Notes on Selected Polish Surnames – 3


To: “M. M. Kostreva” [email protected]

… I asked you a question about Polish surnames some time ago, and you were kind enough to answer, so I would like to try you again. I have been researching my father’s ancestors who came from the Poznan area, and I found that the earliest ones that I found were called Kostrzewski (born in 1700s), while in the early 1800s they seemed to change to Kostrzewa. I got the Kostrzewski /Kostrzewa names from Catholic Church records, whereas only Kostrzewa was used in the Prussian records I have. Can you tell me why they might have changed? Did other surnames make such a change too?

That’s an interesting phenomenon. I can say that in general it’s not too unusual to see Poles living in the Prussian partition (which included the Poznan area) modify their names to sound “less Polish.” The Germans made no secret of their intention to root out Slavic influences and make their part of Poland basically a prime territory for Germans to colonize. Many Poles were blond-haired and blue-eyed and could pass as Germans, but retaining a Polish name or speaking in Polish tended to make you stand out as one of those trouble-making Poles the Germans wanted to eliminate. So, under pressure, many Poles spoke German and even let their names be modified to forms that didn’t sound quite so “alien” to Germans.

I’ll grant you, Kostrzewski to Kostrzewa is not exactly a huge leap. But at least you’re rid of that -ski ending, that’s something. That would be my guess as to the explanation. To Poles, Kostrzewski is a perfectly good name, it would be silly to change it to Kostrzewa; but a Pole who felt he had to to change his name but didn’t want to change it too much might have felt it was an acceptable compromise. For that matter, German record-keepers may have just decided “You vill now go by zis name” — they had a charming way of doing that sometimes.

I’m not positive this is the answer, but I suspect it is. Some Poles went all the way, completely Germanizing their names, e. g., from “Kowalski” to “Schmidt.” Others made small changes, and I have a feeling that’s what this is. Without the -ski on the end your ancestors may have felt they’d get a little less grief from the Germans, but they didn’t completely “sell out.”

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


… Regarding the Krzewicki name. One person I contacted said it was originally spelled Krzywicki, but they changed it because there was a childhood disease spelled the same way! Must have been some disease!

I’m sure the reference is to krzywica, rachitis or rickets; the adjectival form of that word is krzywiczy, not krzywicki, but of course the latter word does sound like it has a connection to the disease, and that could easily be enough to make one want to change it. Krzyw- is a Polish root meaning “bent, crooked,” as in the name of King Bolesl~aw Krzywousty, “Boleslaus with the crooked mouth.” Your source may be right, but as of 1990 there were 2,905 Polish citizens named Krzywicki, so the link with the disease didn’t induce everyone to change that name!

Confusion of krzyw- and krzew-, or changing from one to the other, is not unlikely, we do often see e and y confused in the spelling of Polish names. It can matter, however, which one was originally right, as krzew- is a root meaning “shrub,” whereas krzyw-, as I said, means “bent, crooked.” Both Krzywicki and Krzewicki probably derive from place names — there are several Krzywica’s and Krzywice’s in Poland, and I noticed in the Slownik Geograficzny that there is at least one place named Krzewice. If your research lets you settle the matter of what the original form was, it could be significant, in that it might give you a clue as to your ancestors’ place of origin. You’re kind of lucky, there are only a few places with applicable names, a lot better than some names that could derive from any of 50 villages!

…I am always interested to read the messages from those who want to know what their names mean, and where they originated, but it seems to me that it’s TOO easy to say, “OK, my name comes from Mierzejew, so that means my Mierzejewskis must live there!” I think that could really throw some researchers off the track. I think of the time wasted checking every Mierzejewo in Poland, looking for MY Mierzejewski family. Wouldn’t that kind of be working backwards? Mine lived in Ukraine! I would never have found them that way! Good thing I had his passport and military records! But that does NOT tell me where he was born, only where he was living at the time he was discharged from the army, and the time he left for America. I think many people fall into that kind of thing, setting themselves back many, many years!

You are absolutely right! I try to stress this to people, that you must not say “Here’s my name, there’s a place that sounds right, they must have come from there.” The chances of making an incorrect association are way too high for that kind of procedure! The right way to go is to do the dirty work of combing through records (which is what most people want to avoid, that’s why they hope their surname will provide a shortcut), establish exactly what part of Poland your people came from, and then look for a suitable place name in that area. Even then you may be misled, but the odds are much, much better. Doing it the other way is begging for disaster! I’m glad you understand this, many people don’t.

… Oh well, I will keep plodding along, and trying to find my Mierzejewski grandfather!

Everyone wants a shortcut, and I don’t blame anyone for that – who wouldn’t take a shortcut if one’s available? But plodding is the way to go! I’ve known several people who weren’t exactly the brightest folks in the world, but they just kept on, never gave up, and ended up with magnificent results. Brains and ingenuity help, but I think the real key to success is plain old perseverance. So don’t ever stop plodding!

And by the way, you probably know this, but Mierzejewski probably started meaning something like “person from Mierzejewo (e. g., Mierzejewo in Leszno and Olsztyn provinces),” and those places surely got their names from the term mierzeja, “spit, sand-bar.” The surname is quite common, with 8,481 Poles by that name as of 1990. I believe there was a noble family by that name – if I’m not mistaken, Jonathan Shea (president of the PGS-Northeast) has some Mierzejewski ancestors who were noble.

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


To: [email protected]

Linda Huss wrote:

… I hesitate to ask you this, but after using your 2nd edition I’m still lost on my great grandfather’s name. His name was Kunza and his brother was Kunze. My gg Joseph Kunza was “supposedly ” born in Cerkivica, West Prussia according to one of his son’s birth certificates. I have been painstakingly going through LDS films on any and all villages, towns etc. that even slightly resemble Cerkivica to no avail as of yet… Any suggestions as to a maybe longer name with Kunz in it, or something that might have been Americanized to Kunza/e?

