Notes on Selected Polish Surnames – 16


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

…Thanks much for your information regarding my Grandfather. I would appreciate it if you would give me quick and dirty rundown on the following: My dads mother : Barbara Rudy from Tarnapol …

Names beginning with Rud- can come from the adjective rudy, “ginger-colored, red-haired,” from the noun ruda, “ore,” or from the first name Rudolf. In this case I imagineRudy probably comes from the adjective meaning “red-haired,” although there’s no way to be certain without a lot more detail. As of 1990 there were 1,178 Poles named Rudy, so it’s a moderately common name; there were Rudy’s living in every province, but the largest numbers were in the provinces of Katowice (246), Krosno (98), and Zamosc (141) — the latter two are in southeastern Poland (and thus geographically not that far from Tarnopol, which is now in Ukraine), the other, Katowice, is an area where many eastern Poles and Ukrainians were forced to relocate after World War II. My source of Polish data does not include areas outside Poland’s current borders, so I can’t tell you how many Rudy’s live in the Tarnopol region.

…My moms Mother Mary Milan or Mellon

Mellon makes no sense as a Polish name, though it could be an anglicized version of Milan, which is a recognized Polish name. Milan could have developed as a short form of the first name Emilian, or as a nickname for the first names Milobor, Milosl~aw, etc — there are a number of ancient names beginning with the root mil-, “dear, nice, beloved.” So either way you look at it, this is one of those surnames that derived from a first name, usually because a family was being named after the father, almost in the sense of “Milan’s kids.” As of 1990 there were 256 Poles named Milan, so it’s not all that common a name; small numbers lived in many provinces, the largest numbers were in the provinces of Elblag (22), Krosno (33), Nowy Sacz (46), and Przemysl (23) — so it’s a bit more common in southcentral and southeastern Poland.

…My Moms dad: Andrzej Krolak ..

Kro~lak comes from the word kro~l, “king,” so Kro~lak means something like “king’s son”; obviously in most cases the term isn’t literal, it might mean “son of the king’s man, son of the king’s servant,” something like that. It’s a pretty common name, as of 1990 there were 5,660 Poles named Kro~lak; it’s common all over Poland, with an especially large group of 1,500+ in Warsaw province. (By the way, that first name is properly spelled Andrzej, not Andrezej — not a big deal, but it might prove helpful at some point to know that).


To: Leonard C. Gozdowski, [email protected], who wrote:

…I have your book Polish Surnames and enjoy it a lot. I would like to know more about the Gozdowski name and were they came from. I’m told that they came from Posen,but I donot know if it was the city or province. Is it Posne or Poznan? …

I’m glad you like the book — I put a fair amount of work into it, and hoped people would find it helpful.

To start with, Poznan~ is the Polish name of a major city in Poland, and also of the province of which it is the administrative capital (Poznan is the capital of Poznan province, Krakow is capital of Krakow province, etc.). The German form of this name is Posen, so when the Germans ruled this area (from roughly 1772 to 1918) that’s the name they used. A large part of what is now western Poland was called Provinz Posen (“Poznan province”) by the Germans — it’s not the same as the modern-day province of Poznan, it was much larger. So when you talk about Poznan/Posen, it makes a big difference whether you’re talking about the city or the province, and it makes a big difference what time frame you’re dealing with.

Names ending in -owski usually (not always) refer to some association between a person or family and a place with a name ending in -o~w or -owo; so we would expectGozdowski to mean something like “person from Gozdow or Gozdowo.” There are quite a few places named Gozdo~w and Gozdowo, but in this case you say your folks come from near Poznan, and I notice one of those Gozdowo’s is in modern-day Poznan province — it’s about 40 km. east-southeast of Poznan, and less than 5 km. from the town of Wrzesnia. This doesn’t HAVE to be the Gozdowo your family’s name refers to, but chances seem reasonably good that it is. As of 1990 there were 597 Polish citizens named Gozdowski, of whom 142 lived in Poznan province (by far the most in any one province).

By the way, the place names Gozdow and Gozdowo probably come from the archaic root gozd, “forest,” so the place name meant something like “place of the forest,” and thus the surname means “family from the place of the forest.” In some instances names with gozd- can also come from the root gwozdz, “nail,” but I suspect in this case it’s the old word for “forest” that’s involved.


