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Discusion on surnames

I have taken this topic up because many of beginners in genealogy can have some problems with localization exact person. The reason is only that there was a mistake or change in a way of writing surname.

While looking through some church books some people and I too meet this small big trouble.

During my genealogy research I met a few reasons of this phenomenon, common from the end of 17 century to the end of 19 century.

The simple example of this can be a lack of some diacritic marks. The priests very often were writing the names without using dots and other special marks which changed completely phonetic of the surname.

Górski → Gorski, Łódzki → Lodzki, Dąbrowski → Dabrowski, etc.

There have also been common changes of these letters to their phonetic form.

Dąbrowski → Dombrowski, Więckowski → Wienckowski, etc.

During many years and turbulent historic events, Poland and Pomeranian pass through many hands so there were also changing the officers and the priests. We had just had German and Russian occupation, time of the Independent Poland, wars and political quarrels
All of that influenced the person and the way our surname was written.

In particular Pomerania has been on a strong German influence
So there has appeared an important reason of different way of writing the surnames – the priests were German.

The good example of that can be a common name Szulc.

SZULC → SCHULZ → SZULTZ SULZ , and less known form - SCHULTZA

It was the same with others surname for instance MULLER.

Having German-speaking clergymen there also has existed a problem of writing typical Polish surnames. It was because the Polish signs have not existed in German spelling so as a result it has been changed to German equivalent. From this reason some surnames has been changed to their phonetical form.

Waszkowski → Waschkowski, Wolnicki → Wolnitzki, itd.

The other common reason of this problem was that there was a small number of names for giving the children. As it is widely known there could be even 13-15 children in the family.

So how to name the 7th boy if there was only Jan, Maciej, Wawrzyniec, Wojciech or Jakub names for choice in 18 century.

So fathers decided to solve this problem by adding ending as "-ski" or -"cki" to their surname.



Of course using of the ending could be alternate, grandfather was named Wróbel, his son Wróblewski and his grandson again Wróbel.

Changes of surnames was also the results of other factors depending on the priest.

In church books we can observe clearly changes in character of priest's writing when he was for instance ill. The variety of suranames written by different influences is a meaningful.

German surnames can be a good example for that: Schultz, Bold, Mejer, Muller, Neumann, Kreft, etc.

It also depended on the father education, his history or background and if he was literate or not.

There was also problems with understanding or slip of the tongue. It leaded to small minor but very important changes in surname spelling eg:

Liczmański → Niczmański, Hersztowski → Hersztopski, Wysocki → Wisocki

Above changes could also have been made to distinguish two families where the heads of the family were brothers. Having small choice of names and a small number of villagers, brothers wanted to associate their children with exact father. 

While looking for our surname we have in mind that there are also mistakes in reading names by indexing person. Main basic mistakes and changes are illustrate below:

a → o , n → u , w → m , h → k , j → y , ł → t

So we as genealogists cannot stop at looking for exact forms of our surnames as I experienced during my adventure of looking for my roots

There was a lot of factors which influenced on the way how my grandfather was named. Despite mu surname is Wysocki – he was Wisotzki.

I hope that this short article will close the problematic and the characteristic of this topic.

by Michał Wysocki



Translated by Grzegorz Brzoskowski