Notes on Selected Polish Surnames – 15


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

…Could you do a quick & dirty study of my name Woloskowski, My grandfather came from Stanislaw. It is now called Ivano-Frankivsk…

The name is spelled Wol~oskowski in Polish, where l~ is the Polish l with a slash through it, pronounced like our w, so that the name would sound like “vo-wos-KOFF-skee.” It comes from the root wol~och, “Wallachian, a pastoral ethnic group of Carpathia and Romania,” according to Polish name expert Kazimierz Rymut. The root wol~och-/wl~och- actually meant “foreigner” originally, and the modern Polish word for “Italian,” Wl~och, comes from this root (ultimately, so does the English word “Welch,” for that matter), but when used in surnames the root usually refers to the Wallachians. That may sound unlikely, but in medieval times that area was sometimes under Polish rule or influence, and there were some ties between Poles and Romanians, so it’s actually quite plausible.

Your particular surname’s ending of -owski suggests it began as a reference to a connection between your family and a specific place, the name of which began with Wol~och-, perhaps Wol~ochowo or Wol~ocho~w. Thus the surname means “person from Wol~ochow[o],” which further breaks down into “person from the places of the Wallachians.” Offhand I can’t find any places with names that fit, but the place in question is probably now in Ukraine, and my sources for there are not as good as for Poland proper.

Some of the names from the root wol~och are fairly common, such as Wol~och (997 Poles by that name as of 1990) and Wol~osz (1,651), but Wol~oskowski isn’t one of them — as of 1990 there were only 16 Polish citizens by that name. They lived in the provinces of Jelenia Gora (5), Opole (1), Szczecin (2), Wroclaw (1), and Zielona Gora (7). These are all in western Poland, and it’s a good bet few of them lived there before 1945 — that’s when huge numbers of people were relocated from what had been eastern Poland to the lands taken from Germany and added to Poland’s western borders… Unfortunately, I have no data on name frequency and distribution in what is now Ukraine, so the area around Ivano-Frankivsk (formerly Stanisl~awo~w) wouldn’t show up in the data I have access to. (I should mention also that I have no further details such as first names or addresses, and don’t know offhand how you could get them. I know that’s disappointing, but I figure I might as well tell folks that up front).


To: Kathleen Pawlik Gregoire, [email protected], who wrote:

… I visited the PGSA web site and was reading some of the surname information you have listed . I would be interested in finding out the origin of my surname Pawlik. Idid see Pawlak but do not think this is the same. I would love to find out. I was told by my father that my grandfather was wealthy in Poland and that they came from kings and had servants apparently in southern Poland. He also stated that the name was shortened from Pawlikowski but this has not been confirmed…

Pawlik means more or less the same as Pawlak — both come from the first name Pawel~ (Paul) and have diminutive suffixes, so that they mean literally “little Paul” and usually translate as “son of Paul.” Whether a name took the suffix -ak or -ik seems to be insignificant — in certain regions people may have tended to add -ik rather than -akbecause they just liked the sound of it better. I don’t think you can read any great significance into the difference unless you want to get into some very detailed linguistic discussions.

Pawlik could be a shortened version of Pawlikowski, but in general I doubt it, because the names mean different things. Pawlik means “son of Paul,” Pawlikowski means “person or family from the place of Paul’s son,” i. e., “person from Pawlikow” or perhaps “Pawlikowice.” I doubt Poles would shorten it, because to them there’s nothing long or difficult about saying Pawlikowski; and if foreigners caused it to be changed, surely they’d change it to something more German or English-sounding than “Pawlik.” However, there are always exceptions to the general rules, so I can’t say definitely that the name wasn’t shortened, only that I doubt it.

All these names are quite common in Poland. As of 1990 there were 12,296 Pawlik’s, 43,556 Pawlak’s, and 7,070 Pawlikowski’s. Since the names are so common, and distributed widely all over the country, I don’t really have access to any specifics that would help with your particular family; the most I can do is tell what a name means, and indicate whether there’s anything about it that might make it easier to track down. These names are so common that you have to figure there are many, many different families bearing them, and I have no sources that would shed light on any particular one. Only detailed genealogical research will help with that.


To: Todd Kramasz, [email protected], who wrote:

…I wish to find out the meaning of my surname. It’s K R A M A S Z. If possible, would someone be able to determine the region(s) from which that name originated in the old country?…

I’m glad to say I can give you a bit of info on this name, although of course I can never give folks all the info they’d like to have. In this case the name is essentially the same as Polish Kramarz, which has the same origin as the German name Kramer or Kra”mer; they all mean a person who sold things at a small stall or booth, for instance at fairs and markets. A kram in Polish is a “stall” or a “booth,” and a kramarz was one who kept such a stall. Eventually the word’s meaning was expanded a bit to include anyone who kept a small shop dealing in inexpensive or second-hand items. These people were often Jewish, so we often see the name borne by Jews, but not exclusively. It’s kind of likeHoffman, both names are especially common among Jews but were also borne by Christians.

The difference between Kramarz and Kramasz is one of spelling. In Polish rz usually sounds like the “s” in “measure,” and sz sounds like the “sh” in “ship”; but at the end of words the rz is “devoiced,” as linguists say, and sounds just like the sz. So Kramarz and Kramasz were pronounced exactly the same, and thus the name could be spelled either way. However, most Poles knew the “correct” form was Kramarz and spelled it that way. Thus in 1990 there were 1,989 Polish citizens named Kramarz and only 19 named Kramasz. So basically I’m saying you want to keep your eye open for either spelling — you may well find documents where the name was spelled Kramarz… I’m just guessing here, but it may be in the past, when most Poles were farmers or peasants and had little or no education, the spelling Kramasz was more common, because that’s what it sounded like; but in recent decades, as more Poles learned to read and write, more of them realized the “correct” spelling was Kramarz, and that’s why that spelling is prevalent today. So your ancestors may have spelled it that way when they emigrated, but since then that way of spelling it has become less common in Poland.

