Notes on Selected Polish Surnames – 9


To: [email protected] (Joe Iwanowski), who wrote:

…Any info on the name Iwanowski would be greatly appreciated.

In Polish, surnames ending in -owski are usually derived from place names ending in -ow, -owo, -owa, -y, something like that. So Iwanowski probably started as a reference to the place the family came from, or an estate they owned (if they were noble) or worked on (if they were peasants). Thus the surname Iwanowski would mean “people from Iwanow, Iwanowo, Iwanowka, Iwany,” etc. There are quite a few villages in Poland that qualify, too many to allow us to focus on one without much more info.

An additional point is that such place names are often formed from the first names of people who founded them, owned them at some point, etc. All these different place names I’ve referred to come from Iwan, which is the Polish spelling of the Ukrainian, Belarusian, or Russian name Ivan, equivalent to Polish “Jan” (John). So the names of these villages, towns, estates, or whatever just mean “John’s place.” In practical terms, for “Polish” research that means the places in question can also be in western Ukraine, since that region was long ruled by Poland. So the places Iwany, Iwanowka, etc. in Poland aren’t the only ones to take into account, places with similar names in modern-day Ukraine are also part of the picture.

Since Ivan is a very common name, places called Iwanowka, Iwany, etc. are also common, and that means the surname Iwanowski would be reasonably common. As of 1990 there were 5,164 Polish citizens named Iwanowski (and that doesn’t include Ukrainians by that name, who are probably numerous but would not show up in the database from which the Directory of Surnames in Current Use in Poland was compiled). The Iwanowskis in Poland lived all over the country, with the largest numbers (more than 200) in the provinces of Warsaw (603), Bialystok (247), Gdansk (296), Lodz (219), Olsztyn (200), Siedlce (246), and Suwalki (302).

One last note: by the nature of things, you’d expect any name beginning with Iwan- to be more common in eastern Poland, near the border with Belarus and Ukraine, and in fact many of the provinces mentioned above are in the east (Suwalki, Bialystok, Lodz, etc.). But some of them (Olsztyn, Gdansk) are in western Poland. This is probably due to the enormous relocation of ethnic populations after World War II, which saw folks from the eastern borders of Poland forced to pick up and move to western Poland, to repopulate the lands Poland recovered from Germany after the war. So if we had data from before 1939, those Iwanowskis would probably show up mainly in eastern Poland — not exclusively, this is a common name and over the centuries Iwanowskis had plenty of chances to work their way west. But logic says the name should be concentrated primarily near the eastern borders; that it’s not is probably due to those post-WorldWar II relocations.

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


To: [email protected] (Patrick Lesiecki), who wrote:

…My daughter has a Family Tree Project to do for her history class. Our surname is Lesiecki. I would appreciate any information you could provide on its origin and meaning.

Lesiecki is a difficult name to pin down, because it could have originated in several different ways. The one thing that is reasonably certain is that the ultimate root is the Polish word las, “forest”; the surname probably arose in connection with a name or word derived from this root. Forests covered much of Poland at one time, so names from the root las- are numerous and common. Lesiecki could well have originated as an adjectival form of the word lesiak, “forest-dweller,” or as reference to a place name such as Lesica (there are several villages by this name) or Lesiaki (in Sieradz province). As a rule names ending in -iecki did originate as referring to the place a family came from, or an estate they owned (if noble) or worked on (if peasants); but derivation from a common noun such as lesiak is also plausible. Polish surnames ending in -ski, -cki, or -zki are adjectival in nature, meaning literally “of, pertaining to, coming from __,” and when the suffixes were added the end of the root word often changed; this often makes it difficult to reconstruct exactly what place, occupation, first name, or distinguishing characteristic a surname refers to without detailed info on the family background.

Lesiecki is not an extremely common name in Poland, but it’s not rare either. As of 1990 there were 486 Lesiecki’s, living all over Poland but with the largest numbers in the provinces of Warsaw (48), Katowice (47), Lodz (40), and Sieradz (62). I see no particular pattern to the distribution, which is not surprising: such a name could start almost anywhere Polish was spoken and forests were prominent, i. e., anywhere in Poland.

Without detailed data allowing us to focus on a specific area in Poland, it’s difficult to say exactly what the surname derives from. But we can say with considerable confidence that it refers to the family’s dwelling-place at the time surnames were being established. It might refer to the fact that they were living in a forest (lesiak), or it might refer to a specific place that took its name from surrounding forests (Lesica, Lesiaki, etc.). So in practical terms this name is much like the English names Woods, Forest, Forester, etc. — we can tell basically that the name refers to woods or forests, but there’s nothing in the name that offers clues as to a specific place.

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


To: Richard A. Stybak, [email protected], who wrote:

…A cousin of my father recently traveled to the same small town. She found plenty of Szafrans (my great-grandmother’s maiden name), but stated there were no moreStybaks left! Any help would be greatly appreciated.

Well, Stybak is not a common name by any means. The Directory of Surnames in Current Use in Poland, which lists all names of Polish citizens, how many Poles bore those names, and a breakdown of where they live by province, shows only 88 Stybaks as of 1990. They lived in the provinces of Bielsko-Biala (57), Koszalin (3), Krakow (1), and Rzeszow (27). Unfortunately further data, such as first names, addresses, etc., is not available. But since Wadowice is in Bielsko-Biala province, and the largest number of Stybaks live in that same province, this suggests there are still possible relatives living somewhere in that area — perhaps not in Wadowice itself but in villages nearby.

The only hope I know of to find them — and it’s a bit of a long-shot — is to do a search of the Bielsko-Biala telephone directory. It’s not on-line, and the way these directories are organized makes it tough to search them; furthermore, phones in private homes are not nearly as common in Poland as here, so there’s no guarantee any of these Stybaks would be listed. Still, I know no other way to do it… What I’d suggest is you contact the Polish Genealogical Society of the Northeast, 8 Lyle Rd., New Britain CT 06053, to ask about the possibility of having them search the directory — they have a complete set, and for a reasonable fee they’ll search them for a particular name. I especially recommend contacting the PGS-NE because of the Holyoke MA connection. The Society has members with connections to Holyoke, and just MIGHT be able to help with a lead or some background info. In any case they should be able to search the phone directory, and I wouldn’t expect that to be horribly expensive.

It’s also a mystery what Stybak comes from. Many names from styb- come from a Germanic root, but a German name would have to be pretty thoroughly polonized before it would start taking on Slavic suffixes such as -ak. I notice in Polish there is a dialect or rarely used word styba meaning “grain-crushing mill,” so a stybak may have been a person who worked at such a mill. That’s nothing more than an educated guess, but I can’t find any other root that seems likely to apply.

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


To: Anthony Liberko, [email protected], who wrote:

…I ran across your web site, and am wondering if you might have any information on the surname Liberko? I believe the derivation is from a “wheel maker,” but have not confirmed this.

The “wheel maker” notion is interesting, I can’t find anything like that — I’d be interested in knowing where you heard that. I’m not saying it’s right or wrong, just that I can’t find any connection, and I’d like to know if I’m missing something.

