If there's one thing that runs in all of my family lines it's large families. Not my immediate family mind you, but those of my ancestors. Large families were pretty typical in Poland, being a predominantly Catholic country as they are. And trying to come up with names for all those kids... well, let's just say there was a lot of repetition. You tend to find the same names over and over again. I suspect that's why the Poles have so many nicknames. It allowed them to differentiate one Jan Lipa from his cousin Jan Lipa. One got called Janek and the other got called Janosik. In fact there are a whole slew of nicknames for Jan in the Polish language: Janek, Janik, Janko, Janczy, Jach, Jana, Jaśko, Jaszko, Jasiek, Jas, Hanusz, Hanko, Hanus, Hanys, and Janosik. Jan is without a doubt the most common male given name that appears on my family trees. The most common female name? Marianna, which has the nicknames: Mania, Maniusia, Maniuta, Mara, Marusia, Maruszka, Marutka, Maja, Masia, Muszka, Myszka, and Maryjka.
Unfortunately, the nicknames for Jan aren't used in vital records. Oh, no. That would make it too easy for those of us doing the family history research. Why make it simple when it's so much more confusing to use the same names over and over again? Actually, given names were generally assigned using one of two conventions (and the aim wasn't to confuse future family historians likely as it may seem). The first convention involved naming a child after someone. Probably the most common convention I've heard of in the Galician section of Poland involved naming the first born son after their paternal grandfather, the second born son after their maternal grandfather, and the third born son after their father. Any more sons were often named after their Godfathers. Similarly, the same convention was applied to female offspring with the first born daughters named after their maternal grandmother, the second born after their paternal grandmother and the third born after their mothers. Other daughters might be named after Godmothers or the midwife that delivered them.
Another popular naming convention was to name children after the saint whose name day fell closest to the day of the child's birth. The saint's day that most commonly comes to mind is St. Patrick's day on March 17th but most people here in the U.S. would be hard pressed to name another saint's day. In Poland there are so many saints honored that each day of the year has multiple saints names attached to it. Take today, September 19, for instance. It honors the saints, Alfons, Alfonsyna, January, Konstancja, Sydonia, Teodor, and Więcemir. So using this convention, a child born on this day would be named for one of these saints.
If I were named using the first convention, my given name would be Zofia (Sophie) as I am the first born daughter and that was my maternal grandmother's name. Using the second convention, I would be Huberta or Sylwia (Sylvia) since those are the saints honored on my birthday. What do you think? Do any of those names suit me better than Jasia?
If you'd like to look up what saint you might have been named for if you were born in Poland you can do so here.
So which naming convention did my families use? Well, a little of this and a little of that. My Galician families (3 of my 4 lines) were more inclined to use the first convention but there are some instances of the second convention used here and there. My maternal grandfather's line, which was from the Russian partition, doesn't seem to have used any convention at all. There is very little repetition of given names in that line and the names tend toward the more uncommon. That would make my research ever so much easier except for the fact that the records are all in Russian!
Written for the Carnival of Central / Eastern European Genealogy.