Notes on Selected Polish Surnames – 6


… Hello, I am a bride to be of a Polish man with the surname Lichorobiec. I didn’t see it on the surname list and wondered if you had any information on this name. … Thank you, Jennifer Grafious

Lichorobiec, that’s an interesting name, I’ve never run into it before. As of 1990 there were 164 Polish citizens with this name, living in the following provinces: Warsaw (1), Biala Podlaska (1), Bielsko-Biala (4), Gorzow (9), Katowice (2), Kielce (1), Krakow (7), Krosno (1), Lublin (2), Opole (3), Slupsk (1), Tarnow (120), Walbrzych (6), Zamosc (6). (I’m afraid I have no details, such as first names or addresses). Obviously the area around the city of Tarnow in southeastern Poland is where this name is most common, one would suspect it originated there and shows up in other areas because people moved from the Tarnow region. However, that’s a guess, and could be wrong.

The meaning of the name is perhaps not too flattering. The root licho in Polish means “bad, miserable,” and robi- comes from a root meaning “to make, do.” Just looking at the name, it would appear to mean “one who makes lousy things” or “one who does not do well.” But maybe it’s not such a bad name: in Ukrainian the same root seems connected more with “misfortune, trouble,” and since Radom is not far from Ukraine, there might be a Ukrainian influence on the name. In other words, instead of “ne’er-do-well, guy who always messes up,” it may mean something more like “poor devil, one things just don’t go right for.”

Frankly, I’m guessing here, and it’s entirely possible Lichorobiec has a specific meaning that I can’t find (although it’s not in my 8-volumePolish language dictionary, so that would make it a pretty rare word). But just going by what the word appears to say, that’s what it would mean.

If you’d like more info, I recommend contacting 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


…I think I have a very rare last name. It is Ludwiczak. On My grandfather pass port He put down Karaze Poland. I have tried other people with the same name and all say the same thing. They just know that their families came here from Poland. Could you help Me to know more about the Ludwiczak name?

Ludwiczak may be rare in this country, but in Poland it’s quite common. As of 1990 there were 4,579 Polish citizens by this name, living all over the country but with the largest numbers (over 200) in the provinces of Kalisz (479), Leszno (241), Lodz (383), Plock (303), Poznan (964). This is basically a strip running from Poznan and Leszno and Kalisz provinces in west central Poland up to Plock and Lodz provinces in central Poland. That’s where the name is most common — but you find decent numbers of Ludwiczaks living in every province.

The reason for this is the meaning of the name: “son of Ludwik.” So this name could start anywhere they spoke Polish and had guys named Ludwik, that is, anywhere in Poland. Surnames formed from popular first names usually are common all over the country — which makes sense, but is unfortunate in that it provides no helpful clues for those trying to find out where their family came from.

The form Karaze is suspect, it doesn’t sound Polish and I can find no place by that name. I wonder if it might be Karcze? Very often these names did get misread or misspelled when immigrants filled out papers, and for that matter a c can look very much like an a. There are a several villages this might refer to, but the most likely one isKarcze in Siedlce province — it was served by the parish church in Zbuczyn, which is where vital records would have been kept. There was another Karcze in Lithuania, near Dzisna, but the one in Siedlce province is the one I’d start with. You might do a little investigating and see if that place works out as correct. I can’t guarantee it is, but from what you’ve told me that seems the best guess.

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


…I was wondering if you could look in your dictionary for the names Szudarek and Mondrowski. These are my husband’s grandmother’s maiden name and her mother’s maiden name.

There were 45 Poles named Mondrowski, in the following provinces: Bydgoszcz 28, Pila 3, Piotrkow 1, Szczecin 1, Wloclawek 8, Zielona Gora 4. However, this is just another way of spelling Ma~drowski (a~ here stands for the Polish nasal a, written as an a with a tail and pronounced much like on, so that many names are often spelled either way). Ma~drowski is a more common name, borne by 516 Poles in 1990. The largest numbers lived in the provinces of Bydgoszcz (99), Pila (77), Poznan (49), and Szczecin (66) — so it seems most common in northwestern and western Poland in the area, formerly ruled by the Germans.

The root is the word ma~dry, wise, although in many cases Ma~drowski probably started out meaning “person from Ma~dre or Ma~drowo.” There is at least one place on the map I can find that qualifies, Ma~dre, a village in Poznan province, southeast of the city, but there may be other, smaller places that don’t show up on my maps yet could be connected to this name.

As of 1990 there were 88 Poles named Szudarek. They lived in the following provinces: Gorzow 4, Katowice 8, Pila 54, Poznan 13, Szczecin 9. So the largest numbers are in northwestern Poland. According to Polish surname expert Kazimierz Rymut, the name comes from the root szudrac~, meaning “to scrape, scratch.”

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


From: Mark Miazga, [email protected], who wrote:

…I travelled to the city of Debica, studied the history of the word Miazga in Polish, and done a great deal of genealogical information. If you would be interested in corresponding or mentioning if you have even stumbled upon the name, please e-mail me.

Miazga is not a name I could find any expert comment on. In my book on Polish surnames I noted a possible derivation, from the noun miazga, meaning “pulp, chyle.” It’s a little tough figuring exactly how such a name came to be applied to a person, but we see so many examples of this in Polish that we have to accept it: sometimes a surname comes from a nickname, and it’s tough to know how nicknames get started (people are still arguing over the exact origin of Groucho Marx’s name!).

This is a pretty common name, as of 1990 there were 2,905 Poles named Miazga. The largest numbers lived in these provinces: Warsaw 232, Lublin 356, Radom 138, Rzeszow 324, Tarnobrzeg 147, Tarnow 125, Zamosc 191. Clearly it’s most common in southeastern Poland, although there are smaller numbers living in virtually every province.

