This is a surname derived from a place name, any of several villages or estates named something like Wolkowicze or perhaps Wolkowysk (including a major town called Wolkowysk/Volkovysk in what is now Belarus), etc. Those places in turn got their names from the root wolk, “wolf,” possibly from Wolkowicz meaning “son of the wolf, Wolf’s son.” As of 1990 there were 338 Polish citizens named Wol~kowycki (the L~ stands for the Polish slashed L, which sounds like our W); the largest numbers lived in the provinces of Bialystok (359) and Suwalki (25), with just a few scattered here and there in other provinces. I have no source of data for Belarus, most likely there are quite a few citizens of that country with the same name, most likely modified slightly to fit the phonetic patterns of Belarusian. But the form Wol~kowycki is definitely Polish, and a great many Poles, including nobles, lived in Belarus; so it is not odd to see Poles with surnames derived from places that are now outside Poland’s modern boundaries.

I’m afraid I know very little about the nobility — all I’m qualified to discuss is the linguistic origin of names — so I suggest you contact the Polish Nobility Association Foundation, Villa Anneslie, 529 Dunkirk Rd., Anneslie, MD 21212-2014. The editor of their journal, Leonard Suligowski, has an extensive library on European and East European nobility and heraldry and might be able to provide you with some leads.


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

… I’ve come across 2 more family names that I have no idea where they originated from. If you have any spare time, could you help me out. The two names arePstrongowski and Dylla. Dylla might not be Polish, but my Grandpa told me it was..

Dylla is a name that could probably arise in other languages, but it definitely can be a Polish name. As of 1990 there were 160 Poles with this name spelled this way, with the vast majority living in the province of Katowice in southcentral Poland. There were also 1227 Dyla‘s — Polish tends to avoid doubled consonants, so usually a name with a double consonant is a variant form of the same name with that consonant just once, thus Dylla is probably just an alternate form of Dyla. Dyla is also most common in Katowice province (488), with large numbers also in the provinces of Czestochowa (261), Kalisz (120), and Opole (215) and a few scattered in other provinces. All these provinces are in southcentral and southwestern Poland. The name probably comes from the Slavic root dyl, meaning “something long”; for instance, the word dyl means “deal, beam, rough board,” that is, a long, thin piece of wood. There is also a term dyla~g meaning “long fellow,” and you’d figure most of the time a name like Dyl or Dyla got started as a nickname for a tall, thin fellow.

Pstrongowski is an alternate spelling of Pstra~gowski, where a~ stands for the Polish nasal vowel written as an a with a tail under it and pronounced like on; Polish words or names with a~ very often have alternate spellings with on, that is not at all unusual; but usually the form with a~ is the “correct” or standard form. As of 1990 there were only 35 Polish citizens named Pstrongowski (29 in Gdansk province, 6 in Radom province), but there were 661 named Pstra~gowski, with the largest numbers (over 50) in the provinces of Ciechanow (90), Gdansk (98), Lomza (61), Ostroleka (65), and Warsaw (55). The surname, like most names ending in -owski, surely originated as a reference to a place name, something like Pstra~gi, Pstra~gow, Pstra~gowo. My maps show a Pstra~gowa in Rzeszow province, and some Pstra~gowskis probably came from there; but a gazetteer shows at least 4 other places named Pstra~gi or Pstra~gowa or Pstra~go~wka, and the surname Pstra~gowski could have originated, and very likely did, as a reference to any or all of them. That probably explains why the name is so scattered all over Poland, it developed independently from the names of places all over. The root of all these names is the term pstra~g, “trout,” so presumably these were places where trout were caught and sold.


To: Linda Krajnak Black, [email protected], who wrote:

?I am just beginning my search about my mother’s family. I found your articles and would like to know if you can help me find information about her maiden name. In English it was spelled Dziewedik. My grandmother’s maiden name was Mierzwa. Any help would be helpful. My grandmother died when I was very young and any records disappeared when she died?

I’m afraid I can’t help too much. With Dziewedik, the problem is that that spelling seems wrong, but I can’t imagine what the correct spelling should be; usually I can look at or say a name aloud and figure out what it would have been, but this one has me stumped. It can’t have been anglicized too much and still keep Dziew-, a very Polish spelling, but the -edik part sounds odd. The root dziew- means “maiden, young woman,” but again, that second part makes no sense; if we knew what it was originally, that could change everything. As of 1990 there were no Polish citizens with the name Dziewedik or any likely spelling variation I could think of, so I’m coming up empty on this one.

Mierzwa is a name that amazes many people. It comes from the word mierzwa, which means “matted straw, the stable straw which needs to be mucked out when it gets too befouled with waste,” in short “manure” — and it’s a very common name! As of 1990 there were 5,596 Polish citizens named Mierzwa, living all over the country but with the largest numbers in the provinces of Katowice (670), Kielce (247), Krakow (219), Lublin (261), Rzeszow (351), Tarnobrzeg (737), Tarnow (275), and Wroclaw (244)… How this name got to be so common is beyond me! But there have been some prominent Poles and Polish-Americans who bore this name, so obviously it’s not a name to be ashamed of — in fact, compared to some other Polish surnames I’ve come across, this one is not bad at all. Most likely this name was given as a nickname to farm-laborers who mucked out the stables, and eventually stuck as a surname.

It’s a shame these names don’t offer you much in the way of clues as to your family’s place of origin — Dziewedik is too rare, Mierzwa too common — but if it’s any consolation, that’s the way it is with most Polish surnames. Comparatively few offer any really helpful clues.


To: Nelda Bean, [email protected], who wrote:

?I enjoyed reading your page on surnames in the Polish Genealogy Society of Texas web page. My ancestors have the Szarafin family name. If possible, I would really enjoy your name description?

