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Obuchowicz - Świtalski
Created by Administrator Account in 7/1/2010 2:45:09 PM

 


...I would be very interested in information on both my paternal (Switalski) and maternal (Obuchowicz) surnames. My father's family lived in Tuchola, and my mother's near Gdansk. I notice the Switalski is a fairly common name on North America with a few listings in every major city in North America. My mother's surname does not appear to be as common. I remember being told as a child that it had some inference that it may mean "from the city of....".

According to Polish name expert Prof. Kazimierz Rymut, Obuchowicz comes from obuch, "ax-head, battle-ax," plus the suffix  -owicz, which usually means "son of." It would seem Obuch could have been used as a kind of nickname, perhaps for someone who used this weapon well in battle, and his offspring were referred to as "son of Obuch." It might be in some cases -owicz could be used as meaning "from the city of," sort of in the sense that "so-and-so is a son of this city," but the problem is I can't find any place with a name that fits -- Obuch, Obucha, Obuchow, Obuchowa, any of those might work, but I can't find any Obuch- place name at all. Besides, it would be more common to see an -owski name, something like Obuchowski, used in that sense, rather than a -owicz name. So I'm inclined to go with Prof. Rymut and say it means literally "son of the battle-ax," where presumably the latter is a name applied to a man who was known for being good with that weapon (that's my interpretation, not Rymut's). In Polish the name would be pronounced roughly "oh-boo-HOE-vich." As of 1990 there were 762 Polish citizens named Obuchowicz, and they were spread pretty much all over Poland -- there doesn't appear to be any particular area where the name is concentrated.

(2) What is the meaning and origin of the name Switalski?

In Polish Switalski is written with an accent over the S and is pronounced roughly "shvee-TALL-skee." It's a moderately common name by Polish standards. 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 and can be searched here), there were 3,180 Polish citizens by that name. They lived all over the country, with no significant concentration in any one area.

Polish name expert Prof. Kazimierz Rymut mentions this name in his book Nazwiska Polakow [The Surnames of Poles]. He says it comes from the root seen in the noun świt, "dawn, daybreak," and in the verb świtać, "to dawn, grow light."

The -ski is adjectival, so that Świtalski would mean literally "of Świtała" (using Ł pronounced like our W -- but the L in Świtalski is plain L, and pronounced more or less the same way we pronounce L). Names in the form X-ała usually mean "one always doing X, one of whom X is the most prominent characteristic." So Świtała would mean literally "the one always dawning, the one associated with dawning."

I'm not sure if this started as a nickname for one who was being compared to the brightness of a dawn, or one with a sunny disposition, or maybe just one who tended to always get up at dawn. Perhaps it could mean any or all of these things, and the exact meaning varied from case to case. Świtała is a common surname in its own right (borne by 4,753 Poles as of 1990), so it must not have been an unusual thing to call a person somehow associated with dawn. And Świtalski probably just started out meaning "kin of Świtała." I should add, however, that in some instances it might also mean "one from Świtały" -- there's at least one place by that name in Poland.

So, as with many Polish surnames, there isn't one simple answer to what the name means. It means "kin of Świtała" or "one from the place of Świtała," but the exact meaning of that name is open to debate. People named Świtalski live all over Poland, so the only hope of establishing exactly where a given Świtalski family came from, and how and why the name came to be associated with them, is to do detailed research into their history.

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

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