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Mojsiewicz - Onychimowicz
Created by Administrator Account in 10/21/2009 5:10:12 AM

 


...I am trying to find the origins of my family name Mojsiewicz [from the region of Nowogrodek] and to determine whether the Jewish connotations of this name would indicate that the family converted at some time to Catholicism. It has been suggested to me that the name has its roots further eastwards towards Armenia but I'm not sure of the thinking behind this.

Mojsiewicz is probably from Ukraine or Belarus, since "Mojsiej" is the form of the name "Moses" in the East Slavic languages, while "Mojzesz" is the Polish form. So it's probably of Russian, Ukrainian, or Belarusian origin. What's most likely is that the family came from one of the East Slavic countries, and the name was probably written in Cyrillic, but at some point it came to be written by Poles and thus the Polish spelling -ewicz added to the not-so-Polish first part ... Mojsiewicz was the name of some 281 Poles as of 1990, with the largest numbers in the provinces of Gdansk (25), Koszalin (31), Olsztyn (25), Slupsk (33), Szczecin and (48). That's a long way from Ukraine, but we can probably thank World War II and all the forced relocations after it for that -- I'll bet before the war these names showed up mostly in eastern Poland... In the last century or two names from forms of "Moses" tend to be associated primarily with Jews, so one would expect the family to have been Jewish at one point, although from what you say it sounds as if your family must have converted to Christianity. But since Jews in Eastern Europe generally did not take surnames until the 1800's, this would suggest the family must have converted within the last 150 years.

As for place of origin, Armenia seems unlikely. The suffix -ewicz (Polish spelling) or -evich (Russian, Belarusian spelling) or -evych (Ukrainian spelling) is Slavic, and the Armenians aren't Slavs. That doesn't mean a family by that name might not have been in Armenia for a while; but I think we're fairly safe saying the name is not of Armenian linguistic origin.

...Secondly I am interested in the name Onychimowicz [from the same region] - some genpollers thought the origins may be Greek Orthodox.

Onychimowicz and Onichimowicz don't appear in the surname directory, but we do see Onichimiuk (that -iuk ending is very much East Slavic!) borne by 183 Poles, and Onichimowski (142), and numerous names from the Onisk- root, e. g. Onisk (393), Oniszczuk (1,222), Oniszko (204), Onyszczuk (259), Onyszko (473), etc. So this particular form is rare in Poland these days, but you can probably find something very similar in Ukraine.

This name means "son of Onychim" (for our purposes -owicz and -ewicz may be regarded as identical) and the Greek Orthodox theory is probably right. There's a Ukrainian name Onysim (from a Greek term meaning "useful, advantageous"), and I'm fairly certain Onychim is a variant of it (the guttural sound of ch often gets switched around with other sounds). So this is almost certainly a name of Ukrainian origin (if it were Belarusian the o would probably have become an a, Anychim). I can't seem to find any source that confirms this, but I've run into this name often enough to feel fairly certain I'm right.

... I have read in Rymut that the surnames Mojsiewicz and Mosiewicz are of a different root - do you think this is absolute or are there any circumstances under which the two names may have been confused or amalgamated [i.e. by Russian officials]?

You never say "never" with surnames, and certainly names with Mos- sometimes derive from various forms of the name "Moses," just as they can come from other sources. I will say this: it's dangerous placing too much emphasis on a single letter in any name, but that j in Mojsiewicz really does increase the odds that that name is from "Moses." It's not absolute, and certainly the names could have been confused.

The problem is, however, that you can only put so much weight on linguistic analysis before it snaps. One solid fact is enough to topple the most sophisticated analysis, and accidents happen -- one tired clerk writing a J when he didn't mean to can confuse even the best onomastics expert! If you trace the family back by the difficult and tiresome process of genealogical research, analysis of the name can often help confirm ideas about its origin; but analysis of the name seldom gives you anything solid enough to take you where you want to go without research.

Having said all that, however, in most cases I've found that if a letter like that J persists, it usually is a reliable indicator.

In a later note Kristin gave some additional info:

...as we have a photo of a document from 1680 naming a Danilo Mojsiewicz Onychimowicz, but the crest of arms on this document have been identified as the Mosiewicz emblem (Topacz herbu). Which leads me to all this confusion....

This additional info definitely changes things! It is very hard for me to imagine that this Danilo (a Ukrainian form of the name "Daniel") could have been a noble in 1680 if he were a Jew! Jews were ennobled sometimes, mainly if they provided major financial support for kings or other big-wigs in money trouble -- but such cases were rare. Also, I can't imagine Onychimowicz as a Jewish name -- it almost certainly means he was Greek Catholic or Orthodox. So Mojsiewicz, there, is highly unlikely to be Jewish; it may still mean "son of Moses" but dating from a time before the name Mojsiej became so strongly associated with Jews. I found one source that says before the 18th century Mojzesz (or Mojsiej) was a name used by Christians and Jews, only after then did it come to be almost exclusively associated with Jews. I also found a source that cites legal records from 1437, 1472, and 1493 which mention farmers named Mojsiej living in Ukraine and Lithuania. In that time and place it would be pretty unusual to find a Jew who owned land in Ukraine and farmed it -- it's not impossible, but it would be rare!!!

So if we're talking that kind of time frame, Mojsiewicz could mean "son of Moses" and refer to a Christian. "Danilo" could be Christian or Jewish, but Onychimowicz is almost certainly Ukrainian Christian, perhaps Orthodox, perhaps Greek Catholic. (I don't often deal with people who have records back to 1680, which is why I generally view things from a time-frame of 18th century on unless something tells me otherwise.)

But that still leaves the question of the Mosiewicz emblem and the Mojsiewicz name. There just isn't enough info to justify a conclusion. There are other, non-Jewish names Mojsiewicz or Mosiewicz could come from, including the old pagan compound name Mojslaw (literally "my fame") -- as I believe you noted, Rymut specifically mentions that names in Mosi- and Mosz- could have arisen as short forms or nicknames from that name, and if so Mojsiewicz and Mosiewicz may merely be variant of the same name, "son of Mojslaw." It is not all uncommon to see different spellings of the same name, in that context the presence or absence of that J would not necessarily mean much. So that theory is tenable; but so is the "Mojsiej" = Moses theory.

In any case, I think the added info you cited makes it extremely unlikely that Danilo was Jewish. That info strongly suggests the name derived either from one of those ancient Slavic compound names, such as Mojmir or Mojslaw, or from the East Slavic form of "Moses" dating from a time when that name was still widely used by Christians.

Thanks for telling me more, it certainly made a difference!

Copyright © 1998 W.F. Hoffman. All rights reserved. Used by Permission.

 

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