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Created by Administrator Account in 10/19/2009 4:18:12 AM


...I'm researching my ancestors that came to the U.S. in 1914 and 1920. They came from a city named Dubiecko, Poland. The last name is Hendzel. It seems this name is German?? What's the story of such a name?

Yes, the name is probably German. Germans use the -l or -el suffix the way Poles use the suffixes -ek, -ka, -ko, etc., as diminutives, "little ..." The only question is which particular first name Hendzel came from. German expert Hans Bahlow doesn't discuss this name directly, but gives info that suggests it could be from Hans, "John," in which case it's a lot like the name Hansel; or it could come from Heintz or Hentz, short forms for Heinrich (Henry). Polish expert Kazimierz Rymut mentions Hendzel and says it could come from Hans or from Anzelm (Anselm). So it could mean "little John" or "little Henry" or "little Anselm"; diminutives are also sometimes used as patronymics, names formed from one's father's name, so that it might also mean "John's son," "Henry's son," "Anselm's son." Rymut generally seems to know his stuff, so I'm inclined to say it's most likely a German-influenced nickname from the first name "Anselm."

As of 1990 there were some 934 Polish citizens named Hendzel. They lived all over the country, with the largest numbers in the provinces of Katowice (96), Krosno (118), Przemysl (158), Rzeszow (53), and Wroclaw (58) -- so it's most common in the southern provinces, and especially in the southeastern provinces near the border with Ukraine, Przemysl and Krosno. This fits in with your info that your ancestors came from Dubiecko, which, if I'm not mistaken, is in Przemysl province.

It's not surprising that the name is German but is found in Poland. Poles and Germans mixed with each other a lot over the centuries. You find the most mixing in western Poland, near the German border, naturally -- especially after Germany seized western Poland during the partitions and began a policy of settling German colonists on the best land; but there were plenty of Germans living all over Poland, too, dating from much earlier. When plague and war devastated medieval Poland, the nobles owning lands found their estates depopulated and plunging in value. They wanted skilled craftsmen and farmers to come settle on their land and increase the value of their estates. Meanwhile, in Germany there was disease, religious persecution, political unrest, etc., so many Germans were more than ready to go elsewhere. Nobles in Poland (and Ukraine and Russia, too, for that matter) invited them to come settle on their land, giving them various incentives (land free from taxes for up to 20 years, that sort of thing). The native Poles weren't always too thrilled to see all these Germans settling among them, but it was good for the local economy, so they made the best of it. That's why we see pockets of ethnic Germans all over Poland, and that's why a name of German origin can be quite common even in far southeastern Poland.

I know it seems a little odd at first, but believe me, the more you study Polish history, language, culture, and names, the more you realize this was commonplace.

Copyright © 1998 W.F. Hoffman. All rights reserved. Used by Permission.




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