I don’t see any signficant pattern to the name distribution in Poland. People named Kramarz lived all over the country, with the largest numbers in the provinces of Bielsko-Biala (104), Katowice (187), Krakow (351), Rzeszow (148), and Tarnow (128), and smaller numbers in virtually every other province. This suggests the name is more common in southcentral and southeastern Poland. As for Kramasz, the 19 Poles by that name lived in the provinces of Warsaw (5), Katowice (3), Kielce (1), Legnica (1), Lodz (1), Opole (1), Torun (1), Wroclaw (5), and Zielona Gora (1); there aren’t really enough of them to establish any kind of pattern (and unfortunately I don’t have access to any source of info that would give their first names and addresses).


To: David Slomczynski <[email protected]>, who wrote:

…My name is David Slomczynski and I am interested in researching my family history in Poland. My grandfather Anton Slomczynski emmigrated from Poland between 1900 – 1915. My grandfather had a sister who still lived in Poland – her married name was Pelagia Matela. Any information you can provide would be most appreciated…

The name Sl~omczyn~ski (slash through the l, accent over the n, so that it would be pronounced something like “swom-CHEEN-skee”) comes ultimately from the Polish rootsl~oma meaning “straw,” but this particular name probably derives from a connection between the family and one of several places named Sl~omczyn or Sl~omczyna, something like that — and those place names, in turn, derive from the word for “straw.” On my maps I see two places that are decent candidates: Sl~omczyn in Radom province, a little north of the town of Grojec, and Sl~omczyn in Warsaw province, a few km. southeast of Warsaw. There may have been more places with names that could generate the surname Sl~omczyn~ski — very few Polish place names are unique, and often surnames originated from a connection with very small places you won’t even find on a map — but those two are pretty good bets.

As of 1990 there were 1,480 Polish citizens named Sl~omczyn~ski, living all over Poland, with some of the larger numbers in the provinces of Warsaw (342), Czestochowa (93), Katowice (89), Poznan (88), Radom (117), and Skierniewice (82). The large numbers in Warsaw and Radom provinces probably are connected with those two places I mentioned; the others might be as well, or might derive from other places with similar names that, as I say, are too small to show up on my maps, or have disappeared or changed names in the centuries since the surname developed.

Matela is a name seen in Polish legal records as far back as 1416. It most likely started out as a nickname for someone whose “proper” name was Mateusz or Maciej (Matthew, Matthias), somewhat the same as we form “Eddy” from “Edward.” So it probably began as a name meaning something like “Matt” in English, and then eventually stuck as a surname. As of 1990 there were 951 Matela’s in Poland, with the largest numbers in the provinces of Warsaw (79), Bialystok (64), Konin (75), and Poznan (332), and smaller numbers in many other provinces. I can’t say I see any real pattern to that distribution, which is not surprising — by its very nature, the name could have started almost anywhere there were Poles named Matthew or Matthias. We wouldn’t generally expect surnames formed from nicknames formed from popular first names to show up only in one limited area. Unfortunately, that makes our genealogical research that much harder! (By the way, I don’t have access to any sources with first names or addresses of any of those Sl~omczyn~ski’s or Matela’s, I’m afraid what I’ve given you is what I have).


To: [email protected], who wrote:

…I am just starting the process of researching my family’s name and history. I would appreciate any help that you can offer. The family name is Rempala. From what I know, we still have relatives in Poland and there are at least 2 distinct families here in the US. Both have their roots in the Chicago and Northern Indiana areas…

According to Polish surname expert Kazimierz Rymut, this name comes from the root ra~pac~, “to insult.” I’m using a~ to stand for the Polish nasal vowel written as an a with a tail under it and pronounced like “on” or, before a b or p, like “om” — this vowel often alternates with the nasal e~ written as an e with a tail under it and pronounced like “en” or, in this case, “em.” (The c~ stands for the accented c, which sounds like our “ch” in “cheetah” — God, I wish our computers could show the Polish characters properly, it would make things so much easier). In other words, these two vowels tend to switch often, and they are often spelled the way they sound, so that we can see the same name appear as Ra~pal~a (l~ = the Polish l with a slash through it, pronounced like our w ), but it can also appear as Rompal~a, Re~pal~a, and Rempal~a. In every case it’s still the same basic name, but spelled differently (kind of like Hofman, Hofmann, Hoffman, Hoffmann, etc.). I hope this isn’t too confusing — if you work with Polish names a lot it gets to where it seems obvious, but I imagine it’s kind of odd to someone who doesn’t work with Polish much.

The suffix -al~a, when added to a verb root, usually implies continual repetition of the action denoted by the verb. So Re~pal~a or Rempal~a (both pronounced like “rem-PAW-ah”) would mean “one who’s always insulting people.”

As of 1990 there were 218 Polish citizens named Rempal~a, with by far the largest group living in the province of Tarnow (in southeastern Poland) and just a few living here and there in other provinces. There were 65 Poles who spelled the name Re~pal~a, which surprises me, I would have expected more to spell it e~ rather than em. In that case, also, the vast majority (50) lived in Tarnow province… Just for comparison, there were 1,294 named Ra~pal~a (again, Tarnow province, with 577, had the biggest number), and only 54 named Rompal~a (Tarnow province had 12, the largest single group).

I’m not exactly saying that you should regard all these names as identical to yours, that’s not quite accurate. They all share the same linguistic derivation; but over the course of time the spellings diverged, so that different families used different spellings. It is very possible that you might run into your name spelled Re~pal~a — since em and e~sound so similar, we often see the same name spelled either way. It’s somewhat less likely that you’ll see your named spelled Ra~pal~a or Rompal~a. But it is a good idea to keep your eyes open for those spellings; I can’t rule out the chance that you may the name spelled that way in some cases.