Polish surname expert Kazimierz Rymut lists Szarafin among the names coming from the first name Serafin, which is the Polish version of the Hebrew word seraphim, one of the orders of angels mentioned in the Bible (for instance, Isaiah 6:2). Seraphim never really caught on as a first name in English-speaking countries, and it’s not all that popular in Poland, but it’s not unheard of; as of 1994 there were 508 Polish males named “Serafin.” That’s the form of the name in modern Polish usage, but in old records we see other forms, including Szarafin (pronounced something like “shah-RAH-fin”). Centuries ago when surnames were being formed it was pretty common to refer to children by their father’s name, and as time went on those names often stuck as surnames; so this name probably started as a way of referring to the children of someone named Szarafin/Serafin.

As of 1990 there were 371 Polish citizens with this surname, scattered all over the country but with the largest numbers living in the provinces of Bygdoszcz (40), Gdansk (192), and Zamosc (65). That’s pretty scattered, Bydgoszcz and Gdansk are in the northcentral and northwestern part of the country, Zamosc is in far southeastern Poland, so we can’t say the name is concentrated in any one area. However, that’s typical of surnames formed from first names.


To: Theresa M. Ludlow, [email protected], who wrote:

… I was wondering if you have the time could you please derive my family surname? The surname is Sochacki. My great grandfather left Borszczow, Poland in 1912 and came to the United States. Through some research I have discovered that Borszczow is a sub-district within a district called Peczenizyn. This district is located in Ukraine. Boy! Is that ever confusing! Any information would be helpful.

Sochacki appears to come ultimately from the root socha, “a forkedstick, a primitive kind of wooden plow.” There is a term from this root,sochacz, “resident of a village or an area near a town who has theright to bring meat to market and sell it.” Sochacki probably comes fromthis term sochacz, or perhaps from a place name from this root,something like Sochacze. I can’t find any such place in my maps orgazetteers, but that doesn’t mean there never was such a village — manysurnames come from names of places that have long since had their nameschanged, or disappeared, or been absorbed by other communities. So Ithink Sochacki must have originated as a description of a family thatfit this category, or from the name of a place where such people lived.

This name appears in Polish legal records as far back as 1443, and as of1990 there were 7,569 Polish citizens named Sochacki, so it’s both oldand common. I don’t see any pattern to the name’s frequency anddistribution, it’s common in provinces all over Poland. So it doesn’tprovide much in the way of clues where a given Sochacki family mighthave originated; fortunately, you already have that info!


To: John J. Prusinowski, [email protected], who wrote:

? found your page while searching the web. If I read your posting correctly Iassume you can help me. Looking for any information on the surname Prusinowski

Names ending in -owski usually derive from the names of towns or villages, which generally end in -y, -ow, -owo, -owka, etc. In this case there are at least 13 villages the name Prusinowski could derive from, including 1 Prusinow, 4 Prusinowice, 1 Prusinowko, 7 Prusinowo. The Prusinowices are a little less likely to be the source of the name, the Prusinow and Prusinowo are the most likely; but really, the name could have been applied to a family coming from any of these places. Those places, in turn, got their names from the term Prusin, “Prussian,” so you could say Prusinowski means basically “person from Prussian-town.” It might also refer, in some cases, to descendants of Prussians, rather than to residents of a place founded or inhabited by Prussians, although that would be a bit less common. The one thing that’s clear is that the name is linked with Prussians somehow, and probably as a reference to the names of the villages the various Prusinowski families came from.

Folks not acquainted with Polish history are sometimes puzzled when I say such-and-such a name refers to Prussians, or is Lithuanian, or Ukrainian, etc. Poland’s history is such that Poland has ruled many areas populated by people of non-Polish ethnic origin, so it’s not at all unusual to find Poles whose names come from another language or refer to another ethnic group. For that matter, Hoffman is about as German a name as you can get, and as of 1990 there were over 12,000 Polish citizens with that name (in one spelling or another).

As of 1990 there were 1,849 Polish citizens named Prusinowski. They lived all over the country, with the largest numbers (100+) in the provinces of Warsaw (123), Ciechanow (118), Lodz (166), Lomza (195), Olsztyn (153), Ostroleka (128), and Suwalki (138). These provinces are scattered all over Poland, so the name can’t be connected with any one part of the country — although it tends to be most common in the northern parts of Poland that were long ruled by Prussia, which makes sense!


To: Chuck & Kay Smalley, [email protected], who wrote:

… Do you or can you get information on the surname of Smuskiewicz?…

Polish surname expert Kazimierz Rymut lists several names beginning with Smus- as coming from the term smusz, “eelskin, piece of cloth.” He does not list Smuskiewiczspecifically, but it is likely the name comes from the same basic root. I note there is a dialect or archaic word smusik that appears to be relevant, it means “a lamb or ram’s skin covered with wool, tanned or unbleached.” So any way you slice it, the name appears to derive from a term meaning “piece of cloth or animal skin.” The -iewicz suffix means “son of,” so this name means literally “son of eelskin, son of cloth.” Most likely the Smusik/Smuszyk or whatever started out as a nickname for a person, perhaps because he was always using or making such cloth, and then the -iewicz form was applied to his offspring and stuck as a surname.

This is not a very common name in Poland, as of 1990 there were some 79 Poles named Smus~kiewicz (s~ = s with an accent over it, pronounced like a soft “sh”). They lived in the following provinces: Bydgoszcz (4), Gorzow (3), Konin (39), Koszalin (8), Poznan (1), Szczecin (6), Walbrzych (4), Zielona Gora (4). (I’m afraid I don’t have access to any further details such as first names, addresses, etc.). It’s interesting to note that these are almost all in areas formerly ruled by Germany, which makes some sense, as the Polish words mentioned are thought to derive originally from a German word. That doesn’t mean the Smus~kiewiczes are ethnic Germans, just that their name comes from a word thatwas borrowed from German centuries ago.


