Notes on Selected Polish Surnames – 5


To: [email protected], who wrote:

…I am researching my paternal grandfather’s surname, Fedosz. Any help would be greatly appreciated. My grandfather came to this country around the beginnng of the 1900’s, from a town near Warsaw,Poland.

None of my sources mention Fedosz, but most names beginning with Fed- derive ultimately from Fedor or Fyodor, Eastern Slavic forms of the name Theodore (Teodor in standard Polish). In other words, the name probably started out as Ukrainian, Belarusian, or Russian. There are many Polish names that started out in other languages because the history of Poland has so much intermingling of Poles with Germans, Ukrainians, Czechs, Lithuanians, etc. The Poles, Ukrainians, etc. often formed names by taking the first syllable of a common first name and adding a suffix or two to it; so from Fedor we have Fed-, then add -osz = Fedosz. There is no exact way to translate this into English, it would basically just mean something like Teddie and probably originated as a patronymic, a way of referring to a person as son of so-and-so.

As of 1990 there were only 17 Polish citizens named Fedosz, living in the following provinces: Legnica 11, Poznan 4, Szczecin 2. None of those is very close to Warsaw, but that’s not surprising, in view of the mass movements of people during the last couple of centuries.

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



To: Beth Skarupa, [email protected]), who wrote:

…I have not found much on Nawodylo or Gonsewski/Gonsiewski so far.

To start with, Gons- is just another way of spelling Ga~s- (where a~ is the Polish nasal vowel written as an a with a tail under it and pronounced very much like -on-). So the “correct” spelling of the name was probably Ga~siewski. Now names ending in -ewski or -owski are usually derived from place names that are similar but without the -ski. SoGa~siewski most likely means something “person who owned (if noble) or who came from Ga~siewo,” or something like that; that place name, in turn, comes from the rootge~s~, “goose,” so Ga~siewo would mean something like “Goose Village” (presumably there were a lot of geese raised there). On the map I see a Ga~sewo in Plock province, that’s one place this name might come from; but I’m pretty certain there are other places with similar names that were too small to show up on the map, but could also have spawned this name.

As of 1990 there were only 11 Poles named Gonsiewski, living in the provinces of Bialystok (1), Gdansk (1), Piotrkow (2), Suwalki (1), and Tarnobrzeg (6). But there were 1,209 Ga~siewskis! They lived all over, with the largest numbers in the provinces of Warsaw (172), Lomza (157), Olsztyn (83), Ostroleka (166), and Suwalki (215). The habit of switching spellings on/a~ is so common that I think you’re probably better off regarding Gonsiewski and Ga~siewski as different spellings of the same name, rather than as two different names; and as such, it is fairly common.

Nawodylo: this is a rare name in modern-day Poland — as of 1990 there were only 9 Poles named Nawodyl~o (I’m using l~ to stand for the Polish slashed l, pronounced like aw, so that the name in Polish is pronounced something like “nah-vo-DI-woe,” with the i being short as in “sit”). They lived in the provinces of Bielsko-Biala (5), Katowice (1), Przemysl (2), and Szczecin (1). The numbers here are too small to draw conclusions from, but I’ve seen a similar pattern before with Ukrainian names — they tend to show up along the southern borders of Poland, and many were relocated from Ukraine to western Poland after World War II. And Nawodyl~o sounds more Ukrainian than Polish to me. You’d expect dz, not simple d, in Polish, and the root verb nawodzic~ is rare in Polish; but the verb navodyty, to lead, direct, is reasonably common in Ukrainian, and in that language the -dy- is quite normal. “Nawodyl~o” can be regarded as simply a Polish phonetic spelling of Ukrainian “Navodylo.” So while I can’t be sure, I think chances are this is a Ukrainian name from a word meaning “to lead, direct.” This is quite plausible, since historically much of Ukraine was under Polish rule for a long time, so you find Ukrainian names in Poland and Polish names in Ukraine. This doesn’t mean your ancestors weren’t Poles — regardless of the linguistic origin of the name, they may well have considered themselves, and been considered by others, true Poles! But it’s at least worth knowing they might have been ethnic Ukrainians, and that may be why it’s hard finding much on them in Poland.

…The others are Frankowski (probably very common), Wykowski, and Stankiewicz.

Frankowski is quite common, as of 1990 there were 11,094 Poles by that name, living all over the country. The -owski, again, suggests an original meaning of “one who came from, owned, or often traveled to Frankow or Frankowo,” and there are several villages that qualify (Franki, Frankow, Frankowo, etc.). Those place names, in turn, came ultimately from the same source as our name Frank, from an abbreviation of Franciszek, Francis, or perhaps in some cases from the term Frank, from the name of a Celtic tribe once living in what is now France (the name of which comes from the same root). So Franki/Frankow/ Frankowo was “Frank’s village,” and Frankowski was “person from Frank’s village.”

Wykowski is not so common, but still not rare; as of 1990 there were 689 Poles by that name, living all over but with the largest numbers (more than 50) in the provinces of Gdansk (52), Lomza (265), Ostroleka (74), and Suwalki (66). By now you can probably guess: the name means “person from Wyki or Wykow or Wykowo,” and there are several places with names that qualify, so we can’t pinpoint any one area where this name started. I would think the place name comes from wyka, the vetch (a kind of plant); there are a couple of other possible derivations, but this strikes me as the most likely one. So the Wykowskis were “the people from the village with lots of vetch.”

