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Created by Administrator Account in 1/23/2011 6:47:12 AM


… I have several questions about this surname, when you have a moment: 1) What does it mean?

According to Polish name expert Prof. Kazimierz Rymut, in most cases names beginning with Mis- or Misi- come from the root miś, "bear," that is, the animal. However, such names can also sometimes derive from short forms or nicknames of longer, standard first names, such as Michał (Michael) or Mikołaj (Nicholas) or Miłosław (no equivalent). Poles often took popular first names, dropped everything but the first syllable or couple of sounds, and added suffixes: this Michal -> Mi- -> Mis- + suffixes, and the same thing could happen with other names beginning with Mi-. It's a little like the way English-speakers formed "Teddy" from "Theodore." So we can't rule out the possibility that in some cases Mis- names derived this way.

The suffix -ewicz or -owicz means "son of," so the standard interpretation of Misiewicz would be "son of the bear," where Miś, "Bear," was probably a name given a man of great size and strength, and I'd expect it was complimentary. Or if the name derived from those shortened first names I mentioned, then it would mean "son of Mike/Nick/Miłosław, etc." To be honest, in most cases I really think the "son of the bear" interpretation would prove right most of the time.

2) How common is it? Is it more common in one region than another? (My family came from Mogelnice (near Augustow), in the Province of Suwałki, and they are still living on the same farm from which my great-grandfatheremigrated in the 1870's.

It's fairly common; as of 1990 there were 3,605 Polish citizens named Misiewicz. With those numbers you'd expect it to be encountered all over Poland, and that's true. The largest numbers lived in the provinces of Warsaw (249), Białystok (268), Katowice (171), Suwałki (177), and Wroclaw (296), which is really all over the map. However, the figures for Białystok and Suwałki provinces suggest northeastern Poland is an area where Misiewicz'es are a bit more common, which fits in more or less with your data.

3) I have been told that the -wicz ending indicates that a person came from the area of northeast Poland and/or Lithuania. Is this true?

That's not really true. The -wicz ending shows up all over Poland, and you can't say "Oh, this ends with -wicz, it must come from the northeastern part of the old Commonwealth." There are just too many jillion -wicz'es in other parts of Poland.

That said, however, there is some justification for the statement. The -owicz/-ewicz suffix originally came into Polish from Belarusian, so geographically there is a link with northeastern Poland. Also, there came a point when many Poles began to feel that -wicz names were old-fashioned and middle-class, and names ending in -owski or just -ski were more elegant; so some changed their names, for example, from Jankowicz to Jankowski, because it sounded a little classier to them. They weren't necessarily trying to fool anyone into thinking they were noble -- that was hard to get away with -- they just liked the sound of the -owski names better. But the folks in northeastern Poland, Lithuania, Belarus, etc. have a tendency to be conservative linguistically, and that's an area where you might find people hanging on to the original -wicz forms. The attitude would be "None of this -ski stuff for me, my -wicz name was good enough for my dad and it's good enough for me."

So while -wicz names are hardly exclusive to northeastern Poland, they are somewhat more common there, or at least there's a popular perception that they are. I suspect that's what was meant by the person who told you that. The -wicz is not a reliable indicator of place of origin, but there may be some truth to the observation that northeastern Poland/Lithuania/Belarus has more -wicz'es per capita than other parts of the old Commonwealth. Not having studied any data on this, I can't say for sure whether that's true; but I believe there is a popular notion to that effect, and it may well be based on fact.

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




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