Genealogy: Library Article

Names: A Logic for Understanding
by Stefan Wisniowski

04 November 2001

In doing genealogy, sooner or later, the desire comes to learn something more about the origin of a name. An excellent source for this is the book, "Polish Surnames: Origin and Meaning" written by William "Fred" Hoffman. The following is my logical explanation of some Polish names and of the problem with looking for "translations" of them and of trying to work back from names adopted in the US such as "Charlie" to the "Polish translation" (which by the way would be Karol).

Biblical Names.....

    "Jasio" is pronounced YASHO and is short for Jan (which means John).

    • Other short names are "Janek" (YANEK) & "Jas'" (YASH).
    • Other versions are "Jean" (French), "Johann" (German) and "Giovanni" (Italian).

    "Jasia" is pronounced YASHA and is short for Janina (which means Jean).

    • Also a short name is "Janka".
    • Other versions are "Jeanne" (French), "Johanna" (German) and "Giovanna" (Italian).

    These names have "same as" versions in English and other European languages due to common origins in the Bible, perhaps spread around through Latin by the church.

Slavic names.....

    "Stasio" is pronounced STASHO and is short for Stanislaw (which is close to Stanley, but does not have the same origin).

    • Also a short name is "Staszek".

    "Stasia" is pronounced STASHA and is short for Stanislawa (which is close to Stella, but does not have the same origin).

    • Also a short name is "Staszka".

    Names ending with "slaw", pronounced "SWAV" (and "slawa" for girls) are Slavic in origin (how surprising is that?) and the ending means "glory" or "praise". The first half of the name is the thing they are glorifying.

      Some examples:

      Stanislaw = STAN = state

      Bronislaw = BRON = weapon

      Mieczyslaw = MIECZ = sword

      Boguslaw = BÓG = God

      Miroslaw = MIR = peace

    Another "common" Slavic name is Zbigniew (my dad's), which means ZBI "conquer" GNIEW "anger".

    These names all sound pretty dramatic, don't they? They pop up all around Eastern Europe.

    These names tend not to have "same as" versions in English and other European languages because they did not originate in the Bible, although they have latinized versions often used in translations but hardly ever used in real life (eg, Stanislaus, Boleslaus, and perhaps most famously "Good King Wenceslaus).

People trying to find "official translations" of these names into English sometimes run into trouble because they are not like the names in the Bible that got translated from a common (eg, Latin) source. The closest thing they can get to a "translation" is by tracking down what was most often done by people with names the locals could not pronounce or understand. Again, this is no guarantee that any specific relative with that Slavic name would have done the same thing!


Stefan (same as "Stephen") Wisniowski

Author's Email: Stefan Wisniowski

Related subjects:

  1. A Forgotten Odyssey - Stefan Wisniowski
  2. Kresy-Siberia Discussion Group - Member
  3. Learning/Polish Language Tools/Meaning of Names

This article appears here with the permission of the author.


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