You never say “never” with surnames, but I’d be surprised if Kunza or Kunze was an Americanized version of a longer name. The name originated as a German nickname for “Conrad,” as Dave said, and it’s short enough, and easy enough to spell — although with some variation, Kunz, Kunza, Kunze, Kunc, Kuntz, etc. — that it doesn’t seem a likely candidate for mangling. I would expect you’d find the name in records in a recognizable form… If memory serves, there was a Kunz or Kunze who was a big wheel in Chicago’s Polish-American political circles back in the early part of this century. I’m not implying he was a relative, the name is too common to assume that, but it does prove the name is one Poles, Germans, and Americans found fairly easy to deal with.

Cerkivica, however, is somewhat mangled. Most likely the Polish name is either Cerekwica or Cerkwica. There are several places by that name in Poland. The Euro-Reiseatalas shows a Cerekwica that might have been in or near West Prussia: it is now in Bydgoszcz province, about 8-10 km. southwest of Znin. I’m not sure this is the right one, however; it may have been far enough south to be in Poznan province rather than West Prussia — my historical maps aren’t quite detailed enough to let me be sure. Still, it’s worth mentioning.

Other sources mention a Cerekwica or Cerkwica, called Zirkwitz by the Germans, in Flatow district (Polish name Zl~oto~w) of West Prussia. One records a Gross Zirkwitz (Big Zirkwitz) and a Klein Zirkwitz (Little Zirkwitz), both in Flatow district. Gross Zirkwitz had Protestant and Catholic records kept at Kamin (Kamien~ Krajen~ski); Klein Zirkwitz had Protestant records kept at Zempelburg (Polish name Se~polno), Catholic records at Kamin. On modern maps these places are called Mal~a Cerkwica (= Klein Zirkwitz) and Duz|a Cerkwica (= Gross Zirkwitz), and they’re in Bydgoszcz province, just a few km. east of Kamien~ Krajen~ski. The Euro-Reiseatlas shows Duz|a Cerkwica as having its own parish church, but none of my other sources mention this. I suppose Kamin/Kamien~ Krajen~ski is where you should look first.

When you have more than one place with a name that might fit the evidence, it’s tough to guess which one is right. But I think either Mal~a or Duz|a Cerkwica is likely to be the place you want; the name is very close to the form you have, both are in the territory that was West Prussia, whereas most of the other places by that name were not. That’s where I’d start looking.

I hope this info turns out to be some help to you, and that I haven’t sent you on a wild goose chase!

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


Note forwarded to me by Laurence Krupnak [email protected]

Larry Krupnak, you’re amazing!

I would not have commented, until I read your explanation, and yes, I know that lemiesz in Polish stands for that metal part of the plough that cuts the furrow, it is sharpened from time to time, its name in Rusnak/Ukrainian from the Carpathian Mountains is “Lemisz” if written using the latin alphabet, but it sounds as “lemish” in English.

That saying “To forge ploughs from swords” refers really to lemiesz (in Polish).

If it were not for your comment, that light bulb would have never gone off!

Reminds me of my neighbor whose name iz Zaludek, if he didn’t tell me that it came from the Slovak zholudek which stands for one’s stomach, I would’ve never surmized that on my own, even though I know the world itself, in Polish that’s zholondek but spelled with a lot of diatritics.


Walter Maksimovich, CLO

Laurence Krupnak wrote:

… Andrew Mandyczewsky wrote:

… I have a friend at work who goes by the surname of LEMISH. I just wanted to pose a general question to you. During your investigations into umbilico-ancestry, have you ever come across this surname ? ANd if so, is the surname of UKRAINIAN, BYELARUSSIAN, JEWISH or OTHER origin ?

… I realize that this is an inexact question, but I (and my friend) would appreciate any information from yourself or any other list members. — Andriy

Hello Andriy:

… Thanks for contacting me.

I will offer my knowledge about the surname Lemish, although please note that I am not an expert onomatologist. I am sure other people in the genealogy group may have some insights or specific knowledge. In particular, I will ask Walter Maksimovich (Lemko Vladek) to offer his knowledge and proposals. In addition, a close friend of mine, William Hoffman, is one of the world’s finest onomatologist. He is not a member of the Infoukes Genealogy Mailing list, so I will seek his expertise and pass along anything that I can obtain from him.

RE: Lemish

… The surname could have been derived from either an object or a personal trait. A lemish is a ploughshare, that is the part of the moldboard plough that cuts the furrow. The surname could have also be based on the trait of being slow, awkward, or clumsy.

… I have observed the suffix “-ish” most often in surnames of people from Byelorussia and Karpatska Rus’, paricularly Uhro-Rus’. You would have to perform genealogical research to determine whether Longwin Lemish and your friend at work are Rusnaks, Ukrainians, Byelorussians, Jewish, etc. The surname Lemish also appears in Poland, but it is spelled Lemiesz.

… I consulted Alexander Beider’s two monumental works on Jewish Surnames (from the Russian Empire). The surname Lemish/Lemesh was found in the following shtetls and areas: Slutsk, Lyutsin, Sventsyany, Grodno, Dvinsk, and Velizh.

… I have several of William Hoffman’s books, and he does not have the suffix “-ish” defined….so I’ll have to ask him about this!


Lavrentij Krupnak

Note: just by way of clarification, I could add nothing to this answer to the question about “Lemish.” The suffix -isz (which sounds like “-ish” in English) is used in Polish, but I could find no really useful info about its meaning or usage. I will keep my eyes open for such info, and will add it to the next revision of my book, whenever that may be. — Fred Hoffman.


To: Jeremy Beaty [email protected]

… My G.Grandmother’s maiden name was Lisewski. From what I’ve read in your book and from the discussion on the Gen-Pol, many names ending with ‘ski’ are taken from a place. I have found birth records of her children in the small village of Miloslaw, Poznan, Poland. There is a town on the Polish map about 50-60 miles away from Miloslaw calledLisewo. In your opinion, would it be worth looking into to find my ancestors. It seems almost too easy! Was it uncommon in the mid 1800’s to see people from different villages of any considerable distance to be getting married. Gosh….getting 50 or 60 miles without a car seems like quite a feat to me!!! I’m just spoiled by progress I suppose. If you have the time, I’d sure appreciate your thoughts and insight on this matter. And thank you once again for your wonderful book. It has really opened up a whole new outlook for me on researching my family line.

