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Created by Administrator Account in 7/4/2010 12:13:14 PM


... With my name being Jankowski I asked the Nuns what the difference was between our two names. Being a very Polish school and many fluent Polish speakers there I was told the following. Jan in Polish is "John" and the suffixes -kowski and -kowska meant "the son of or daughter of John." Or translated "Johnson" or "Johnsdaughter." After watching the post for sometime I have seen all kids of explanations for the ski suffix. Kind of lost.

I understand how you feel. It can get very confusing. Part of the problem is that there were basic rules that applied to the formation of surnames, but they weren't always applied consistently. And even a well-educated Pole who hasn't actually studied name origins can get it wrong; it's no disgrace, this is a specialized field and has its odd twists and turns. The only disgrace is insisting you know more than you actually do -- and all of us are vulnerable to that one!

At this point I should probably shut up, but I'll risk disgracing myself and try to explain.

There's no question the basic root of Jankowski is Jan, the Polish form of "John." But a name like this has to be broken down into its component root and suffixes. In this case it breaks down as follows: Jan + -k- + -ow- + -ski.

Janek is a diminutive form of Jan, meaning "little John, Johnny," or sometimes in names "son of John"; the -e- drops out when suffixes are added. The suffix -ow- basically implies possession or an "of" relationship (you can remember what it means by connecting it to our word "of"), so Jankow- means "[something or someone] of little John." The suffix -ski is adjectival, so that Jankowski literally means "of, from, pertaining to [something or someone] of little John." That's how the name actually breaks down.

In practice, Jankowski could have developed sometimes as meaning "son of John," that cannot be denied. And whatever its origin, Jankowski is an adjective and must follow Polish grammatical rules, so it changes forms, depending on grammatical considerations. Thus a female Jankowski would be called Jankowska in Polish. So the nuns could have been right, it could sometimes mean nothing more than "son of John" or "daughter of John."

But more often names in -owski originated as references to a connection between a person or family and a particular place with a similar name. Generally we'd expect Jankowski to mean "one from Janków, Jankowa, Jankowo," etc. Those are the most likely possibilities, but you can't rule out other place-names such as Jankówka, Jankowice, etc. -- by modern Polish grammar those names could not generate Jankowski, but centuries ago, when surnames were developing, the rules were looser.

There are a great many villages and settlements in Poland named Janków, Jankowo, etc., and all got their names as meaning "[place] of little John." Perhaps a Janek founded them, or at one point the noble who owned them was named Janek or was the son of a Jan, hard to say exactly what the connection was. But most of the time the surname Jankowski originated as meaning "one from Janków, Jankowa, Jankowo, etc.," and that in turn can be broken down to "one from the place of Janek." The word for "place" wasn't included because it was implied and everyone understood it without spelling it out. If the family in question was noble, they owned this place Jankow/Jankowo, etc. If they were peasants, they probably lived and/or worked the fields there, or else had once lived there and then moved elsewhere. In either case, at the time surnames were developing it made sense to refer to them as "the ones from Jankow/o/a."

So you see the nuns weren't necessarily wrong, and in some cases their analysis will prove correct. But on the whole, -owski names usually refer to a place name that is similar, beginning Jankow- or something like that.

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




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