Polish surname expert Kazimierz Rymut doesn’t mention Liberko specifically in his book on Polish surnames, but he does mention the root liber and several other names that are closely related, including Liberek and Liberkowski. According to him they derive either from the Latin term liber, “free,” or from the German first name Lieber, which basically means “dear one.” Either is plausible: Germans settled all over Poland and many of their names came into use by Poles; and since for centuries the language of record-keeping was Latin, a person who was a free man — not a noble, not a peasant, not a serf, but one who owned his own land — could easily be referred to in records by this term liber, and it could get attached to him as a name. The -ko is a diminutive suffix used in Polish, Ukrainian, etc., basically meaning “little,” so that Liberko could mean “little Liber” or “Liber’s son.”

As of 1990 there was no listing of a Polish citizen named Liberko, but there was a listing for Liberek (398 Poles by that name), Liberka (125), and Liberkowski (420). So similar names are not rare, though not really common either. The Liberka‘s lived in the provinces of Czestochowa (44), Jelenia Gora (3), Katowice (57), Legnica (1), Opole (5), and Wroclaw (15), all in southcentral and southwest Poland (Silesia). This tends to support the German Lieber theory, those are regions where large numbers of Germans live and German-influenced names are common. (Unfortunately, I do not have further data, such as first names and addresses).

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


To: Heidi Marie Tonn, [email protected], who wrote:

…I’m wondering if you’ve heard of the Polish surname Cholewa? I was told by some Polish friends that it may mean “rubber boot”?!! The family would have lived in or near Niedergruppe, Kreiss Schetz in West Prussia before WWII (now Dolna Gruppa).

Yes, Cholewa is actually a common name — as of 1990 there were some 8,100 Poles by that name, 797 with the spelling Holewa (both pronounced the same), plus quite a few more with related names such as Cholewiak (175), Cholewka (761), etc. Cholewa appears all over the country, with the largest numbers (more than 300) living in the provinces of Bielsko-Biala (731), Katowice (1,015), Kielce (395), Krakow (1,069), Lublin (517), Opole (307), Radom (405), Tarnow (694), Warsaw (338). It’s hard to see a useful pattern to that distribution, except that the name seems more common in southcentral and southeastern Poland than elsewhere — but that doesn’t mean you won’t find it in other places, such as West Prussia.

Polish surname expert Kazimierz Rymut mentions it in his book Nazwiska Polakow [The Surname of Poles], saying that it appears in records as far back as 1394 and comes from the Polish word cholewa, which in modern usage means “the top of knee-boots,” so the boot connection is correct, although it doesn’t apparently mean knee-boots themselves but their upper portions. It often happens in all languages that a word has a basic meaning, plus other meanings that have developed as slang or part of every-day speech (much as English “nut” can refer to a food, a particular piece of metal, or a screwball). My dictionary says that cholewa can also mean “drunkard,” “a guy who says whatever comes into his head,” and “a slovenly woman.” These other meanings are often important for names because they often were used as nicknames. You might say “How did a guy get a name meaning ‘boot-top’?”, and these other meanings are often the answer.

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


To: David Millman, [email protected], who wrote:

…Regarding Wachna‘s from Nowy Sacz and Jaroslaw. Looking for opinion on the posibility that the name is related to Wagner. Question inspired by having found in a web page the word ‘Wachna’ used to describe the way Wagner is/was pronounced in southern Germany.

Well, this is not an outrageous suggestion — from “Wagner” to “Wachna” is a bit of a reach, but Germans usually pronounce the ending -er rather indistinctly, and it certainly could be rendered with -a in Polish; and the g could conceivably be altered phonetically to sound more like the guttural ch sound. So Wachna = Wagner is not preposterous, and in a given instance might be true.

Polish experts on names say that Wachno, obviously a closely-related name that appears in documents as far back as 1368, usually derives as a kind of nickname for other first names such as Wacl~aw or Wawrzyniec. Poles historically had a kind of habit of taking the first couple of sounds from first names, dropping the rest, and adding suffixes; so Wa- from Wacl~aw or Wawrzyniec + -chno = Wachno is a plausible theory. As for Wachna itself, I looked in one of my sources and found that Wachna appears in documents back in 1369 — it was a feminine name, apparently regarded as a kind of variant of Wie~chna (the e~ stands for the Polish nasal vowel written as an e with a tail under it and pronounced much like en). This name is thought to derive the same way Wachno did, as a nickname from a standard first name, such as Wie~cesl~aw, which is the original Polish form of the first name that later became Wacl~aw under Czech influence. The woman mentioned in that 1369 legal record lived somewhere near Kazimierz, which used to be a separate town but is now part of Krakow — in other words, not far at all from Nowy Sacz.

As of 1990 there were only 51 Poles named Wachna, living in the following provinces: Legnica 1, Nowy Sacz 24, Opole 6, Radom 1, Tarnow 2, Walbrzych 3, Wroclaw 14. It’s interesting to note that the name appears mainly in southcentral and southwestern Poland, areas where there were and are a lot of people of German ethnic heritage. All of this supports the idea that Wachna could come from Wagner. The only real problem is that we don’t have any evidence that clearly says it did come from Wagner.

So the most I can say is that your idea is plausible, at least in regard to a particular family with this name; but in most cases the name probably is a kind of nickname derived from a more common first name. If your research is successful and you trace the family back quite a way, and find that they often bore Germanic first names, that would support your theory even more. Perhaps at some point you’ll have enough evidence that you could notify Polish scholars that you have an alternative suggestion that merits consideration.

[Note: David contacted me again with the following note, which shed some additional light on this question…]

…My family descended from the Wachna from Nowy Sacz has always thought of itself as Ukrainian. My other three great-grandparents were all from Eastern Galicia. Is it likely, in your estimation, that there are Wachnas in Ukraine?

It’s interesting you mentioned that, because yesterday I was working on my book on Polish first names, and I came across a Website that deals with all kinds of first names, including Ukrainian. On the Ukrainian page, there among the masculine names was Vakhno. This is just a phonetic way of rendering a name that in Cyrillic would look like B A X H O — a Pole, hearing that name, would spell it Wachno. The same page also mentioned a couple of surnames deriving from that name, Vakhnenko and Vakhniak (both meaning essentially “son of Vakhno”). So yes indeed, this can be a Ukrainian name. The -o and -a difference is not necessarily a big deal, it’s not at all rare to see the same name with either ending. Vakhno, in turn, is a nickname formed from Ivan (Polish spelling Iwan), the Ukrainian and Russian form of the first name “John.” So Vakhno(Polish spelling Wachno) is basically a Ukrainian nickname for “John,” not unlike “Johnny” in English. It must be a relatively common name to have shown up on that list of Ukrainian names. If you’re interested, the address for the “Onomastikon,” as the first name collection is called, is:

Also worth a look is some of the info on the Website of Infoukes:

You can see the difference it makes knowing more details about the family! If this is a name borne mainly by ethnic Poles, the info I gave you in my last note is more relevant. But if it is Ukrainian, then it more likely comes from the nickname for Ivan! And the surname distribution info I gave you is compatible with the notion the family is Ukrainian, because Ukrainian names show up in southern Poland (and also in western Poland). Their presence in southern Poland probably dates back mainly to the days of Galicia, when southern and southeastern Poland were joined with western Ukraine under Austrian rule. In western Poland the presence of Ukrainians is probably due more to post-World War II ethnic dislocation — huge numbers of Ukrainians were forced to pick up and move to Poland.

