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Dubiel - Dziedziak - Stępień
Created by Administrator Account in 5/4/2012 12:15:35 PM


… I am just beginning to research my Polish genealogy and was wondering if you have any information on the following names: My maiden name is Stempien. The other names I am interested in are Dziedziak and Dubiel (two grandparents with that name).


Dziedziak comes from the root dziad, "old man, grandfather." The suffix -iak, in names, usually means "son of" -- the vowel -a- in dziad often changes to -e- when suffixes are added -- so the basic meaning of this name is "son of the old man, grandfather's son," something like that. Another possible source is a short form of ancient Slavic names with this root dziad- such as Dziadumil ("dear to grandfather"), so in some cases the name may have started as "son of Dziad" or some other nickname formed from one of those old names. The bottom line in either case, however, is derivation from that root dziad, one way or another. As of 1990 there were 501 Poles by this name; they lived all over the country, but with a particular concentration (208) in Nowy Sącz province, in southcentral Poland. In Polish the name is pronounced roughly "JED-jock."


As for DUBIEL, when I first began studying Polish surnames, the best experts I could find suggested a somewhat uncomplimentary meaning for the word dubiel, from which this surname is thought to come. But subsequent research has allowed Polish scholars to discover more about this name, and give more accurate information. One in particular -- Prof. Aleksandra Cieślikowa, the Director of the Anthroponymic Workshop of the Polish Language Institute PAN in Kraków -- analyzed the name, and came to a different conclusion. Dr. Cieślikowa is an excellent scholar, surely one of the foremost authorities on Polish names.


The gist of what she wrote is that DUBIEL is now known to be a very old name, appearing in records as early as 1424! It apparently began in Polish as a nickname from a common noun, a term for a kind of fish, Carpio collari, a mix of carp and crucian carp. In the 16th century, other meanings appeared, including "woodcutter" and "trunk," among others. The word dubiel is thought to have been an early borrowing from German Döbel or Dübel, "peg, plug." In modern German the common noun Dübel is a type of dowel, so that the semantic connection with a wooden plug persists even in modern usage; in cases of German descent, that meaning might be relevant.


Prof. Cieślikowa also pointed out that names beginning Dub- can come from the root meaning "oak" in East Slavic languages (Belarusian, Russian, and Ukrainian) and also in some eastern Polish dialects. I should explain that in standard Polish, the term for "oak," dąb, does not have the vowel -u-, but rather the nasal a written ą (sometimes replaced by the nasal e, written ę, depending on various factors). In most Slavic languages, the stem of the word for "oak" is dub. So if the name was influenced by Belarusian, Ukrainian, or Russian (possibly also Czech), then the Dub- part probably does refer to the oak. That is less likely if we have reason to conclude the name is purely Polish in a given instance, because in Polish this root dub- has other meanings. So the relevant derivation of the name may depend on where your Dubiel ancestors came from and what linguistic influences may plausibly have effected the name in their case. If foreign influences are involved, there might be a direct connection with the Germanic term for "peg, plug" (since many Germans resettled in Poland over the centuries). If your family came from eastern Poland or Belarus or Ukraine, the connection with "oak" is quite plausible.


As best we can tell from the most recent research, however, when the surname is of Polish origin, it probably referred to that word for a kind of fish. There are many, many Polish surnames that come from terms for fish. Presumably they started as nicknames for an ancestor who somehow reminded people of a kind of fish. Maybe he often caught those fish, or particularly liked them, or lived in an area where they were common; or maybe his clothes reminded people of a specific fish's color. It's hard to say, centuries later, exactly why this particular name came to be applied to an ancestor, and later stuck as a surname. Research into the family history is actually the most likely way of finding something that sheds further light on the question.


Stempien is even more common, as of 1990 there were 1,163 Poles by that name and another 42,062 who spelled it Stępień (the Polish nasal vowel is written as an e with a tail under it and is pronounced like en or, before b or p, like em). So the name is pronounced roughly "STEMP-yen," and since that em sound can be written either ę or em, you see it spelled either way; but the "correct" or standard spelling is Stępień. Rymut says it probably comes from the archaic term stępień or wstępień, "newcomer to a group, next in line for a position of authority," from the basic root stęp- meaning "step, pace." Some names beginning with Stęp- come from stępnik, "worker who prepares material for processing in a mill [stępa]," so that might also be relevant -- but since this particular name matches the term stępień exactly, I think that's probably what it comes from. It, too, is common all over the country, but especially in south central and southeastern Poland.


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