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Created by Administrator Account in 12/28/2015 1:05:26 PM

My name is Czysz. I have been doing some research online as to the meaning of my surname “Czysz” and have not been able to find much. Google translates this as “Erase”. The meaning seems to have something to do with “clean, pure, blank, etc.”

The meaning of our last name has been something I have wondered about for my entire life and no one in my family has been able to provide any answers. Now that I have children I would like to let them know the meaning behind this word and would be grateful to any insight you could give.

Sometimes, you can get the meaning of a surname simply by translating the word, or the closest match you can find. There are many Polish surnames that fit into this category. But I'm afraid most of them throw a few curves at you, and are harder to figure out.

In this case, I doubt the Google translation puts us on the right track. I will say this, however: it tells us how the name is pronounced. If you'd like to hear it pronounced, go to <> and click on the little sound icon at the lower right of the left box. The pronunciation of Polish words by Google Translate is usually pretty good. The synthesized Polish voices at <> also do a very decent job pronouncing Polish words, even sentences. With a specific name, Ivona is sometimes better than Google Translate -- and some names they both get wrong. But more often than not, they do a pretty decent job pronouncing Polish words and names.

In terms of Polish phonetics and structure, CZYSZ -- which sounds like "chish" to us, rhyming with "wish" -- is not likely to be from the root meaning "clean." That root is _czyst-_, as seen in the adjective _czysty_, "clean," and the verb _czyścić_, "to clean." The point is that words from that root don't end with the "sh"sound Poles write as SZ -- they have a "t" or "ch" sound following it. Saying CZYSZ comes from the word for "clean" is like saying in English that "bar" comes from the same root as "barf" -- it doesn't work that way. I know this is not obvious to someone who hasn't studied Polish, but that is the way we'd expect it to go.

CZYSZ more likely comes from a word beginning with a "ch" sound, followed by an "ee" soud (spelled I by Poles) or a short "i" as in "ship (spelled Y by Poles), and ending in an "sh" sound (spelled SZ by Poles). There are two derivations that make sense: a name from the basic root _cich-_, meaning "quiet, silent," or a variant spelling of the Polish word _czyż_, which means "green finch, siskin." The root meaning "quiet" produced a surname CISZ, pronounced "cheesh," which is documented in Polish records as far back as 1216. The term for the bird is a very common name in Poland, and it is pronounced "chish" -- exactly the same way CZYSZ would sound. Normally, Polish Ż sounds like "zh" in "Zhivago." But when it comes at the end of a word, the pronunciation is modified so that it sounds just like SZ.

So CZYSZ matches the pronunciation of CZYŻ exactly. That's the derivation I think is more likely. It would mean an ancestor was nicknamed Czyż at some point, because people associated him with these finches. Maybe he lived in an area where they were common. Maybe the way he dressed, or his manner, reminded people of this bird. Hard to say exactly what the association was; nicknames can sometimes be very inventive, hard to figure out if you didn't know the person in question. But once the name came to be associated with that fellow, his descendants might end up with the surname CZYŻ. Considering how common spelling variations were in Poland (and not just in Poland!) until the 20th century, it would not be at all surprising if the name was sometimes written as CZYSZ, because spelling was often phonetic and the two words sound the same.

Still, the difference between "cheesh" and "chish" is a small one. You definitely run into cases where dialect or regional Polish uses the short I sound (spelled Y) where most Poles use the "ee" sound (spelled I). So a person nicknamed CISZ, normally sounding like "cheesh," might, in some cases, end up being called CZYSZ, "chish." Vowels are notoriously inconsistent in names. And the sound represented by CI- is often modified to CZY- (and vice versa). So we can't rule out the possibility that the name started out as a variant of CISZ, a nickname for someone who was always telling people to be quiet, or one who was very quiet himself. That is perfectly plausible.

Only research into the family history would settle the matter. Analysis of the surname, by itself, just doesn't tell us enough. But if you find the family's trail in Poland and find them in the records, it may not take long at all before you see something that gives you a strong clue whether your ancestor was "the green finch guy" or "the quiet guy." If I had to guess, I'd go for "green finch" -- but I could be dead wrong!

There are web pages that show you 2002 data for specific surnames in Poland, with a color map indicating their frequency and distribution. Here is the page for CZYSZ:

It tells us as of 2002, there were 405 Polish citizens registered with this surname. They were scattered all over, with the largest concentration down in the south central part of the country, especially in Pszczyna powiat, with 92 (a powiat is a lot like a county in the U.S.). On the map, position your cursor over a powiat, and its name appears; that's how you tell which is which. Pszczyna is among those colored red in south central Poland. This name tends to show up most often in parts of Poland that were ruled by the German Empire during most of the period 1772-1918.

By contrast, this page tells us there were 369 Poles named CISZ:

The largest numbers lived near the eastern border, especially the powiat of Świdnik, with 71, and the powiaty of Białystok (46) and Białystok city (38). If you find records that suggest CISZ might be the original form of the name, eastern Poland might be the area to focus on -- this was in the territory ruled by the Russian Empire during most of the period 1772-1918.

Here's the page for CZYŻ:

This is one of the more common surnames, borne by 13,450 Poles in 2002. They lived all over the country. If the spelling CZYSZ persists as you trace the family history, that might be a good thing. Tracing a comparatively rare name like CZYSZ would probably be easier than tracking to track down one among the many CZYŻ families!

You might want to post this name on the PolishOrigins Surnames Database at This database has a respectable list of names; it's free, but you have to register, which is pretty painless. It might be an easy way to make contact with others researching the same name.

That's about all I can tell you. I hope it's some help, and wish you the best of luck with your research.

Fred (officially "William F.") Hoffman
Author, _Polish Surnames: Origins & Meanings_



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