I’m very glad you enjoyed my book. I put a lot of work into it, and it’s enormously rewarding when people tell me my efforts weren’t wasted and the book did them some good.

As for Lisewski, in most cases you would definitely expect it to have started as meaning “person from Lisew/Lisewo” or a similar name. The bad part is that there are quite a few places in Poland named Lisew and Lisewo, so it can be awfully tough determining which one is “yours.”

The one you’ve found could well be the right one. 50-60 miles was a pretty decent distance before the days of easy transportation, so obviously a Lisewo that’s closer would seem a better bet. But I have seen enough records to know that that distance is definitely not too great. In marriage records you often see people ending up together whose original homes were farther apart than that (although obviously in the majority of cases they came from villages very close to each other). But is the distance from Miloslaw to Lisewo enough to rule out a Lisewski origin there? No.

Unfortunately, it may be hard to prove one way or the other. Surnames were generally becoming fairly well established among peasants by the 1600’s, and in some cases even earlier; but most of the time it’s impossible to find records dealing with peasants that go back farther than, say, 1700 or 1750. In other words, there’s usually a gap of a century or two between when the name was established and when it starts showing up in any records.

Also, by the nature of things, Lisewski would be a good name for a family only after it left Lisewo. Names were supposed to help distinguish folks, so strictly from a logical point of view it seems unlikely the family would have started going by that name until they moved elsewhere, at which point “the folks from Lisewo” would be a sensible name. So even if your ancestors do appear in Lisewo records, I’m not sure how good the chances are you’ll be able to tell who they are, because they may not have been called “Lisewski” at that point. How will you recognize them without the surname to help?

I know it sounds as if I’m trying to discourage you, and that’s really not my intention. But I don’t want to inspire big hopes, only to have them dashed later; so I try to give people the whole picture. In this case, that means pointing out: 1) that there are a lot of Lisew’s and Lisewo’s in Poland, there may be tiny ones closer to Miloslaw than the one you’ve found; and 2) even if it is the right Lisewo, I wouldn’t bet the farm on your being able to find any records that help you… Still, you never know till you try. I would be delighted to hear that this does turn out to be the right place and that you find early records of your family! And it could happen, it does happen sometimes. The way I see it, you might as well take a look at the Lisewo records — if you do find something, the payoff would be fantastic! Just realize going in that it’s a bit of a long shot.

I hope this info helps you make an informed judgment on whether this line of research is worth following. That’s all I can do, really – try to give people info that will help them make good decisions. And when someone writes back and says some piece of info I gave them was the key to a breakthrough, I’m almost as happy as they are!

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


From: David Zincavage [email protected]

… I believe my grandfather Boleslaw DEGUTIS

Circa 1985, 143 persons of that name in Lithuania. Thought to refer to the occupation of making tar, degutas is “tar” in Lithuanian.

… came from Naujasodis, Trakai, Lithuania. His father was August Degutis, and his mother was Bertha Chesonias.

C~ESONIS (69) a patronymic from Czesl~aw.

… Does anybody know anything about Naujasodis?

The name would mean “new garden.”



… I went through the book looking for names in my family, and was able to track only two of them: Hudziak and Ryczko. I am especially interested in my last name,Mohylowski, which I was unable to find, and frankly have never come across…

Mohylowski almost certainly originated as meaning “person from Mohylew,” which is the name of a major city in what is now Belarus; the city’s name is also spelled Mogilev, Magilev, Mohilev, etc. There were 22 Poles names Mohylowski as of 1990, and 144 named Mogilewski, so it is a fairly rare name among Poles. Of the 22, 11 lived in Bydgoszcz province, 5 in Konin prov., 3 in Legnica prov., and 3 in Torun prov.

… Another family name is Dziuma, and my grandfather’s (above) sister married a man by that name…

As of 1990 there were 45 Poles named Dziuma, living in the following provinces: Gdansk 7, Katowice 4, Legnica 9, Pila 17, Przemysl 3, Wroclaw 3, Zielona Gora 2. I can find no root or other source for this name, and I suspect it may not be Polish in origin.

… The name Rzegotka, my grandmother’s maiden name, I don’t recall seeing in your book either. …

As of 1990 there were 19 Poles named Rzegotka, living in the provinces of Bielsko-Biala 11, Krakow 6, and Nowy Sacz 2 — all in southern Poland, near the border with the Czech and Slovak republics. This specific name is not mentioned in the book, but Rzegocki is, and the two are surely related. Names beginning with rzegot- or z|egot-apparently come from ancient roots meaning “burn” or “stab,” and the name Z|egota is attested as far back as 1212. The -ka is just a diminutive ending, so that Rzegotka would mean “little Rzegota/Zegota.”

… The last name, Zahemski, is the name of the man who adopted my grandmother here in the New York area. There are a few Zahemskis in the Passaic, NJ area, but I don’t recall seeing it in your book. …

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

You know, it could be we’re dealing with a variant of a more common name, affected by dialect, mispronuncation, misspelling, something. The za- part makes perfect sense, it’s a prefix and a preposition meaning “past, beyond, on the other side of.” It’s possible, for instance, that this name was originally something like Zachel~mski, meaning “from the other side of Chel~m,” or “person from Zachel~mie,” the name of several villages that were “beyond, past Chel~m.” This makes sense too because that l~ is pronounced so softly that sometimes it is just dropped, which would yield something sounding very like “Zachemski.” Also, a name Zachemba appears in the Surname Directory (very rare, only 8 bearers), and when the suffix -ski is added on that b sound would tend to disappear, again yielding “Zachemski.” That name doesn’t appear in the Directory either, but to me either Zachel~mski or Zachembski sounds “more Polish” than Zachemski.