Stankiewicz is extremely common, borne by 19,826 Poles living all over the country. The suffix -ewicz means “son of,” so this means “son of little Stan.” Stanek or Stankowas a nickname for someone named Stanisl~aw (Stanislaus), literally “little Stan,” possible also “son of Stan,” and when you add the suffix it becomes Stankiewicz, “son of little Stan” or “son of Stan’s son.” If a name is at all popular, as Stanislaw is, then the -ewicz or -owicz forms from its nicknames are also extremely common, and that’s true here.

…Do you think it’s helpful to contact other people with the same last name while doing this research? I found about 30 people with the last name Gonsiewski on the internet white pages, and have contacted one of them through e-mail. Is that name too common to think we might be related somewhere down the line or that they could help with information?

That’s an intelligent question — I hear all the time from researchers who think their name is rare, so if they find anyone with the same name, he/she must be a relative. That can be true, certainly, but so very often it’s not. If you realize this, and don’t jump to conclusions, yes, I think it is worthwhile contacting others with the same name. Even if the info you share proves not to have any connections, that right there tells you something about the name and how widespread it is. And if you keep on making contacts, odds are good sooner or later you’ll run into a relative, and that can really pay off. So as long as you don’t have unrealistic expectations that are easily frustrated, and you just take what you get as it comes and make the best of it, yes, I think such contact is a good idea.

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


To: Genita Furgae, [email protected], who wrote:

…Please let us know what Furgat or Furgal means, my children have projects for school that are asking for the meaning of their names…

This name could originate in other languages besides Polish, from completely different origins; but if you have reason to think it is Polish in this case, here is the most likely origin I can discover.

There is a verb furgac~ (accent over the c, the word is pronounced roughly “FOOR-gach”), a term used in dialect, which means “to take flight, fly away, flee.” In Polish, names were often formed by taking such verbs, dropping the infinitive ending -ac~, and adding the suffix -al~a (I’m using l~ to stand for the Polish l with a slash through it, which sounds like our w). This suffix generally means one who’s always doing the action or demonstrating the quality described — e. g., Biegal~a is from biegac~, “to run,” and means someone who’s always running. In this case, Furgal~ or Furgal~a would apparently mean “one who’s always taking off, one quick to flee.” So that explains the name if it is Furgal or Furgala. If it’s Furgat, it probably still means something similar, but -at is a much less common suffix in Polish names. (By the way, the Polish l~ looks a lot like a t, and in some names people mistook it for a t so that the name changed from -al~ to -at — that could have happened in this case.)

As of 1990 there was only 1 Furgat in Poland, living in the province of Rzeszow, in far southeastern Poland, near the Ukrainian border. Furgal~ is very common, however; there were 1,149 Poles by that name, living all over the country but with the largest numbers in the provinces of Katowice (127), Krakow (174), and Tarnow (331) — which suggests the name is most common in southern Poland. There were also 984 Furgal~a’s, with half living in one province, Przemysl (466), also in southeastern Poland. The large numbers in Tarnow and Przemysl provinces suggest the name is most common, and may have originated, in southeastern Poland, near the Ukrainian border. I wish I had data for Ukraine, I bet it’s a fairly common name in western Ukraine, which also used to be part of the Commonwealth of Poland.

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


To: [email protected], who wrote:

…Do you know anything on Kochowski or Gacek?

None of my sources states definitively what Gacek comes from, but it seems highly likely to derive from the word gacek, meaning bat (the animal). It might have originated as a nickname because someone somehow reminded people of a bat, or lived in an area where there were bats, something like that. It is a very common name in Poland, as of 1990 there were 4,749 Polish citizens named Gacek, living all over the country. In fact, I have a letter on my desk right now from a lady in England named Gacek. I’m afraid the name offers no clues that help suggest where a family by that name might have originated.

Kochowski, like most -owski names, probably originated as a reference to a place with a name like Kochow or Kochowo with which the family was associated — if they were noble, they may have owned it, if not noble they probably came from there or did business there or traveled there often. There are at least two places named Kochow, one in Siedlce province, the other in Tarnobrzeg province, and there is a Kochowo in Konin province. This surname is not so common, as of 1990 there were only 332 Poles named Kochowski, living in many parts of the country but with the largest numbers in the provinces of Radom (46) and Tarnobrzeg (175), which are in east central and southeastern Poland respectively. I have to suspect the majority of the Kochowskis came from that Kochow in Tarnobrzeg province, since that is the place with the largest concentration of the name; but it seems likely at least some of the families named Kochowskis came from the other villages I mentioned. The probably ultimate root of all these names is koch-, which means love in Polish.

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


To: [email protected], who wrote:

… in search of Glembotsky from Vilna, Poland – looking for any / all information/ people and origin, etc. —

I have no info that will help with the family, but I might be able to give you a few insights on the name itself. First of all, you do realize that “Vilna, Poland” (or in Polish Wilno) is Vilnius, the capital of Lithuania, right? I don’t mean to insult your intelligence, but sometimes people don’t know how much the borders of eastern Europe have changed, and how the place names changed with them, so I figure it’s always best to point these things out, just in case it clears up some confusion. I can also assure you that a great many ethnic Poles lived and still live in Lithuania, especially the Vilnius area –my wife’s Polish ancestors came from that general area, and she still has relatives living in Alytus (Polish Olita), Lithuania. So it’s not at all incompatible to say a Polish family came from what is now Lithuania.