To: [email protected], who wrote:

…From reading your postings I’m guessing the first part of my name means “battle” but I was interested in any other info you may have. My father believes that our name did not change any when my grandfather came from Poland around 1914…

There are two roots bor in Polish, and usually when you talk about the names the one you want is the bor- that has to do with “fight, struggle, battle.” But not always — and this seems to be one of those times. The other bor is a root meaning “woods, forest,” and Borcz (if the name wasn’t shortened, and there’s no real reason to believe it was) apparently comes from that one. A multi-volume work on Polish place names mentions a village Borcz in Gdansk province (9.5 km. southeast of Kartuzy), and says its name is from the word bo~r (the o~ stands for the accented o, which sounds like “oo” in English “book”), “woods, forest.” Originally the name of the village was Borc (sounds like “borts”), and the change to the “ch” sound of Polish cz came about under German influence. So if this is true of the place name, it’s likely to be true of the surname as well — although that isn’t absolutely true all the time, but it seems likely. I would think your ancestors got their name from living in or near a forest, maybe even in or near the village of Borcz. Still, there were so many forests all over Poland that this surname probably arose in different places at different times, not necessarily just from the village of Borcz.

As of 1990 there were 514 Polish citizens named Borcz; the largest numbers of them lived in the provinces of Katowice (41), Przemysl (63), and Rzeszow (114), with much smaller numbers in many other provinces.

Since the largest number of Borcz’s seem to live in southcentral and southeastern Poland, it’s a good idea to be cautious before applying to that surname the derivation of the name of a village up near Gdansk! So we can’t be certain Borcz comes from the root meaning “woods, forest.” It might derive from a diminutive form of a name with the bormeaning “fight” (e. g., Borek -> Borczak -> Borcz). But I’d lean toward the “forest” derivation myself, it strikes me as being just a little more probable.


To: Angela, [email protected]>, who wrote:

…Could you please help me with the origin and the meaning of the surname Palen. I’m not sure if it was shortened or not and if it was I’m not sure what it was before. Thank

It could have been shortened, but there’s no need to assume so. Palen~ (the n~ stands for the Polish accented n) is a moderately common name: as of 1990 there were 711 Polish citizens by this name. Small numbers lived all over the country, but the provinces with the largest numbers were Legnica (41), Tarnobrzeg (364), Wroclaw (33). Obviously Tarnobrzeg province seems the most likely place of origin — it’s in southeastern Poland, not too far from the Ukrainian border. And since many Ukrainians were forced to relocate west after World War II, the Palen~’s in Legnica and Wroclaw province may have been living in southeastern Poland, too, before 1945.

The root pal- means “light a fire, heat,” and there are a lot of words that come from it. Two that might be relevant to your name are palenka and palen~. The term palenkameans “booze, liquor, vodka,” a reference to the heating that’s an essential part of the distilling process. A palen~ is a set of two beams or rods attached side by side along a wall beneath ceiling, for drying wood, flax, onions, etc.; here the meaning is more along the lines of “dry out” rather than actually heating something. So my guess is a person got the name Palen~ either because he made liquor (probably home brew) or because somehow people associated him with those drying rods — maybe he was thin as a rod, or made such rods, or used them all the time. Centuries after the fact it can be awfully hard figuring out how names got started, the best we can do is say what words and meanings a name is associated with, and then try to suggest plausible explanations.


To: Don Chritz, [email protected], who wrote:

…My grandfather’s name was changed when he came to the U.S. in 1907. He was only 15, and all alone. I’m not sure why it was changed, but the story is that a schoolteacher thought that the original would be too difficult to pronounce. The name was changed from Hryc to Chritz. Do you know how the original name would have been pronounced? I believe he was from Tarnow, Poland….

Sometimes these stories about how names were changed turn out to be utter nonsense, but this one is probably true. I say this because the Polish pronunciation of sounds like “Chritz,” if you make the initial “Ch” sound kind of like k (as in “Christ,” for instance); so it’s very credible that a Hryc who asked for help in making his name easier for English-speakers to pronounce would be told “Chritz” was a good choice. The ch and h are pronounced the same in Polish, a guttural h with attitude, much like the ch in German “Bach” or Scottish “loch”; the Polish y is pronounced like the short i in English “sit,” and the Polish c is pronounced like “ts” in “cats.” So you see, Chritz really does do a pretty good job of rendering the Polish pronunciation by English phonetic values.