To:Paul Czerner, [email protected], who wrote:

…If you would please, I would like to know what my Czerner surname means and its possible origin in Polish history. I have heard that it might be related to nobility of the 14th or 15th century in current central Poland…

Czerner is a rather unusual name, because the root czern- or czarn– in Polish (and most other Slavic languages) means “black, dark,” but the suffix -er is rare in Polish — it usually indicates German origin. Hans Bahlow’s Deutsches Namenlexikon mentions this name under the German phonetic spelling Tscherner; the tsch in German is pronounced like cz in Polish, like our “ch” in “church.” Bahlow says that name indicates place of origin, which makes sense — in German -er is often added to a place name to indicate “person from, native of,” as in Berliner, “native of Berlin,” Hamburger “native of Hamburg.” Bahlow says Tscherner comes from place names such as Tscherna, Tscherne, Tschirnau, and this is the final piece of the puzzle: those names are German renderings of Polish place names such as Czernow, Czarnow, and so forth. So the name means the family probably came from a place that was ruled by Germans for a long time but originally had a Polish name. Once the Germans had taken over such a place, they would modify the Polish names Czernow, Czarnow, etc. to German forms (Tscherne, Tschirnau) and then the -er suffix could be added. This makes sense, and explains how a Polish root czern- could end up with a German suffix -er.

We would expect such a name to be most common in areas once ruled by Germans but now in either eastern Germany or western Poland. I looked in a source that gives the total number of Polish citizens bearing particular names as of 1990 and tells how many lived in each province of Poland. As of 1990 there were 720 Poles named Czerner, and the overwhelming majority lived in the provinces of Katowice (377) and Opole (289), with a few scattered in other provinces. Katowice and Opole are both in Silesia, the area of southwestern Poland that was long ruled by Germany, so that all fits.

Unfortunately there are a great many towns and villages with names coming from the root czern-, so it’s impossible to tell which particular one your family might have been associated with, and my source for the info given above does not provide details such as first names or addresses. So what I’ve given you is all I have.

I know very little about Polish nobility. When I have questions on the subject, I contact Leonard Suligowski, Director of Heraldry for the Polish Nobility Association Foundation and editor of the PNAF’s journal White Eagle. Leonard has a large library on European and especially Polish nobility, and for a reasonable fee he will search his library for references to particular families in armorials. It seems to me he’s the one most suited to provide you with info on any noble Czerners. Please note that he does not do genealogical research, he’s a heraldic artist who simply consults his library and passes on any info he finds. If you’d like to contact him, his address is:

Leonard Suligowski, 218A N. Henry St., Brooklyn, NY 11222


To: Richard Limanowski, [email protected], who wrote:

…I ran across your site today and really like what you’ve done. If it’s not too much trouble, could you please send some information on my last name. My father’s side isLimanowski and mother’s side is Michalski

I’m glad you like my site, and I’m glad to say I can give you at least a little basic info on these names.

Both of these are fairly common names in Poland. Limanowski can derive from two roots: from liman, “a lake or bay separated by a narrow strip of land from the sea,” or from a place that takes its name from the old Germanic first name Ilman (with the first two letters inverted, which is not uncommon). In either case, then, we’re talking about a surname that derives from a place name. Most of the time Limanowski would have started as a name for people coming from towns or villages named Limanow, Limanowa, Limanowo, etc., especially the town of Limanowa in Nowy Sacz province, in southcentral Poland. That town’s name came from the old Germanic name Ilman mentioned above, so Limanowski means “person associated with the place of Ilman,” or just “person from Limanowa.” Ilman is thought to be the name of the man who founded the town or perhaps a noble who owned it at one point. As of 1990 there were 458 Poles named Limanowski; they were scattered all over Poland, but with a slight concentration in southcentral Poland, i.e., in the provinces of Katowice (50), Krakow (50), and Tarnow (73) — which makes sense.

As of 1990 there were 51,325 Poles named Michalski, living all over the country. That’s to be expected: Michalski just means “of Michael,” and could mean “kin of Michael,” “people from Michael’s place,” etc. You’d expect this name to show up anywhere they spoke Polish and had guys named Michal~, “Michael” — namely, all over Poland! And that’s just what we see. (By the way, the l~ stands for the Polish slashed l, pronounced like our w; but it turns into normal l when the suffix -ski is added.)


To: [email protected], who wrote:

… I’m just beginning my search on my Polish roots and since my grandfather changed his name to Andrews after he arrived here… I think (but, not 100% sure) that the following is his original polish name. I’d love to know anything you can tell me about it: Januszewski. I wish I knew my grandmother?s name (she was such an angel from Poland also) so hopefully, in my search, I’ll discover it.

Well, the Polish equivalents of “Andrew” are Andrzej and Je~drzej (with e~ standing for the Polish nasal vowel written as an e with a tail under it, pronounced sort of like en, so I would have expected the original Polish name of someone called Andrews would turn out to be “Andrzejewski” or something similar. However, these things don’t always work the way we expect. Maybe your grandfather just liked the sound of “Andrews.”

In any case, Januszewski comes ultimately from the name Janusz, a variant form of Jan, “John.” But the endings -owski or -ewski usually indicate reference to a place name, and generally Januszewski got started as meaning “person from Januszewo,” and that name in turn means “place of Janusz,” presumably referring to the founder of the village or a noble who owned it at some point. So Januszewski means “person associated with the place of Janusz” — but in practical terms that boils down to “person from Januszewo.” Januszewski is pretty common, as of 1990 there were 3,491 Polish citizens with this surname.

Unfortunately, there are at least 4 villages named Januszewo, plus a few more with slightly different names that could generate the surname Januszewski. So I can’t pin down exactly where the family came from. However, if your research helps you determine the part of Poland the family lived in, and if you find on maps or in other references mention of a place nearby with a name beginning in Janusz-, chances are fairly good that’s the place the surname originally referred to.