Glembotsky is a Germanized or Anglicized version of the name Poles usually spell Gl~e~bocki; the l~ stands for the l with a slash through it, pronounced like our w, and thee~ stands for the nasal vowel written as an e with a tail under it, usually pronounced like en but before a b sounding more like em. So the Poles pronounce this name “gwem-BOT-skee”; if you factor in Germans’ reaction to l~ (Germans have no w sound in their language, so they usually just turned l~ into a normal l) you can see how easilyGl~e~bocki could come to be written Glembotsky.

Gl~e~bocki is a pretty common name in Poland, as of 1990 there were 2,347 Polish citizens by this name, living all over the country; the 10-volume set from which I got this info (which, by the way, does not have first names or addresses or anything more than a total for Poland and a breakdown by province) had access only to data from Poland in its current boundaries, so it would not show anybody by that name still living in Lithuania. I see no real pattern to the name’s distribution, it shows up in virtually every province and has the highest numbers in provinces that have greater populations. So unfortunately the name gives no real clue as to where a family by that name may have originated.

There are a couple of roots this name might come from: gl~a~b, meaning “stalk” (e.g., of cabbage), or gl~e~b-, “deep.” Whichever is the ultimate root, the surname probably comes directly from a place name, indicating origin in any of the numerous places named Gl~e~bock, Gl~e~bocko, Gl~e~boka, Gl~e~bokie, etc. That’s how it usually works with these surnames that come from common place names: there’s a lot of folks with such names, and they’re spread all over because the name arose independently in many different places at different times. So it’s a good bet there are many, many different families named Gl~e~bocki, not just one big one.

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


To: DS [email protected], who wrote:

…I had the opportunity to read about your work with Polish names. My last name is Grycki and anything that you could find for me I would appreciate.

This is a tough name, because the form of it doesn’t really same quite right for Polish. I don’t mean the family wasn’t Poles, but there are a lot of surnames borne by Poles that aren’t of Polish origin, but Ukrainian, Czech, Lithuanian, German, etc. Furthermore, the name is rare in Poland — as of 1990 there were 24 Polish citizens named Grycki, living in the provinces of Czestochowa (1), Jelenia Gora (12), Przemysl (2), Szczecin (1), Walbrzych (6), and Zielona Gora (2). This isn’t enough data to conclude much from, but I have seen similar distributions for Ukrainian names due to post-World War II displacement of Ukrainians to western Poland.

My best guess is that this name is related to the word gryka, buckwheat; Grycki could very well come from that, although names with Grycz- are more common from that root. There is another possibility that comes to mind. Sometimes in Polish dialect the vowels e and y become confused, so that would make this name = Polish Grecki, which means Greek and was often applied to Ukrainians who were Greek Catholics. In some ways that makes sense because the distribution pattern of the name suggests a possible connection with Ukrainian.

If you’d really like to get an expert opinion and don’t mind spending $20 or so, contact the Anthroponymic Workshop in Krakow. [For more information see my introduction, or click here for the address: Institute address].

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


…I have found a new name in my family searching, it is Haszczak. Could someone look for me and tell me the origin of this name and also the numbers of people who had this name from Mr. Rymut’s book. I am giving it to a man Roman Haszczak who is the only person in the US listed with this name.

The name is pretty rare — as of 1990 there were only 22 Poles named Haszczak, living in the provinces of Bydgoszcz (4), Gdansk (1), Gorzow (4), Katowice (1), Krakow (1), Rzeszow (3), Szczecin (3), Wroclaw (5). The most likely origin is that it comes from a place, since haszcza is a thicket, a place with dense undergrowth — presumablyHaszczak started as meaning a person who lived near such a place… If Mr. Haszczak wants more info, I’d recommend writing the Anthroponymic Workshop of the Polish Language Institute in Krakow. [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: LIZ LEWIS, [email protected], who wrote:

…I’m researching my ancestors that came to the U.S. in 1914 and 1920. They came from a city named Dubiecko, Poland. The last name is Hendzel. It seems this name is German?? What’s the story of such a name?

Yes, the name is probably German. Germans use the -l or -el suffix the way Poles use the suffixes -ek, -ka, -ko, etc., as diminutives, “little …” The only question is which particular first name Hendzel came from. German expert Hans Bahlow doesn’t discuss this name directly, but gives info that suggests it could be from Hans, “John,” in which case it’s a lot like the name Hansel; or it could come from Heintz or Hentz, short forms for Heinrich (Henry). Polish expert Kazimierz Rymut mentions Hendzel and says it could come from Hans or from Anzelm (Anselm). So it could mean “little John” or “little Henry” or “little Anselm”; diminutives are also sometimes used as patronymics, names formed from one’s father’s name, so that it might also mean “John’s son,” “Henry’s son,” “Anselm’s son.” Rymut generally seems to know his stuff, so I’m inclined to say it’s most likely a German-influenced nickname from the first name “Anselm.”

As of 1990 there were some 934 Polish citizens named Hendzel. They lived all over the country, with the largest numbers in the provinces of Katowice (96), Krosno (118), Przemysl (158), Rzeszow (53), and Wroclaw (58) — so it’s most common in the southern provinces, and especially in the southeastern provinces near the border with Ukraine, Przemysl and Krosno. This fits in with your info that your ancestors came from Dubiecko, which, if I’m not mistaken, is in Przemysl province.