In origin Hryc is a form of the first name Gregory, and it’s a form influenced by Ukrainian — which makes sense, because Tarnow is not far from the border with Ukraine, and the Polish spoken in southeastern Poland does have a certain amount of Ukrainian mixed in. The Ukr. form of the name “Gregory” is Hrehir (with the h, remember, sounding almost like a k), and Hryc or Hryts is a kind of nickname, like “Greg.” Poles and Ukrainians both like to make nicknames by taking the first couple of sounds from a popular first name, dropping the rest, and adding suffixes; so even though it may not look much like it, Hryc is a nickname for Hrehir… By the way, please note that the name may be of Ukrainian linguistic origin, that doesn’t necessarily mean your grandfather wasn’t Polish. Many native Poles have names of non-Polish origin that got started centuries ago; also, the western half of Ukraine was under Polish rule for a long time, so a lot of Ukrainians thought of themselves as citizens of Poland. So your grandfather may have been a Pole, a Ukrainian, both — in matters of ethnic identity we almost have to say “You are what you think you are,” because borders in eastern Europe changed so often it’s a real mess trying to define ethnicity by strict rules.

As of 1990 there were 233 Polish citizens named Hryc, scattered all over the country, but with larger numbers in the provinces of Lomza (40) and Nowy Sacz (68). There was only one Hryc in Tarnow province. You’d expect most of the Hryc’s to live in southeastern Poland, but many people from southeastern Poland and western Ukraine were forced to relocate to western Poland after World War II, so that muddies the waters quite a bit when we look at distribution of Ukrainian names… If we had data on Ukrainian names, there might be a lot more Hryc’s there. Interestingly, there’s a more common “Polish” name from the same root, Hryciuk (1,394 Polish citizens by that name as of 1990), which means “son of Greg.”


To: Jeffrey Majdoch, [email protected], who wrote:

…I’m wondering if you could help me out with a little information regarding my family’s surname: Majdoch. I really don’t know any thing about the history of my family and as far as I know there arn’t too many of us out there. The majority of us live in the Milwaukee area with a few exceptions in the Dallas area and also in Arizona I believe. Any info that you may have would be greatly appreciated…

I don’t have a lot that will help you. As of 1990 there was no Polish citizen named Majdoch (according to a Polish government database that covered about 94% of that country’s population). There were 3 people named Majdok (1 each in the provinces of Bielsko-Biala, Katowice, and Opole), and 1,087 named Majdak — but without further data it’s not a good idea to assume either of those names has anything to do with yours. Majdoch is, theoretically speaking, a perfectly plausible Polish name; it just doesn’t happen to be used by anyone now in Poland. I have run into many, many cases where a name died out in Poland after a family by that name emigrated, that may be what happened here.

I do wish we had some idea where the Majdoch’s came from, it might shed light on what the name meant. I have a source that says in the Cieszyn area in Bielsko-Biala province (in far southcentral Poland) there is a term majdok that means “left-handed person,” so that might be relevant to your name. Majdek is a word meaning “ordinary sailor” (i. e., not a captain or admiral, just a seaman). There’s also a verb majdac~ that means “to wag (a tail), to move back and forth,” and Majdoch could well be a name from that root given someone, sort of as a nickname, because of something about the way he moved. All these are possible — but there just isn’t enough data to let us settle on one as being the most likely.


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

…Have you been swamped with requests? I only know of three other family names: Budacz, Kubiszewski, and my grandmother’s maiden name–seen spelledWalczak, Walczyk, and numerous other (surely) Americanized versions…

I have been swamped with requests, which is why I didn’t answer earlier. But I can spare a few moments to talk about these names, none of which is particularly difficult.

Budacz means “stall-keeper, person with a buda” — a buda is a small booth or stall used by, say, watchmen as a guard-house, or peddlers selling inexpensive items out of a stall at market. A buda could be used for many purposes, and a budacz was someone who worked out of or owned a buda. As of 1990 there were only 111 Budacz’s in Poland, with larger numbers in the provinces of Bielsko-Biala (12), Krakow (39), Nowy Sacz (26), and Tarnow (13) and a few living in other provinces — thus the name is mainly to be found in southcentral and southeast Poland.

