Birkenhagen - Borowski - Teofila
Created by Administrator Account in 10/15/2009 1:34:42 PM


... One branch of my wife's family came from the area near what is now Sierpc, Poland. (Although the borders shifted a number of times, they considered themselves to be Germans...) A cousin has been searching some of the microfilmed records from this area and there are two entries in these that we suspect might be the same person since they have their husbands have the same name, and some other facts seem consistent:

Theophile Borowska


Gottlieba/Bogumila Birkenhagen

As we understand it, Theophile means "God's love" as does Bogumila and Gottlieba, which would seem to give some credence to this. Can anyone tell me whether Borowska (or perhaps Bonkowska) might be a Polish substitute for Birkenhagen? Does anyone know the meaning of either of these names?


From the responses that I have gotten, I have learned that "Birkenhagen" means "birch grove" and that "Borowska" has the root "Bor" which means forest, so it sounds fairly plausible that they could be the same person. Particularly when taken together with the rest of the evidence we have. (Both of these people were married to a man of the same name/age/village, and both had a son with the same name/age.)


I would be interested to know if you would have an opinion to add to this discussion?


It's a pleasure dealing with someone who's already made the effort to learn as much as possible -- it means I don't have to waste my time going over the obvious. I'm always glad to help in such cases.


As you've learned, Theophile is an exact equivalent (French, but ultimately of Greek derivation) of German Gottlieba and Polish Bogumila, all meaning "dear to God" ("God's love" is also a reasonable interpretation, but "dear to God" looks a little more correct to me).


Birkenhagen is not an exact match for Borowska -- usually German Birken- tends to equate to Brzez- in Polish, since that root means "birch" -- but the semantic link of "forest, woods" is pretty firm. There is no question that if you search the records you find cases where Polish names were often translated into German; as in this case, the translation is not always exact, but there is a clear link in meaning. And, for what it's worth, the village Poles called "Borów" near Swiebodzin was called "Birkholz" by the Germans; so clearly Polish Bor- and German Birk- can be linked, even though bor- has more of a general meaning of a forest, not specifically a stand of birches.


So it is entirely plausible that Theophile Borowska and Gottlieba/Bogumila Birkenhagen are different names for the same person. It is all the more likely because of the history of Poland, which at various times has made it advantageous for Poles to modify their names to sound more French (e. g., around the time of the French Revolution and Napoleon) and especially to sound more German (the time from Napoleon's defeat to World War I). Poles living in German-ruled areas frequently found that insisting on going by Polish names caused made them the targets of special repression by the German authorities, so they often "passed" by assuming German equivalents of their native names. Since most of them weren't linguists or onomastic experts, it's not surprising that sometimes the equivalents weren't exact.


If you proposed this identification without any evidence, I'd say "It's very possible, but be cautious about jumping to conclusions; what's plausible doesn't always turn out to be correct." But since in this case you have good evidence to back up your theory, I think you're justified in your conclusion. The odds are overwhelming that you're right.


Good work! I hope I've helped you a little, and I wish you the best of luck with your research.


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