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Kazczyk - Shmegelski - Śmigielski
Created by Administrator Account in 10/19/2009 4:27:35 AM


... My father's surname is Shmegelski and my mother's is Kazczyk (I am purely polish).

Kazczyk is almost certainly a patronymic (a name formed from one's father's name), meaning "son of Kaz" where "Kaz" is a short form or nickname for the popular Polish name Kazimierz. In Polish the suffix -czyk is most often used to form patronymics, as in Janczyk (son of Jan), Adamczyk (son of Adam), etc. The kaz- root could come from the verb kazać, meaning "to order" or in older Polish "to destroy" -- but the patronymic suffix suggests it is more likely to be in this case simply a short form of the Polish first name Kazimierz (usually rendered as "Casimir" in English), an ancient pagan name formed from the verb root kaz-, "destroy" + the noun root mir, "peace." The ancient Slavs (like most Indo-Europeans) liked to give their children names that served as prophecies or good omens, and "Kazimierz" was probably given in the hope that, in the difficult and war-like times in which the ancient Poles lived, Kazimierz would excel in battle. Later Poles loved to take these long names and chop off all but the first syllable and add suffixes to that (not unlike the way English-speaking people formed "Eddie" from "Edward"). I feel certain that's how Kazczyk started, as a name referring to those who were descendants of some fellow named Kaz or Kazimierz who was locally prominent.

The surprise here is that usually patronymics formed from popular first names are very common in Poland, but the Slownik nazwisk wspolczesnie w Polsce uzywanych [Directory of Surnames in Current Use in Poland, ed. Kazimierz Rymut, published 1994 in Krakow by the Instytut Jezyka Polskiego PAN, ISBN 83-85579-25-7] shows no one named Kazczyk living in Poland as of 1990! It's not unusual to find that a name died out in Poland after people by that name emigrated, I've run into that fairly often; but I certainly would have expected to see at least a few hundred people by this name. But then this field is full of surprises!

As for Shmegelski, its form proves it has been modified since the family left Poland, because Poles don't use the letter combination sh. In Polish either sz or ś (s with an accent over it) is used to represent this basic sound, so we would expect either Szmegelski or Śmegelski. However, two other spelling points arise. In proper Polish, the combination ge is not normally allowed, it must be gie, so that gives us Szmegielski or Śmegielski. Finally, the combination Śme- is rare, that accent over the s represents palatalization, which affects the whole sound cluster, and predisposes the vowel to be either i or ie: so in proper Polish spelling, one would expect either Śmigielski or Śmiegielski, with Szmegelski a possible alternative because ś and sz are sounds easily confused.

Going by name frequency, I would expect Śmigielski to be the original form; it is easy to see and hear this (pronounced "shmeeg-YELL-skee") could become modified to Shmegelski in English, and that name is fairly common in Poland. Actually the root of this name, Śmigiel is also common, with 1,940 Polish citizens by that name in 1990; but the adjectival form Śmigielski is much more common, with 5,925 Poles by that name in 1990 (there were only 30 Poles named Śmiegielski, which suggests that is just a rare spelling variant of the standard form). The Śmigielskis lived all over Poland, with the largest numbers (> 250) in the provinces of Bydgoszcz (448), Ciechanow (251), Katowice (326), Konin (436), Poznan (518), Torun (265), Warsaw (285), and Wloclawek (272). I don't see any really useful pattern to that distribution, it seems the name has the largest numbers in the provinces with the most people, which suggests the name is evenly distributed and therefore probably originated in many different places and at different times. So it's a good bet all the Śmigielskis are not related to each other!

The root of the name, the noun śmigiel, means "rail in a ladder." It requires a bit of imagination to figure out how this name came to be applied to so many people. Polish names ending in -ski often derive from a place name, and there is at least one village called Śmigiel in Poland, in Leszno province, about 10 km. southwest of the town of Kościan; but there may be many more places by that name too small to show up on the map, or perhaps the name was only used by the locals and never made it into any gazetteers or atlases. So a family Śmigielski might have gotten that name because they came from a place named Śmigiel or something similar. Or a prominent member may have made rails, or was thin as a rail -- who knows? People are very ingenious with names, and it is often impossible to figure out exactly how they got started -- folks are still arguing whether Groucho Marx got that name because he was a grouch, or because he carried what was called a "grouch bag." If we can't settle that question, imagine trying to settle the derivation of a name that started in Poland several centuries ago!

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




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