Kubiszewski means “person or family from a place with a name beginning Kubiszew- or something similar.” Offhand I can’t find any Kubiszew’s or Kubiszewo’s, but it’s quite common to see surnames derived from names of places that were quite tiny, or have since changed their names or been absorbed by other communities. The Kubisz- part is a nickname from Jakub, “Jacob,” so Kubiszew or Kubiszewo would mean something like “Jake’s place,” and Kubiszewski would break down to mean “person from Jake’s place.” But for all intents and purposes, “person from Kubiszew or Kubiszewo” is probably the best practical translation. As of 1990 there were 851 Poles named Kubiszewski, with larger numbers living in the provinces of Warsaw (79), Bydgoszcz (157), Gdansk (65), Skierniewice (138), and less than 50 living in most other provinces. This suggests the name is scattered all over the country, there’s no one area most likely to be the home of the Kubiszewski’s, so there’s probably more than one family with that name, and more than one Kubiszew or Kubiszewo.

Walczak and Walczyk are both common names, meaning “son of Walka,” and Walka was a kind of nickname that could come from first names such as Walenty (Valentine) orWalerian (Valerian), or from the verb root wal-, “to bring down, overthrow.” As of 1990 there were 42,119 Walczak’s in Poland, and 4,482 Walczyk’s, so both names are common and encountered all over Poland.


[Name and E-mail address inadvertently deleted]

…My grandmothers surname was either Petrasz or Pietrasz. Could you tell me the origin of the name. I’m assuming that the derivation between the two spellings, is just that and not two different names. If so, which would be the more accurate. The family was from Zagorz, near Sanok…

The name Pietrasz comes from the first name Piotr, “Peter,” and would not mean much more than “Peter’s kin, Peter’s sons.” Of the two spellings, I’d say Pietrasz is a little more standard — sometimes the name is pronounced without the slight “y” sound of the i, so that Petrasz sounds like “Pet-rosh” and Pietrasz sounds like “PYET-rosh.” That’s a pretty minor difference, but Petrasz would be more a dialect form, Pietrasz would be “standard” Polish… As of 1990 there were only 42 Poles who spelled it Petrasz, as opposed to 1,022 named Pietrasz — of whom 99 lived in Krosno province, which is where Zagorz and Sanok are located. (Sorry, I don’t have access to any first names or addresses).


To: Kimberly Gondella Margoni, [email protected], who wrote:

…If you have the time,can you tell me about the surname Ga~dela. The first a has a tail. I appreciate your time…

Since it’s a bit of a chore configuring computers in North America to show the Polish characters correctly, we usually use A~ to represent that nasal vowel written as an A with a tail under it and pronounced like on in French “bon” — and since it sounded like that, it was often written that way, so keep an eye open for Gondela, that is an alternate spelling you may well run into.

This is a tough one because none of my sources mention it specifically. There is a verb root ga~d- meaning “to play on a stringed instrument,” and it generated such surnames as Ga~dek (= “one who plays an instrument, a home-bred musician”) and Ga~dzik. It may also be the source of Ga~dela — the suffix -ela is one we see used in Polish, along with -al~a and -ul~a and several others. That suffix usually implies continual performance of the action of the verb root, so that Ga~dela would mean “one always playing an instrument.” This is quite plausible, and may be exactly how the name got started. I’m just a little worried because this specific name isn’t mentioned in my sources, so there’s always the chance it came from another root I don’t know about… Still, I think the odds are good that’s how the name originated, as a nickname or name for a fellow who liked to play an instrument at every opportunity but had no formal training.

As of 1990 there were only 15 Polish citizens with the name Ga~dela. They lived in the provinces of Krosno (9), Legnica (1), Walbrzych (4), and Wroclaw (1); I’m afraid I have no access to further details such as first names and addresses. The odd thing is, there were more named Gondela, and usually you’d expect it to be the other way around; there were 58 Gondela’s, living in the provinces of Biala Podlaska (3), Gdansk (7), Katowice (2), Krosno (35), Lodz (2), Rzeszow (5), and Zielona Gora (4). This isn’t much data to draw conclusions from, but it looks to me as if this name is most common in southeastern Poland (Krosno and Rzeszow provinces are in the southeastern corner). This raises the possibility of a Ukrainian linguistic influence, but I can’t find any root in Ukrainian that sheds any light on the matter.


To: Robert Praski, [email protected], who wrote:

…My name is Robert M. Praski. I am trying to find anything on Praski family…Need help. If you have any info or directions where I should look, please advise…

I’m afraid I can’t tell you a thing about the Praski family, only a little on the origins of the name. For ideas on how to go about your research, I suggest looking through the resources offered on the Website of the Polish Genealogical Society of America <> and other, similar organizations.

