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Modrzejewski - Modrzewski
Created by Administrator Account in 2/8/2010 12:25:45 PM

 


Would the surnames Modrzejewski and Modrzewski be the same regarding origin and meaning? If not can you tell me about Modrzejewski please?

The answer "by the book" is that these aren't the same surnames. Modrzewski sounds like "mo-JEFF-skee," whereas Modrzejewski sounds like "mo-jay-EFF-skee." I should add that in everyday talk there's a tendency to drop the "ff" sound spelled W in names with the endings -ewski and -owski, so that Modrzewski would often sound more like "mo-JESS-kee" (which Poles would spell phonetically Modrzeski), and Modrzejewski would sound more like "mo-jay-ESS-kee" (Modrzejeski). Both would almost certainly refer to the name of a place the family came from at some point centuries ago. Modrzewski would point toward a place with a name Modrze or Modrzew or Modrzewek or Modrzewie; Modrzejewski would point toward a Modrzejewo or Modrzejowice.

Unfortunately, there are a number of places by all those names I mentioned, so only research into a specific family might uncover info that will clarify exactly which place they came from. Just from the surname there's no way to tell whether a given Modrzewski family came from this village or that village (there are at least 8 with names Modrzew, Modrzewo, Modrzewie, etc.). And there are at least two places Modrejewski could refer to, Modrzejewo and Modrzejowice. That's not counting smaller places that may exist but don't show up on my maps.

But as I say, if we go by the book, the names are distinct, referring to different places of origin, and in theory should not be confused.

The way things are on planet Earth, however, people don't always go by the book. Obviously these two names sound similar and are related semantically. It's not at all unlikely that people might slur the pronunciation of Modrzejewski to where it was easily confused with Modrzewski. A good illustration is the fact the famous Polish actress Helena Modrzejewska spelled her name Mojeska and Modjeska when she came to the United States. She realized Americans had trouble spelling and pronouncing it, so she changed to a form that more closely resembled the way it sounded, in terms of English phonetics. Strictly speaking "Mojeska" would be spelled phonetically Modrzeska (or properly, Modrzewska) by Poles, which is not the same as her real name. But the point is, the way people pronounced her name, it sounded a lot like Mojeska or Modrze[w]ska.

So the two names should be distinct. But in plain everyday talk, they are easily confused.

As of 1990, according to the best data available (the Slownik nazwisk wspolczesnie w Polsce uzywanych, "Directory of Surnames in Current Use in Poland," which covers about 94% of the population of Poland), there were 4,873 Polish citizens named Modrzejewski (which includes females named Modrzejewska). They lived all over the country, with the largest numbers in the following provinces: Bydgoszcz 553, Gdansk 282, Lodz 341, Poznan 275, and Wloclawek 586. This indicates the name is most common in central to western Poland. Unfortunately I don't have access to further details such as first names or addresses, so I can't tell you how to find that info.

As of 1990 there were 880 Poles named Modrzewski (and Modrzewska), so it's a less common name. The largest numbers lived in these provinces: Warsaw 110, Biala Podlaska 89, Elblag 65, and Olsztyn 103. So it's more common in northeastern and eastern Poland. But both names are found all over the country.

Copyright © 2002 W.F. Hoffman. All rights reserved. Used by permission.

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