To: Anthony J. Basinski, [email protected], who wrote:

…Dear Mr. Hoffman, you were kind enough to provide me with a wealth of information about my own surname, Basinski, and I am most grateful to you. With some trepidation, therefore, I wish to impose upon you again with a request concerning the origin of my mother’s maiden name, Klocko. My understanding is that her parents came from Bialystok. Any help will be much appreciated. By the way, I think you are doing a wonderful service to the Polish community…

I appreciate your kind words, and am glad you think so! And you’re not imposing on me — people who ask politely about one name at a time are welcome to any info I can give. It’s the folks who send me a dozen names, expect immediate answers, and never offer to pay a penny — they are the ones who impose, and they are the ones I ignore.

Klocko is kind of a tough name to be sure about, because it could come from a couple of different sources. Prof. Rymut mentions it in his book on Polish surnames, saying it appears in records as far back as 1385, and comes from the term kloc, “log, large piece of wood.” This is probably correct, but I can’t help thinking that if the L is the Polish slashed L (which we represent on-line as L~), Kl~ocko sounds just like Kl~odzko, the name of a fairly good-sized town in Walbrzych province. I can’t rule out the possibility that the surname might also have gotten started as a way of referring to people who came from Kl~odzko. The ultimate root is the same in either case, from the word for “log”… Of course, if your ancestors came from the Bialystok area it’s somewhat unlikely their name would refer to a place clear across Poland (Walbrzych is in southwestern Poland), so Rymut’s derivation seems likely to be right in your case; the other possibility would more likely be relevant for Klocko’s from southwestern Poland.

If the spelling of the name is Klocko with the normal L, there were only 41 Polish citizens by that name in 1990; they lived in the provinces of Warsaw (4), Bydgoszcz (2), Gdansk (5), Katowice (5), Krosno (3), Nowy Sacz (2), Przemysl (4), Rzeszow (5), Siedlce (1), Torun (4), Walbrzych (3), Wroclaw (2), and Zielona Gora (1). None showed up as living in Bialystok province.

There is also a name Kl~oczko, and in Polish the cz often is simplified to c, especially in Mazuria, so this might be relevant. The name appears to come from the termkl~oczek, “hay-binder,” although I can’t be sure of that derivation; if it’s not from that, it, too, is probably from the root meaning “log.” This name is more common, as of 1990 there were 845 Kl~oczko’s in Poland, with the largest numbers living in the provinces of Bialystok (90) and Suwalki (362). I wanted to mention this one because it sounds as if it’s most common in the right part of Poland for you, and the others aren’t. And Kl~oczko = Kl~ocko is very plausible, especially in that part of the country, where the local dialect has a definite tendency to change the “ch” sound of cz to the “ts” sound of c… If I were you, I’d keep my eyes open for Kl~oczko, you may well run across that spelling, too, in some records.


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

… I am e-mailing you with a request to find any information on the surname Kudla. I have been able to find the surname Kudla in various phone books and through certain resources, but I have been unsuccessful at finding anything out about the Kudla origin, meaning, family crest, etc. as it pertains to Polish history. My father is a first-generation American and my grandparents were born in Poland, but moved to the U.S. I am curious to find out if the surname Kudla was “Americanized” and could have been spelled differently in Poland…

Well, let me say first that even the greatest expert can not look at a name such as Kudla and say for sure it has never been shortened or anglicized. Only your research can establish whether the name was altered somewhere along the line. However, I can tell you that Kudla is a perfectly good Polish name in its own right, and there’s no reason to suspect that it’s been changed. We can’t rule out the possibility that tomorrow you’ll find a document from the old country that proves it was originally, say, Kudlacik. But there are thousands of Poles with the name Kudla, so the odds are it hasn’t been tampered with.

As of 1990 there were 3,761 Polish citizens with the name Kudl~a; here l~ is how we represent on-line the Polish l with a slash through it, which sounds like our w, so that this name is pronounced roughly “COULD-wah.” There were another 383 with the name spelled Kudla (no slash through the L, which is pronounced like a normal L). From a linguistic point of view Kudl~a is probably the standard form, and Kudla is the variant, perhaps due to slight differences in pronunciation influenced by dialects, something of that sort. The Kudl~a’s lived all over Poland, with the largest numbers (over 200) in the provinces of Czestochowa (241), Katowice (430), Kielce (260), Radom (215), and Tarnow (212). The distribution pattern shows the name is somewhat more common in southcentral and southeastern Poland; but it is not so pronounced as to be really helpful in any practical way.

Polish surname expert Kazimierz Rymut mentions this name in his book, saying that Kudl~a appears in Polish legal records as far back as 1399, and it derives from the termkudel~, “mop of hair.” So it’s one of many names that derived as a reference to a particular physical characteristic; the name Kudl~a was likely to be given as a nickname to someone with a fine, thick head of hair (or, in some cases, to one with little or no hair, as we’d call a big man “Tiny”). The name stuck and became a surname. It’s not surprising the name is fairly common all over Poland, since this name could get started anywhere they spoke Polish and there were guys with thick hair, i. e., anywhere.

I’m afraid when it comes to nobility and family crests I can’t be much help. There is a group you might try contacting, the Polish Nobility Association Foundation, Villa Anneslie, 529 Dunkirk Rd., Anneslie, MD 21212-2014. I believe they offer a service by which, for a moderate fee, they will search their sources and see if a particular family was ever recognized as noble. So I can’t help you, but perhaps the PNAF can.


