Polish names are sometimes a mouthful, difficult to pronounce and confusing for English speakers. An ethnic name would mark a person as different. As immigrants and their children tried to assimilate into American culture, many original ethnic names were modified or altered.
Name changes became a challenge in researching my own family history, when I learned that both of my grandfather’s brothers and their offspring used the family name Warner instead of their birth name of Maciejewski. I recently asked several Warner descendants how their family name changed from Maciejewski to Warner, and they did not know. In the twenty-first century, some were not even aware that the ancestral family name had been Maciejewski!
My grandfather, Antoni Maciejewski, was just a baby in 1883 when he came to America with his parents, Jan and Weronika Lewandowska Maciejewski. The family lived on Townsend Street in Buffalo, and the births of Konstanty, Wicktoria, Marya, Anna, and Ludwik followed. I found the children’s baptismal records in the registers of St. Stanislaus RC Church in Buffalo, New York. However, I did not find their births recorded in civil records for the state of New York or the city of Buffalo.
Ludwik Maciejewski used the name Louis Warner in the 1930s. While his legal name was still Louis Maciejewski on his death certificate and records when he died in 1938, his widow and sons used the name Warner on official documents.
In Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy (1878), one of the main characters is Konstantin “Kostya” Levin. I began looking at nicknames for the name Konstanty. Noted Polish researcher William “Fred” Hoffman identifies Kostka as “a name meaning ‘little bone,’ which can mean ‘dice’ or ‘ankle’ or any small bone, or –probably more often — from a diminutive of the name Konstanty, ‘Constantine.’” In the book First Names of the Polish Commonwealth: Origins and Meanings, by William F. Hoffman and George W. Helon (Polish Genealogical Society of America, 1998), other diminutives for Konstanty are Kost, Kostek, and Kostuś.
One can imagine Konstanty being called “Kostka” or “Kostek” or a variation as a child. If the k sound is voiced (the vocal cords vibrate), it would sound something like “Gustka” or “Gustek.” When he became older, he likely preferred it shortened to “Gust.” When he identified himself as Gust, people assumed it meant Gustav, as in the 1910 census, or August, as in other documents. There is more about the relationships between the names Constantine and Gus, and Gus and the Polish name August, in Mike Campbell’s “Behind the Name” database at http://www.behindthename.com/name/constantine, http://www.behindthename.com/name/gus-2, http://www.behindthename.com/name/gus-1, http://www.behindthename.com/name/august.
In 1913, when Konstanty and Mary‘s son Daniel Maciejewski was born, he was given the middle initial K. presumably after his father’s first name. Daniel was a pretty baby. His picture was featured in the Buffalo Courier for the week ending September 28, 1913.
In the 1915 New York State census, Konstanty and Maria lived at 301 Mills Street with their sons Daniel and Alojzy. Unfortunately, Alojzy Maciejewski died in 1917, and was not included with the family in the 1920 census.
The family moved to 116 Ivy Street between 1920 and 1925, and Konstanty and Mary Maciejewski are listed at that address for the 1925, 1930, and 1940 censuses.
While government documents recorded the family name as Maciejewski until 1940, Aug Warner is identified at 116 Ivy Street in the Buffalo city directories as early as 1926.
Aug C (Mary) Warner is the entry in 1931 at the same address.
In 1940, August Warner made his name official, with a birth certificate signed by his mother Veronica. She was in her nineties, and lived on Briscoe with her daughter. While usually a midwife or physician signed birth certificates, no one could deny that his mother was present at her son’s birth!
Interestingly, as his father began to use the first name August instead of Konstanty, Daniel used the middle initial A. (for August) instead of K. (for Konstanty). Daniel’s son is also Daniel A. Warner, as is his son, with three generations named Daniel August Warner!