As of 1990 there were 835 Polish citizens named Praski, living all over the country but with the largest numbers in the provinces of Warsaw (104), Czestochowa (273), Katowice (142). So there’s a good group by this name in the area of the capital city of Warsaw; and about half of all the Praski’s live in Czestochowa and Katowice provincesin southcentral Poland, so there seems to be a concentration of Praski’s in that area.

Praski appears (spelled Prassky) in old Polish legal records for the city of Warsaw back in 1483, so the name has been around a while. It’s probably derived from place names, and the ones that seem the best candidates are several places named Praga (one of which is now a part of the city of Warsaw), and Praszka, in Czestochowa province. From a linguistic standpoint, the surname Praski could easily derive from either of those place names, and since they match up reasonably well with the areas that have the most Praski’s, they seem like good places to look at… Polish surname expert Kazimierz Rymut mentions that this name can also come from the term praga, “longing, thirst,” and that possibility can’t be dismissed. But when you can match a -ski name up with a place name, that generally turns out to be the connection that matters.


To: Lisa L. Gierlach-Walker, [email protected], who wrote:

…The surname is unusual, but Polish. As of this writing, I am under the impression that there are under 150 households in the world with this name: Gierlach. The man who died in the 1850’s, lived in the area of Pozen, or Posen. My research has brought me to the eastern area of Galicia — the Krosno province — in the mid 1870’s. I would like to know further about the meaning of my surname, because I find it interesting that this rare name can have relations living so far apart, or maybe back then the name was more common -?? …

Gierlach is a slightly Polonized version of the ancient German first name Gerlach, from the roots ger, “spear” + lach, thought to be connected with roots meaning “jump” and “war-game.” So it’s one of those ancient names from pagan times, when parents gave their kids names meant to be good omens for them; naming a boy Gerlach was expressing a hope he would excel with the spear in martial activities. Here is a listing of the 3 most common spellings of this name in Poland, the number of Poles with each name as of the year 1990, and the provinces in which the largest numbers lived (I don’t have access to details such as first names and addresses, so what you see here is all I can offer):

GERLACH 782: Warsaw 66, Jelenia Gora 38, Katowice 64, Krosno 94, Legnica 32, Slupsk 32, Walbrzych 34, Zielona Gora 30

GIERLACH 562; Katowice 44, Krosno 191, Rzeszow 67 (only 11 in Poznan province as of 1990)

GIERL~ACH 165: Opole 36, Tarnobrzeg 87

Most provinces of Poland have a few people by these names living in them, these are the ones that seem to have significant concentrations. It’s interesting that southeastern Poland, i. e., Galicia, is where the main concentration of Gierlach’s and Gierl~ach’s live (L~ is how we represent on-line the Polish slashed L that sounds like our w); but Gerlach is also common in the western provinces formerly ruled by Germany. All this makes sense: there are many German names in Poland, including most of the western part, but also in Krosno and Rzeszow province, where Germans came as colonists in the Middle Ages, at the invitation of nobles, to help beef up the local economy and repopulate areas devastated by the Black Death, and also later as prisoners of war… One other thing that affects this data is the fact after World War II millions of people were forced to relocate from eastern Poland and western Ukraine to western Poland; so those numbers in Opole and Katowice provinces might also include folks who were living in eastern Poland before 1945.

…The other name I am having trouble with is Cwenar – or is it Cwynar ?? Many documents have it spelled one way or the other for the same person (US documents). Are these spellings one and the same? Also, conflicting stories put this person as Polish from Galician area, or “White Russian” which would put her in Byelorussia (maybe this is incorrect, I am uncertain about the term “White Russian”)…

Well, Belarus (as it’s called now) and Byelorussia and Belorussia are all the same; Belarus is the name of the country in Belarusian, the others are attempts to represent the name in Latin, spellings that later were imported into English. Belarus means “White Rus’,” where Rus’ is the Slavic root that has (somewhat inaccurately) been rendered as “Russia.” Belarus is just east of Poland, north of Ukraine; its language is very similar to Ukrainian and Russian. Due to the history of the area, Lithuanians, Ukrainians, Belarusians, and Poles are well pretty mixed together in the area east of Poland’s modern borders and west of Russia. For centuries the Poles ruled those regions, and Polish became the language of the upper classes for a long time. In a particular instance it can be tough telling whether a name is Polish, Belarusian, Ukrainian or Russian (Lithuanian is usually easier to tell). Just going by its form, this name could be any of them, although the spelling Cwynar/Cwenar is definitely by Polish phonetic values.

