Created by Administrator Account in 10/18/2009 7:24:54 AM


... I am searching my family's Czyzewski name and have come across a town by the name of Czyzew on a library map of Poland. (It looks like it is about 60 miles southwest of Białystok, between Sokoly and Kossow.) Now it just seems too simple to suspect that my family was 'from the town of Czyzew' and hence are named Czyzewski ! And please - stop me before I go to far with this too, too simple explanation of my name's derivation !

At this point you're probably saying (or should be saying), "Oh, hell, here comes Mr. Know-it-all to spoil my fun." I don't really mean to be constantly complicating things, but sometimes the answer isn't simple, and I'd be a liar if I said it was.

The good news is, yes, it can be just that simple: Czyżewski can, and often does, mean "person from Czyżew."
The bad news is, not only is there more than one Czyżew, but this name might also be "person from Czyżewo" or even "person from Czyżów or Czyżówka." When Poles add a suffix such as -ski to a place name, it is customary for final vowels to drop off; so a name -owski or -ewski can, in theory, come from places ending in -ow, -owo, -owa, -ew, -ewo, and so on. And in older Polish even suffixes such as -owice and -owiec and -owka often simplified to -ow- before adding -ski. Furthermore, names that are plural forms and end in -e, -y, and -i can also sometimes generate adjectival forms ending in -owski or -ewski. (I'm not even going to get into the whole question of when it's -owski and when it's -ewski, unless of course you want to read a dissertation on the significance of hard and soft consonants, orthographic representation of palatalization, and so on)... The bottom line is, Czyżewski may come most often from "Czyżew" or "Czyżewo," but there are other possibilities we really can't rule out.

And I'm afraid several different places exist with all those names that could yield the surname Czyzewski. There isn't just one Czyzew; the Euro-Reiseatlas Polen shows one in Konin province and one in Płock province, as well as a whole cluster of places in Łomża province with double names (Czyzew-Osada, Czyzew-Siedliska, etc.) -- if I'm not mistaken, one of these is the one you found, probably Czyzew-Osada, the largest. The Slownik geograficzny gazetteer also mentions a couple of places named Czyzewo. And there are several Czyzow's, Czyzowice's, Czyzowka's, and so on.

I'm not trying to make you give up in disgust here. I'm just trying to make the point that folks can't say, "My name's So-and-So, where did my ancestors come from in Poland?" The vast majority of the time there are too many possibilities. But if you've done some research and say "I'm researching Czyzewski's who came from the area southwest of Białystok," then all of a sudden we can ignore a lot of those other places: there is a place with the right name in the right area, odds are good it's the right one. Most surnames don't offer enough clues to let you zoom right in on the correct spot. They're not like a treasure map -- but they can be the X that marks the spot on the treasure map. The key is to get enough info to let you focus on a specific area, rather than having to comb through all of Poland and deal with a dozen different places that all have the right name.

... Does the town of Czyzew have many people named Czyzewski ?) ...

That's an interesting question, too, and I don't know the answer. But think of it this way. Surnames arose as a way to distinguish people -- so what good would it do if everybody in Czyzew started calling himself Czyzewski? That's like everybody in Houston taking the surname Houston. I'm sure there are some folks named Czyzewski in Czyzew and Czyzewo (etc.), but common sense suggests a name like this wouldn't be much good until after you left Czyzew. If your ancestor was born in Czyzew but moved to, say, Sokoly, then it would make perfect sense for the locals to call him "Czyzewski -- the guy from Czyzew" ... That's what common sense says. But it doesn't always work out that way.

Thanks for asking some very interesting questions, and I hope my explanations haven't just confused you worse!

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