It’s not surprising that the name is German but is found in Poland. Poles and Germans mixed with each other a lot over the centuries. You find the most mixing in western Poland, near the German border, naturally — especially after Germany seized western Poland during the partitions and began a policy of settling German colonists on the best land; but there were plenty of Germans living all over Poland, too, dating from much earlier. When plague and war devastated medieval Poland, the nobles owning lands found their estates depopulated and plunging in value. They wanted skilled craftsmen and farmers to come settle on their land and increase the value of their estates. Meanwhile, in Germany there was disease, religious persecution, political unrest, etc., so many Germans were more than ready to go elsewhere. Nobles in Poland (and Ukraine and Russia, too, for that matter) invited them to come settle on their land, giving them various incentives (land free from taxes for up to 20 years, that sort of thing). The native Poles weren’t always too thrilled to see all these Germans settling among them, but it was good for the local economy, so they made the best of it. That’s why we see pockets of ethnic Germans all over Poland, and that’s why a name of German origin can be quite common even in far southeastern Poland.

I know it seems a little odd at first, but believe me, the more you study Polish history, language, culture, and names, the more you realize this was commonplace.

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


To: “Judith L. Shmegelski” [email protected], who wrote:

… My father’s surname is Shmegelski and my mother’s is Kazczyk (I am purely polish).

Kazczyk is almost certainly a patronymic (a name formed from one’s father’s name), meaning “son of Kaz” where “Kaz” is a short form or nickname for the popular Polish name Kazimierz. In Polish the suffix -czyk is most often used to form patronymics, as in Janczyk (son of Jan), Adamczyk (son of Adam), etc. The kaz- root could come from the verb kazac~, meaning “to order” or in older Polish “to destroy” — but the patronymic suffix suggests it is more likely to be in this case simply a short form of the Polish first name Kazimierz (usually rendered as “Casimir” in English), an ancient pagan name formed from the verb root kaz-, “destroy” + the noun root mir, “peace.” The ancient Slavs (like most Indo-Europeans) liked to give their children names that served as prophecies or good omens, and “Kazimierz” was probably given in the hope that, in the difficult and war-like times in which the ancient Poles lived, Kazimierz would excel in battle. Later Poles loved to take these long names and chop off all but the first syllable and add suffixes to that (not unlike the way English-speaking people formed “Eddie” from “Edward”). I feel certain that’s how Kazczyk started, as a name referring to those who were descendants of some fellow named Kaz or Kazimierz who was locally prominent.

The surprise here is that usually patronymics formed from popular first names are very common in Poland, but the Slownik nazwisk wspolczesnie w Polsce uzywanych[Directory of Surnames in Current Use in Poland, ed. Kazimierz Rymut, published 1994 in Krakow by the Instytut Jezyka Polskiego PAN, ISBN 83-85579-25-7] shows no one named Kazczyk living in Poland as of 1990! It’s not unusual to find that a name died out in Poland after people by that name emigrated, I’ve run into that fairly often; but I certainly would have expected to see at least a few hundred people by this name. But then this field is full of surprises!

As for Shmegelski, its form proves it has been modified since the family left Poland, because Poles don’t use the letter combination sh. In Polish either sz or s~ (s with an accent over it) is used to represent this basic sound, so we would expect either Szmegelski or S~megelski. However, two other spelling points arise. In proper Polish, the combination ge is not normally allowed, it must be gie, so that gives us Szmegielski or S~megielski. Finally, the combination S~me- is rare, that accent over the s represents palatalization, which affects the whole sound cluster, and predisposes the vowel to be either i or ie: so in proper Polish spelling, one would expect either S~migielski orS~miegielski, with Szmegelski a possible alternative because s~ and sz are sounds easily confused.

Going by name frequency, I would expect S~migielski to be the original form; it is easy to see and hear this (pronounced “shmeeg-YELL-skee”) could become modified to Shmegelski in English, and that name is fairly common in Poland. Actually the root of this name, S~migiel is also common, with 1,940 Polish citizens by that name in 1990; but the adjectival form S~migielski is much more common, with 5,925 Poles by that name in 1990 (there were only 30 Poles named S~miegielski, which suggests that is just a rare spelling variant of the standard form). The S~migielskis lived all over Poland, with the largest numbers (> 250) in the provinces of Bydgoszcz (448), Ciechanow (251), Katowice (326), Konin (436), Poznan (518), Torun (265), Warsaw (285), and Wloclawek (272). I don’t see any really useful pattern to that distribution, it seems the name has the largest numbers in the provinces with the most people, which suggests the name is evenly distributed and therefore probably originated in many different places and at different times. So it’s a good bet all the S~migielskis are not related to each other!

The root of the name, the noun s~migiel, means “rail in a ladder.” It requires a bit of imagination to figure out how this name came to be applied to so many people. Polish names ending in -ski often derive from a place name, and there is at least one village called S~migiel in Poland, in Leszno province, about 10 km. southwest of the town of Kos~cian; but there may be many more places by that name too small to show up on the map, or perhaps the name was only used by the locals and never made it into any gazetteers or atlases. So a family S~migielski might have gotten that name because they came from a place named S~migiel or something similar. Or a prominent member may have made rails, or was thin as a rail — who knows? People are very ingenious with names, and it is often impossible to figure out exactly how they got started — folks are still arguing whether Groucho Marx got that name because he was a grouch, or because he carried what was called a “grouch bag.” If we can’t settle that question, imagine trying to settle the derivation of a name that started in Poland several centuries ago!