I hope this has cleared things up a little, and I’m glad you gave me that additional info. My original answer was correct, as far as it went, but the additional info shed a whole new light on the subject!

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


To: Anthony Basinski, [email protected], who wrote:

…I am interested in any information you may have on the surname Basinski, which is my own name. I have been told that it may not in fact be Polish at all since the name is not apparently known in Poland. I would appreciate any help you can give me. Thanks. Anthony Basinski

I keep hearing from people who have “been told” this or that about Polish names, and all too often what they’ve been told is a load of rubbish. I wish these people who don’t know what they’re talking about would shut up! For instance, as of 1990 there were 3,171 Polish citizens named Basin~ski (I’m using the ~ to represent the accent that appears over the n). So much for the notion that the name is not known in Poland!

The Basinski’s lived all over the country, with the largest numbers in the provinces of Warsaw (139), Bydgoszcz (237), Gorzow (135), Kalisz (219), Katowice (164), Leszno (113), Lodz (148), Poznan (347), Wroclaw (204), and Zielona Gora (207). I don’t see any real pattern to that distribution, the name apparently arose independently in many different places at different times, so all the Basin~ski’s are probably not related.

As for the likely origin of the name, names ending in -in~ski can come from several sources, but very often they originally referred to a place that the family owned (if noble) or worked at (if non-noble) or came from. The interesting thing is that with a name this common you’d expect to find quite a few towns or villages that qualify, yet the only really good match I see is Basin, a village in Skierniewice province — Basin~ski could well mean “coming from Basin,” but it seems unlikely the name would be so widely scattered if one little village in central Poland was the source… There are also villages named Basino~w in Ostroleka and Radom provinces, under the right circumstances Basin~ski could refer to them.

However, I suspect that in a lot of cases Basin~ski developed from something more common. I note that the place Basin got its name from the first name Basia, a short form or nickname of Barbara (there’s a Polish singer named Basia who’s fairly well known) — Basin just means “Basia’s place.” This makes me wonder if the surname sometimes arose just as a way of referring to “Basia’s kin.” This seems plausible, because the surname is just too common to be explained only in terms of the few places that seem likely candidates… It’s also possible Basin~ski is a variant form of other names such as Baszyn~ski and Baz*yn~ski.

All in all, however, I suspect the surname Basin~ski refers in most cases to tiny villages or hamlets named something like Basin, or to the kin of a woman named Basia. There may be other derivations in particular cases, but the link with places or kin of various Basia’s strikes me as the most probably explanation for the surname’s origin.

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


To: Kevin Ostrowski, [email protected], who wrote:

…I am inquiring about the origins of several surnames: Ostrowski, Dudzik, Modrzewski, Hoffman and finally, Mroczynski.

Hoffman is a German name from the roots Hof, “manor, court, yard” + Mann, “man.” In some cases the name can refer to the modern German meaning of Hofmann, “courtier,” but I think that is the source in a relatively small number of cases. Most often this is an occupational name, referring to the manager of estates owned by the nobility or church — so says Hans Bahlow in his Deutsches Namenlexikon. Bahlow adds that this is an extremely common name in Silesia, right up there with Mueller, Schmidt and Schultz. I have no data on the name’s frequency in Germany, but in Poland there were some 2,570 Hoffman’s and 5,187 Hoffmann’s as of 1990. They lived all over the country, though they were more common in the western areas once ruled by Germany.

Dudzik comes from the root duda, “bagpipes, person who plays the bagpipes” (yes, Poles have bagpipes, too, not just the Scots!) and also “a bad home-bred musician”; in some cases it also meant an idiot who goes around running his mouth and making a lot of empty noise. As of 1990 there were some 7,401 Polish citizens named Dudzik, and that name probably originated as meaning “son of a duda.”

Modrzewski is a name derived from a place name such as Modrzew, Modrzewo, etc., and generally such names meant a person came from that place, often travelled there, owned it (if noble) or worked on a farm there (if peasant). There are several places that qualify, including Modrzewek in Piotrkow Trybunalski province. As of 1990 there were 880 Poles by this name.

Mroczyn~ski (the n~ stands for the n with an accent over it) was the name of some 735 Poles as of 1990. The basic root is mrok, “darkness,” or mrokotac~, “to squint.” But this particular surname probably refers to a place name such as Mrocza, Mroczen, Mroczki, Mroczno, etc. — there are several villages this surname could refer to, so you’ll need more data on the exact area of the family’s residence in Poland to make a reasonable guess which of those places the surname derived from.

Ostrowski is also derived from place names such as Ostro~w, Ostrowek, Ostrowo, etc., and there are dozens of those in Poland. That helps explain why the surname is so common — as of 1990 there were some 38,942 Poles named Ostrowski.

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


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

…David Zincavage suggested that I contact regarding my family name Nigbor. I have tried to do searches on the internet with out results. David has recommended the Rymut Volumes. David says that you have quoted from Rymut. Would you know if this name is listed in these volumes? Possibly, do you have any other information that would help in my research? My grandfather, Blase, was born in Binarowa near Biecz in 1881,if that helps.

Nigbor is listed in the directory Rymut edited. As of 1990 there were 26 Polish citizens by this name, living in the following provinces:

NIGBOR, 126: Warsaw 1, Bielsko-Biala 16, Bydgoszcz 2, Elblag 1, Kalisz 1, Katowice 17, Krosno 12, Legnica 11, Leszno 3, Nowy Sacz 20, Rzeszow 1, Szczecin 5, Tarnow 20, Wroclaw 1.

This distribution suggests the name is most common in the southeastern (Tarnow and Krosno provinces) and in southcentral Poland (Bielsko-Biala, Nowy Sacz and Katowice provinces). Unfortunately the directory does not give further data, such as first names or addresses, so I can’t help with any more info than I gave above. In theory you could write the Polish Genealogical Society of the Northeast, 8 Lyle Rd., New Britain CT 06053, and ask them to do a search, for a fee, of provincial phone directories, to see if any of the Nigbor’s are listed. But it’s a bit of a long-shot — phones in homes are far less common in Poland than here, so there’s no guarantee any will be listed. If you can limit the search to one province, that will help, but the way the directories are organized it will still be a difficult procedure. If you can give them a specific surname, town, and province, that would hold the cost of the search down to a reasonable level (I’m guessing maybe $10-20, but I can’t be certain). Since the only Binarowa I can find near a Biecz is in Krosno province, that is presumably the area you want searched: Binarowa or Biecz, Krosno province. There are no guarantees, but I honestly can’t think of any other way to go.