To: Deborah Zwolinski, [email protected], who wrote:

…I am just beginning my quest to research my family history and was wondering if you could help with the possible origin of my last name and the proper spelling:Zwolinski

That probably is the correct spelling — as of 1990 there were 7,864 Polish citizens named Zwolin~ski (the n~ represents the n with an accent over it, so that the name is pronounced something like “zvo-LEEN-skee”). The largest numbers lived in the provinces of Warsaw (1,127), Gdansk (331), Katowice (396), Krakow (331), Skierniewice (458), and Wloclawek (390), with smaller numbers in virtually every other province. This suggests the name is fairly evenly distributed all over Poland, there doesn’t appear to be any one place or region where the name is especially common, although of course Warsaw province is clearly the home to a pretty good concentration.

Polish surname expert Kazimierz Rymut says this name can come from the verb root zwolic~, “to permit, allow,” or from place names such as Zwola. As a rule, names ending in -in~ski do tend to come from place names; your surname probably started out referring to a connection between your family and a place they lived in, worked at, traveled to, etc. Most often, it would simply mean “person or family from Zwola, Zwolin, etc.” Unfortunately, there’s more than one place this name could refer to. There are at least 3 Zwola’s in Poland, two in Siedlce province and one in Tarnow province; and there may be more too small to show up on my maps. There are also at least a couple of villages named Zwolen; in a world where languages were absolutely precise, you’d expect that name to yield Zwolen~ski, not Zwolin~ski; but in the real world, where languages and spelling sometimes get a little sloppy, “Zwolin~ski” might also refer to a Zwolen as well as a Zwola. So the surname doesn’t give us enough info to let us say “it means person from this place right here and nowhere else.” But if your research establishes that your family came from a specific area, and you find there is a place with a name beginning Zwol- nearby, that is probably the one the surname originally referred to.


To: Joan Bamlett, [email protected], who wrote:

…My name is Joan Bamlett and I live in Canada. I recently learned that my great-grandfather came from Wroclaw. I recently met a lady that came to Canada from Poland about seven years ago. She put me onto ‘Herbarz Polski’. This is the first time that I’ve tried to find anything here. I would appreciate anything that you can tell me about out paternal name of Szczygiel

I’m glad you established that the original form of the name was Szczygiel — if I had gone hunting for Steigel I probably would have come up with wrong information, since that is a perfectly good German name that can derive from roots having nothing to do with Szczygiel. But given the German-Polish connections in the Wroclaw area (as well as many other parts of Poland), the change Szczygiel to Steigel makes sense. So your having the right form saves error and confusion.

Polish surname expert Kazimierz Rymut says this name comes from the Polish word szczygiel~, “goldfinch,” a kind of bird; note that I’m using l~ to stand for the Polish l with a slash through it, which is pronounced like our w, so that the name would sound something like “shchig’-yeh” with a slight w-sound at the end. There are many Polish surnames that come from words for birds and other animals, and it can often be quite difficult to imagine how they originated — why would your ancestor be named for a goldfinch? It could be he lived in an area where these birds were particularly common; or that people knew he had a special liking for them, or liked to catch them and keep them as pets; or that something about his manner reminded people of them. I also see in my 8-volume Polish-language dictionary that szczygiel~ was a term used jokingly for students at certain provincial and county schools, called that because they wore a uniform with a stiff red color and and a red cap; so they looked a little like the birds in question. That may or may not be relevant, but it seems worth mentioning — even if that isn’t how the name started in your family’s particular case, it does shed light on how such names came to be applied.

This name appears in Polish records as far back as 1499, so it’s been around a long time! I didn’t know there were any noble families by this name, but the Polish nobility isn’t something I know a lot about.

Szczygiel~ is very common in Poland, as of 1990 there were 10,245 Polish citizens by that name. They lived all over the country, with especially large numbers in the provinces of Warsaw (449), Bielsko-Biala (419), Czestochowa (409), Katowice (1,760), Kielce (632), Krakow (688), and Lublin (657) — most of these are in southcentral to southeastern Poland, so the name’s somewhat more common in that region (traditionally called Malopol~ska or Little Poland, and from the late 1700’s to 1918 it was part of the Austrian Empire, the western half of the region called Galicia). This doesn’t really narrow the area of your search down much, but I thought it was worth mentioning because you never know what detail might prove helpful in research.


To: Ryan Johnson, [email protected], who wrote:

…I am very new to geneology but I am trying to research my family the Kondysar‘s from a town called Rudnik n. Sanem. I am interested in that name, and have been told it is a name of some signifigance, and that it might actually be of Russian and or Jewish descent…

Well, first I looked to see if I could get any hard data on the name. A 10-volume set that lists all surnames of Poles as of 1990, and gives a breakdown on what provinces they lived in, shows Kondysar to be a very rare name — as of 1990 there were only 15 of them, 11 living in Tarnobrzeg province, 4 in Wroclaw province. “Rudnik nad Sanem” means “Rudnik on the San River” (to distinguish it from other places named Rudnik), and Rudnik nad Sanem is in Tarnobrzeg province in southeastern Poland; so it appears we can say there are still some 11 people with your name living in or fairly near Rudnik, since Tarnobrzeg province isn’t all that big.

Unfortunately I don’t have further details such as first names and addresses; but perhaps you could get those from a search of the Tarnobrzeg province phone book. The Polish Genealogical Society of the Northeast probably has that directory, and it will look up such data for a very moderate fee — since you’re only asking about one name and have a very good idea where it’s find, I think it would be pretty cheap, maybe $10-20 at the most. You might try writing the PGS-NE at 8 Lyle Rd., New Britain CT 06053, and see if they can help you. Polish phone directories are not nearly as comprehensive as those in the U.S. — phones in private homes are less common there — but you might get lucky and find a Kondysar listed. If so, he/she is almost certainly a relative!

The origin of the name is a puzzle. On the whole, I doubt it’s Jewish; but I think the reason you were told that is that a book by Alexander Beider listing Russian Jews’ surnames mentions a Kundysh, saying it comes from a Russian word for a kind of clothing, or from Yiddish kundes, “wanton, wag.” But no mention of Kondysar. And if the family were Jewish, I would think chances are good Beider would have mentioned the name; and I’m not convinced the surname comes from either of those words anyway.