I wish I could have included every name in my book, but as I explain in it, there are literally hundreds of thousands of Polish surnames, most borne by only a few people. Since I had only a finite amount of room for discussing names, I tried to concentrate on the most common ones. For people who want to know about names that aren’t listed in my book, I mention (on p. 177 in the 2nd edition, p. 137 in the 1st) the Anthroponymic Workshop in Krakow — they’re the best source of info on Polish names I know of. I highly recommend them, as they have excellent sources, can correspond in English, and charge very reasonable fees: $20 is usually enough to cover 1-3 names. [For more information see my introduction, or click here for the address: Institute address].

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


To: Del Vecchio [email protected]

… I think my friend is from a lost tribe in Poland. Just kidding! He has done a lot of footwork for me with my family in Poland and I would like to return the favor by finding out about his. His surname is Mul~awski. We have been unsuccessful finding anyone in Poland or the States who will even answer our emails and snail mails. Any help you may provide would be appreciated.

Mul~awski is one I’m not absolutely certain about, but its ultimate root appears to be mul~, “mule,” also the same word can mean “slime, mud, silt.” There is also a wordmul~awka that might be relevant, it’s a kind of fish more commonly called the ko~zka in Polish, cobitis taenia – I can’t find the English name for it. This does not appear to be a common name in Poland; the Surname Directory doesn’t list Mul~awski at all, and says Mulawski was borne by only 17 Polish citizens, in these provinces: Warsaw 1, Gorzow 1, Jelenia Gora 1, Katowice 1, Koszalin 1, Legnica 5, Lublin 2, Suwalki 2, Szczecin 1, Zielona Gora 2. This bothers me a little, I wonder if some data was omitted? There is no listing for any name in mul~– at all, and I’d have thought there should be at least a few!?

Anyway, the roots I gave above are for the ultimate root of the name. I suspect it might derive directly from a place name (which in turn got its name from one of those roots). For instance, there’s a village Mul~awki in Suwalki province. A connection with this, or another place with a similar name, might have been the original reason a person got this name.

… Also, could you tell me anything about my surname: Szyman~ski?

That one’s easy. It comes from the Polish form of the name Simon – in standard Polish Szymon, but also seen in other forms including Szyman. As with most surnames derived from common first names, this one is common all over the country; as of 1990 there were 84,527 Szyman~ski’s in Poland! My daughter went to school with a Nicole Szymanski in Brookfield, CT. As Polish names go, this one’s right up there with Smith. And by the way, it would be pronounced by Poles sort of like “shi-MINE-skee”; the accent over the N softens it and affects the vowel in front of it, much as Poznan~ is pronounced almost like “POZ-nine.”

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


To: “Swedin, Herbert” [email protected]

… I don’t know if you remember me, I wrote to you back in November of 1996 in regard to my maiden name Mostkiewicz. I was so excited thinking I saw the name in your book, but my husband pointed out there was no “t” I wrote to you in desperation, and knowing how busy you must be with your books and the PGSA, I did not think I would receive a answer. You were so helpful, even telling me there were only seventeen with that name as of 1990 and the provinces.

Yes, I remember you, and I’m glad my answer came as a pleasant surprise! I can’t always answer folks’ notes, but if I have the time and am able to come up with something that might be informative, I always try to do so.

… Needless to say I need your help again, and would appreciate anything you may know about the name Nadurzynski or Nadarzynski or Nadurzynska (Czeslawa) first name ! My oldest brother was Chester so I assume he was named after my Mother. I have not seen this name any where! … I was told by my brother that my Mother had two brothers here, and one visited when I was very young from Clevelend, and he spelled it Nadazinski so it would be easy to say when he came here. After all these spellings, I think I know why I did not mention my Mother’s name in my first letter to you *smile*

It’s tough to say for sure which form of the name is correct, because both Nadarzyn~ski and Nadurzyn~ski are theoretically possible names. However, I note as of 1990 there was no one named Nadurzyn~ski in Poland, whereas there were 385 Poles named Nadarzyn~ski — so, while that isn’t conclusive, it suggests that’s the right form of the name. In trying to read written records, an a can often look very similar to u, so it’s not hard to imagine how the -u- form got started. As for Nadazin~ski, its pronounciation is very, very similar to Nadarzyn~ski — the difference is slight, and it’s not rare to see names spelled with either -rzynski or -zinski. The first sounds like “nah-dah-ZHIN-skee,” the second more like “nah-dah-ZHEEN-skee,” a very subtle difference. I suspect Nadarzyn~ski is the correct form, with Nadazin~ski a plausible alternate spelling.

The most likely origin of this name is “person from Nadarzyn” or a similar-sounding place. There is a village Nadarzyn in Warsaw province, not all that far away from Plock, so this could well be the place of origin — and offhand I can’t find any other place that seems to qualify. It’s not 100% sure, but I think chances are fairly good Nadarzyn is the place this family came from, and the name alludes to that origin.

As I said, in 1990 there were some 385 Poles with this name. There were small numbers all over Poland, with the largest concentrations in the province of: Warsaw (22), Bydgoszcz (28), Ciechanow (47), Elblag (53), Koszalin (23), Lodz (42), and Torun (45). The largest numbers tend to show up in provinces in central Poland — Warsaw, Ciechanow, Lodz, and Torun provinces are all fairly close to each other — so that is consistent with origin from Nadarzyn. I really think we’re on the right track with this.

Of course, examining records from Nadarzyn may not help. For one thing, surnames were often established by 1600, whereas most records go back no farther than 1700 (unless you’re dealing with nobility), so there tends to be a gap of at least a century between when a name got established and when it starts showing up in records… Also, common sense tells us calling someone “person from Nadarzyn” was not likely to distinguish them sufficiently if they were still living in Nadarzyn — after all, that name could apply to everybody there. Most likely that name arose after the family moved away from Nadarzyn, say, to Plock. So even if you found records of the family in Nadarzyn, you might not have a surname to help you… Still, if you want to give the Nadarzyn records a look, it might be worth a try. You never know what you’ll find till you try!