I’d hope one of my sources would suggest the meaning of this name, but none of my sources list it or a reasonable variation. In theory it could be a polonized form of German Nachbar, “neighbor,” or a name from nie, “not” + gbur, “peasant.” But those are just guesses, I don’t have anything firm on the name.

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


To: [email protected] (G&NL), who wrote:

…I have just begun researching my Polish ancestry, and am very interested in the background of the surnames I have found: Rykaczewski, Zembrzuski, Zbikowski,Kolano (in one death certificate it is Kolana). I have documents on each one, stating birth in Poland.

According to Polish surname expert Kazimierz Rymut, Kolano comes from the word kolano, which means “knee.” People often received nicknames referring to some bodily feature, and these nicknames somehow stuck and became surnames; so an ancestor might have had a knee that gave him a lot of trouble, or was always on his knees, something like that. As of 1990 there were 2,185 Poles with this name, scattered all over Poland but with the largest numbers in the provinces of Bydgoszcz (113), Katowice (249), Przemysl (120), Rzeszow (137), Tarnobrzeg (374), and Zamosc (209) — this suggests the name is most common in southeastern Poland, but is hardly restricted to that area — which only makes sense, a name like Kolano could get started anywhere Polish was spoken and people had knees, i. e., anywhere in Poland.

Names ending in -ewski and -owski usually developed as a reference to some association between a family and a particular place name they came from, worked at, etc. SoRykaczewski suggests an association with a place named Rykacze, Rykaczewo, something like that. The most likely place in this case is Rykacze, a few miles southeast of Zambro~w in Lomza province; there could be other villages with suitable names too small to show up on my maps, but capable of generating surnames. As of 1990 there were 1,159 Poles with the name Rykaczewski, living all over Poland but with the largest numbers in the provinces of Warsaw (93), Lomza (103), Olsztyn (214), and Torun (143), suggesting the name is most common northern and northeastern Poland.

Zbikowski probably comes ultimately from the root z*bik, “wildcat” (I’m using z* stands for the Polish dotted z, pronounced like the s in “measure”), but the -owski again indicates the family was associated with a place named Z*biko~w, Z*bikowo, Z*biki, etc., and those places got their names because there were wildcats around. There are several villages called Z*bik, Z*biki, Z*bikowice, and the surname could have originated in connection with any or all of them. As of 1990 there were 3,522 Poles named Z*bikowski, with the largest numbers in the provinces of Warsaw (598), Ciechanow (536), Ostroleka (229), and Wloclawek (269), suggesting a concentration in central and north central Poland.

Zembrzuski also is probably connected with a place name, of which 2 prime candidates are Zembrzus Wielki (served by the parish church in Czernice Borowe) in Ciechanow prov., and Zembrzus-Mokry Grunt (Janow/Janowo parish), Olsztyn province. There could be other places that qualify, these are the only two I found offhand. The ultimate root of the name is za~br, an illness affecting horses’ gums, or za~brz, “aurochs” (the a~ stands for the Polish nasal vowel written as a with a tail under it and pronounced like on or om before b or p). As of 1990 there were 1,774 Poles named Zembrzuski, with the largest numbers appearing in the provinces of Warsaw (238), Ciechanow (427), Olsztyn (293), and Ostroleka (151), suggesting a concentration in north central and northeastern Poland.

…Also, do you know anything about Przasnysz? It is stated as the birthplace of my great-grandfather.

Only that it’s a town in Ostroleka province that is mentioned in records going back at least to 1244; but I’m afraid I have no more info.

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


To: R P Molski, who wrote:

…I recently started researching my surname of Molski, and was wondering if you have any information on its origin. My great grandfather came from the Lesno, Orlik area about 25 km NNE of Chojnice.

Molski is a moderately common name in Poland. As of 1990 there were 2,003 Polish citizens with this name, living all over Poland, with the largest numbers in the provinces of Bialystok (146), Czestochowa (109), Kalisz (106), Poznan (231), and Warsaw (377). There were 66 Poles by this name in Bydgoszcz province, which includes the Lesno and Orlik region. I don’t see any pattern to the distribution that suggests anything helpful.

The derivation of the name is a bit of a puzzle. The only native Polish root I can find that might be relevant is mo~l, which can mean “moth” and also “trouble, problem.” Either meaning could, I suppose, be connected to the name, but neither seems really convincing. In such cases we often find a connection with a place name, but I can find no place name that seems to fit. So about all I can say is it is a moderately common name, perhaps deriving from the root mo~l. I can’t help feeling there’s more to it than this, but that’s the best I can find.

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


To Phil Ogrod, [email protected], who wrote:

…Do you have any information concerning the surname Ogrodowicz? Can you suggest some references for trying to search our family tree?

The name Ogrodowicz comes from the root ogro~d, “garden.” The suffix -owicz means “son of,” so in this case the name probably started out meaning “son of a gardener.” There are quite a few common surnames in Polish meaning the same basic thing, including Ogrodowczyk, Ogrodniczak, etc.

As of 1990 there were 592 Polish citizens named Ogrodowicz, living all over the country, with the largest numbers in the provinces of Bydgoszcz (53), Kalisz (66), Poznan (76), and Wroclaw (54). I see no particular pattern to the distribution, which is not surprising, because such a name could get started anywhere Polish was spoken and there were gardeners, i. e., all over Poland.

As for references for research, I would start out looking over the various resources mentioned on the Website of the Polish Genealogical Society of America, There’s quite a bit of stuff there that can help a person get started out.

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


To: Ben Ledohowski, [email protected], who wrote:

…If able, please research the name Ledochowski. I’ve been led to believe it’s derived from a former estate in Volhynia.

This is more or less correct. There are two places in what is now Ukraine that seem the likely sources of this surname in most cases. One is Ledo~cho~w, according to the Sl~ownik geograficzny gazetteer “a village (formerly incorporated as a small town) in Krzemieniec county [Krzemieniec is now called Kremenets, in Ternopil’ district of Ukraine); not far from Radziwil~l~o~w, in the direction of Pochajo~w [now Pochayiv]; the seat of the Halka-Ledo~chowski’s of Szatawa coat of arms. There is a Catholic chapel there, served by the parish church in Radziwil~l~o~w.”

The other candidate is Leducho~wka: “a village on a small stream running into the Poltwa, Starokonstantynow county [Starokonstantynow is now Khmel’nitskiy in Ukraine], Teofilpol parish. Has a Catholic chapel. In 1753 Ostrogski gave Leducho~wka to Sapieha as a gift.”

The name Ledo~chowski or Leduchowski could derive from either of these places. Obviously there was a noble family by this name with the Szatawa coat of arms, but I’m afraid I don’t have any further info on them. It’s worth noting that peasant families who were somehow associated with either of these places might also end up with this surname; all Ledochowski’s are not necessarily noble.