You might contact the Webmaster of the Polish Genealogical Society of America’s Website to see if there is some way you could make some of the information you’ve compiled available at that Website. I encourage people who’ve done a lot of work and compiled impressive results to share their work, and the Web seems the best way to do so, especially if you have a home page — then the Webmaster can include a link to your page, something saying If Miazga’s one of your names, look here! Don Szumowski, the PGSA Webmaster, could tell you more about whether that’s practical or not. But it’s at least worth considering. Visit, look around, and if you feel like it, leave a note for Don.

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


To: Kristin Mojsiewicz, [email protected], who wrote:

…I am trying to find the origins of my family name Mojsiewicz [from the region of Nowogrodek] and to determine whether the Jewish connotations of this name would indicate that the family converted at some time to Catholicism. It has been suggested to me that the name has its roots further eastwards towards Armenia but I’m not sure of the thinking behind this.

Mojsiewicz is probably from Ukraine or Belarus, since “Mojsiej” is the form of the name “Moses” in the East Slavic languages, while “Mojzesz” is the Polish form. So it’s probably of Russian, Ukrainian, or Belarusian origin. What’s most likely is that the family came from one of the East Slavic countries, and the name was probably written in Cyrillic, but at some point it came to be written by Poles and thus the Polish spelling -ewicz added to the not-so-Polish first part … Mojsiewicz was the name of some 281 Poles as of 1990, with the largest numbers in the provinces of Gdansk (25), Koszalin (31), Olsztyn (25), Slupsk (33), Szczecin and (48). That’s a long way from Ukraine, but we can probably thank World War II and all the forced relocations after it for that — I’ll bet before the war these names showed up mostly in eastern Poland… In the last century or two names from forms of “Moses” tend to be associated primarily with Jews, so one would expect the family to have been Jewish at one point, although from what you say it sounds as if your family must have converted to Christianity. But since Jews in Eastern Europe generally did not take surnames until the 1800’s, this would suggest the family must have converted within the last 150 years.

As for place of origin, Armenia seems unlikely. The suffix -ewicz (Polish spelling) or -evich (Russian, Belarusian spelling) or -evych (Ukrainian spelling) is Slavic, and the Armenians aren’t Slavs. That doesn’t mean a family by that name might not have been in Armenia for a while; but I think we’re fairly safe saying the name is not of Armenian linguistic origin.

…Secondly I am interested in the name Onychimowicz [from the same region] – some genpollers thought the origins may be Greek Orthodox.

Onychimowicz and Onichimowicz don’t appear in the surname directory, but we do see Onichimiuk (that -iuk ending is very much East Slavic!) borne by 183 Poles, andOnichimowski (142), and numerous names from the Onisk- root, e. g. Onisk (393), Oniszczuk (1,222), Oniszko (204), Onyszczuk (259), Onyszko (473), etc. So this particular form is rare in Poland these days, but you can probably find something very similar in Ukraine.

This name means “son of Onychim” (for our purposes -owicz and -ewicz may be regarded as identical) and the Greek Orthodox theory is probably right. There’s a Ukrainian name Onysim (from a Greek term meaning “useful, advantageous”), and I’m fairly certain Onychim is a variant of it (the guttural sound of ch often gets switched around with other sounds). So this is almost certainly a name of Ukrainian origin (if it were Belarusian the o would probably have become an a, Anychim). I can’t seem to find any source that confirms this, but I’ve run into this name often enough to feel fairly certain I’m right.

… I have read in Rymut that the surnames Mojsiewicz and Mosiewicz are of a different root – do you think this is absolute or are there any circumstances under which the two names may have been confused or amalgamated [i.e. by Russian officials]?

You never say “never” with surnames, and certainly names with Mos- sometimes derive from various forms of the name “Moses,” just as they can come from other sources. I will say this: it’s dangerous placing too much emphasis on a single letter in any name, but that j in Mojsiewicz really does increase the odds that that name is from “Moses.” It’s not absolute, and certainly the names could have been confused.

The problem is, however, that you can only put so much weight on linguistic analysis before it snaps. One solid fact is enough to topple the most sophisticated analysis, and accidents happen — one tired clerk writing a J when he didn’t mean to can confuse even the best onomastics expert! If you trace the family back by the difficult and tiresome process of genealogical research, analysis of the name can often help confirm ideas about its origin; but analysis of the name seldom gives you anything solid enough to take you where you want to go without research.

Having said all that, however, in most cases I’ve found that if a letter like that J persists, it usually is a reliable indicator.

In a later note Kristin gave some additional info:

…as we have a photo of a document from 1680 naming a Danilo Mojsiewicz Onychimowicz, but the crest of arms on this document have been identified as the Mosiewiczemblem (Topacz herbu). Which leads me to all this confusion….

This additional info definitely changes things! It is very hard for me to imagine that this Danilo (a Ukrainian form of the name “Daniel”) could have been a noble in 1680 if he were a Jew! Jews were ennobled sometimes, mainly if they provided major financial support for kings or other big-wigs in money trouble — but such cases were rare. Also, I can’t imagine Onychimowicz as a Jewish name — it almost certainly means he was Greek Catholic or Orthodox. So Mojsiewicz, there, is highly unlikely to be Jewish; it may still mean “son of Moses” but dating from a time before the name Mojsiej became so strongly associated with Jews. I found one source that says before the 18th century Mojzesz (or Mojsiej) was a name used by Christians and Jews, only after then did it come to be almost exclusively associated with Jews. I also found a source that cites legal records from 1437, 1472, and 1493 which mention farmers named Mojsiej living in Ukraine and Lithuania. In that time and place it would be pretty unusual to find a Jew who owned land in Ukraine and farmed it — it’s not impossible, but it would be rare!!!