Since none of my sources mention this name, I went looking through my 8-volume Polish-language dictionary to see if there was any plausible root it might have come from. I discovered there is a term kondys, a variant of the word usually seen as kundel, which is a kind of mongrel dog, often used by shepherds or herdsmen; it can also be a kind of slang term for a simpleton or good-for-nothing fellow. In the Slavic languages the suffix -ar (in Polish -arz) usually means much the same as -er in English, so I tend to suspect that a Kondysar would be a person who bred or used such dogs; that strikes me as a bit more probable than the “simpleton” connection. The name might be of Slovakian or Ukrainian origin, in view of where Rudnik is located. That’s even more likely because those languages are more likely to use -ar where a truly Polish form would be something like Kondysarz. But down in southeastern Poland you get a kind of linguistic mixing, so that a person might well be a Polish citizen and yet bear a name that shows traces of Ukrainian or Slovakian influence. I think that may account for the -ar form (it’s interesting that there was no listing of anyone named Kondysarz). This suggests the name is rare and might not be originally Polish; but clearly there are a few folks by that name living in southeastern Poland, and they’re probably related to you.

If you get in touch with them, they might be able to shed more light on exactly what Kondysar means. My guess is that it originally meant someone who bred or used mutts to watch herds. But that is merely an educated guess, and could prove completely wrong!

Anyway, that’s the best I can offer you. I hope you have some luck getting in contact with the Kondysar’s living near Rudnik — if you do, I’d be quite interested in hearing what they say about the name. And in any case, I wish you the best of luck with your research!


To: [email protected], who wrote:

…We spoke with you briefly, at the Polish Genealogy Society of Texas meeting on Saturday, about the meanings of names and from what region in Poland a name may be from. We asked you about the name Haiduk. What is the meaning of that name and what region is known for that name being prominent? …

Hajduk is the standard Polish spelling of this name, though you might also see Chaiduk, Haiduk, Hayduk, Hejduk, and Heyduk (because of phonetic similarities — all those spellings are pronounced very similarly). As of 1990 there were 9,133 Poles by this name, so it is a fairly common one. People by this name live in all the provinces of Poland, with the largest numbers showing up in the provinces of Warsaw (422), Katowice (1,659), Kielce (579), Krakow (512), Opole (477), Przemysl (312) and Tarnow (453). With the exception of Warsaw (which, as the capital, tends to have large numbers of almost any name you look up), those provinces are in the southcentral and southeastern part of the country, the region called Malopolska (Little Poland)… Names formed from this root are also pretty common, including Hayduczek (394), Hajdukiewicz (930, both of those mean “son of a hajduk“), and Hejduk (1,121), the same name with a vowel change. Hajduk sounds like “HIGH-duke,” Hejduk sounds like “HAY-duke,” and the switch between what we’d call the long i sound of “aj” and the long a sound of “ej” is very common.

The origin of the name is interesting. It comes from Turkish hajdud, “brigand, ruffian, highwayman,” and came into Hungarian as hajdu” (two dots over the u). It came into Polish meaning “soldier in the Hungarian infantry, which existed in Poland from the beginning to the middle of the 17th century, and later served in campaigns of infantry captains.” Near the borders Slavs shared with Turks it meant “fellow who waged war against the Turks on his own account.” After it became established in Polish it also came to mean “robber, ruffian, highwayman.” It also came to be used to refer to servants who dressed like Hajduks, in Hungarian clothing. It has also been used as the name of a dance common among the mountain folk of southeastern Poland, kind of like the dance we’ve seen the Cossacks due, with a lot of squatting and jumping.

So you see, the name can mean a lot of things in Polish, most related one way or another to the original Turkish term that came into Hungarian and thence into Polish. It’s common in Poland, and I imagine in most cases the connection is with the Hungarian infantrymen — but in some cases it might have come from the usage of the word as “robber,” or even occasionally from the “servant dressed like a Hungarian” connection.


To: William J Andershock, [email protected], who wrote:

…Can you give me any information on the surnames of Andrysiak and Hyska

Well, let’s take Andrysiak first. It comes from the first name Andrzej (the Polish version of “Andrew”), which over the centuries has appeared in Polish in many forms. To one of those forms, Andrys, the suffix -iak was added; it generally means “son of,” so Andrysiak means “Andrew’s son” (compare “Anderson” in English). Surnames formed from popular first names are quite common in Poland, so it’s not surprising that this name is reasonably common — as of 1990 there were 1,793 Polish citizens by that name. I don’t see any particular pattern to the distribution, which makes sense: this name could get started anywhere they spoke Polish and had guys named “Andrew” who had sons.

The change to Andershock was probably just due to phonetics. Non-Poles found it hard to figure out how Andrysiak was pronounced, so someone started using a spelling that they could pronounce, one that still sounded similar to the Polish original. Andrysiak sounds kind of like “on-DRISH-ak,” and if you said that out loud to an English-speaking person it could easily end up as “Andershock.” This sort of thing happened to Polish names all the time, it’s not unusual or surprising.

Hyska is a tough one. I find there is a rather seldom-used word hyska that means “small horse, pony, hobby-horse,” and the name could come from that. But it doesn’t really sound like proper Polish, and the name itself is a problem because there’s nothing it really matches up with well, and there about a jillion things it might match up with if you factor in spelling variations. All I can say is that as of 1990 there were 357 Poles named Hyski, of whom some surely were females and therefore called Hyska (the suffix -skichanges to -ska when referring to females). The Hyski’s were scattered all over Poland, with the largest numbers living in the provinces of Gdansk (34), Katowice (63), Legnica (30), and Wroclaw (35). That’s not a lot of info, I know, but my sources just don’t have much that gives clues about this name.