To: Tom Przyzycki, [email protected], who wrote:

…I have just begun my research in my family history, I have reletive liveing in Chicago area. The name I would like to learn more about is Przyzycki I think it was from Warsaw…

This is not an extremely common name, but not really rare either. As of 1990 there were 341 Polish citizens named Przyz*ycki (I’m using z* to indicate the z with a dot over it, pronounced like “s” in the English word “measure”). Of those 341, the largest numbers lived in the provinces of Warsaw (66), Lodz (33), and Skierniewice (164) — that is, in the very center of Poland — with much smaller numbers living in a few other provinces here and there. So it sounds as if your ancestors came from the part of the country where this name is most concentrated. Unfortunately I have no access to details such as first names or addresses, but this is like narrowing it down to 3 counties in the U.S. — it’s not going to tell you everything you want to know, but it might be some help… By the way, in Polish RZ and Z* are pronounced exactly the same, so don’t be thrown if you ever happen to run across this name spelled Przyrzycki. It’s rare, as of 1990 there were only 2 people in Poland who spelled the name that way, but it is a distinct possibility.

A name like this probably originated as a reference to a place name. I can’t find any place on my maps named Przyz*yca or Przyrzyca or Przyz*yce, but that is the sort of place name you’d expect Przyz*ycki to come from. However, I note that often names with the root rzek- or rzec-, “river,” can be spelled with y instead of e, and that might be relevant here. If Przyz*ycki is a variant of Przyrzecki, that would make a lot of sense — it would mean “by the river,” thus one who lived on or near a river. I can’t be certain that’s right, but it is linguistically feasible, and it makes sense. I would guess your ancestors got their name either because they lived near a river, or because they came from a place named Przyrzyce or Przyrzecze, which in turn got its name because it was located on or near a river.

I know this isn’t a definitive answer to your questions, but it may be some help — and to be honest, very few Polish names offer enough clues to let me say “Ah, you came from right here!” There are too many places with the same name, too many factors that can affect spelling, etc. So this is about the best I can do. I hope it’s some help.


To: Barbara House, [email protected], who wrote:

…Any origin information on Sypniewski…..much appreciated…

This is a common name in Poland — as of 1990 there were 3,225 Polish citizens named Sypniewski. It originated as referring to some association of a family with any of several villages called Sypniewo — as a practical matter you can usually translate it as “one from Sypniewo.” The villages called Sypniewo are mainly in the Pomerania region in northwestern Poland, specifically the provinces of Bydgoszcz and Pila. The surname is found all over Poland, but is most common in the provinces of Bydgoszcz (429), Konin (400), Poznan (367), i. e., in west central Poland.


To Michalina Jakala, [email protected], who wrote:

…I was wondering if you had any information on the surname of Jakala?…

Yes, I believe so. The only question is, how was it spelled in Poland? This is probably an anglicized version of Polish Ja~kal~a, where a~ stands for the Polish nasal vowel written as an a with a tail under it and pronounced like on, and the l~ stands for the l with a slash through it, pronounced like our w, so that the name sounds like “yon-KAH-wah.” If so, it is almost certainly from the Polish noun ja~kal~a, which means “stammerer.” It’s not a very common name — as of 1990 there were 147 Poles named Ja~kal~a. They were scattered all over the country, but with a noticeable concentration in the provinces of Bielsko-Biala (10), Katowice (12), Krakow (16), and Nowy Sacz (29) — these are all in southcentral Poland, by the Czech/Slovak border. So you’d expect people with this name to come from that region, more often than not.

If subsequent research proves that this is not the right form of the name, let me know and I’ll see if I can find anything else. But I’m fairly certain this is the one you’re talking about. By the way, the a~ is pronounced much like on, and you often see names with a~ spelled with on. So either Ja~kal~a or Jonkal~a is possible — keep your eyes open for that alternate spelling!


To: John Macebulski, [email protected], who wrote:

…I am trying to find information on the name Macebulski and Kornecki. As far as I know I am the only Macebulski in this hemisphere and Kornecki is said to have Swedish origins.Any help would be great…

I can’t find a thing on Macebulski, not in any of my sources! There was no one in Poland by that name as of 1990 (although there was apparently one person named Macebula, but no data is available on where he/she lived). I don’t often strike out completely, but this one has me baffled. If you’re really interested, I recommend contacting the Anthroponymic Workshop of the Polish Language Institute. They don’t do genealogical research, just research on name origins, and I think this is one they’d find challenging. They can handle correspondence in English, and usually the charge for researching one or two names is $20 or so. If interested, here’s the address:

Instytut Jezyka Polskiego, Pracownia Antroponimiczna, ul. Straszewskiego 27, 31-113 KRAKOW, POLAND

Kornecki is not nearly so tough, as of 1990 there were 1,149 Polish citizens by this name, living all over the country but with particularly large numbers in the provinces of Katowice (109), Kielce (223), Krakow (171), and Wroclaw (82), all in southern Poland in a kind of band from southwest through central to southeast. There are three roots this name could come from: the less likely ones are kornik, “bark-beetle,” or korny, “humble, submissive.” But I would go for derivation from the first name Korneliusz, “Cornelius.” It makes excellent sense that Kornek would be a diminutive or nickname of Korneliusz, “little Cornelius” or “Cornelius’s son,” and Kornecki is just that name with an adjectival suffix added. If I’m right about this, the name would mean roughly “kin of Kornek,” or else “coming from Kornek’s place.” I can’t be positive that’s right, because the exact derivation could differ from one Kornecki family to the next; but that’s the explanation that strikes me as soundest… If you write the Workshop, you might as well ask if they can add anything to this. They’re the real experts, I basically just take the work Polish scholars do and make it available to folks who don’t read Polish.

If you do write the Workshop and hear from them, I’d be very interested in hearing what they have to say about Macebulski!  That one’s got me intrigued.