So if we’re talking that kind of time frame, Mojsiewicz could mean “son of Moses” and refer to a Christian. “Danilo” could be Christian or Jewish, but Onychimowicz is almost certainly Ukrainian Christian, perhaps Orthodox, perhaps Greek Catholic. (I don’t often deal with people who have records back to 1680, which is why I generally view things from a time-frame of 18th century on unless something tells me otherwise.)

But that still leaves the question of the Mosiewicz emblem and the Mojsiewicz name. There just isn’t enough info to justify a conclusion. There are other, non-Jewish names Mojsiewicz or Mosiewicz could come from, including the old pagan compound name Mojslaw (literally “my fame”) — as I believe you noted, Rymut specifically mentions that names in Mosi- and Mosz- could have arisen as short forms or nicknames from that name, and if so Mojsiewicz and Mosiewicz may merely be variant of the same name, “son of Mojslaw.” It is not all uncommon to see different spellings of the same name, in that context the presence or absence of that J would not necessarily mean much. So that theory is tenable; but so is the “Mojsiej” = Moses theory.

In any case, I think the added info you cited makes it extremely unlikely that Danilo was Jewish. That info strongly suggests the name derived either from one of those ancient Slavic compound names, such as Mojmir or Mojslaw, or from the East Slavic form of “Moses” dating from a time when that name was still widely used by Christians.

Thanks for telling me more, it certainly made a difference!

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


To: Jill Novak, [email protected], who wrote:

…I thought I would inquire about these names. Sanocki I can find nowhere. The Nowakowski name was changed to Novak. Could you tell me a little something about these names.

Nowakowski is an extremely common name, as of 1990 there were 54,178 Polish citizens by that name. It comes from several places with names such as Nowaki,Nowakowo; those place names come from the word nowak, new fellow, new guy in town, from the root now-, new. Nowak also sometimes was applied to converts to Christianity, who were new men, so to speak. The same name is very common in other Slavic languages, especially Czech, where it is spelled Novak (but is pronounced virtually the same as Polish Nowak, NO-vahk).

Sanocki would have originated as meaning coming from or otherwise connected with Sanok — Sanok is the name of a good-sized town in Krosno province in far southeastern Poland (“Sanok” in turn comes from the name of the San River). This is a fairly common name, as of 1990 there were 1,006 Polish citizens named Sanocki. They lived all over Poland, but the largest numbers were in the provinces of Gorzow (80), Katowice (71), Krosno (172), Pila (94), and Przemysl (118) — the highest concentrations are, as one would expect, in southeast Poland, near Sanok.

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


To: Alice Okrzynski Feldman, [email protected]

…I have just recently read a text version of chapter one of your book Polish Surnames: Origins and Meanings. I found this information very interesting and found myself wanting to find out more seeing as I am in the process of researching my roots… Through my investigative process I have found that my maiden surname, Okrzynski, is not very common, but should prove to be very interesting in its source, and it is that reason that I am writing to you today.

Okrzyn~ski is, indeed, a pretty rare name. As of 1990 there were only 95 Polish citizens by this name, living in the provinces of Jelenia Gora (31), Katowice (2), Legnica (2), Lodz (1), Opole (7), Rzeszow (1), Szczecin (16), Tarnobrzeg (10), Walbrzych (8), and Wroclaw (16). (I’m afraid I have no further data, no first names or addresses, just this). It’s hard to see much of a pattern to that distribution, except the name is mainly to be found in western Poland.

Surnames ending in -yn~ski are usually from toponyms (place names), and in this case I would expect the place to be named something like Okra — but I could find only two in my sources. One is the name of a river, the Okra, a tributary of the Dniepr in Ukraine. The other was the Polish name of a village near what is now Daugavpils, Latvia — which means it might now be in Latvia, in Lithuania, or in Belarus, and God only knows what its name is, if it still exists. (The village was served by the Catholic parish in Birzagol and was in the rural district of Kapino, just in case you care to look into this more). There may be a place or places in Poland named Okra that are too small to show up on the maps or in gazetteers, or have changed names, or vanished, yet gave rise to the surname centuries ago. But I was unable to find any of them.

[Note: Alice later wrote me as follows:]

…During my research I came across a national park named Swietokrzyski, as well as a plant name Okrzyn jeleni (Laserpitium archangelica). The plant is found only in the Babiogorski Park. Could this possibly be connected in any way??

[I congratulated her on her research, and agreed that it might very well come from the name of this or a similar plant. But the following advice is still good:]

If you’d like to learn more, I recommend contacting 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: [email protected], who wrote:

…Have ordered your book but my surname, Orlicki, may not be in it since my paternal forebears were/are in Galicia (sort of a grey area now, methinks).

Anyone who orders my book is welcome to whatever help I can give. I will tell you that Orlicki is in the book because it’s a fairly common surname in Poland — so even though the eastern half of Galicia is now in the independent country of Ukraine, there were enough Orlickis left within Poland’s current boundaries that the name obviously needed to be in my book. But here I can go into a little more detail than I did in the book (although obviously the book gives a whole lot more background — I hope you won’t regret buying it, and if reaction from others is any guide, I believe you won’t).

…Dad and one of his brothers came to the US about 1905 and the surname somehow came out as Orlitzky. When he applied for Soc. Sec. the records had to reflect the Orlitzky name. I think probably that was the phonetic spelling of Orlicki. At that time of course he spoke no English so the mistake was not corrected. The phonetic spelling of immigrant names was not uncommon as I understand.

