Saturday, July 28, 2007

Book Review: First Names of the Polish Commonwealth: Origins & Meanings

Book Review by Robert Postula

FIRST NAMES OF THE POLISH COMMONWEALTH: ORIGINS & MEANINGS, by William F. Hoffman and George W. Helon, 426 pages, 6 x 9 inches perfect bound, published in 1998, ISBN O-924207-06-X. Available from the Polish Genealogical Society of Michigan, Burton Historical Collection, Detroit Public Library, 5201 Woodward Ave., Detroit, Ml 48202. $22.00 postage paid.

In the words of Hoffman, "The basic purpose of this book is simple: it was designed to help you find the names of your Polish ancestors and understand what they meant."

"By necessity this book approaches the subject of names from the point of view of those researching Polish genealogy. This approach seems obvious enough, but it has some consequences. The choice of names for inclusion depended on whether a particular name is likely to show up in Polish research. Many names have become common in Poland within the last few decades... Finally, the names that are included are generally presented in Polish spellings. Numerous spellings were included that might appear in German, Russian, Ukrainian, or Yiddish contexts, with cross references to their Polish forms but there’s no question you’ll have more success finding names if you "think Polish".

Laying groundwork to help us understand the historical development of names in Poland, the author begins by explaining that the first names given a new-born were based on pagan customs and religion, and continued until the year 966 A.D. when Poland converted to Christianity, thus this lasted for almost a thousand years. The influence of other established religions then followed; Roman Catholics, Greek Catholic, Orthodox Christian, Protestants, and Jews.

We are then apprised of the fact that Polish names were influenced by linguistics; Belarusian, Czech, German, Hebrew, Hungarian, Italian, Latin, Lithuanian, Russian, Slovak, Ukrainian, Yiddish, - and believe it or not English.

We are then taken to the main portion of the which book proceeds to provide us with over 300 pages of information on first names. Names are arranged in ascending alphabetic order. If a name has no data listed it will refer you to an alternate name that has the information. For a name with data, it will first be identified as to gender (male or female). This will be followed by a number indicating how many Polish citizens had that name in 1990. If the name has an equivalent in the opposite gender of that shown, the opposite gender name is shown. If there are similar names, they will be listed with the number of individuals using the name. The next information will indicate the basis of the name and any definition when applicable. Numerous spellings were included that might appear in German, Russian, Ukrainian or Yiddish contexts. In many instances the name is shown in Cyrillic or Hebrew print type. Diminutive forms i.e. shortened versions are shown, followed by listings of names days celebrated in the both the Roman Catholic and Orthodox churches.

The book concludes with a five section Appendix including samples of five pertinent alphabets, an explanation of differences in Cyrillic alphabets (Russian and Ukrainian), Cyrillic forms of selected Jewish names, Lists of Germanic, Lithuanian, and Slavic name roots used in Ancient Compound Names, and an Index.

Both of these books extensively use published works of Kazimierz Rymut, which were based on data from PESEL, the Polish Government Information Center which assigns Polish citizens an identification number similar to the US Social Security Number.

Both books are outstanding! They can stand alone or serve as perfect companions to each other. They certainly deserve to be included in every Polish genealogical researcher’s library.

The review of the other book referred to (Polish Surnames: Origins and Meanings) was published in a previous post. The original article which appeared in the January 1999 issue of the Polish Eaglet reviewed both books in one article. The review was split into two separate reviews for posting on this blog.

This article appeared in the Polish Genealogical Society of Michigan's Journal, The Polish Eaglet, January 1999, p. 37. It is reprinted here with permission from the family of Robert Postula and the PGSM.