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


To: Heidi Lernihan, [email protected], who wrote:

…Could you please give me some insight into the origins of my family’s surname, Kiszkiel? According to your database of surnames, is it a relatively rare name and from what part of the country does it stem from, if any? …

As of 1990 there were 390 Polish citizens named Kiszkiel. Here is a listing of where they lived by province, i. e., Warsaw 18 means there were 18 Polish citizens by that name living in the province (not just the city) of Warsaw. I’m afraid more details, such as first names and addresses, are not available; what I give here is all I have:

KISZKIEL: 390; Warsaw 18, Bialystok 183, Elblag 4, Gdansk 14, Gorzow 24, Jelenia Gora 13, Koszalin 36, Krakow 3, Legnica 12, Lomza 2, Lodz 9, Ostroleka 4, Slupsk 7, Suwalki 4, Szczecin 24, Walbrzych 5, Wroclaw 4, Zielona Gora 24

If the name is Polish in origin, it almost certainly derives from the word kiszka, which has a basic meaning of gut, bowel, but is also a term used for a kind of pork pudding or liver sausage, also a term (archaic?) for sour milk. There are many Polish names derived from terms for food, indicating perhaps that a person got that name because he produced or dealt in that kind of food, was always eating it, or somehow had a shape or smell that reminded people of it.

I note, however, that the largest concentration of Kiszkiel’s is in the province of Bialystok, which is in northeastern Poland and borders on Belarus. This is an area where Lithuania has long had influence, and a Polish name in -iel often — not always, but often — turns out to be Lithuanian in origin. My Lithuanian dictionary gives kis^ka (upside-down caret over the s, giving it the sound of sh, which Poles spell as sz), meaning thigh, haunch, also kis^kis, hare. Both the Polish and Lithuanian terms probably come from the same root, originally, but you can see that that root has come to have different meanings in each language, so it does make a difference which language the name came from.

I am sending a copy of this to Dave Zincavage, [email protected], who is very interested in Lithuanian names and has some sources that may let him give you some additional info.

Based on what I see, I would think names like Kiszka, Kiszko, Kiszczak are definitely from the Polish word kiszka. But with your name the Lithuanian words must be taken into account, because as a rule Poles don’t add the suffix -iel to roots, whereas -iel is often seen in Polonized forms of Lithuanian names. So I would think your name is more likely Lithuanian rather than Polish. However, Dave may be able to add some facts that will shed more light on this.

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


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

…If you have time, perhaps you can provide me with some data on the surnames of Klucznik and Rydzewski. These are the families of my mother and father, respectively. Somewhere along the line, Rydzewski was mangled into Ryder.

According to Polish surname expert Prof. Kazimierz Rymut, Klucznik comes from the noun klucznik, which means “steward, doorkeeper, caretaker.” The basic root is the termklucz, key. He adds that this name appears in documents as far back as 1489. It is a moderately common surname these days — as of 1990 there were 1,108 Poles by this name, with the largest numbers living in the provinces of Katowice (79), Suwalki (128), Tarnow (127), Torun (82), and Wroclaw (98), and smaller numbers in many other provinces. I don’t see any particular pattern to that distribution, which is not too surprising; the meaning of the name is such that it could have arisen independently in many different places.

The ultimate root of Rydzewski is apparently the term rydz, a species of edible agaric according to the dictionary (?!) — I believe that means it’s a kind of mushroom or fungus. But more directly, the name almost certain started as referring to a family’s connection with a place by the name of Rydzew or Rydzewo, something like that; the family might have owned the estate, if they were noble, or might have come there or often traveled there, if they were not. Looking over the map, I see there are at least 6 villages named Rydzewo, 4 of them in Lomza province, so it’s not surprising that of the 4,054 Rydzewskis in Poland as of 1990, the name shows up in largest numbers in provinces near Lomza: Warsaw (309), Bialystok (340), Lomza (405), Suwalki (639). There are smaller numbers (less than 300) living in many other provinces.

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


To: Gabriela P. Svatos, [email protected], who wrote:

… Since everyone has been asking for the origins of their surnames, I thought I would add two to the list… My great grandfather’s parents were Joanna Kolos and LukaszWcislo. They were farmers (agricola) in the village of Szczytniki which was less than 20 km east of Krakow. The parish is located in Brzezie, which in turn belonged to the deanery of Niegowic. This is in the Diocese of Krakow.

Kol~os was the name of 415 Polish citizens as of 1990. The largest numbers of people by that name lived in the provinces of Bialystok (104) and Krakow (131), with smaller numbers in many other provinces. It’s tough to say exactly what the name comes from: it could derive from a variant of kl~os, an ear of corn, but Kol~osz is a known nickname from Mikol~aj (= Nicholas). It could even come from the root kol-, round, circular. Of all these, I’d say it’s most likely from Mikol~aj, kind of like “Nick” in English.

Wcisl~o is pretty common, as of 1990 there were 4,252 Polish citizens by that name. The largest numbers lived in the provinces of Bielsko-Biala (238), Czestochowa (305), Katowice (443), Kielce (286), Karakow (1,218), Rzeszow (151), Tarnobrzeg (187), and Tarnow (200) — thus it’s most common in southcentral and southeastern Poland. It comes from the verb root wcis- as in wcisna~c~, “to press, cram, squeeze.” Wcisl~o comes from a participial form, so I’m guessing the name generally started as referring to a small, compact, squat person, one who looked as if he’d been squeezed or compressed. I’m not certain about that, but it seems a likely explanation.