By the way, the Polish name Czesl~aw (feminine form Czesl~awa) isn’t really connected to “Chester” linguistically, but because the first syllables of both names sound very similar, a lot of Poles used “Chester” in this country when they realized Americans couldn’t make sense of Czesl~aw. So your notion that Chester ws named after Czesl~awa is a pretty sound one.

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


To: [email protected]

… Hello fellow Genpoler, I hope that this is not to much of an imposition, but could you inform me if the names Nieurzyla or Nieuzyla are in your book. This is not possible to check out in the United Kingdom. If they are in then I will purchase the book via the internet.

I’m glad you asked — these names are not in my book, and it would have been a shame if you’d gone to the trouble to order it only to come up empty!

The reason these names are not in the book is that I have never come across them before. Looking in the Directory of Surnames In Current Use in Poland, I see that Nieurzyl~a (the L~ stands for the Polish L with a slash through it, pronounced like English W) was a name borne by only 4 Poles as of 1990–3 in Bielsko-Biala province, 1 in Katowice province. Nieuzyl~a was borne by 5 Poles, one in Gdansk province, 2 in Katowice prov., 2 in Opole prov. The real jackpot is the spelling Nieuz|yl~a (here Z| stands for the Z with a dot over it, pronounced like ‘zh’ in ‘Zhivago)– there were 347 Poles by that name, in the following provinces: Gdansk 1, Katowice 238 (!), Lodz 1, Nowy Sacz 2, Opole 94, Plock 1, Poznan 1, Torun 2, Walbrzuch 1, Wroclaw 6. From an onomastic point of view all these names are variants of the same name, spelled slightly differently due to error, dialect differences, different pronunciations, etc.; but as often happens, one particular spelling is by far the most popular, and in this instance that spelling is Nieuz|yl~a.

The Directory does not have further data such as first names or addresses, and I know of no way to get hold of such data, except perhaps by consulting Polish telephone books; the latter is a long shot, as phones in private homes are not so common in Poland as in the U.S. and the U.K. But a look at the directory for Katowice province, and perhaps also Opole province, would presumably yield addresses of at least a few Poles by this name.

Without further data it’s tricky trying to analyze the derivation of this name. It appears to come from nie-, “not,” + a form of uz|yc~, to use; Nieuz|yl~a would seem to mean something like “not used” or “useless.” None of my sources mention it, however, so I want to make it clear that I am only making an educated guess.

There is a soure that might be able to give you a firmer derivation: the Anthroponymic Workshop of the Polish Language Institute. (for more information see my introduction, or click here for the address: Institute address).

I’m sorry I could not help you directly, but I hope this information may prove useful to you. I wish you the best of luck with your research!

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


… My mother has ‘always’ spelt her maiden name as ‘Os~wie~cimska’. I looked this name up in some Polish references, and it is not that uncommon, about 250 in Poland. There are similar looking names with the diacritic marks absent etc, which appear less common. [He goes on to mention several different spellings, including “Os~wiecimski” and “Os~wiecin~ski,” and asks if those spelling differences are significant].

Every name has to be taken on its own terms; with some names the difference of a single letter can mean volumes, in other cases you can have 5 or 6 different letters and it means virtually nothing.

In this case, I’d be inclined to say the different versions of the name are not significant. This is due to the phonetic properties of the characters that change. It is not rare in dialect for E~ to be pronounced as, and spelled as, simple E; this happens with enough names that I’m on pretty solid ground saying so. The M/N variance is also very common, because both are nasal sounds and we see them interchanged constantly. The oldest documents mentioning Os~wie~cim give the name ending with -in, and Rymut’s books on Polish surnames and Polish place names specify that this surname has often appeared as either -imski or -in~ski. Actually, the -im ending is somewhat unusual, -inwould be expected by normal Polish standards; so even if -imski is the right form, there would be a constant tendency for Poles to “correct” it to the more normal -in~ski, simply because they encounter and hear that so often and -imski so rarely.

You’re absolutely right to be careful about jumping to conclusions, those spelling differences might mean a lot. For that matter, just because Os~wie~cimski and Os~wie~cin~ski are essentially the same name from a linguistic point of view, that does not rule out the possibility that the different forms indicated different families. That’s where your research comes in. But if I understand your question correctly, my research indicates that those differences don’t have to have any great significance at all. From a linguistic and phonetic point of view, it’s entirely plausible that this could be the same name and yet sometimes appear with the nasal E~ as simple E, and the -im as -in.

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


From: [email protected]

I should have thanked you sooner for looking up the frequency and distribution of the names I am currently researching. The information was indeed helpful! I am putting together an order from PGSA and will be getting your book. All my genealogy “stuff” has grown into quite a stack and one of my projects before the end of the year is to get another bookcase!

Each surname I am working on has taken on kind of a unique personality or identity and each has its own mystery or $64,000 question that I hope to resolve in my lifetime.

When I first posted my father’s name on GenPol and said that he always told me he was from Piotrkow Trybunalski but that I had found legal documents showing the place of birth as Bugaj, GenPals (to borrow a lovely title from Tom Milke) gave me all kinds of suggestions. One member has come across a Bugaj in Galicia with the Pajaczkowski name turning up in parish records – which really blows my mind because my father always put the heat on my grandmother (his mother-in-law) for coming from “Galicia.”

As I have mentioned before, I know that the name Pajaczkowski means or has to do with “spiders.” Somewhere at the back of my mind I have been aware that Polish names could also reflect where a person came from: from the village of spiders, from the woods with bears, etc. I just never took a map and looked for a village named Pajaczkowo – that is until you gave me the “frequency and distribution information.” Lo and behold, just a short distance WSW from Piotrkow Trybunalski is just such a place! I have spent hours and hours looking at the map of Poland over the years and never, never, never did I see this until now.