Yes, Orlitzky is a German or English phonetic spelling of Orlicki, which is pronounced sort of like oar-LEET-skee. And phonetic spelling of immigrant names was exceedingly common. You’re kind of lucky the name wasn’t mangled a lot worse than this!

…I have no documented family history, but oral history has the family origin at the time of one of the Mongol invasions during the 13th century and that the surname Orlicki derives from the Polish root word for eagle. Dad was not one to live in the past, so what little family history I can recall came from my mother’s recollection of what he told her. (Dad was not one to exaggerate either). As you know each generation rewrites history and oral history probably has little resemblance to the facts.

This could well be true. You’re right, of course, family oral history can be notoriously unreliable — and yet every so often it turns out to be right on the button. Obviously I have no resources to say anything about your family at the time of the Mongol invasions, but it is absolutely true that Orlicki derives from the Polish word orzel~, eagle (when endings are added the z and e both drop out, leaving the root orl-). The surname might have been formed from a nickname like Orlicz (son of the eagle) or Orlik (little eagle), or it may derive from a place name such as Orlik or Orlicze, referring to a family connection to a place with such a name (if they were noble, they may once have owned an estate with such a name; if they were peasants, they may have worked on or come from such a place). There are several ways one could end up with the name — but the bottom line is, somewhere along the line eagle had something to do with it. A person’s bravery may have reminded folks of an eagle, he might have followed the standard of the eagle in battle, etc.

As of 1990 there were 1,085 Polish citizens named Orlicki. They lived all over the country, with the highest numbers in the provinces of Bielsko-Biala (226), Katowice (100), Krakow (77), Olsztyn (65), Poznan (78), and Radom (83). I don’t see any particular pattern in that distribution, except that the highest concentration appears in provinces in southcentral Poland (Bielsko-Biala, Katowice, and Krakow). I don’t see any useful conclusion to be drawn from that, but it’s worth remarking on — you never know what fact might prove relevant down the line.

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


To: Ann Sullivan, [email protected], who wrote:

…I have just started to research my family history. The family names are Tomiczek and Osowski. Anything you know about the meaning of these names would be appreciated.

Osowski is a fairly common name in Poland; as of 1990 there were 4,971 Polish citizens by that name. They lived all over the country, with the largest numbers in the provinces of Bydgoszcz (417), Gdansk (690), Katowice (210), Warsaw (339), but there are numerous other provinces with 100+ Osowskis. Generally names ending in -owskiarose as references to a place from which a person or family came, or had owned (if they were noble), and it’s likely this name refers to any of numerous places named Osow, Osowo, Osowa, Ossowo, etc. That’s why the name is so common, there are many villages with names that could yield a surname Osowski, so the surname is common and spread all over Poland. So unfortunately this surname, like most Polish names, doesn’t shed much light on exactly where the family came from: there are just too many Osowskis, in too many places.

Tomiczek is less common, but still not rare: as of 1990 there were 1,348 Tomiczeks in Poland. The name is most common in the provinces of Bielsko-Biala (649) and Katowice (385), with smaller numbers scattered all over Poland. That distribution pattern is interesting, because the name is by far most common in those two provinces in southcentral Poland, near the border with the Czech Republic. In fact, I suspect the name may be more Czech than Polish. It clearly is a diminutive of a name such as Tomik, which in turn comes from Tomasz (Thomas) and means “little Tom, Tommy.” Tomiczek would mean something like “Tommy’s son.” There are many names that mean that in both Polish and Czech, but Polish would lean more towards forms such as Tomczak or Tomczyk — that -iczek looks and sounds to me like a Polish rendering of Czech -ic^ek. So looking at the geographical distribution and the linguistic form, I suspect this is a Polonized version of a Czech name. Many Czechs lived in Poland, so that’s not an outrageous suggestion. In any case, whether of Polish or Czech origin, it means something like “Tommy’s son.”

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


To: [email protected], who wrote:

…I am wondering what my name means, I am in the process of writing a simple family history. I have family in Canada, U.S.A., Poland, and Ukraine. In Poland the spelling isPankiewicz, in Canada there are variations, like Pankewycz (which is my name). I don’t have a font that will do Ukrainian lettering. My father was born in Dobra Sljachetska, and my Grandfather was from Bryzawa and Lypa. I have been told that the family was originally from Tarnopol.

As I think you realize, the different spellings are all of the same name, but there are slight phonetic differences between Polish and Ukrainian, and the Cyrillic and Roman alphabets have different ways of rendering them. So basically Pankiewicz and Pankevych are the spellings a Pole and a Ukrainian, respectively, would write the name down when they heard it spoken; Pankewycz would be a kind of hybrid form, and such forms are very common.

As of 1990 there were some 3,157 Poles with the name Pankiewicz. They lived pretty much all over Poland, with no apparent pattern to the distribution — the name could and did arise in many different places. This makes sense, it means “son of panek,” a name that could get started almost anywhere Polish or Ukrainian (perhaps also Belarusian) are spoken — I’m sure there are plenty of Pankevych’s in Ukraine, though I have no way of checking… In any case, the real question is, what does panek mean in this case?

It could have several derivations. The most obvious is as a diminutive of pan, “lord, master,” also “bridegroom”; as best I can tell, this term was and still is used much the same way in Ukrainian as well as Polish. So panek could mean “little master, little lord,” but could also mean “son of the master, son of the lord” — often -ek used as a diminutive did have a patronymic sense to it. Panek was also used in its own right as a term meaning “minor noble,” one who owned some land but not enough to be considered a real big-wig. So in Pankiewicz/Pankevych we might possibly have a name that was meant to be insulting, applied to the son of a fellow who acted like he was a lord; or it might come from an affectionate way of referring to a popular lord, “little master’s son”; or it might be a straightforward name meaning simply “son of the minor noble.”