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


…I came across your address while visiting a Polish genealogy site. I am trying to ascertain the origin of the name Krutzel. I know that it is Slavic and most likely Polish. A simple explanation of its meaning would help me immeasurably.

You say Krutzel is Slavic, and that may be right, but we can’t assume that. Actually, the spelling tz is German — Polish uses c for that same sound, so a Polish spelling would beKrucel. Another possible Polish spelling is Kruzel. Also, -l and -el are Germanic diminutives, not Slavic; Slavic uses -k as in suffixes -ek, -ka, -ko, etc. So at first glance the most likely derivation for Krutzel is as “little Krutz,” where Krutz may be a first name. I can’t find a German name Krutzel, however, which doesn’t rule this theory out but also means it’s less automatically right than I would have thought — on first glance I’d have bet good money this name had to be German! And it still might be, I’m just a little less certain now. If it is Germanic in origin, it may have started perhaps as a nickname or variant meaning “son of Kurt” or “little cross” (Kreuz is often used as a name in German with several different meanings, including “crusader, one on a pilgrimage”).

If the name is Slavic, it’s interesting that there is a Polish word kruciel, a term for a peasant dance like a polka but a little fancer, common in Lithuania and Belarus and coming from the Belarusian word kruciel. Other Polish words that show kruc- come from German Kreutz, cross, so we’re back to that again. There are many Polish names from the rootkruk- or krucz-.

I should add that it’s not strange that I keep talking about Germans and Lithuanians and Belarusians in reference to a name you think is Polish. Names of foreign origin are extremely common in Poland, due to its history. You run into thousands of Hoffmanns in Poland, for instance! Since Poland has at various times ruled much of what is now part of Lithuania, Belarus, and Ukraine, and since Germans have long ruled much of what is now western Poland, and since German farmers and craftsmen were often invited in the Middle Ages to come settle in Poland — well, these are a few of the reasons you find so many “Polish” names that are actually of non-Polish origin. So you can be a good Pole and still have a name that isn’t of Polish linguistic derivation.

According to the best data available, there were no Polish citizens named Krutzel or Krucel or Kruciel as of 1990. The only name that does show up is Kruzel, which might be related because in German -tz- and -z- have the same sound, so under German influence the name could be spelled either way. As of 1990 there were 800 Polish citizens named Kruzel, with the largest numbers living in the provinces of Bydgoszcz (189), Katowice (131), Tarnobrzeg (108). In general the places where there are lots of folks by this name are places where a great many ethnic Germans settled, so it makes some sense that the name may be of German origin.

So unless your ancestors came from northeastern Poland or Lithuania or Belarus — in which case the word for a kind of dance might be relevant — I would still think German origin is most likely. It might mean little Krutz or son of Kurt or son of Krutz, which might be just a first name or might be a form of the word for “cross.”

I wish I could have given you a nice, simple answer, but that’s often impossible, especially if foreign influence comes into play. I do hope this is some help to you, however. If you want the address of a group of Polish experts on name origins who can correspond in English and can probably give you better info for $20 or less, let me know and I’ll send it to you.

[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: A.D. Robinson, [email protected], who wrote:

…I was wondering if you knew the origin of the name Kulwiec. I realize that the original spelling was probably along the lines of Kulawczyk or Kulawiecz, but, since my great-grandfather left his siblings in Poland and died young here in the U.S., that information was never passed down. I am currently picking away at some genealogical research, and I am just beginning to learn what resources are available to me.

Kulwiec may well be the original form of the name. It is a recognized name in Poland, though not very common — as of 1990 there were only 33 Polish citizens by this name, living in the provinces of Warsaw (3), Bialystok (5), Bydgoszcz (5), Gdansk (9), Katowice (1), Krakow (4), Lodz (1), Pila (1), Wroclaw (4). (I’m afraid addresses, first names, etc. are not available, this is the only info the Polish government made available for compilation in a directory of surnames).

Polish surname expert Kazimierz Rymut lists this name under those deriving from the root kul- in the noun kula, sphere, bullet, crutch, or in the verb kulic sie~, to crouch, cringe. The term kulawy means lame, limping, and many other words with this root are used in reference to the lame or cripples, so I’m tempted to say the most likely meaning of this is son of the cripple. Perhaps not very flattering, but as Polish surnames go, believe me, this is better than many!

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


To: Arthur Witkowski [email protected], who wrote:

You asked about Witkowski and Kumor. Kumor is a reasonably common name in Poland, borne by 2,283 Polish citizens as of 1990. It comes from a variant form of the wordkomar, which means “mosquito, gnat, midge.” The name appears all over Poland, but the largest numbers live in the provinces of Ciechanow (126), Katowice (347), Kielce (527), Nowy Sacz (104), Tarnow (158), and Wroclaw (108). These are all in southern central Poland, but other than that I see no real pattern to the distribution.

As for Witkowski, it is very common — there were at least 42,173 Witkowskis in Poland as of 1990. This name generally originated as a way of indicating a person or family came from a village named Witkow, Witkowo, Witkowa, etc., and there are a great many such places in Poland. All those names basically mean Witek’s place, usually suggesting the villages or estates were founded or owned by somebody named Witek (that’s a short form or nickname of several first names such as Wit, Witold, Witoslaw,etc.). This name is found in large numbers all over Poland, with no discernible pattern to the distribution.