To: Richard Sochacki, who wrote:

…My family name is in fact Czeszejko-Sochacki, although I only use Sochacki because of the daunting combination that this presents in the Anglo-Saxon world… Nevertheless, I am aware that the name still exists in Poland having out of curiosity, and to my surprise, generated three pages of responses to it when using the Polski Infoseek Web Crawler (an address for which I obtained from genpol incidentally)… I am therefore interested to know if you could shed any light on the name Czeszejko, or Czeszejko-Sochacki…

This is a fascinating name. Compound surnames are not all that common in Poland, but you’re right about yours: as of 1990 there were 501 Polish citizens named Czeszejko, and another 428 named Czeszejko-Sochacki! The latter lived all over Poland, but the only provinces in which more than 20 lived were Elblag (223), Gdansk (37), Gorzow (22), Legnica (23), and Warsaw (33). (Czeszejko, by itself, has a similar distribution pattern). One would suspect the name originated in the Elblag-Gdansk area, on the Baltic in northern Poland, and perhaps those living in other provinces moved from there over the course of time — but I have no real proof of that, it’s only a logical hypothesis… Usually compound surnames in Polish are associated with noble families and consist of the name of a coat of arms plus a family name, as in “Nowina-Sokolnicki,” distinguishing the family Sokolnicki who were members of clan Nowina and bore its arms. I am not aware of any clan Czeszejko, but I’m hardly an expert on Polish nobility, and I can’t help wondering if there is one. That would explain a lot.

I’ve already talked about Sochacki in the note you referred to. Czeszejko is a bit of a challenge, because it could come from three roots. The verb root czes- means “to comb (hair), hackle (flax); names in Czesz- also often come from the root czech, meaning (surprise!) “Czech.” Also, such names can come from a root Czesz- which derives from the Polish first name Czesl~aw (the l~ stands for the Polish slashed L, which sounds like English w). Poles often formed nicknames or by-names by taking the first few sounds of a popular name, dropping the rest, and adding suffixes. So Czeszek, Czeszko, etc. often originated somewhat as “Chet” can be a nickname in English for “Chester” (by the way, Czesl~aw and Chester have nothing to do with each other except a coincidental similarity in sound).

So Czeszejko could have started as a term for someone who did a lot of combing or hackling; as a term for a Czech or descendant of Czechs; or descendants of a fellow with the name Czesl~aw or a nickname from that name. Of the three, I would think the Czesl~aw is the likely link in most cases. But I have no firm information on which to say so definitively. I also have no information as to when and how the names Czeszejko and Sochacki came to be linked in the case of what is, presumably, one family (?). My Polish encyclopedia does mention that there was a Polish labor activist named Jerzy Sochacki-Czeszejko, pseudonym Bratkowski, who lived 1892-1933.

If you’re really interested, I recommend contacting the Anthroponymic Workshop of the Polish Language Institute. They don’t do genealogical research, just research on name origins, but they may well have some sources that talk about the origin of Czeszejko, maybe even something on the link with Sochacki. They can handle correspondence in English, and usually the charge for researching one or two names is $20 or so. If interested, here’s the address:

Instytut Jezyka Polskiego, Pracownia Antroponimiczna, ul. Straszewskiego 27, 31-113 KRAKOW, POLAND

I’m sorry I couldn’t provide definitive information, but perhaps what I’ve given you will prove useful. If you do write the Workshop and learn anything, I’d be very interested in knowing what they said, so I could add it to the next edition of my book, “Polish Surnames: Origins & Meanings.”


To: Laura Grzymkowski, [email protected], who wrote:

…My friend Kelly should scan you the document. We are trying to find our relatives Barciniak. What does this name mean? This looks like an Americanized version. What do you think it could have been originally? We can’t find any links for this surname. Thanks Laura Grzymkowski…

Barciniak looks like a perfectly good Polish name — I would have expected it to be rather common. Yet the Surname Directory shows only one Pole by this name I 1990, living in the province of Gdansk. This is very surprising, I would have expected far more. The suffix -iak usually means either “son of” or “person from,” so this name may have started as meaning “son of Bart” (a name that can come from Bartholomew or an Old Germanic name Barta), or it might in some cases mean “person from Barcin, Barcino,” etc. There are several such villages, especially Barcin and Barcin-Wies in Bydgoszcz province, and Barcino in Slupsk province.

I can’t get over how rare this name is. Maybe I was mislead because Marciniak (son of Martin) is such a common name. Just going by that, I really thought Barciniak would also be fairly common. But it’s not, and that just proves you can never make assumptions!


To: Howard Motyl, [email protected], who wrote:

…Can you tell me anything about my last name Motyl. I know it means butterfly in Polish–but who would adopt this as their last name, and why? …

It can be tough sometimes to understand why a particular name stuck, but since the name Motyl shows up in documents as early as 1414, and since as of 1990 there were 4,120 Polish citizens with this name, we have to assume at some point there was a good reason. A lot of the time these names that seem odd started out as nicknames, and nicknames can be baffling to those who don’t know the reason they were given. People are still arguing over exactly what Groucho Marx’s name came from, whether it was because he was a grouch or because he always carried what used to be called a “grouch-bag”? This question dates from earlier this century, and even his friends are still arguing over which origin is right. So you can imagine the difficulty trying to decipher a Polish name almost 600 years old!

A person might have been called Motyl because he liked to catch butterflies, or lived near a field or area with a lot of butterflies, or wore brightly colored clothes that reminded people of butterflies. But the term motyl also is applied to humans, in a transferred sense, as meaning a person who’s rather flighty, tends not to stay in one place and flit about — in other words, the person’s character reminded folks of a butterfly’s motion. So the connection, in many cases, was probably figurative rather than literal… And remember, people don’t always choose a nickname, sometimes one gets forced on them, often much to their displeasure. So your ancestors may not have chosen to be called Motyl, they may have had no choice in the matter.

I’m sorry I can’t give you a definitive answer, but I hope maybe these comments are a little help. And believe me, “butterfly” is a wonderful name compared to some I’ve run into. In the last few weeks I’ve had to tell people their names meant “manure, stable straw that animals have befouled that needs to be mucked out,” and “one who pisses crooked,” “the stutterer,” and so on. There don’t seem to be a lot of Polish surnames that say nice things about people — as they go, Motyl may be one of the better ones!