The FHC here has odd hours for working people so I don’t get there very often, and when I do I don’t get much more than 1-1.5 hours of research, which is next to nothing. There are so many things I want to look into and tend to feel discouraged. Thanks to GenPol and the wonderful people in it I have not given up!

Dziekuje bardzo za pomoc!

Benigne Pajaczkowski Dohms


From: Blanche Krbechek [email protected]

Yes, there is one more to add to the confusion.

There is a town of Peplin in the Lesno parish in Bydgoszcz. The story goes that in 1665 Queen Maria Ludwika gave a grant of land to Micolaj Peplinski where this town of Peplin now is. Lesno is adjacent to the parish of Lipusz in Gdansk. Many Peplinski s in Wisconsin, Minnesota and Michigan come from these two parishes as well as some nearby ones.

The only information in the gazeteer (entry #3) is that this town exists in the Lesno parish and that in 1693 Erasmus Janowski charged Wojciech Peplinski of Lendy and Skoszewo (villages in the parish of Lesno, my family is from Skoszewo) with letting his (Wojciech) cattle graze on his (Erasmus) land. Now I wonder if Wojciech is a rogue son of honorable Micolaj!


Note: Blanche and I had been discussing how the surname Peplin~ski, borne by 3,151 Poles as of 1990, can come from Peplin, an alternate form of the name of the town of Pelplin in Gdansk province, or from the name of the village Pe~plino in Sl~upsk province. Blanche’s point is that there is yet another possible source for this name!

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


To: [email protected]

… Does anyone out there know what nationality the name PIERITZ is?

I can’t find anything on that exact spelling, but to me it looks and sounds like a Germanized version of a Slavic name originally ending in -icz or -ice, something similar. Unfortunately, there are quite a few possible derivations, and I can’t say which is most likely to be right. I think it is worth mentioning that the German name for the Polish town of Pyrzyce, in Szczecin province, is Pyritz — and in terms of pronunciation that sounds awfully close to Pieritz. If I had to make an educated guess, I’d say this may be a Germanized name deriving ultimately from the name of the town Pyrzyce, or from the same linguistic root as that name.

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


From: Laurence Krupnak [email protected]

Writing about the surname Plishka, my mothre’s maiden name. [PS, Paul Plishka, the opera singer, is my 2nd, 3rd? cousin….same gr,gr,gndfather.]

On page 390 of the second edition you have Pliszka (a wagtail.)

My grandpa told us that Plishka (transliteration of the cyrillic) meant a pickax. I looked in my Uke-Eng. dictionary (by Andrusyshen) and sure enough that is what it has. Also means a wedge, apparently that used in splitting wood. Then I noticed that plish means baldness. Maybe a long time ago the kozaks used pickaxes to shave their head!

Would any of these concepts for the meaning of Plishka (Ukr. way) or Pliszka (Polish and German way) be useful in your next edition?

Somebody told my Mother a long time ago that they said a Plishka was a guy who made barrels or was the guy who strapped the metal around a barrel? I can’t find a reliable documentation about this.

Unfortunately, none of my sources give anything very firm about this. It’s not unusual, however, to find that Polish or Ukrainian words have more than one meaning. Consider “nut” in English. It can be a delicious edible item (full of fat, damn it!), a piece of metal with a particular shape and function, a person with a screw loose, etc. The same thing happens in other languages, and many Polish words have multiple meanings, some of which are slang or regional usages. The best we can do is note the standard meanings and, when possible, any other meanings we can learn about that might be relevant.

In any case, thanks for these notes! I have saved them and hope to incorporate them into the next revision of my book.

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


To: [email protected]

… I am trying to determine whether the following surnames are variants of each other or are unrelated common. … 1) Z|urowski (possibly from Lestowitza, [?spelling], western Galicia), Szczurowski (Nowy S~acz), Zierowsky (Baronial family in Galicia), and Z|urek Z|urowski (it occurs in Radautz, Bukovina)

Names beginning with z|ur- are so common that I’d hesitate linking them without good evidence. For instance, in 1990 there were 2,572 Polish citizens named Z|urowski, and 12,623 named Z|urek. While they probably come from the same linguistic root, and in isolated cases a Z|urek and a Z|urowski family might have actually been linked at one time, in most cases the names probably rose independently in different times and places. As I say, without evidence that they’re linked, I would normally expect them to be independent.

I would be a little surprised if Szczurowski fits in there – although you never know with Polish names, especially once non-Poles have messed with them. But the root of the name is szczur, “rat.” There are places with names like Szczurowa, which would mean, essentially, “rat village,” “rat town,” and that’s probably where the surname comes from, meaning “person from rat town.” I wouldn’t think people would be in a hurry to accept such a name, and I would expect any Z|urek or Z|rowski to object strenuously to any confusion of the names!

… Polinkiewicz (Sarny, Volhynia) and Polingewicz (Czerniowce, Bukovina) …

Now these two could well be linked. From a linguistic standpoint, it would not be at all surprising if they were connected. Subtract the suffix “-[i]ewicz,” meaning “son of,” and you have Polink and Poling. In Polish, German, and many other languages a final g tends to devoice and be pronounced as k, so that Poling would sound much like Polink. So it is entirely credible that these two names could be different forms of the same name.

However, surname analysis seldom digs up anything definitive and incontrovertible. Once in a while a name will have some aspect that lets you make statements about it with certainty — but not too often. The most I can do is make general statements based on the probability as my experience leads me to assess it. But in almost all cases, names don’t carry enough information to let you draw definitive conclusions. At best, they confirm conclusions drawn on the basis of other, less ambiguous evidence and data.

Now that I’ve followed proper scholarly procedure by covering my butt, I hope this information is some use to you anyway!

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


From: [email protected]

… I am a member of both the PGS of America, and PGS of Michigan. Yesterday a colleague of mine from PGSMI allowed me to use a copy of your most recent edition of Polish Surnames. Though I had seen it for sale at our meetings, I only flipped through the pages, and placed the book back on the table. However, having the book in hand to read, I find it most interesting, and thank you for the many Poles who have, and will read the material, which must have taken much labor to create.

