Discovering our Ancestors' Travels and Travails

Traditionally birth first, middle, and last names are used exclusively in genealogy reports, to make it clear that it’s the same person throughout their lifetime. But people often used different names in different languages and different milieus at different times, and I have tried to reflect these changed names in the context of the records being referenced in each entry here.

For example, the Polish name Jan (pronounced “Yon”) was Johann in German records, Johannes in Latin records, and John in English records, and he was probably called something else by close friends and family. Polish Wikipedia lists “Han, Hanek, Haniek, Hanisz, Hanus, Iwan, Iwasz, Jach, Jachu, Janczy, Janek, Janiec, Janicek, Janik, Janisław, Jano, Janek, Janko, Janosik, Jasiek, Jaszko, Jaś, Jaśko, Jasio, Jasiu, Janusz, and Jasz” as alternatives and nicknames for Jan!

In the Polish language, words change according to their use in a sentence, and the same is true of names. Whether nouns or adjectives, they must be the correct gender, number, and case. Therefore, it is not unusual to see the same person or family name listed up to a dozen different ways. It can get complicated, but an overview can be found in in the Wikipedia entry Polish Name.

In this blog, I usually refer to a person’s name as it was recorded for events. At birth, most children received their father’s last name. After marriage, most women would use their husband’s surname. Although very common, it was not universal, especially if there was a discrepancy in rank or position between the spouses.

Often names would change over time. Our Polish ancestors gave their children Polish names, but as they and their offspring became assimilated, the names would become more English sounding. Some Polish names have no English equivalent, such as the masculine Czesław, Stanisław, and Władysław, and the feminine Czesława, Stanisława, and Władysława. Czesław might be called Chester or Chet in English. Polish diminutives for Stanisław include Stach, Stan, Stańko, Staś, Stasio, Stasiu, Stasiek, and Staszek, but he might also be called by the English name Stanley. Władysław could be called by the Latin form Ladislaus, although many Americanized their name to Walter. The feminine Stanisława has traditionally had the Polish nicknames Staś and Stasia but in English could be Stacia or Stella or even Estelle. The Polish Władysława would often be called Lottie or Charlotte in English.

In the Maciejewski family, Konstanty (Constantine in English) was probably called by the diminutive Kóst, pronounced “Koost,” which became the nickname Gust, which became Gustav and August. Baptized Wiktorya, Victoria was called first Dorota and then Dorothy. Marya Magdalena was Maria, Mary, and Marie in the records. The Polish name Anna was recorded both as Ann, as it was in her Social Security record, and Anne, as it was on her tombstone. Ludwik was translated to the English Louis.

In my own family, my sister Donna has used the same name all her life, but my sister Marcia prefers to be called Macy, a reference to both her first and last birth names! I see how Maciejewski could become Mack, but no one has told me how Maciejewski became Warner. Even Szczepański became simplified to Sczepanski in some branches of the family.

Differences in names are challenging both for the reader and the researcher! If you have any questions or comments, please feel free to add them below.

Comments on: "What’s With the Names?" (3)

  1. Thank you for including my name as Macy in your genealogy research and findings. I’ve been Macy since college nearly 30 years ago!


  2. […] ancestors were Polish and spoke the Polish language, I use their Polish names as primary, and list other names they used in my […]


  3. […] reclaim this heritage. Our Polish ancestors had and gave their children Polish names. I include the other names they used throughout their lifetimes, but in using their Polish names as primary, I honor our Polish immigrant ancestors and the […]


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