To: [email protected], who wrote:

…My great-grandfather Kazimier Serwack was born 1888 in Warsaw, I’m looking for any information that I can get, thanks…

I’m afraid what I have may not be a lot of practical help to you, although it may be nice to know what the name means. It comes from the first name Serwacy (pronounced “ser-VOT-see”), not an extremely common first name in Poland but not all that rare either, especially a few centuries ago, when surnames were being formed. It comes from Latin “Servatius,” from the word servatus, “saved.” Several surnames were formed from this first name, including Serwach and Serwacki. I can’t tell for sure which of these two is relevant here — “Serwack” may be a misspelling of “Serwach,” or a variant form of it, but it might also be Serwacki with the ending -i inadvertently dropped. Either way, though, both names would have derived from the first name, probably as a sort of verbal shorthand for “the kin of Serwacy, Serwacy’s offspring.”

As of 1990 there were 583 Polish citizens named Serwach, with the largest numbers living in the provinces of Warsaw (79), Lodz (95), and Plock (149), and smaller numbers scattered in other provinces. There were 171 Poles named Serwacki, with the largest numbers living in the provinces of Warsaw (20), Lublin (33), Pila (23), and Tarnobrzeg (36). The most common surname from this root is Serwa, borne by 1,087 Poles in 1990.


To: Gregg Banas, [email protected], who wrote:

…I have recently begun trying to trace my roots back to Poland. In doing some research, I came across your page on Cyndi’s List of Genealogy Sites. My last name isBanas and I would love to know everything I can about it. I realize you only do meanings, but if you could lead me somewhere else, I would deeply appreciate it…

In Polish this name can be spelled either Banas or Banas~ (s~ stands for the s with an accent over it, pronounced like a soft, hissing “sh”). The spelling Banas~ is more common — as of 1990 there were 11,828 Poles by that name, as opposed to 286 who spelled it Banas (without the accent). The Poles named Banas~ lived all over the country, with especially large numbers in the provinces of Bielsko-Biala (504), Katowice (1,430), Kielce (1,165), Krakow (955), Przemysl (522), Tarnow (782), and Wroclaw (527). All those provinces are in southcentral to southeastern Poland, in the areas historically called “Silesia” and “Mal~opolska” (Little Poland). However, the name is common all over the country, those are just the areas where it tends to show up the most.

This name originated as a kind of nickname for someone named Benedykt (Benedict). Although Benedykt is the standard form of that first name in modern Polish, some centuries ago (back when surnames were being formed) there were other forms widely used, including Banadyk. Poles liked to form new names or nicknames by taking the first few sounds of popular first names, dropping the rest, and adding suffixes (somewhat as we formed “Eddy” from “Edward” and “Teddy” from “Theodore”). So they took theBana- from Banadyk, added an -s~, and that give the name Banas~ — a lot like our nicknames “Ben” or “Bennie.” Later, as surnames became established, a family might have gotten this name because some particularly prominent member had this name, so that it meant, in effect, “Ben’s kin.”

Surnames deriving from nicknames for popular first names generally are quite common in Poland, and this is no exception, as the figures above prove.


To: Noel Gondek, [email protected], who wrote:

…I was hoping that you could help me with three Polish names that I am having a very difficult time finding information on: Gondek, Pazdziora, Zworski

Well, I can offer at least a little information on them. It may not be as much as you’d hoped for — the nature of surname research makes it difficult to provide really detailed information on names without equally detailed research into the history of the individual family that goes by them. But my sources do provide some insights.

Gondek is a spelling variant of Ga~dek, where I’m using a~ to represent the Polish nasal vowel written as an a with a tail under it and pronounced much like on (especially as in French bon). Since the a~ sounds so much like on, it is very common to see names written either way; so Ga~dek and Gondek are two ways of spelling the same name, with Ga~dek being the more “Polish” way to spell it. According to Polish surname expert Kazimierz Rymut in his book Nazwiska Polakow [The Surnames of Poles], Ga~dek appears in Polish legal records as far back as 1415, and derives from the term ga~dek, “player, home-bred musician.” So this name was applied to somebody who played an instrument without any formal training.

As of 1990 there were 3,499 Polish citizens named Ga~dek; they lived all over Poland, with the largest numbers in the provinces of: Katowice 378, Kielce 406, Krakow 767, and Tarnow 596. Thus the name is most common in southcentral and southeastern Poland. As for the spelling Gondek, it was borne by 3,042 Poles, with the largest numbers in the provinces of: Bydgoszcz 202, Katowice 320, Krakow 263, and Tarnow 466 — a similar distribution.

According to Rymut, Paz~dziora (z~ = z with an accent over it, sounding like a soft, hissing “zh”) comes from the root paz~dzierz, “harl of flax, awns.” It might be a reference to a person’s hair, which looked like a bunch of flax, or perhaps it referred to some other characteristic of a person — surnames often developed from nicknames, and it can be very hard to deduce what nicknames originally referred to. As of 1990 there were 590 Poles named Paz~dziora, with the largest numbers living in the provinces of Bielsko-Biala (248), Katowice (78), Krakow (30), and Wroclaw (29) — again, in the southcentral part of Poland.

Zworski is far less common — as of 1990 there were only 64 Poles with this name, living in the following provinces: Warsaw (15), Jelenia Gora (12), Krakow (12), Legnica (4), Olsztyn (9), Opole (1), Pila (4), and Wroclaw (7). (Unfortunately I have no access to any further details, such as first names or addresses). None of my sources give any clue what this name might come from, and I find no place it might refer to — theoretically Zworski could mean “person or family from Zwor or Zwora.” There is a term zworameaning “something that closes or holds two things shut, dowel, cramp (in building),” so that might be the origin of the name. Perhaps it applied to a person who made or used such objects. But there is also a rather rare word, zwo~r, which means “a dry gully in the Carpathians, between mountains close together, which points to a breach of rivers.” That’s what the dictionary says, I’m assuming it means a narrow opening between mountains caused by erosion. In any case, geographical features such as this often were the source of surnames, which suggests the family involved lived in or near such a place. If that is the root of this surname, it suggests the family lived in southcentral or southeastern Poland, in the Carpathian Mountains.