In my book I had to list Cwynar as one I couldn’t figure out. It’s a fairly common name, as of 1990 there were 1,980 Polish citizens named Cwynar; they were most common in the provinces of: Katowice 138, Krosno 266, Opole 122, Przemysl 230, Rzeszow 475, Wroclaw 130. Notice again that the southeastern provinces of Krosno, Przemysl, and Rzeszow come up big, as do some of the provinces Galicians were forced to move to after World War II (Wroclaw, Katowice, and Opole).

The name can also be spelled Cwenar, as of 1990 there were 203 Poles by that name (distribution roughly the same as Cwynar). In some parts of Poland, especially southeast Poland, it isn’t at all unusual to see e and y switch. But Cwynar appears to be the more common form.

In view of the geographical distribution of Cwenar/Cwynar, it seems likely it is of either German or Ukrainian origin — tough to tell which. The -ar suffix is often a tip-off that you’re dealing with a name that started out German, with -er; so German Zwiener, Zwinner, Zweiner are theoretical possibilities. Of those, the only one I can find in my sources is Zweiner, “quarrelsome person.” It’s interesting that Ukrainian has a noun tsvenik (by Polish phonetics that would be Cwenik) that means “braggart, boaster, gossiper.” The problem is, Ukrainian and Polish also use the suffix -ar (in Polish it’s usually -arz) much the same way as German uses -er; so I have no way to be even halfway sure what the name comes from. I suspect it’s either from German Zweiner or Ukrainian Tsvenik; but I can’t say with any certainty.

…Also, someone has told me that this is only actually a part of a name, not the full one…

Possibly, but there’s no compelling reason to think so. As I said, some 1,980 Poles have the name Cwynar, and probably more in Ukraine — why jump to the conclusion the name was shortened when data says this form is clearly a common name? To be honest, I get a little fed up with people who shoot off their mouths with checking to see if there’s any data; and many of the folks who contact me have been fed a line of bull by such “experts.”


To: Sharon Hicks [E-mail address inadvertently deleted]


…A friend of mine whose family came to Scotland from Poland during WW2 has never been able to trace anyone else with this name [Knopek] or find out anything about his roots. Could you help with this?…

I can’t tell him a whole lot. According to Polish surname expert Kazimierz Rymut names such as Knop, Knopa, and Knopik derive from the term knap, “weaver, clothier,” andKnopek appears to be the same, meaning basically “little weaver, weaver’s son.” As of 1990 there were 485 Polish citizens named Knopek, living in most of Poland’s provinces but with larger numbers in the provinces of Bielsko-Biala (80), Bydgoszcz (66), Katowice (239), and Opole (44). This suggests the name is particularly concentrated in southcentral Poland, near the border with the Czech Republic — but it is found elsewhere.

I don’t know how much help that is, but it’s what I have and he’s welcome to it.


To: [email protected]

…I saw your information on surnames at My great-grandmother’s maiden name was Wodaszak. Can you tell me anything about that name? …

Well, as of 1990 there was no one in Poland with that name, and it doesn’t really sound or look right to me. In theory it could come from the root woda, “water,” but I can’t make any sense of it. There is one possibility that strikes me: it might be a spelling variant, or misspelling, of a name from another root, wl~odarz, “ruler, steward.” The L~(we use that symbol on-line to stand for the Polish L with a slash through it, pronounced like our w) is often pronounced so lightly that it’s dropped. You pronounce wl~odarzsort of like “vwoe-dosh,” and if you drop the “w” sound it would come out “voe-dosh,” which could be spelled either Wodarz or Wodasz. Polish surname expert Kazimierz Rymut mentions in one of his books that some names with Woda- do come from wl~odarz, and if that’s the case here, it makes sense: the name was originally something likeWl~odarzek, Wl~odarzak, meaning “little steward, son of the steward.” Names from the root wl~odarz are moderately common, e. g. in 1990 there were 1,245 Poles named Wl~odarek, 1,003 named Wl~odarz, etc.

That’s the best guess I can make, is that we’re dealing with a misspelling or variant spelling of a name from that root. I can’t say whether the change happened in Poland or elsewhere, but you might want to keep your eyes open for any sign that the name was once spelled with L~. If that’s not what happened, I’m fresh out of ideas!