To: Arlene Kalinowski, [email protected], who wrote:

…Can you give me any information on the name Kalinowski? I have been told it means “one who lives in a field of flowers” …

Kalinowski probably originated in most cases as meaning “one somehow associated with a place called Kalinow, Kalinowo, etc.” Usually that would just boil down to “person from Kalinow, Kalinowo, etc.” Unfortunately there are quite a few villages in Poland with those names, so there’s no way to specify which particular one your Kalinowski’s might have come from. The place name comes from kalina, which means “guelder rose, cranberry tree,” also Kalina is a feminine first name. So those villages probably got their names because they were near a place with lots of those roses or trees, or, in rare cases, possibly a place once owned or founded by a Kalina. So what you were told is not far off; it’s not exact, and wouldn’t necessarily be true in every case, but is probably not too far off the mark.

This is, by the way, a very common name in Poland, as of 1990 there were 30,012 Polish citizens named Kalinowski.


To: Chester Tuella, [email protected], who wrote:

…I became interested in the PGS and I’m filling out the form to join and I read further about what you do for people and thought you could help me. I’m trying to research the following family names: Aniela Wos, Adam Puzio, Antoni Tully or Trella. Any kind of help would be appreciated…

Let’s take them one at a time. As of 1990 there were 3,312 Polish citizens named Puzio, so it’s a fairly common name. The Puzio’s lived all over Poland, with a particular concentration in the provinces of Rzeszow (212) and Tarnobrzeg (925) in southeast Poland. This name can be of Polish origin, from the words pyza and puza, “chubby-faced person,” but it can probably also be Italian in some cases. I might be wrong, but I seem to recall talking to a member of the PGSA who had Italian ancestors who lived in Poland and went by this name.

Polish tends to avoid double consonants, so the form Trella (251) is less common than Trela (5,967). Poles by this name live all over the country, but there are especially a lot in the provinces of Katowice (644), Kielce (1,075), Krakow (485), Tarnobrzeg (683), and Tarnow (318), in southcentral to southeastern Poland. The name appears to come either from trel, “place for storing lumber in the woods,” or from trel, “trill,” according to Polish surname expert Kazimierz Rymut.

It looks from your note as if you’re not sure whether Antoni’s original Polish name was Tully or Trella. Of the two, Trella seems more likely — as of 1990 there was no one in Poland named Tully or Tuly. If that form does prove correct, it could be an anglicized form of Polish Tulej (396) or Tuleja (534), which probably come from the term tuleja, “funnel.” Tulej is especially common in the province of Zamosc (136) in southeastern Poland, whereas there doesn’t seem to be any particular place where Tuleja is concentrated.

Wos is rare in Poland (only 123), but Wos~ (with an accent over the s, making it sound a little like an “sh”) is quite common, with 6,697 bearers as of 1990. This name could come from several sources. Rymut mentions that it can be a nickname or short form of a first name such as Wojciech — Poles often formed nicknames by taking the first couple of sounds of a popular first name and adding suffixes. It might also come from the word wos, “aspen tree,” or in some cases from German Voss, “fox.” There are a great many names in Poland that are ultimately of German origin, especially in the western part where many Germans have long lived and Germans even ruled the area for a long time. Without much, much more detailed info it’s impossible to tell which of those derivations applies in your family’s case.


To: Roman Bulkiewicz, [email protected], who wrote:

…Could you give me any clue to the origin of my name, Bulkiewicz? Though I speak Polish (and my native language is Ukrainian), I have no idea what it could be, except most trivial speculations around the root “bul” or “bulk”… It seems we originated from Volyn’. May be, some toponym there? I could not find out…

The suffix -iewicz, whether spelled in Polish fashion or in Cyrillic, is used by Polish, Russian, Belarusian, and Ukrainian, and means “son of.” So the name means “son of Bulek” or “son of Bulko.” This is a name that could be Polish or Ukrainian in origin, but since your family appears to have come from Volyn’, we should look mainly for Ukrainian connections, if we wish to understand what that first part Bulk- means.

There are names that Polish experts say derive from Polish bul~ka, “bread roll” (I’m using l~ to stand for the Polish slashed l, which in Russian and Ukr. is usually l without the soft sign, thus not softened or palatalized), and I see that that same term exists in Ukrainian. It is possible that an ancestor was given this as a nickname, perhaps because he loved to eat such rolls, or was very good at making them, or was shaped like one — after so many centuries, who can say for sure how such nicknames started?

There is another possibility, however. Bulek or Bulko could very easily have started as a nickname or by-name for Boleslav, Polish Bolesl~aw. Polish name experts verify that the short forms “Bolek” and “Bolko” developed from that first name, and that sometimes the o was modified to the sound of u in some areas. So instead of “son of bread roll,” Bulkiewicz could very well have started as meaning “son of Bolek/Bolko.” Actually, this is the derivation that seems more likely to me. We cannot rule out the chance that this name derived from bul~ka, but the connection with “Boleslav” seems much more convincing.

There is an organization with a website <> that features much information on Ukrainian history, culture, etc. You might wish to visit it and see if there is any information that will help you — perhaps you will even find others with this name who can tell you more about it, or can share information with you. You might also wish to write to Laurence Krupnak <[email protected]>, a gentleman with a great deal of interest in Ukrainian names; tell him you’ve talked to me, I gave my ideas, and perhaps he’ll have something useful to add.


To: Cathy Blystone, [email protected], who wrote:

…I am requesting information on the surname of Chrobak. This is my husbands grandmothers maiden name. She is deceased and no one in the family knows what it means or where she came from. Any light on the matter would be greatly appreciated…

According to Polish surname expert Kazimierz Rymut, the name Chrobak is the same as the name Robak — sometimes the ch was added, sometimes it wasn’t. I’m afraid it’s not a particularly flattering name, the root is the word robak, which means “small worm or insect.” However, I don’t think this was meant in a cruel way; we often see Poles and other Slavs use some rather imaginative terms as endearments, and although “little worm” doesn’t sound flattering in English, I have seen similar usages in German(“liebes Wuermchen”) and Polish that were clearly meant affectionately. I really think that’s how we should regard this.