To: Sherry Siezega, [email protected], who wrote:

…A few weeks ago, I asked you about the name Kromimceir, which you stated was probably incorrect, or else the name has “petered” out. I have found out, after checking many resources, that the name was incorrect. I have just found out and verified that my great grandmother’s last name was Kromrei. In her lifetime, she lived in Sonnenborn, Germany….but that area is now known as Slonecznik, Poland. Do you know how this name is pronounced? And also, can you give me any insight, towards the name? …

The name Kromrei would be pronounced something like “CHROME-ray” by Poles, by Germans more like “CHROME-rye.” It’s normal for the German combination ei to be pronounced “ay” by Poles and like “eye” by Germans; the Polish pronunciation is probably based on the fact that in some dialects Germans pronounce it like “ay” and those dialects are the ones Poles had the most contact with, even if the “standard” German pronunciation was different.

It’s pretty likely this name is German in origin; the few Polish words and names with the root Kromr- were borrowed from German anyway. There seem to me two possible roots. The surname might come from Kramer/Kromer, which was an occupational term, meaning a person who kept a small stall at markets or a small shop, in either case selling inexpensive items. In Polish this term became Kramarz, in German it normally shows up as Kramer or Kra”mer, but it can sometimes appear with o instead of a. It is a fairly common name in those forms.

The other likely root — and this strikes me as the better candidate — is the German surname Krummrey, which German expert Hans Bahlow says comes from the Middle High German roots kru”mm, “bend in the road,” + rein, “ridge, bank or border of a field.” Krummrey is noted as a place name mentioned in records, designating a field and meaning probably something like “place by where the ridge or road curves.”

The reason I think this latter is a bit more likely is because I looked up info on the plausible forms of this name as borne by Poles in 1990, and came up with the following data (showing how many Poles had that name and what provinces they lived in):

KROMRAJ: 36; Bielsko-Biala 7, Bydgoszcz 1, Gdansk 1, Gorzow 4, Krakow 4, Legnica 2, Sieradz 3, Szczecin 5, Walbrzych 5, Wroclaw 4

KROMREI: 9; Katowice 1, Olsztyn 8

KROMREJ: 3; Olstzyn 3

KRUMRAJ: 22; Bydgoszcz 16, Pila 6

KRUMREI: 6; Gdansk 1, Olsztyn 3, Suwalki 2

KRUMREJ: 19; Elblag 1, Katowice 1, Olsztyn 2, Torun 15

KRUMREY: 33; Warsaw 1, Bydgoszcz 5, Elblag 6, Leszno 3, Pila 13, Poznan 5

While the only real pattern we can see is that this name tends to show up in areas with lots of Germans, it also seems pretty likely from this data that these are all variants of the same name, and o and u switch pretty easily. From a linguistic point of view this is plausible. Note that these forms of the name often show up in what is now Olsztyn province, and that’s important because that’s where you should be looking. It may be that some regional pronunciation quirk made Olsztyn one of the places where the vowel was more often u than o.

There are two villages called Sl~onecznik, both in what used to be East Prussia and now is the province of Olsztyn (German name Allenstein) in northern Poland. One was called Sonnenberg by the Germans, near Szczytno, but that’s not the one you want. You want the one the Germans called Sonneborn, about 7-8 km. south of the town of Mora~g (a~ = the Polish nasal vowel written as an a with a tail under it and pronounced much like on). In Polish the root sl~once means “sun,” just like Sonne in German, so it’s not odd the two villages have similar names in both languages. Your Sl~onecznik had its own Catholic parish church, which may be where your family’s records were kept if they were Catholic; if they were Protestant (and many in the area were), it appears the records would have been kept either in Sl~onecznik/Sonnenborn or in nearby Mora~g (German name Mohrungen).

So I think the name is German, the most common form of it is Krummrey in German, but the other forms shown above are all legitimate, and they all started out as a name for a place. There are not a lot of Poles these days with any of the forms of the name, but there are a few, and it appears some of them still live in Olsztyn province — possibly still quite near Sl~onecznik near Mora~g.


To: [email protected], who wrote:

…I have been searching my father’s family. Currently the name is spelled Schell. In older records I have found the family name spelled Szel and Szell. My grandmother’s family also came from Poland. The family name was Olsheski also spelled Olshewska. My grandmother’s grandmother’s maiden name was Dushenskialso spelled Duskenski. The Schell’s came for Posen area; a town call Tokorowo which no longer exist. My grandmother’s family came to Wisconsin a long time ago and no one remembers were from Poland they were from. If you can help me–God Bless…

Szel and Szell are just Polish phonetic spellings of German Schell — the sound we spell “sh” is spelled sch in German and sz in Polish. In any case, the origin of the surname is German, from a root meaning “loud, noisy person,” according to German name expert Hans Bahlow. As of 1990 there were only 38 Poles with that name, most living in the provinces of Koszalin (9), Wroclaw (11), and Zielona Gora (8) — not surprisingly, these are in the areas of western Poland that used to be ruled by Germany. However the name Szela (from the same root and meaning the same thing) is much more common, there were 930 Polish citizens named Szela as of 1990, living all over the country, with largest numbers in the provinces of Gdansk (131), Rzeszow (359), and Tarnow (101).

Olszewski is the standard Polish spelling of “Olsheski” — again, that latter spelling makes sense as a phonetic spelling in English of what the Polish name sounded like. Olszewski means “person from Olszewo” (or several other place names beginning with the root Olszew- or Olsz-); those places take their names from the root olsza, “alder tree,” so you could interpret the surname as meaning “peole from the place of the alder tree.” Unfortunately there’s about a jillion villages in Poland named Olszewo, so God only knows which particular one your family was named for. As of 1990 there were 44,638 Poles named Olszewski, living all over the country.

With the other name it’s hard to tell whether it would originally have been Duszenski or Duskenski or what — neither is a common name. But it might be a variant ofDuszyn~ski, a name borne by 6,436 Poles as of 1990. Most names beginning with Dusz- come from dusza, “soul,” especially the diminutive duszka, literally “little soul” but used as a term of affectionate, sort of like “my sweet.” Without firmer data on the original form of the name, I can’t say too much more, but maybe this is enough to be some help to you.