I appreciate your kind words. I put a lot of work into the book, in hopes that it would prove helpful to many people for years to come. It’s gratifying to hear from folks who think I did a good job!

… I now get to the point. My name is Bob Postula. My dad was Walter Postula. His brother was Stanley Pastula (note the Po… vs. the Pa…. I have identified that my true Polish name is Pastul~a. I have previously had information regarding the distribution of Pastul~a (which I have temporarily misplaced), and was very suprised in Polish Surnames to see that Postul~a is in fact a valid name in Poland.

Yes, I think Postul~a and Pastul~a are both valid surnames. Rymut’s book Nazwiska Polakow mentions Pastul~a as coming from the basic root past-, having to do with animals’ feeding (same root in English “pasture”). He does not, however, mention Postul~a under the root post-, “to fast.” I’m not sure if that’s because the name is not all that common, or if because in many cases, as in yours, Postul~a is just a variant of Pastul~a. But personally I consider it likely there are at least some instances where Postul~a developed as an independent name, not just a variation of Pastul~a.

It is worth stressing that very often po- and pa- are just spelling variations of each other. The Polish o is not pronounced like the o in English “go,” it is not as deep in the throat, and in fact often sounds very close to Polish “a” (as in English “father”). In fact, there are some words where pa- is a variant of the common Polish prefix po-, often with a diminutive or contemptuous connotation, e.g., pago~rek, hillock, comes from the root go~r-, “mountain,” or pachol~ek, “page, farmhand,” from the same root as chl~op,“peasant.” I doubt that’s particularly relevant in this case because in Pastul~a and Postul~a the Pa-/Po- is not a prefix — it’s an integral part of the root, past-/post- + a suffix -ul~a, as opposed to po-/pa- prefixed to stul~a.

Still, it is instructive that Poles recognize pa- and po- as closely related. It tends to confirm what I said earlier, that Postul~a is, in many cases, a variation of Pastul~a. But not necessarily in all cases!

… The purpose of this request is to impose upon you to please look up Postul~a in Rymut’s work and advise me of the distribution of the 81 Postul~as. Thank you for your time, and effort.

The province breakdown for Postul~a is as follows:

POSTUL~A: 81; Warsaw 3, Ciechanow 1, Jelenia Gora 1, Katowice 8, Kielce 26, Krakow 3, Legnica 5, Opole 1, Radom 30, Rzeszow 1, Wroclaw 2.

This distribution is interesting — the numbers may not be large enough to constitute a valid statistical universe, but it does appear that the name hails primarily from the area of Kielce and Radom provinces, a little southeast of central Poland.

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


From: [email protected]

… Can anyone tell me what the origin and meaning of the surname Slizewski is ?

Names ending in -ewski and -owski usually — not always, but usually — derive from place names ending in -ew[o/a] or -ow[a/o]. There are other possibilities, too, as suffixes often were dropped when -ski was added to a place name, so places with names ending in -owice or -owica or -o~wka, etc., also must be considered. But the rule of thumb is, first look for a likely place with the endings -ew, -ewa, -ewo, -ow, -owa, -owo.

My maps show only one place that seems a likely candidate for this name: a village S~lizo~w in modern-day Kalisz province, about 5 km. south of the town of Syco~w, northeast of Wrocl~aw; I would guess the records for this village were probably kept at the church in Syco~w, although I can’t be sure.

There may well be other places this name came from, too small to show up on maps, or now bearing other names, or absorbed into other communities. But this is the only place I can find that seems the likely source of the surname Slizewski. By the way, the ultimate source of names beginning with Sliz- is the root s~liz, a thick liquid, also (?) the loach.

As of 1990 there were 137 Polish citizens named S~lizewski, scattered in various provinces, with the largest concentration by far in the province of Gdansk (95). This suggests in most cases the surname may have come from some other source than the S~lizo~w I mentioned above, since the provinces of Gdansk and Kalisz are a fairly good distance apart.

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


From: [email protected]

… Does someone have access to Rymut’s book? If so, could you look up the name Szeroki / Seroki / or Sroki and tell all info. listed for those name(s)? I am trying to find the areas where they lived.

Szeroki is far less common than I would have expected. The book lists both Szeroki and Szeroka, and it’s reasonable to assume they are simple masculine and feminine forms, respectively, and should be combined. Here is the data if you combine them:

SZEROKI: total 74; breakdown by province: Bialystok 10, Katowice 10, Legnice, 10, Leszno 9, Opole 7, Rzeszow 1, Tarnow 1, Torun 3, Wroclaw 20, Zielone Gora 3

Seroka is listed (but no entry for Seroki!); there were 1,452, living all over the country. The provinces with the largest numbers were: Warsaw 127, Ciechanow 52, Elblag 64, Gdansk 217, Lublin 158, Olsztyn 57, Ostroleka 110, Torun 61, Zamosc 129. But as I say, there were smaller numbers in virtually every other province.

There was no listing for Sroki. Sroka is listed, and is quite common, with 13,678 bearers, again living all over the country. The largest numbers were in the provinces of: Czestochowa 496, Katowice 1,625, Kielce 743, Krakow 1,886, Nowy Sacz 402, Poznan 728, Rzeszow 529, Tranow 980, Wroclaw 523.

The question here is whether we’re dealing with a name from the adjective szeroki, “wide, broad,” or from the root sroka, “magpie.” The fact that there is no Seroki makes me wonder if Seroka is simply a variant of the noun sroka, not a feminine form of a variant of the adjective meaning “wide.” Szeroki/Szeroka, on the other hand, are probably from the adjective. Rymut’s book on Polish surname derivations doesn’t say, and I could be dead wrong, but that’s my best guess.