This is a common name in Poland, as of 1990 there were 4,110 Polish citizens named Chrobak (and another 6,788 named Robak). I’m afraid there is no pattern to its distribution that will help you much: Chrobaks live all over Poland, with the largest numbers in the provinces of Bielsko-Biala (629), Katowice (359), Nowy Sacz and (418). These provinces are in southcentral Poland, so there is at least some concentration in that region; but in terms of area that is still the equivalent of several counties in the U. S.


To: Matt Lichucki, [email protected], who wrote:

…I am Polish and Lichucki is my last name. Do you have any information on it? Could the name have been changed or altered? The earliest relatives in America were my grandfather and his brothers. Most of my family pronounces our name as “li-hoot-ski.’ Any information will help.

This is not a very common name — as of 1990 there were only 39 Polish citizens named Lichucki. They lived in the following provinces: Warsaw (13), Gdansk (5), Lomza (1), Slupsk (20). (Unfortunately, I don’t have more details, such as first names or addresses, this is the only data I have access to). The pronunciation in Polish would be virtually identical to what you gave, something like “lee-HOOT-skee.”

The name almost certainly comes from the root lich-, meaning “bad, miserable, wretched.” There is a rather rare word lichuczki (pronounced “lee-HOOTCH-kee) that means “very bad, miserable, wretched,” and it is so close to this name that I think it confirms the derivation from that root lich-. There is also a Polish name from that root, Lichuta,and if you add the suffix that turns that into an adjective, you have Lichucki. The name probably was given originally to a very poor, needy family — there are a great many names in Polish that mean the same thing, and in view of how impoverished many Poles were, it seems a plausible explanation.


To: E J RUZICKI, [email protected], who wrote:

…I would like info about my surname: Ruzicki, also Krawitz

Krawitz is a Germanized spelling of the Polish name Krawiec, which comes from the word meaning “tailor.” The name Krawiec is quite common in Poland (much like Taylor or Tailor in English) — as of 1990 there were 11,270 Poles by that name. The spelling Krawitz is rare in Poland, as of 1990 there was no record of any Pole spelling the name that way. The natural tendency for anyone living in Poland would be to correct the form of the name to Krawiec. However, back when the Germans were running things in western Poland, it would not have been at all unusual to see this spelling; and since most Poles left Europe by way of German ports, German officials sometimes changed the spelling, even without meaning to.

Ruzicki comes ultimately from the Polish form of the word for “rose,” spelled as ro~z*a (accent over the o, dot over the z, sounding like our word “rouge” with a final -a tacked on). It’s a tough name to get a handle on because there are potentially so many different ways this root can be spelled. Ruzicki probably originated in most cases as meaning “person or family associated with a place named Ruzyce or Ruzice or Ro~zyce” — there are many, many places with names this could come from. Polish accented o~and Polish u are pronounced the same, so almost any place with a name beginning with Ro~z- or Ruz- could spawn this name. The form Ruzicki is rather rare (only 42 as of 1990), but Ro~z*ycki was the name of 10,411 Poles as of 1990. So it’s rather important to try to trace the family back as far as possible and see if you can determine the original spelling. If it really was Ruzicki, there aren’t many of them left in Poland, they may be hard to track down but odds are decent they’re related; but if Ruzicki is just an anglicized form of Ro~z*ycki, there are thousands of them.


To: [email protected], who wrote:

…Have no knowledge of the origin of name Flis or region from my grandparents emigrated. Arrived in states around 1909. Thanks if you can help. Margaret…

Flis probably comes from the Polish word flis or flisak, meaning “raftsman.” As of 1990 there were 9,580 Polish citizens named Flis, living all over the country, with particularly large numbers in the provinces of Lublin (1,785), Tarnobrzeg (1,582), and Zamosc (734). Those provinces are all in far southeastern Poland, so that is the area where the name is most common; but there are Flises living everywhere. This makes sense, the name could get started anywhere they spoke Polish and had rivers men could put rafts on — all over the country, really. So I’m afraid the name itself doesn’t give any clues as to what part of Poland any one Flis family came from.


To: Rosemarie Wnukowski Garrity, [email protected], who wrote:

…My maiden name was Wnukowski. I remember an aunt tellling me it meant “son of the grandson”? My ancestors place of origin was Suwalki, Poland and they settled in Northeastern Pennsylvania (Wilkes-Barre-Scranton area)…

Your aunt was pretty darned close to right! The Polish word wnuk means “grandson,” and the suffix -ow- often translates well as “of” — Wnukowski is an adjective that means literally “of, pertaining to something or someone associated with a grandson.” In practice, that might come down to meaning “son of the grandson.” In general, however, names ending in -owski usually originated as references to a place the family was associated with — typically the place names end in -ow, -owa, -owo, -ew, -ewa, -ewo,sometimes other endings as well. So you’d expect Wnukowski to have started out meaning “person or family associated with, coming from a village named Wnukow, Wnukowo, etc.” If they were noble, they probably owned the village or estate; if they were peasants, they probably worked and lived there at some point. The village or estate name, in turn, started out meaning “the grandson’s place.”

I can’t find any places with the appropriate names on my maps, but that probably just means the place your family came from was too small to appear on maps, or has changed names, or has since been merged with another community. It may be a name only locals would know or use — after all, “the grandson’s place” is a name that would make sense only within a fairly small circle… As of 1990 there were 982 Polish citizens named Wnukowski; they lived all over the country, with the largest numbers appearing in the provinces of Radom (190), Suwalki (160), and Wloclawek (114). I’m afraid I don’t have any further details such as first names, addresses, etc.