As of 1990 there were 104 Poles named Ledo~chowski and 236 named Leduchowski; the difference is minimal, o~ and u are pronounced the same in Polish, so these are basically two different ways of spelling the same name. Here is the breakdown by province on where those folks lived in Poland (but remember, this is in modern Poland – this data tells us nothing about people by this name now living in Ukraine, and I know of no way to get such data).

Ledo~chowski: 104; Warsaw 26, Bydgoszcz 4, Gdansk 31, Kalisz 4, Krakow 3, Legnica 1, Opole 7, Slupsk 5, Szczecin 9, Torun 10, Wroclaw 2

Leduchowski: 236; Warsaw 26, Biala Podlaska 6, Bielsko-Biala 3, Czestochowa 4, Elblag 5, Katowice 19, Kielce 5, Koszalin 9, Lodz 70, Olsztyn 18, Opole 5, Poznan 3, Przemysl 3, Radom 7, Siedlce 2, Skierniewice 38, Tarnobrzeg 6, Torun 2, Walbryzch 2, Wloclawek 2

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


To: Julia Collette, [email protected]

CC: [email protected] (Laurence Krupnak)

Hello Lavrentij and Julia:

Laurence Krupnak sent me a copy of his note, in response to Julia’s questions about the name Krzywosika, writing:

...The name Krivosika may have vulgar meaning or connotations which I do not know. I can say that in Ukrainian language the root word kriv- means “crooked,” like a lame person, not necessarily that a man’s penis is crooked or deformed. “Crooked” in Polish language is krzywy. I believe your grandfather probably received so much locker room joking that he just decided to change his name to Krause.

I read Julia’s note, and might be able to add a little to the discussion.

The root krzyw- in Polish and kryv- in Ukrainian mean the same thing, “crooked,” in a physical sense (not necessarily in a criminal sense, as in English). And the verbs sikac~ in Polish and sykaty in Ukrainian both mean basically “to squirt” and have the vulgar meaning of “to piss”; according to my dictionary, Ukrainian sikaty has a related meaning, “to blow one’s nose,” and sik is “juice, sap.” So whether the name started out meaning that, Polish Krzywosika and Ukrainian Kryvosyka would sound like they meant “crooked-piss,” with all the accompanying speculations about exactly why a person would piss crooked. (I don’t think the Ukr. y and i interaction here is necessarily significant, but the spellings with y are presumably a bit more “correct”). Such names are not uncommon in Polish (or in Ukrainian either, from what I’ve seen). Sometimes I find names with meanings that imply such intimate knowledge of a person’s body or habits that I find myself wondering “How on earth did anyone know enough to give this guy such a name?” Names like these can be terribly cruel (and hilarious, so long as you’re not the one everybody’s laughing at!).

The interesting thing is, I’m not sure the name started out meaning that. In Polish, for instance, there is a name Krzywosz that dates from around 1439; it probably started as a nickname for a person with a deformity, maybe lame or with a crooked limb. Now the thing is, in Polish and to some extent in Ukrainian the suffix -ik is often added to roots to form a name. So the name may have started out as something like Polish Krzywosik, Ukr. Kryvosik, and meant “son of the cripple” – still not a particularly nice name, granted, but not nearly so graphic and vulgar as “crooked piss.” But we see the suffix -a added sometimes to names, so that may be how Kryvosik turned into Kryvosyka, just meaning “of the cripple’s son.” Once that form was around, anyone hearing it would have a tendency to break it down differently, not kryv-os-ik-a but kryvo- +sika.This often happens, a name starts out meaning one thing, but as the centuries pass and people forget what it originally meant, they modify it slightly to something readily comprehensible; or sometimes they give a name a malicious twist just out of meanness.

Either way, I can certainly understand why a man with such a name might get into fights and be glad to change it at the first opportunity. Krause, by the way, is a German name meaning “curly-haired,” but he probably chose it because it had a similar sound but wasn’t so likely to provoke cruel jokes. It’s a shame he got jeered at anyway as a German.

I have no data on Ukr. surname frequency or distribution, but it might be useful to mention that in Poland as of 1990 there were 368 people named Krzywosz, at least 1 named Krzywoszek (data for that name was incomplete), 6 named Krywopust (which offhand looks to me as if it might mean something similar, except maybe dealing with ejaculation rather than urination!), 1 named Krywosl~yk, and 1 named Krywosz (the names with Kryw- rather than Krzyw- are likely to be Ukrainian rather than Polish). There’s a real catalogue of bodily ills, too, names such as Krywoborodenko (crooked beard), Krywohl~awy (crooked head), Krywonis (crooked nose), Kryworuka (crooked hand), Krywoszeja (crooked neck), etc.

I can’t be sure my “cripple’s son” theory is valid, but it is plausible, and I thought it worth mentioning. To a Pole or Ukrainian this name would sound like a rather vulgar but funny nickname, no question — but that doesn’t necessarily mean the name started that way.

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


[Note: this is a follow-up to the notes under POHORYL~O].

To: [email protected], who wrote:

…I spent some time this week at our local town hall – and the first two recordings of this name are as follows: Pochoryl~o (Pochorylo)… Does this spelling of the name change the above? We do believe John Pohorylo was from Przemysl as you indicate above. Also there is a story about how they could not understand him and they wrote down the name Bonhill – at Ellis Island maybe?? It is interesting how names change, huh!?

The ch/h doesn’t necessarily change anything. The Pochor- root could indicate derivation from a root meaning “ill, sick,” but I think the evidence still favors the derivation I mentioned earlier. In Polish h and ch are pronounced exactly the same, so the Ukrainian name Pohorylo could easily be spelled Pochoryl~o by Poles, in fact I’d expect it to be. If there was firm evidence the family had no link with Ukraine I would change my mind, but the link Pohorylo/Pochorylo = Pogorzel- is pretty convincing.

As of 1990 there were 5 Poles named Pochoryl~o, all living in Wroclaw province. There was also a Pochoril~o living in Lodz province. All these are just spelling variants of the same name, pronounced roughly “poe-ho-RI-woe” (that RI would be the sound in “rid,” not a long i as in “ride”).

I’ve heard a lot of stories about names being changed at Ellis Island, but you know, lately I’ve been hearing that that was actually rare. There was paperwork and documentation on the immigrants, ship lists and such, based on documents filled out in Europe, so usually the immigrants survived Ellis Island with their names relatively intact; of course misspellings and misunderstandings happened, but they may have been less rare than most folks think. As you trace the paper trail you may be able to spot the exact point when the name was misunderstood and changed — odds are it happened after Ellis Island, when your ancestors started mixing with Americans who didn’t understand the name’s pronunciation and had no paperwork to refer to.