To: Mary J. Morris, [email protected], who wrote:

…looking for name info on Krupinski, Sobczak, Warsinski (perhaps Warzinski)…

Krupin~ski (n~ stands for the n with an accent over it) means “person from Krupin” or Krupno or several other possibilities. Since there are several villages in Poland with names that could generate this surname, there’s no way to say which particular one your family was associated with. But if your research leads you to a specific area where your family lived, and you find a place with a name beginning with Krup- nearby, chances are quite good that’s the place your family was named for — perhaps because they once lived there, or had worked there, etc… The basic root is krupa, “groats” (a kind of cereal); perhaps these places got their names because of some association with groats, and your ancestors probably took their surnames from the place names, so that Krupin~ski means “person from the place of the groats.” Krupin~ski is a pretty common name, as of 1990 there were 7,986 Poles named Krupin~ski, living all over the country.

Warsin~ski is the same sort of name, originally meaning “person from __” where you fill in the blank with any village name beginning with Wars-, e. g., Warsin (also calledWarszyn), Lesno parish, Bydgoszcz province. A family that came from Warsin, worked at, or even once owned it (if they were noble) could end up with the surname Warsin~ski. As of 1990 there were 640 Poles by this name, with the largest numbers living in the provinces of Bydgoszcz (185) and Gdansk (141) in northcentral Poland.

Sobczak is easy. -czak is a suffix meaning “son of,” and Sob- is a short form of several different first names, including Sebastian but also ancient pagan names such asSobiesl~aw. So given that Sob is a nickname for someone with one of those first names beginning with Sob-, Sobczak would mean “Sob’s son.” Such names formed from popular first names tend to be quite common, and Sobczak is — as of 1990 there were 27,613 Poles by that name, living all over the country.


To: [email protected], who wrote:

…What can you tell me about this surname, its origins and meanings? For the most part it is Rys, but have seen Ryz also.

Polish surname expert Kazimierz Rymut says there are three possible roots this name could derive from. One is rysa, “dash, crack”; another is rys~_, “lynx”; the third is as a short form or nickname of Ryszard (= Richard). It’s tough to say which one is relevant to a particular family without detailed research, but I’d think the nickname for Ryszard or the term for lynx would prove applicable in most cases. As of 1990 there were only 251 Poles named Rys but 5,587 named Rys~ (i. e., with the accent over the s, giving it a kind of soft “sh” sound). That makes me think the link to the word for “lynx” is what most Rys’s got their names from. (Other names like Ryszka or Ryszko might be more likely to come from Ryszard).


To: Rick Cory, [email protected], who wrote:

…My father and most of his siblings changed their family name from Korytkowski to Cory in the late 1940’s. Since none of the survivng members of his immediate family will discuss anything to do with our heritage, I am quite curious to know more about the family background. I have heard, but not confirmed, that we are actually Russian, not Polish, but that is a very artificial distinction in my opinion, since political boundaries have moved so frequently, especially in eastern Europe…

I’m glad you understand about the variability of political boundaries — sometimes I tell people their names come from a Ukrainian root and they say “That can’t be, we’re Polish.” But a little knowledge of the region’s history helps a lot!

Korytkowski is a Polish spelling of the name, but we can’t be positive it is Polish. The basic root of the name is koryto, “trough,” and that root exists in Polish, Ukrainian, Russian, and probably other Slavic languages. The structure of the name — root koryt + diminutive suffix -k- + possessive suffix -ow- + adjectival suffix -ski — is such that it could have developed in any of the languages mentioned. If it were Russian or Ukrainian, but the family lived in Poland for a while or began their trip to America from Poland, the name’s spelling might well have been Polonized slightly — so it may have started out as Russian (spelled in Cyrillic, looking like KOPbITKOBCKNN) but when the family encountered the need to fill out documents in the Roman alphabet, the spelling used was Polish… Personally I think the name probably is Polish, but I just wanted to show that we can’t assume that without proof; it is possible the name could have originated in Russia or Ukraine and only later picked up a Polish-looking spelling.

As I said, the basic root of the name is koryto, a trough, especially for watering cattle. But usually names ending in -owski developed from the names of places, and in this instance we’d expect the surname to mean “person or family from Korytkow or Korytkowo,” some place with a name beginning Korytk-. There are several villages in Poland that qualify, including Kortyko~w (the o~ stands for the Polish owith an accent over it) in Radom province and Korytko~w Duzy and Korytko~w Maly, both in Zamosc province. All three of these places are in southeastern Poland, not too far from the border with Ukraine. There may be more places with names that qualify as possible sources for this surname, including places too small to show up on my maps, and places outside Poland, for which I don’t have maps quite as detailed. But again, while we can’t rule out non-Polish origin, Korytkowski certainly makes perfect sense as a Polish surname originally indicating a connection of some sort between a family and a place named Korytko~w or Korytkowo.

As of 1990 there were 1,599 Polish citizens named Korytkowski. There were some by that name living in virtually every province, but the provinces with the largest numbers were Warsaw (168), Lomza (410), and Plock (111). So while the name is found all over Poland, it is particularly common in an area of central to northeastern Poland (locate Warsaw, Lomza, and Plock on a map and you’ll see what I’m talking about).


To: Eleonora Paton, [email protected], who wrote:

…I would like to know about the origin and meaning of Zdeb. My grandfather was born in the town Malogosht, district Injeov. Could you also please give me some information about the surname Pospiech.

The surname Zdeb comes from the term zdeb, which means “wildcat, bold cat,” and in a more figurative sense “gloomy or selfish fellow.” Names such as this generally got started as nicknames, designating a person who had some apparent connection with a wildcat — perhaps he ran into one once, or perhaps he hunted them, or trapped them. And of course the name could also stick because of some perceived similarity in character — a person who reminded folks of a wildcat might end up being called “Zdeb.” It is a moderately common name, as of 1990 there were 1,742 Poles named Zdeb. They lived all over the country, with particularly large numbers in the provinces of: Katowice (125), Kielce (254), Krakow (163), Lublin (202), and Tarnow (227), thus in southcentral to southeastern Poland.