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


From: [email protected]

… Within the past year I’ve become acquainted with some distant relatives from Poland… He insists that the Wicinski family is Polish nobility…originally coming from an area near Lithuania and then fleeing, while wounded from some war around 1840 or so, to the area near Tarnobrzeg. Do you have any information about Wicinski? …

Wicin~ski probably derives ultimately from a short form of a first name such as Witold or Wincenty; most likely it comes directly from a place named Wicin, Wicina, or Wicie (there are several), meaning a person who came from that place, and the place in turn got that name because it was owned or founded by a fellow named Witold, Wincenty, etc. It is a pretty common name in Poland. As of 1990 there were 1,936 Poles with this name; they lived all over the country, with the largest numbers in the provinces of Warsaw (172), Bydgoszcz (148), Lodz (110), Lublin (144), Plock (202), Radom (103), and Tarnobrzeg (122). I don’t see any real pattern to that distribution. Most likely the name arose in several different areas independently, and as I said, you’d expect it originally indicated some association of a person with a place named Wicin, Wicina, Wicie, etc.

Your particular Wicinski family may well have been noble, but I have no way of knowing. When anyone shows interest in Polish nobility, about which I know little, I suggest they contact Leonard Suligowski, 218A N. Henry St., Brooklyn, NY 11222. He is the editor of White Eagle, the Journal of the Polish Nobility Association Foundation, and has an extensive library on European and especially Polish nobility; if anyone in this country can tell you anything, it’d be Leonard. He does not do genealogical research, he is a heraldic artist by avocation. But he will look in his library to see if he can find anything that might be applicable. If he spends any significant amount of time researching for you, it would be only right to offer him some monetary compensation (from what I hear, his rates are quite reasonable).

… Also, my one grandfather’s surname was Bondel. He was from the village of Kepice near Radom. (I understand there is more than one Kepice) He was 1/8th French. I’ve met other people of Polish descent with French surnames, is this common? …

As of 1990 there were some 176 Poles named Bondel. The list of provinces they lived in is fairly short, so I will repeat it: Warsaw 17, Gdansk 1, Gorzow 1, Katowice 16, Kielce 2, Koszalin 3, Legnica 1, Lublin 66, Opole 4, Radom 24, Siedlce 14, Skierniewice 4, Suwalki 9, Szczecin 1, Walbrzych 4, Wroclaw 9.

It is not extremely common to find Poles with French surnames, but it happens often enough that scholars are not surprised when they run into it. Often French names have changed spelling to fit the way they sound according to Polish phonetic values, rather than French (e. g., Descourt -> Deskur). Poland has always been a country willing and eager to maintain ties with the West, so it’s not too unusual to find Poles with names of French or Italian origin (though, as I say, sometimes you’d never know by the spelling!).

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


From: [email protected]:

… My research into my paternal Polish ancestors is going well however, I have run into some problems with my maternal Grandfather who was Ukrainian. He had listed on his petition for naturalization that he was born in Zerde. He had also mentioned to the family that when he was a boy he often crossed into Poland on family business (giving the impression that he lived rather close to what would be considered the Polish border). He spoke Ukrainian, Polish and Russian. I have not had any luck in finding a village, town or city named Zerde. Can anyone be of assistance on this?

I looked at a map of Ukraine and found only one place that seemed a likely candidate from a linguistic point of view: Zherdya, a little village a few km. northwest of Kam’anets’-Podil’s’kiy, which the Poles called Kamieniec Podolski. This name could easily be modified into Zerde. The problem was, this place is nowhere near the Polish border.

But then the 3rd cup of coffee kicked in and my brain started to function. I said to myself, “You idiot, if she’s talking about her maternal grandfather living there when he was a boy, it’s not the current Polish border that matters. Where was the border earlier this century?” I looked at a historical map, and BINGO! Up until 1939 the Polish border extended east into western Ukraine, to within a few kilometers of Kamieniec Podolski (earlier in history, the border was even farther east, but by this century this land was no longer part of Polish territory). So if your grandfather lived near Zherdya from, say 1918-1939, the Polish border would, indeed, have been only a good walk away, maybe no more than an hour, if that much. So if I were a betting man, I’d bet good money Zherdya is the place you’re looking for.

… Also, my Grandfather entered the U.S. through Canada in 1916. He settled in Clveland, Ohio where he married and had a family. However, he was an illegal until 1945. On his petition he stated that he entered the U.S. under the name Vasil Parajevski but that his true name was Walter (Sava) Waselenchuk. I know that Waselenchuk is a Western Ukraine surname however, Parajevski sounds more Polish than Ukrainian to me. Does anyone have any insight into the surname Parajevski?

Waselenchuk is indeed a Ukrainian name, meaning basically “little Vasily’s son.” Parajewski could be Polish, linguistically it makes sense, but as of 1990 there was only one Parajewski in Poland, living in the province of Lodz. But the question is, how reliable is that spelling? We could very well be talking about Porajewski, the a and o are often confused. Just for the heck of it, I looked in the Slownik geograficzny gazetteer, and found there was a village called either Parajo~wka or Porajo~wka in Kamieniec Podolski district — in other words, not far from Zherdya — served by both Catholic and Orthodox parishes in Czarnokozince, with some 420 inhabitants as of the turn of the century; the village took its name from its founder, Bishop Kobielski, who was of the Poraj clan and bore the Poraj coat of arms.

Linguistically speaking, Parajewski could very well have started as meaning “person from Parajo~wka or Porajo~wka.” In Polish we often see names from -o~wka ending up with adjectival forms in -ewski in Polish, even if -owski might technically be more correct, so that’s not a major problem. I strongly suspect that’s the origin of this surname, “person from Porajo~wka.” It could be regarded as either Polish or Ukrainian, because in this particular case there would not be a major difference in how the name sounded, regardless of which language it came from. Most likely a more accurate rendering, however, would be a Ukrainian form, Porayevs’kiy or Parayevs’kiy (which would be spelled Porajewski or Parajewski by Poles), simply because the place from which the name derived is now in Ukraine and presumably ethnic Ukrainians were more numerous there than Poles. But as I said, in this case it doesn’t make a dime’s worth of difference, there would be very little difference in sound no matter which language the name started in.

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