The other very real possibility is that Pankiewicz might be patronymic for the son of a fellow named Panek or Panko, nicknames derived from such first names as Pankrac, Pantelejmon, Opanas, etc. — this is especially likely in view of the Ukrainian connection, since those last two names were more common in Ukraine than in Poland. This is not unlike the way English-speakers took the name “Edward,” chopped off the last syllable, and added the diminutive suffix to make “Eddie” — the same process could producePanek or Panko from one of those longer names. Then the son of such a fellow would be called Pankiewicz. This could certainly happen with a Polish family, but I suspect it would be even more likely with a Ukrainian family.

We don’t have enough data to determine which of these plausible derivations is right in your family’s case. Probably the only way to find that out would be to do detailed research on your family, and you’d be rather lucky if documents still exist that go back far enough to settle the matter. But it seems pretty certain the name either means basically “son of the little lord” or “son of Panek,” with Panek being a nickname for a fellow with one of those other names I mentioned. The connection with Dobra Szlachecka (literally “noble’s estate”) might add just a little more weight on the side of the “lord’s son” theory.

By the way, since this name could get started several different ways, it’s not surprising it is so common. And the fact it is common suggests it did get started several different ways; some Pankiewiczes are “little lord’s sons” and some are “Panek’s/Panko’s sons.” That is circular reasoning, I know, but things often do seem to work that way in the world of name derivations.

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


…Do you have any info on the origin or meaning of Tomaschewski or Pettkus? These were my grandparents last names. Their birth records show that they were born in Sonnenborn and Tawelleningken, Germany, in 1888. Supposedly these were parts of Prussia….. I have traced Sonnenborn to now being Stoneczik, Poland…any help with the names would be appreciated………thank you

Pettkus is an interesting name, because I would expect it to show up in Poland, yet a 1990 Polish government database shows no one by that name in the country! I looked under all the spelling variants I could think of, especially Petkus (Polish rarely uses double letters), and none of them showed up. The closest I got was Pettke, of which there were 372, living in the provinces of Elblag (19), Gdansk (342!), Slupsk (7), and Torun (4) — all in northwestern Poland, in the areas ruled by the Germans. I have run into many cases before where a name undoubtedly existed in Poland at one time but has since died out, and this may be another such case. The linguistic origin of the name is almost certainly a German-influenced form of a Polish nickname for Piotr, Peter — the original Polish nickname may have been something like Pietka, Pietko, Pietek, and under German influence it was modified to Pettke or Pettkus. I have no sources that document this, so I’m not 100% certain about it, but this explanation is very plausible and I’m confident it is, in fact, correct.

Tomaschewski is simply a spelling by German phonetic values of the common Polish surname Tomaszewski (the sh sound is spelled -sch- by Germans and -sz- by Poles). This name comes ultimately from the first name Tomasz, Thomas. The -ewski ending usually indicates an origin with a place that has a name ending in -ew or -ewo or -ewa or-ow or -owo or -owa (also sometimes -e or -y). You’d expect Tomaszewski to mean person coming from or formerly owning or somehow connected with a place called Tomaszew, Tomaszewo, Tomaszow. Unfortunately, there are quite a few places with these names, so without further information you can’t tell which of those places is the one your ancestors got their name from.

Since there are several places with names that could yield Tomaszewski, you’d expect the surname to be pretty common and spread all over the country — and that is the case. As of 1990 there were 38,139 Polish citizens with this name, and there’s no real pattern to their distribution — the largest numbers of them tend to show up in the provinces with the largest populations.

A gazetteer of German place names says Tawellningken was also called Tawellenbruch, and was in Kreis Niederung in East Prussia; a separate source says that there were two places by this name, apparently very close to each other; one had civil and Protestant records kept in Seckenburg, the other had Protestant records kept in Seckenburg, Catholic records kept in Schillgallen, civil records in Inse. Trying to find what these places are now called is not easy. I found Seckenburg — it used to be in East Prussia, but now it’s called Zapovednoye, and it’s 69 km. northeast of Kaliningrad, in that little separate section of Russia that sits on the Baltic, just north of Poland and west of Lithuania. I was not able to find anything on the other places, but at least this will give you a notion where to look for more info.

By the way, the Polish name for Sonnenborn is Sl~onecznik, with a slashed l, not Stonecznik. This is an easy mistake to make, the l with a slash through it looks like a t, but it’s not — it’s what the Poles consider a hard l and is pronounced like our w; I use l~ here because the Polish letter can’t be reproduced on our computers without a lot of messing with the computer’s configuration. Anyway, Sl~onecznik is a few km. south of Morag in the northern part of Elblag province in modern Poland. This area, too, was part of East Prussia back when the region was under German rule. If you look on a map you’ll see that Elblag province is just south of the area where Seckenburg/Zapovednoye is located. So far northern Elblag province, that little separate section of Russia around Kaliningrad, and perhaps some of the adjacent portions of Lithuania are where you need to look for your ancestors.

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


To: Mary Segrest [email protected], who wrote:

… I was wondering if you have any information regarding the surnames of Pilarski and Sytek. I believe the Sytek name came from the area of Posen, Poland.