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


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

…any information on Polish surname Palzewicz, grandfather’s name Stefan Palzewicz, came over on U.S.S. Lincoln about 1901, port of entry New York. Also had brothers 2 died another returned to Poland – Fredryk Palzewicz-but returned to america grandfather lived in East Chicago, Indiana. I have no known relatives other than family in USA. Thanks, Robert Palzewicz

As of 1990 there were 10 Polish citizens named Pal~zewicz (the l~ stands for the Polish l with a slash through it, pronounced like our W); they lived in the provinces of Warsaw (5) and Lodz (5). There were also 18 named Pal~z*ewicz (I’m using z* to represent the z with a dot over it, pronounced like “s” in “measure”); they lived in the provinces of Bydgoszcz (7), Gdansk (3), Katowice (3), and Olsztyn (5). These folks are pretty well spread out, so it doesn’t appear that the name is concentrated in any one area of Poland; and unfortunately I don’t have access to any further data such as first names, addresses.

The root -ewicz means “son of,” so the question is what Palz- means. It might just be an old first name that is no longer used, but I can find no mention of such a root in any of my sources. There is one thought that occurs to me: if Stefan’s papers were filled out in Germany, or there is German influence on the spelling, Palzewicz may be a German-influenced spelling of Polish Palcewicz. The Poles pronounce c as “ts,” and Germans spell that sound as z, so this is possible. Also, “Stefan” can be either Polish or German. All in all, I think it’s at least possible the surname was originally Palcewicz. Not that that’s a common name either — as of 1990 there were 9 Poles by that name, in the provinces of Warsaw (6), Katowice (2), and Wroclaw (1). This appears to come from the root palec, “finger,” so perhaps it was used as a nickname, “son of the Finger.” Poles are very imaginative in the use of nicknames, so it’s hard to say exactly what such a name meant originally.

The Palcewicz connection may not be right, but I thought it was worth mentioning, in case you run into that form during the course of further research. If the root is Palz-, I’m afraid I have no info on it.

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


To: Catherine Harper, [email protected], who wrote:

…When you have a moment I would be most curious as to the origin and meaning of the surname Puchlik. This is my great great grandmother’s maiden name. She was raised in Rutkowszczyzna, Bialystok.

As of 1990 there were only 112 Polish citizens named Puchlik, and 57 of them lived in Bialystok province (there were also 39 in nearby Suwalki province, and a few scattered in other provinces). So this suggests the northeastern part of Poland is definitely the right place to look for Puchliks. According to my sources, Rutkowszczyzna is served by the Catholic parish church at Suchowola in Bialystok province, so that’s where the family probably went to register baptisms, deaths, and marriages.

Puchlik appears to come from a root meaning “to swell, be swollen,” and it seems likely the name began as a nickname or a name derived from a personal trait or characteristic — perhaps an ancestor looked swollen. There is also a root puch meaning “down, feathers,” so it’s not impossible that the name also means “downy, feathery,” perhaps referring to someone’s hair. But that l in Puchl- strongly suggests it does come from the root meaning “swollen,” so that strikes me as the most likely derivation.

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


To Kathy Moynihan, [email protected], who wrote:

…If you have information on the names Dec or Mitus, I would be very pleased to receive it.

Dec is a bit of a problem, when I was working on my surname book I couldn’t find any really good, firm info on it. One scholar mentioned that it was seen sometimes as a kind of short form or nickname for Dyonizy, which is more or less equivalent to our “Dennis.” But there may be other derivations I don’t know about; it wouldn’t take too much for it to derive from some German names, e. g., Dietz, a nickname or short form for the German name Dietrich. (Dec in Polish would be spelled Detz in German, but I don’t think that’s related — apparently Detz was an archaic term for “dung”, so let’s not go there). As of 1990 there were 7,500 Poles named Dec and another 299 named Dec~. With such a common name, there might well be more than one source, and it’s quite reasonable it derives from common first names, so the Dyonizy and Dietrich connections are plausible.

Mitus is the same way, I didn’t find anything that let me really nail it down. As a rule, however, names beginning with Mit- tend to come from nicknames for the first nameDymitr or Dmitri. As of 1990 there were 173 Poles named Mitus~, scattered all over but with the largest numbers living in the provinces of Krakow (27), Nowy Sacz (60) — this suggests it is most common in southcentral Poland. By the way, there is a Polish term mitus~ that means “crosswise,” I don’t know whether that plays a role in this or not.

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


To: Lynn Oborski, [email protected], who wrote:

…Found your really interesting site just surfing for genealogy info on the net. I have just started looking for roots, and am really interested in mine and my husbands polish ancestry. If you have time, could you let me know anything at all about the following: Oborski, which is my husband’s, and Piglowski, also seen written as Peglowski andPiklowski, which is my mom’s maiden name.

The name Oborski comes from the term obora, “cow-shed, barn.” In practice the surname probably indicates a family came from, owned (if noble) or worked as peasants at a village or estate named Obora, Obory, Oborki, something like that (those places, in turn, took their names from the term for “cow-shed”) — and there are several places with those names. As of 1990 there were 1,029 Poles named Oborski, living all over the country, with the largest numbers living in the provinces of Bydgoszcz (57), Kielce (51) Lodz (68), Warsaw (72), and Zielona Gora (59). I don’t see any really helpful pattern to that distribution, which is not surprising because the various places with names beginning inObor- are scattered all over.

It’s hard to say for sure if the proper form of the other name is Piglowski or Peglowski or Piklowski, but I’m going to assume it’s Pigl~owski, that seems the most likely. As of 1990 there were 492 Pigl~owski’s in Poland, with the largest numbers in the provinces of Warsaw (42), Konin (32), Lublin (54), Lodz (48), and Poznan (69)– again, I don’t see any real pattern there. This name might come from a place name such as Pigl~owice in Poznan province, or it might come from the basic root pigl~ac~, “to nurse, care for,” but with -owski surnames you usually want to go with a place name, if there is one that seems suitable. There may be other places with names beginning Pigl~ow-that are too small to show up on maps or in gazetteers yet could have yielded this surname. But Pigl~owice in Poznan province seems a good possibility.

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


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

…I am contacting you from Australia in an endevour to trace the lineage of my surname Oryl. My father was killed some twenty three years ago so I do not have any information to work with apart from the fact that he was from somewhere near Osiek and his name was Stanislaw Oryl. Anything you could offer to answer my question would appreciated.Regards, Mike [email protected] p.s. my mother is a Hoffman.

When I was working on my surnames book, I could not find a reference book with analysis of the origins of Oryl. I did find a Polish term oryl, meaning “raftsman; lout” — in other words, the main meaning is “raftsman,” and apparently a secondary meaning developed later, “uncouth fellow, lout,” presumably because folks came to have a rather low opinion of raftsmen’s manners. While one cannot simply pick a word out of a dictionary and say “There, that’s what it comes from,” there are instances where such terms are plausible sources of surnames, and that’s so in this case. I can find no other source that seems applicable, and occupation-derived surnames are very common in Polish. So we can’t be positive, but it seems a pretty good guess that’s what Oryl means.