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


To: Ron Kuznar KPK [email protected], who wrote:

…Found your information very interesting. My daughter is trying to define what her name means: Kuzniar. Today is spelled Kuznar, but I remember my father sometimes added the i. Found what Kuz- means with your help but not -niar. Not really sure if it might have been spelled differently when they landed from Europe.

You have to be careful — Kuz- is one thing, but Kuzniar- can be, and is, something entirely different! That’s one of the tough things about Polish names, you have to figure out when you’re dealing with a root that’s had suffixes added and when those suffixes are an integral part of the root. It can be tricky!

Kuzniar comes from the root kuznia, forge, smithy; the term kuzniarski means “having to do with a forge or blacksmith,” so I must assume at some time kuzniar was a term for a blacksmith or one who worked at a forge, though that term doesn’t appear in dictionaries. Kuzniar is a pretty common name in Poland — as of 1990 there were 2,404 Poles by this name. They lived all over Poland, with the largest numbers in the provinces of Katowice (113), Krakow (133), Legnica (135), Przemysl (321), and Rzeszow (783) — so the name is most common in southern Poland and especially southeastern Poland.

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


To: [email protected], who wrote:

…Would you be interested in doing a lookup for another surname: Lachut pronounced Wahoot or Wahut? I am at a brick wall again. All the Lachut people I have contacted said we are not related. Not sure what nationality it is, tho on marriage license all names listed Austria/Poland as birthplace 1850 forward. HELP…..

The name L~achut (pronounced just as you said) is apparently Polish. Or at least, as of 1990 there were 659 Polish citizens with this name, which is kind of high if it isn’t Polish! They were scattered all over, with the only sizable numbers living in the provinces of Katowice (49), and TARNOW (321)! Gee, Tarnow was in Galicia, i.e., the partition ruled by Austria. You don’t suppose Tarnow province is where your people came from, do you? … That’s interesting, I don’t often get such a decisive majority in one spot. I know it doesn’t help a whole lot, Tarnow province is still a lot of ground to cover, but maybe it’s a little help.

I’m not quite positive what the word meant, because L~achut is not in any of my sources. However, I see firm evidence that l~ach is a rag, a clout, and l~acheta andl~achota were kind of slang words for a guy in rags, a beggar or ragamuffin. I think chances are pretty good l~achut is just another way of saying the same thing.

So your ancestor was a lousy dresser who came from Tarnow! Aren’t you glad you asked?

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


To: [email protected], who wrote:

…I just checked out your page…it is interesting…but I had hoped to find something on Laskowski. However you did explain about the -owski part.

Unfortunately I don’t have room in the book or on the Web page for every Polish surname, much as I’d like to be able to do so. But you’ve got to realize, as of 1990 there were over 800,000 Polish surnames — so I have to take them a little at a time! I should add that I’m cheating a little when I cite that number, a great many of those names were variants, misspellings, extremely rare, etc. But even if you count only those names borne by more than 25 Poles, that’s still over 40,000 names. So I realized some time ago I’m never going to be able to say I’ve analyzed every Polish surname!

…My father said that his family did come from the Kielce region. Someone had once said that Lask had something to do with the forest, perhaps combining the two would mean that my father’s family came from the forest? Whether this has anything to do with family history and name origin, until my grandfather was taken away by the Nazis, my grandfather and his brother worked in the woods cutting trees for lumber. Perhaps this was always a family trade?

Laskowski is an extremely common name — as of 1990 there were some 25,425 Poles named Laskowski; 812 of them lived in modern-day Kielce province, but you find them all over Poland. There are several ways the name could get started, but in most cases it surely started out referring to some connection between a family and a place named Laskow, Laskowo, Laskowka, something like that; it might have meant the family came from there, or (if noble) had once owned one of those places, or often went there on business, hard to say exactly what the connection was (although in most cases it probably just mean the family came from there).

Unfortunately, as you might have guessed, there’s about a jillion places named Laskow, Laskowo, etc., from which Laskowski might have been formed. That’s usually the case when a surname can derive from several very common place names.

The next question, then, is what did those place names derive from? Here’s where what you said about the connection with woods may very well hold true! The place names Laskow, Laskowo, etc. probably came either from lasek, a small forest or grove, or from laska, which these days means “walking stick” or “cane” but in older Polish could also mean “hazel-grove.” Obviously a place would get such a name because it was located near a forest or grove — so odds were good anyone who ended up being called Laskowski might well have found their livelihood working in the forest. It wouldn’t be at all odd if your family’s name did turn out to have some link with the meaning of forest, even if by way of a village name.

For that matter, it’s also possible the Laskow- didn’t come into the name indirectly, by way of a village or estate by that name, but rather came directly in reference to people who worked in a small forest (lasek). That kind of thing did apparently happen sometimes. Usually, however, names ending in -owski do turn out to refer to a place name ending in something like -ow(o/a).

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



To: [email protected] (Helen Burwell), who wrote:

…I’ve seen you on the GenPol list … and I would like to request such help.

1. The name that has appeared as Pavlock, Pavalak, etc., almost certainly originated in Poland as Pawlak; all the other forms make sense as English phonetic representations of that name. Unfortunately, there are several places named Komorow in the area formerly ruled by Germany, so I can’t pin down which one your ancestor came from. Even before the partitions there were parts of Poland where so many Germans lived that the Poles who did live in the area spoke German more than Polish. And after the partitions, due to the German government’s policies toward the Poles, there were many Poles in the German partition who grew up speaking virtually no Polish (it was not allowed to be taught in schools or spoken in any public place). So what you said about your grandfather is not surprising or hard to believe … Pawlak comes from the first name Pawel~(Paul), and probably started as meaning son of Paul. As is usually the case with patronymics from common first names, Pawlak is a very common surname — as of 1990 there were 43,556 Polish citizens by that name, living in huge numbers all over the country.