Pilarski comes from the word pilarz, “sawyer,” that is, one who saws. Actually pilarski is the adjectival form, meaning “of, belonging to, relating to a sawyer”; when used as a surname, it would mean little more than “kin of the sawyer.” Often these -ski names also derive from place names which in turn derive from other names or terms, but I can find no places that seem to qualify. So I think basically you could just say it’s the equivalent of the name Sawyer in English. It is a very common name, as of 1990 there were 8,544 Poles by this name. They lived all over the country, in every province, with especially large numbers in the provinces of Bydgoszcz (954), Katowice (737), and Poznan (610) — I see no real pattern to the distribution, just that the most Pilarskis live in the provinces that have the largest populations.

Sytek is much less common, as of 1990 there were only 251 Poles by this name, spread out all over the country, with the largest numbers in the provinces of Bydgoszcz (68), Kielce (24), and Poznan (55). The derivation, according to Polish surname expert Kazimierz Rymut, is from the adjective syty, meaning “well fed, sated.” The -ek suffix is a diminutive, meaning “little …” and often used to mean “son of,” so this name would mean either “a little guy who’s well fed” or “son of the well-fed guy.” I should mention that the dictionary also shows syta as mead or syrup for feeding bees, which might be relevant — in both cases we see the common meaning of “food, nourishment.” But it seems to me most likely the surname started out as a nickname for the son of a fellow who obviously hadn’t missed too many meals!

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


To: Jim Pochopien [email protected], who wrote:

…I would appreciate any information you may have on the name Pochopien (my father’s) or Litko (my mother’s). Both are of Polish ancestry having grown up in Chicago.

Pochopien~ (here n~ stands for the n with an accent over it) is a name I’m not positive about. In Polish this root appears in the adjective pochopny, hasty, inconsiderate (i.e., a fellow who’s quick to grab whatever he wants and slow to let go), and in the verb pochopic~, to catch, grasp, to understand. This is a reasonable interpretation, and grammatically Pochopien~ makes sense coming from pochopny, so this explanation is probably correct; but I couldn’t find any source in which Polish scholars confirmed this, so I like to let folks know there’s a question mark beside it.

I note that in Czech there’s a term pochopeni that means “understanding,” and citove pochopeni means “sympathy.” I guess in Czech that same meaning of “grasp” is associated more with “ability to grasp the situation and understand it,” whereas in Polish it sometimes means that but can also refer to someone who’s grasping, hasty, inconsiderate.

I’ve also wondered in the past if this name might be a variant of some other names that sound kind of similar, based on the root po~l~chl~op-, literally “half man, half peasant.” This term was sometimes applied to a man who’d been castrated, but more often to a peasant who owned half a full-sized farm. The l~ (Polish slashed l) is pronounced like our w and is often barely pronounced, so it’s not stretching things to note that “Po~l~chl~op-” could often sound like “Pochop-,” and thus there might be a connection. I doubt it, but it’s worth mentioning as a possibility, I guess. But I’d need really good evidence before I’d take this for Gospel — the other explanations seem quite a bit more likely.

As of 1990 there were 1,095 Polish citizens by this name, so it’s not a rare name. It shows up all over Poland, but the largest numbers were in the provinces of Bielsko-Biala (497), Katowice (254), Krakow (107); in other words the name is most common in far south-central Poland, very near the border with the Czech Republic. That’s why I wonder whether the first Polish meaning (grasping) or the Czech meaning (understanding) is more relevant — if a given family with this name came from the southern part, near the Czech border, it might have started more as a compliment, Pochopien~ = “fellow quick to grasp the situation” as opposed to “guy hastily grabbing everything in sight.” I’m really not sure which is relevant in this case, so I thought I’d mention both.

Litko is a little easier. The -ko is a diminutive suffix (“little …”), which strongly suggests this started as a nickname for a fellow with a name like Lutobor, Lutogniew, Lutoslaw,etc. Those are all ancient pagan compound names with the root lut-, “strong, ferocious,” so that Lutogniew was a name of good omen meaning “may his anger be ferocious,”Lutoslaw meant “may his fame be strong,” etc. The same root shows up in modern Polish in such terms as litowac~ sie~, “to have mercy.” Poles loved to take names, chop off all but the first few sounds, then add suffixes, sort of the same way we turned “Edward” into “Eddie.” So basically Litko started out as a nickname of a man with such a name, or perhaps a name for his son (“little Lutobor” -> Litko).

The funny thing is, many names from this root are rather common — there were 468 Poles named Litka in 1990, 474 named Litke, 586 named Litkowski – but only 27 named Litko! That surprised me a little, I would have expected the name to be more common. The 27 Litko’s lived in the provinces of Gdansk (2), Katowice (8), Konin (12), Lublin (2), and Walbrzych (3). I’m afraid I don’t have addresses or any more info on them, what I’ve given is all I have.

If you’d like to get more expert input on the Pochopien~ name, you could write 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: ed. [email protected], who wrote:

… In your book on Polish surnames, could you please let me know if you included the surnames: Polakowski, Rawa, Tomaszewski & Wawrukiewicz? I DON’T want to know what you said about them; just if they’re covered.

All those names are reasonably common, except Wawrukiewicz (only 57 Poles by that name as of 1990). All are mentioned in the book. Ignore the rest of this paragraph if you wish, but I don’t mind telling you that Wawrukiewicz means son of Wawruk, and Wawruk is a sort of eastern Slavic nickname for Lawrence, so Wawrukiewicz means more or less son of Larry, and probably originated in eastern Poland or western Ukraine. The other three are basically formed from place names: Rawa (the name of 1,041 Poles as of 1990) is the name of a couple of villages and towns (also the name of a coat of arms); the others most likely started as meaning something like guy from Polakow or Polakowo (there are several possibilities, and in 1990 there were 3,133 Poles named Polakowski) and guy from Tomaszew or Tomaszewo (again, many possibilities, which explains why there were 38,139 Poles named Tomaszewski in 1990). Note that Polakow/o/a just means place of the Pole[s], and Tomaszew/o/a just means Thomas’s place.

