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Ciżewski - Czyżewski - Pionek
Created by Administrator Account in 7/1/2010 12:36:15 PM

 


...My family has an obscure last name, as far as we can tell, anyway. My fathers parents names were Cizeski and Pionek, the latter being our family name. As far as we can tell it means "chess pawn." Would you have any clue as to where it may originate or if it were chosen upon entry into the states?

Cizeski is almost certainly a variant of Cizewski, which in turn appears to be a different spelling of Czyzewski; all three names are usually spelled with a dot over that middle z (ż), and they are all pronounced roughly "chee-ZHEFF-skee" ("ZH" = the sound of "s" in "pleasure"). In many parts of Poland that -w- right before -ski is pronounced very lightly or even dropped, so it's not unusual to see names spelled without it, even though by "proper" Polish it should be there: Dombroski vs. Dombrowski, Janoski vs. Janowski, etc. So Cizeski is probably just a slightly different form of Cizewski, which is a less common way of spelling Czyzewski.

As of 1990 there was no listing of anyone in Poland named Cizeski, but that's probably because the advent of universal literacy has caused the name to be "corrected" and standardized with the -w- intact. By comparison, there were 237 Poles named Cizewski, but there were 10,543 named Czyżewski, so you can see that's a popular name. The "correct" spelling would be Czyżewski, but some still spell it Ciżewski, and historically some pronounced it Cizeski (some probably still do), which is how that spelling came to appear in writing... The 237 Cizewski's lived all over Poland, but by far the largest number, 67, lived in the province of Białystok in northeastern Poland. Czyzewski's, on the other hand, are common all over the country.

The ultimate root is czyz, "green finch, siskin" (a kind of bird), but Cizeski or Cizewski or Czyżewski are all adjectives most likely formed from the names of villages Czyżew or Czyżewo; the surnames mean basically "one from Czyżew or Czyżewo," and those place names, in turn, mean "place of the green finch." There are a number of places named Czyżew and Czyżewo, including several in what is now Łomża province. There are also a number of places named Czyżów, and that place name, too, could also generate the surname Czyżewski. So I can't point to any one place and say "That's the one your Cizeski's came from"; there are too many possibilities, and no good reason to favor one over the other.

I should add, just to be complete, that Cizeski might also come from Ciszewski, which is also a surname derived from a place name. From a phonetic standpoint that is also possible. But I would think the link with Czyżewski from czyz is more likely to be the right one, in most cases.

Pionek does appear to come from the word meaning "pawn," although a similar word used in dialect means "potato." I'm not sure exactly how it came to be used as a name, but I'm continually surprised when I learn how creative people can be when it comes to giving names; so just because the meaning of a name isn't obvious to us doesn't mean it wasn't obvious to those who originally gave or received it.

The name Pionek itself is rather rare in Poland these days; as of 1990 there were only 13 people with that name, living in the provinces of Warsaw (2), Katowice (4), Opole (1), and Szczecin (6). (Unfortunately, I don't have access to any further details, such as first names or addresses). Pionka (441) and Pionke (351) are more common.

Copyright © 2000 W.F. Hoffman. All rights reserved. Used by permission.

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