As of 1990 there were 561 Poles named Oryl, living all over Poland but with the largest numbers in the provinces of Warsaw (61), Ciechanow (175), Elblag (52), Olsztyn (55), and Torun (40). This seems to indicate northcentral Poland (in its current boundaries, that is) is the area where this name is most common. That’s not too surprising, there are numerous rivers in this region, one would think a good number of people made their livings as raftsmen. Unfortunately, I have no access to more detailed data such as first names, addresses, etc. of those Oryls, the info I give here is all I have.

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


To: Maggie Sanderson, [email protected], who wrote:

…Am trying to learn more about my Polish ancestry and have no living relatives (except younger siblings). My mothers maiden name was Pahucki

Pahucki is probably a variant spelling of Pachucki — in Polish ch and h are pronounced the same, so we often see names spelled either way. Polish surname expert Kazimierz Rymut says names beginning with Pach- can come from the term pacha, “armpit,” or from nicknames for once popular first names such as Pakosl~aw and Pawel~ (= Paul; Pakosl~aw has no English equivalent). Poles often formed nicknames or short forms of names by taking the first couple of sounds, chopping off everything else, and then adding suffixes. Thus there is a name Pachuta seen in records as far back as 1451, and it probably originated that way: pa- + ch- + uta. Pachucki looks like and probably is an adjectival form of that name, meaning basically “kin of Pachuta, folks who came from Pachuta’s place,” something like that. It’s a moderately common surname, as of 1990 there were 1,067 Poles named Pachucki, living all over the country, with the largest numbers living in the provinces of Warsaw (88), Biala Podlaska (80), Lomza (144), and Suwalki (328). This suggests a concentration in northeastern Poland (Lomza and Suwalki provinces).

…My grandmothers maiden name was Blochowiak — I have also seen it spelled Blohoviak.

Blohoviak is just a phonetic spelling of Bl~ochowiak (l~ = the Polish slashed l, pronounced like our w), the latter is the form that matters. There are several ways that name could have originated. It could be from German Bloch, “block”; from a variant of Wl~och, “foreigner”; as a rabbinical surname; or as one of those nicknames of the kind I mentioned above. In this case Poles took such names as Blaz*ej (Blaise) and Bl~ogota (no equivalent), chopped off everything but the Bl-, and added suffixes. In this scenario Bloch- started out as a nickname, the -ow- is a possessive suffix, and -iak usually means “person from, of, son of.” Thus this name might mean “person from Bl~ochowo or Bl~ochy (= ‘Bloch’s place’).” There is a village Bl~ochy in Ostroleka province — the surname might come from that. But it could have originated several other ways, as I said.

These days in Poland Bl~ochowiak is not extremely common, but it’s not rare either — as of 1990 there were 518 Poles by this name. They lived all over the country, but with the largest numbers in the provinces of Bydgoszcz (92), Gdansk (40), Leszno (63), and Poznan (167).

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


To: D. A. Nowakow, who wrote:

…I would like to ask if you know the meaning of two place names: Budzyn and Jaktorowo?

I can’t always answer questions about the meaning of place names, but in this case I believe I can. Both names derive from personal names with the addition of possessive suffixes.

Vol. I of Nazwy Miejscowe Polski [Place Names of Poland], edited by Kazimierz Rymut, covers names beginning with A and B. The name of Budzyn comes from a very old Polish first name, Budza, with the possessive suffix -yn added (after some roots the suffix would be -in, which explains where names ending in -ynski and -inski come from). In modern Polish the verbal root budz- means “to awaken, arouse,” but in archaic Polish it meant “to feel, sense,” so Budza was not a Polish Buddha but rather a name given a son in the hope that he would be sensitive — not in the modern touchy-feely sense, perhaps, but rather “alert, wide-awake, perceptive.” And the village name Budzyn means “of Budza, something belonging to Budza” = “Budza’s place.” The book also mentions that the name could be associated secondarily with the noun budzyn, “shabbiest, worst-built part of a village.”

Unfortunately I don’t have copies of any further volumes of this work (I understand the next volume has only recently been printed and is on its way to me), but I’m still pretty certain that Jaktorowo comes from Jaktor, a variant form of the name Hektor (= Hector in English). J. Bubak’s Ksiega nazych imion [Book of Our First Names] mentions thatJaktor is a form of “Hector” seen in records back as early as 1386; in some Polish dialects there was a predilection to modify certain sounds to Ja-, as seen with Jagnieskzaas a variant of Agnieszka, Jadam instead of Adam, Jagata instead of Agata, Jaracz instead of Horacy, and so forth. So if Jaktor = Hector, the -owo suffix is just a possessive, and Jaktorowo means literally “thing, place belonging to Jaktor (Hector).” Jaktorowo is “Hector’s place,” presumably referring to a noble who owned the area at one time, or a man who founded the village, or a prominent citizen at some point.

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


To: Richard Penc, [email protected], who wrote:

…Having Polish ancestry on both mom’s and dad’s side, I was wondering if your book contains any info on either Penc (dad’s side) and Chowaniec (mom’s side).

My book does mention both names, but I can add a little to what’s in the book. The name Chowaniec (pronounced roughly “hoe-VAHN-yets”) appears in documents from 1628 and comes from the noun chowaniec, which means “adopted child.” As of 1990 there were 2,959 Poles by this name, scattered all over the country but with the largest numbers (over 100) in the provinces of Bielsko-Biala (656), Katowice (458), Krakow (149), Nowy Sacz (699), Opole (122), Tarnobrzeg (109). This suggests that the name is most common in southcentral Poland (the provinces of Bielsko-Biala, Katowice, Krakow, and Nowy Sacz). I’m not sure why it is more common there, perhaps people in other parts of Poland had other words besides chowaniec they preferred to use for “adoptee.”

Penc is not quite so clear-cut, there are several things it might come from but no one really obvious one, and I can’t find any source that really nails it down. The most likely origin is from the word Pe~c (the e~ represents the Polish nasal vowel written as an e with a tail, pronounced very much like en, so that either Penc or Pe~c would be pronounced roughly “pents”). The term pe~c is from a root meaning “splash, smack,” a splashing or smacking sound. The name might also come from a nickname for ancient pagan compound names such as Pe~kosl~aw, or from a root pa~k, meaning “bundle, bunch, bud.” As you can see, there are several words that are close, but none is a direct hit.

As of 1990 there were 204 Poles named Penc, with the largest numbers in the provinces of Poznan (25) and Tarnobrzeg (70) and much smaller numbers in many other provinces. There were only 7 named Pe~c, in the provinces of Katowice (1), Krakow (3), Opole (1), and Wroclaw (2). So this name is not a particular common one, although there are other names presumably from the same roots that are pretty common: Pe~cak (1,666 from a word for hulled barley), Pe~czek (1,535, from a word for “tuft, whisp”), etc.