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


To: Sharon York [email protected], who wrote:

…I am attempting research on my family and need information on the names of Polkoski and Szelengewich (which appears in the form of many spellings within the family). It seems no one could remember how to spell the darn thing and it became more mangled in each generation. I don’t see the name on your list. The first spelling provided is the spelling from my grandmother’s immigration booklet, so I don’t know if it was a spelling from a tired immigration officer or her own. If you can help I would appreciate it. I know that your time is valuable and so many of us need help.

Polkoski is probably a variant of Polkowski, a name borne by 3,156 Polish citizens as of 1990, living all over Poland, but with the largest numbers in the provinces of Warsaw (828), Lomza (374), Siedlce (342) and Suwalki (256). In many parts of Poland that w (which in that particular suffix sounds like an f) is pronounced indistinctly or not at all, so it isn’t at all unusual to see names ending in -owski sometimes show up with -oski. As of 1990 there were only 4 Polkoskis in Poland (all living in Siedlce province, east of Warsaw). In the case of your particular family the name might have been Polkoski or it might have been Polkowski and just got spelled that way because of the way it was pronounced — the numbers suggest the latter is more likely. The name is very common, and means little more than “person or family owning, coming from, or otherwise associated with a place called Polko or Polkow or Polkowo or Polkowice.” There are quite a few places by those names, which explains why the surname deriving from them is so common.

Szelengewich is almost certainly an Anglicization (and not a drastic one!) of the Polish surname spelled several ways, of which the closest match is Szelengiewicz(pronounced “shel-en-GYE-vich”). As of 1990 there were 25 Poles by this name, all living in the province of Tarnobrzeg. But virtually identical is Szele~giewicz (I’m using thee~ to represent the Polish nasal e written with a tail under it, pronounced roughly the same as en), and there were 59 Poles by that name, living in the provinces of Warsaw (6), Bydgoszcz (1), Elblag (6), Krakow (3), Krosno (1), Lublin (2), Poznan (1), Rzeszow (1), Szczecin (4), Tarnobrzeg (29), Wroclaw (5). In both cases the name is by far most common in Tarnobrzeg province, in southeastern Poland, not too far from the border with Ukraine.

Both these names come from the term szela~g, an old Polish silver coin; here I’m using a~ to stand for the Polish nasal a, also written with a tail under it and pronounced much like on. In Polish the nasal vowels a~ and e~ are felt to be related, and it’s not at all rare to see them switched in names. So if there’s a name Szela~giewicz (and there is, borne by 300 Poles as of 1990) it, too, might be regarded as related to your name. It gets hard to tell when these variants are distinct names in their own right and when they’re just slightly different forms of the same name — sometimes a person’s “correct” name might be Szela~giewicz, but he was sometimes called Szele~giewicz because of dialect tendencies or other factors… Still, I notice Szela~giewicz is not all that common in Tarnobrzeg province, it’s most common in central and western Poland, so without further info I’d have to say it’s plausible that Szele~giewicz is right in your family’s case and that they most likely came from southeastern Poland — if they came from central or western Poland the name would probably be spelled with the nasal a, not the nasal e… It’s dangerous trying to draw conclusions from one little letter, but going by what info I have this is what seems most likely.

By the way, -ewicz is a suffix meaning “son of,” so the name means “son of the silver coin.” Presumably in this case szela~g was not so much the coin but a nickname for a fellow, maybe one who helped mint coins or was always anxious to collect coins (i.e., it might be a clever way of calling somebody a skinflint). People can be awfully ingenious when it comes to names, so we can’t always say with certainty how a particular name got started. The best we can do is figure out what it means “by the book” and then use our imaginations to suggest explanations.

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


To: [email protected], who wrote:

…I am just beginning to research the Polish background of the name Poteralski. Any info you could provide on where to start looking would be helpful.

Polish surname expert Kazimierz Rymut says the surname POTERALSKI comes from the root potera or potyra, disregard, ill-treatment, and the verb poterac’, to hold in disregard or contempt. The name is not rare in Poland, but not extremely common either: as of 1990 there were some 272 Poles by this name, living all over the country. There were a few Poteralskis in many provinces, but the largest numbers lived in the provinces of Warsaw (39), Katowice (23), Radom (18), Sieradz (20), and especially Piotrkow Trybunalski (100). This suggests that the name is most often found in an area south and west of Warsaw, but it doesn’t really narrow things down enough to be extremely useful — it’s like listing a few counties in the U. S., helpful but still leaving an awful lot of ground to cover.

Unfortunately, this isn’t unusual for Polish surnames. Comparatively few offer any really helpful clues on where a family is likely to have come from. If you have the surname but no details on when and where ancestors were born, you’re not likely to get far; but if you have a fairly good notion of where your ancestors came from, then sometimes surnames will give you a lead that helps you focus on a specific area.

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


To: Joseph Psotka, [email protected], who wrote:

…I ran across your book on the Polish web and wondered what you knew about the Psotka name. A distant relative in Slovakia says we are descended from a count of Tarnowiec (Tarnowiecka) whose name was Zach.