2. Nalaskowski is a puzzle. As of 1990 there were 340 Polish citizens by this name, with the largest numbers in the provinces of Bydgoszcz (64), Gdansk (43), and Torun (158). So the name exists, but I can find no origin for it. -owski names usually point to association with a toponym (place name); in this case I’d expect it to refer to a place named Nalaski or Nalaskow(o), something like that. But I can find no toponym that’s a viable candidate. I looked in the 15-volume gazetteer Slownik Geograficzny Krolestwa Polskiego, and even there I found nothing. The odd thing is that in terms of structure and phonetics, it’s a perfectly reasonable Polish name — I just can’t find any place by that name! However, there are jillions of tiny communities or subdivisions of villages that have names, are too insignificant to show up in any gazetteer or on a map, yet could spawn surnames. That may be the case here.

3. As for Marciewicz or Marcewicz (Marizewicz is most likely a misreading of Marczewicz, a plausible variant of the other two names; Marizewicz seems really unlikely, but Marcz- in Polish script could easily be misread as Mariz-): the -ewicz ending means “son of,” and Polish surname expert Kazimierz Rymut lists Marcewicz among names deriving from the first name Marcin, Martin. So it’s almost certain this name originated as meaning “son of Martin.” There are a couple of other names that might come into play once in a while (e. g., Marta [Martha], Marek [Mark], Marzec [March]), but the link with Marcin is the most plausible. As of 1990 there were 110 Poles named Marcewicz, living in the provinces of Warsaw (8), Bialystok (9), Elblag (7), Gdansk (4), Jelenia Gora (3), Koszalin (9), Legnica (5), Lublin (37), Lodz (20), Szczecin (7), and Wroclaw (1). There were listings for Marciewicz and Marczewicz, but the frequency was given as 0, which meant there was at least 1 person by that name but the data in the file was incomplete. So Marcewicz is probably the standard form. The data does not allow us to draw conclusions on where it originated — it probably originated independently in several different places.

As for the place name Orkielniki or Olkielniki, the best match I can find there is with Olkielniki in what is now Lithuania (currently called Valkininkai). This region is in Lithuania now, but before that it was in Russian-ruled territory, and before that it was part of the Poland-Lithuanian nation. It’s not unusual to find Poles living in this area — my wife’s relatives live not that far away. So personally, I think this is quite plausible.

4. Rymut says Tamulewicz comes from the noun tama, dike, dam, wier, or the adverb tam, there. I think it might also come from the name Tomasz (Thomas) — the o and ain Polish sound very similar, Tomulewicz is a known derivative from Tomasz, and I find son of Tom easier to swallow than son of there or son of the dike. However, I’m sure you could make a case for the others, too — sometimes the origins of names prove to be quite imaginative! Tamulewicz is not a very common name. As of 1990 there were 169 Poles with this name, living in the provinces of Elblag (12), Gdansk (17), Koszalin (39), Legnica (11), Warsaw (12), and Zielona Gora (10), with a few other provinces having fewer than 10.

5. You listed Lewandowka, I wonder if you meant Lewandowski? That is an extremely common surname in Poland, with 89,366 Polish Lewandowskis as of 1990, living all over — the largest numbers were in the provinces of Warsaw (7,336), Bydgoszcz (9,032), Pila (5,640), Torun (7,490) and Wloclawek (7,809). According to the best data, on the other hand, there was no one named Lewandowka. The root of either name (Lewandowski or Lewandowka) would be lawenda, the lavender bush, especially in toponyms such as Lewando~w, a section of Warsaw.

6. As regards your ancestor Eulenburg, I couldn’t find any place that seemed to match Ludowen, Russia. But I can say this — much of what is now Lithuania was part of East Prussia for a long time, and many of the inhabitants, especially in the towns, spoke German. It is also true that over the centuries many Germans fled trouble in their homeland and settled in Poland, Ukraine, and Russia, so what you were told by the non-family sources about Germans ending up in Russia is true. But I don’t think that’s relevant here. The key is that East Prussia had large numbers of Germans, Poles, and Lithuanians living in it, but much of the surrounding territory was ruled by Russia, and later the Soviet Union grabbed it all. So German-speaking people from Lithuania born in Russia actually is not be that big a puzzle — people from the areas in or near East Prussia up until World War I could fit that description, especially if they were even the tiniest bit less than precise when it came to geographical designations!

…Other family lore, unable to validate but stated by relative someone met in Germany years ago, indicates that there could be a relationship to the German aristocrats by this name: We had a Graf in the family…

Could be. I’ll warn you that virtually every family you talk to has a family legend about how they used to be nobility — an awful lot of the time it proves fallacious. But Poland and Lithuania did have unusually high percentages of nobility vs. peasants; the key was that most of the nobility were so-called petty nobility, not really much better off than the peasants, except they had a sword and a name. And since Germany used to include much of Poland, the same statement can sometimes be made about noble Germans, too. I wouldn’t pay too much attention to this family lore unless and until you get proof — but it’s not a ridiculous notion, by any means!

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