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


…I’m curious to find out more about my last name, Grzybowski. Someone had actualy showed me an article from the NY Times magazine a few years ago saying the was a park in Warsaw with the same name as my last name. < /

Surnames ending in -owski usually derive from place names ending in -y, -ow, -owo, -owa, and so on. There are at least 17 villages in Poland named Grzybow, Grzybowa, Grzybowo, etc., (probably more too small to show up on maps), and the name Grzybowski originated as a reference to association with any or all of them; it could have meant “family from Grzybow/o etc.,” or it might have referred to a noble family that owned the estate there, peasants who worked on an estate there, a man who traveled there often on business, or so on. It is virtually certain the name was adopted by many different families in many different places… The root of the place name is grzyb, “mushroom,” so all these places got their names because of some association with mushrooms, and the surname just means basically “one associated with the place of the mushrooms.”

When a surname can come from so many places, it is usually pretty common, and that’s the case here: as of 1990 there were 14,498 Polish citizens named Grzybowski, living all over the country.

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


To: Robbie Bronder, [email protected], who wrote:

…I’m researching the Bronder family history, and I have traced the Bronder lineage back to Keltsch, Prussia, which was once part of German Silesia and is now part of Poland. It seems to be an uncommon name, I think it is either German or Austrian in origin. Do you have any information on this surname? Would you happen to know its nationality and meaning? Thanks for your time.

The only info I can find on Bronder is that as of 1990 there were 460 Polish citizens with that name, living in the provinces of Czestochowa (92), Katowice (161), Krakow (2), Opole (201), Poznan (1), Walbrzych (1), Wroclaw (2). These are areas with large German populations, and the name does sound German to me, but neither George F. Jones nor Hans Bahlow mentions it in their books on German surnames.

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


To: Catherine Harper, [email protected], who wrote:

…The surnames I have are Bugno and Moizuk and Judicky(sp).

Bugno probably comes from the root bug-, “bend, curve,” especially in a river. The most obvious case of this is the name of the Bug River, part of the eastern border of modern Poland. Bugno might mean an ancestor lived by a bend in a river, something like that. As of 1990 there were 651 Poles with this name, living all over but with the largest numbers in the provinces of Katowice (89), Krakow (33), Lodz (31), Nowy Sacz (160), Opole (30), and Tarnow (82) — so the largest numbers are in southcentral and southeastern Poland.

Judycki (the standard spelling in Polish) looks like an adjectival form of the name Judyta = our “Judith.” So Judycki might refer to an association with a person named Judith or a place name for her. It might also refer to Juda, “Jew” (actually that’s all Judith originally meant, “Jewess”). As of 1990 there were 578 Poles named Judycki, with the largest numbers living in the provinces of Warsaw (54), Bialystok (48), Katowice (41), Olsztyn (34), Pila (40), Suwalki (99) — mostly in the northern and especially northeastern part of Poland.

I could not find Moizuk, but it is very likely that is a variant spelling of Mojz*uk (I’m using z* to stand for the z with a dot over it, pronounced like the “s” in “measure”). This name comes from the name Mojzesz, “Moses,” and is an Eastern-Polish form meaning basically “son of Moses.” This might suggest Jewish ancestry, but doesn’t have to — in medieval times the name Moses was used by both Christians and Jews, it wasn’t until later that the name came to be associated exclusively with Jews. As of 1990 there were 105 Poles named Mojz*uk, living in the following provinces: Warsaw 9, Bialystok 24, Lomza 4, Olsztyn 7, Sieradz 4, Suwalki 46, Szczecin 3, Walbrzych 1, Wroclaw 5, Zielona Gora 1.

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


To: [email protected] (raymond reno), who wrote:

…My great-grandfather was Piotr Juszkowski and his wife was Julia Danielewski. He found under Wilhelm I in the German Army. He was born in 1861 in West Prussia in a town named Logewnik (?)… We know that he left from the port of Bremen in January 1888 for America and ended up eventually in Detroit, Michigan area where he raised his family. Have you seen this name before? What might it mean? Do you know of a town named Logewnik or something like that in Prussia? I can’t find anything. He was definitely of Polish descent.

I have seen the name Juszkowski before. The root of names with Juszk- derives from the first names Juszka (seen in records as early as 1388) and Juszko (1368), which in turn originated as nicknames for such common first names as Justyn, Julian, Jozef, etc., much as “Joe” or “Joey” is formed from “Joseph” in English.

More directly, surnames ending in -owski usually refer to an association with a place name ending in -i or -ow/-owo. There are two or three places that might be relevant in this case: there’s a village Juszki, south of Koscierzyna in Gdansk prov.; a village Juszkowo, some 15 km. south of Gdansk; and a Juszkowy-Grod in Bialystok prov. Since your ancestors came from West Prussia, odds are the places in Gdansk province are relevant (although you can never rule anything out on such slim evidence). In any case, the surname Juszkowski means “associated with a place called Juszki or Juszkowo,” and the place name means “place of Juszka or Juszko.”

As of 1990 there were 79 Polish citizens named Juszkowski, living in the following provinces: Warsaw (9), Ciechanow (23), Elblag (3), Leszno (11), Lublin (1), Lomza (8), Lodz (1), Slupsk (9), Szczecin (9), Torun (3), and Wroclaw (2). Unfortunately I have no further details such as first names or addresses (people always ask, and this is all the data I have access to). If your ancestors came from West Prussia, the Juszkowski’s living in Slupsk, Szczecin, and Torun provinces are the ones most likely to be related.

Logewnik seems to me a slight distortion of L~agiewniki (l~ stands for the Polish slashed l, pronounced like our w, so that the name is pronounced roughly “wag-yev-NEE-kee”). This is a term for residents of settlements occupied mainly with making l~agwi, wooden or leather containers for liquids used before glass-making became widespread. Unfortunately, the fact that this is a reasonably common term means there were quite a few places with this name, at least 16 in my atlas of Poland.

However, I see only two in territory that might have been considered “West Prussia” (always assuming we’re not dealing with a place too small to show up on maps or in gazetteers). One, called Elvershagen by the Germans, is in Szczecin province, maybe 5 km. southeast of Resko; technically it was in Pomerania, but could easily have been regarded as West Prussia. The other is 1-2 km. south of Kruszwica in Bydgoszcz province, more in Provinz Posen than West Prussia, but the boundaries varied and it might well have been regarded as West Prussia, at least at one time. The parish church serving Catholics in that area was in Kruszwica. You might consider getting its records on loan from the LDS Family History Library and looking through them, to see if there are any Juszkowskis who match up — it’s a bit of a long shot, but better than nothing. Of course, if your Juszkowskis weren’t Catholic, that may not be much help.

For further help you might want to contact the Polish Genealogical Society of Michigan at this address: PGS of Michigan, c/o Burton Historical Collection, Detroit Public Library, 5201 Woodward Ave., Detroit, MI 48202. A lot of people with roots in Michigan have found the PGS-MI most helpful.

A long-shot that might be worth a look is the Kashubian Association of North America (KANA c/o Blanche Krbechek, 2041 Orkla Drive, Minneapolis, MN 55427-2439). They’re supposed to have a name list on their Web site:

I’d try them because if your folks came from West Prussia, there is a halfway decent chance they may have been members of the Kaszub ethnic group, and if they are the KANA might prove very helpful.

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