Pos~piech (the s~ stands for the accented S, pronounced like a soft “sh”) is even more common, as of 1990 there were 3,877 Poles by that name. The name is found all over Poland, with particularly large numbers of Pos~piech’s living in the following provinces: Czestochowa (544), Kalisz (231), Katowice (1,149), and Opole (322); looking on a map, we see that the name is most common in southcentral Poland. It comes from the term pos~piech, “hasty activity,” which in older Polish also meant “success.” So depending on how far back the name goes, it might have been applied as meaning “successful person,” or “one who is active and in a hurry” (you can see how the two are somewhat linked semantically, a person who’s always busy and does things quickly could well come to be successful).

I am somewhat concerned about your statement that your grandfather came from “Malogosht, district Injeov.” Those names have clearly been distorted, and if you don’t have the correct forms you’ll have a devil of a time finding them. It seems likely to me you’re talking about Mal~ogoszcz (l~ = the Polish l with a slash through it, pronounced like our w), in Kielce province, a few km. southwest of the city of Kielce. If I’m not mistaken, it used to be in Je~drzejo~w district (e~ = Polish nasal en sound written as an e with a tail under it; o~ = the accented o). In terms of where your names show up geographically, this makes fairly good sense, so I think that’s probably right. At least, that’s where I’d start looking.


To: Mrs. Chris (Ceszyk) Eckhardt, [email protected], who wrote:

…My paternal grandparents settled in Cicero, IL in 1913. My father spelled our surname Ceszyk, however, I believe Czeszyk , which was on his Catholic baptismal record, is probably the original Polish spelling. My grandfather’s Social Security application form states Wszana, Dolna, Poland as the place of birth, but I’ve not been able to find such anywhere to this point in time (though I suspect possibly a little east of Krakow). If you can come up with anything on Czeszyk, I’d really appreciate knowing…

Czeszyk seems very plausible; in theory Cieszyk is also a possibility, but Czeszyk seems more likely. This name is thought to derive in most cases from nicknames of popular first names beginning with Cze-, especially Czesl~aw (the l~ is meant to represent the Polish l with a slash through it, pronounced like our w); Czesl~aw is by far the most popular first name beginning that way, so in most cases names with Cze- will prove to be nicknames of Czesl~aw… Poles liked to take popular first names, keep the first couple of sounds, drop the rest, then add suffixes (kind of the same way we made “Eddy” out of “Edward”); so we see nicknames such as Czesz from Czesl~aw. Then a suffix such as -yk could be added to make Czeszyk. What it means is basically “son of Czesl~aw.”

In theory it’s also possible such a name could come from the root Czech, “Czech, Bohemian”; if so, it would mean “son of the Czech.” Most Polish surname experts apparently don’t think that’s what it means in most cases, but it is at least possible, so I thought I’d mention it.

Czeszyk is not an extremely common name in Poland, as of 1990 there were 244 Poles by that name. The largest numbers lived in the provinces of Kalisz (56), Katowice (3), Krakow (11), Poznan (37), Przemysl (50), and Szczecin (10). From the nature of this name it’s not one you’d expect to be limited to any one area — the first name Czesl~aw is used all over Poland, so surnames meaning “son of Czesl~aw” could probably develop all over as well.

As for your grandfather’s birthplace, I wonder if there might have been confusion and it should be Mszana Dolna, a decent-sized town in Nowy Sacz province, southeast of Krakow? I can’t find any place-name beginning Wszan-, but Mszana Dolna sounds like it might fit, and it’s not too hard to imagine an M being mistaken for a W, the way Poles write. There is a Mszana Dolna (Lower Mszana) and a Mszana Gorna (Upper Mszana); Mszana Dolna is roughly halfway between Krakow and Nowy Targ. If that is the right place, I think you shouldn’t have too much trouble finding it on a map somewhere.


To: Ed Wyno, [email protected], who wrote:

…grandfather Constatine Wojno/born in Poland Russia/grandmother/Mary Warka/born in Austria,thats all i know,our name is now wyno,of all things,dont really know when it was changed. grandparents married in Connecticut, This will be a hard one,thanks for anything,if not,i totally understand…

I’ll give you what I can, but I’m afraid it won’t be much help. What might be a good idea is to consider joining the Polish Genealogical Society of the Northeast, 8 Lyle Rd., New Britain CT 06053. They have a lot of leads on research involving folks in Connecticut and Pennsylvania, and the parts of Poland those people usually immigrated from — most folks in the Northeast did come from the Russian and Austrian partitions. I think dues are $15 a year, and I think chances are decent you’ll get some useful help.

Now, as to your names. On Warka I can’t help much at all. As of 1990 there was no one in Poland with that name — not too surprising, since you said your grandmother was born in Austria, which may mean in Austria itself or in the parts of Poland and Ukraine under Austrian rule from 1772-1918. In either case, the name might not show up in Poland by its modern borders. The name appears to come from a root warcz- or wark- meaning “growl, snarl”; but if the family came from the Austrian partition, it’s also possible the name came from Ukr. Varka, a short form or nickname of “Barbara.” There is a town Warka in what is now Radom province (which was in the Austrian partition), this might be relevant. Other than that, my sources don’t give anything.

Wojno (pronounced VOY-no, rhyming with “boy go”) comes from a root meaning “war, struggle,” probably a name for a person who was a good warrior or soldier. As of 1990 there were 1,542 Poles named Wojno, living all over the country, with the largest numbers in the provinces of: Warsaw (273), Bialystok (190), and Lomza (491). All these were in the part of Poland ruled by Russia after the partitions, so that fits in with your info.

I know this isn’t much help, but maybe it’ll be a little use. And I really do think the PGS of the Northeast might be worth checking it; I’ve seen them give people some really good help. Good luck with your research!