This is an interesting name, because this name is quite rare in Poland. A similar name, Psota is not uncommon — with 321 bearers as of 1990, it’s not very common, but certainly not rare. The largest concentration of Poles by that name, Psota, (244) lives in the province of Katowice, not too far from the Czech and Slovak border… But the list I have shows only 1 Psotka, living in Krakow province (also in far southern Poland). Unfortunately my source does not give first names or addresses, and it only covered 94% of the population as of 1990, so there may be a few other Psotka’s here and there, but in any case I can’t tell you exactly where they would be. In any case, the name’s rarity in Poland suggests it’s probably not a native Polish name; I’d have to wonder if it is Czech or Slovak in origin, surely if it were Polish there’d be more Psotka’s in Poland! (Although even that isn’t necessarily true, there are some unquestionably Polish names that have died out in the homeland, only to be carried on in other countries like the U.S.).

The basic root of this name is a root seen in many other Slavic languages, pies or ps-, meaning “dog.” But it also sounds much like the root in such words as psuc~, “spoil, ruin, waste,” and I wonder if that comes into play? Psota means basically “prank, trick, joke,” but in older Polish it also could mean “adultery, lust” and almost kind of sexual activity that was frowned on by the Church (i.e., most kinds you can think of). I think the basic idea behind all this is that such-and-such is “dog activity,” where the notion of “dog” is often connected with something kind of prankish but also nasty: thus in Polish the curse “Psiakrew,” literally “dog’s blood,” kind of a semi-vulgar thing to say; but again, that root meaning “ruin, spoil” might also influence the meaning with a whiff of something rotten, foul. In any case, psotka would be the diminutive of that noun, so as you say, it could mean “a little prank, a little joke,” and when applied to a person might well be a nickname meaning “prankster.” Not a particularly flattering nickname, I know, but a lot better than some others in Polish!

If it is primarily of Czech or Slovak origin, there would still be a basic similarity in meaning, but there might be some special connotation I don’t know about.

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


To: Thomas Pulawski, [email protected], who wrote:

…I read your message from the GenPol discussion group and would like to ask you, if you have deeper information in the surname Pulawski. I am aware that Pulawski means someone from or of the place called Pulawy. Now both a town and a region in Poland are named Pulawy. Is it normal that people took names after their region, or did they only take names after towns and villages. I am thinking that perhaps a distant ancestor of mine was from the town of Pulawy, it maybe even was his estate. Do you have any information on that?

The names Pul~awski and Pul~aski are confusing, because they derive originally from different words, but those words are apparently related in origin, both from a root meaning marshy terrain. Yet the surnames are sometimes used interchangeably. It was not at all uncommon for people to take names based on the names of regions, although of course more specific names based on towns and villages are more common. Pul~awski is a common name in Poland, as of 1990 there were 2,193 Poles by that name; the largest numbers were in the provinces of Warsaw (376), Lomza (108), Ostroleka (327), and Sieradz (139), with many other provinces having fewer than 100 inhabitants by that name. Pul~aski is far less common, only 124, in the provinces of Warsaw (20), Elblag 10, Lomza (12), Lodz (11), Olsztyn (10), Ostroleka 12, Siedlce 12, and Szczecin 14, and a few others with less than 10.

I am afraid I do not have enough information on Pulawski families to help you determine whether your ancestor was from Pulawy. It is certainly quite possible, even probable; but I have no data that would prove anything. The interesting thing is that the name Pulaski comes from the place name Pulazie — the family of Kazimierz Pulaski had their ancestral home at Pulazie Swierze, about 8 km. southeast of Wysokie Mazowieckie in what is now Lomza province. This is some distance away from Pulawy. In theory, the Pulaski name is distinct from Pulawski and should never be confused with it. Yet I have seen documents relating to that family in which the name is clearly given asPul~awski! This makes it very hard to keep straight who belongs to what name and where the name came from.

I heard about some people who were trying to research Pulaski’s background — that’s where I saw the documents — but I never received an address for them. There was an article on Pulaski’s birth written by Jan Zaleski in an issue of The Eaglet, the newsletter of the Polish Genealogical Society of Michigan — Mr. Zaleski might also be able to give you some information. You can write him at this address: PGS-MI, c/o Burton Historical Collection, Detroit Public Library, 5201 Woodward Ave., Detroit, MI 48202.

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


…I have not been able to acquire your book Polish Surnames, so I’d like to ask you if you cover the name Radzyminski or know any information. I know that there is a town in Poland near Warsaw called Radzymin that is most likely connected to the name, but I don’t know any more than that.

It’s a virtual certainty that the surname Radzyminski started out meaning person from or somehow connected with the towns of Radzymin. (Besides Radzymin near Warsaw, there’s also a town or village by the same name in Ciechanow province, and there may be other, smaller places by that name that don’t show up on my map). The root is distinctive enough to leave little doubt of that. Those towns, in turn, got their name from an abbreviated form of old Polish names such as Radzimir, which could mean one who’s glad of peace or peaceful advisor. So at one time there was a fellow named Radzima (abbreviation of Radzimir) who founded or owned or was prominent in those towns, which took their name from him. Then in turn later on when surnames were being adapted, Radzyminski was a good way of distinguishing a family who came from there. Historically both the towns’ name and the surname have alternated y and i, so that Radzimin- and Radzymin- are both common, and the spelling difference doesn’t really mean much.

As of 1990 there were 479 Polish citizens named Radzyminski, with the largest numbers living in the provinces of Warsaw (83), Ciechanow (44), Elblag (44), Gdansk (37), Olsztyn (40), and Pila (32). The name Radziminski was about as common, with 419 bearers; they were most common in the provinces of Warsaw (66), Bydgoszcz (34), Ciechanow (33), Gdansk (47), Olsztyn (40), and Torun (109). If there’s any really useful pattern there, it eludes me. It seems most likely that there were a number of different families who hailed from one or other of the Radzymins who were named for the towns, and as they spread the name spread.

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