Archiver > POLAND-ROOTS > 1999-09 > 0937685550

From: "Carla H." <>
Subject: [POLAND] "Translating" Polish Names into English (or vice versa): Avoid the Pitfalls
Date: Sat, 18 Sep 1999 13:12:30 -0700

Dear Poland-Roots List Friends,

Several listmembers have recently posted asking about the 'translation' of
Polish names into English----the "What was my ancestor called in Polish if
her American name was Sadie?" kind of question. Trying to establish what
your Polish ancestor's correct first name may have been based on what they
were called in the USA (or vice versa) may pose some serious hazards to
your research. There are some important things to consider to avoid making
a mistake.

Many people make the common error of expecting foreign given names to have
exact 'equivalents,' or to be 'translatable' to a universal, guaranteed
standard form in English. While certain common names often have
recognizable *counterparts* between one language and another, there are
also a multitude of names in any language, Polish included, for which
essential to understand that NOT ALL NAMES 'translate' between two diffe
rent languages. There may be a counterpart, and then again, there may

There are also any number of Polish names which *have* a recognized
counterpart in English, but the people who bore those names *DID NOT
NECESSARILY ALWAYS USE* that exact counterpart outside of Poland. A person
might use a particular name in the United States that had literally *NO
CONNECTION* to whatever name they were given at birth.

For example, the Polish female given name of "Rosalia" (or Rosalja) is
often compared with the English name of "Rosalie"---but that doesn't mean
that ALL women baptized "Rosalia" automatically were known as "Rosalie" (or
the variants of Rose, Rosa, or Rosie) in English. Basically, a person
could be known by any name they wished, whether it corresponded to their
original foreign name or not. There was *no obligation* of any kind to
use an English name which corresponded directly with the Polish one.
Immigrants and their descendants often selected names for use in the USA
simply on the basis of the name's easy pronunciation in English, its
popularity at the time, or just their personal taste. Thus, instead of
being guaranteed to be known as "Rosalie," a Polish "Rosalia" might choose
to be a "Roberta" or a "Rita"---or even a "Lucille," if she happened to
feel like it! :-)

There was also often NO official, formal name change procedure undertaken
(such as through the courts)---a large number of immigrants just started
*using* a new name, or others started calling them something else, and that
was it. This was true of surnames as well as given names. (Some people
*did* make a formal name change, but not the majority---it was complicated
and cost money, which many immigrants couldn't afford.) Many with Polish
given names had American English names imposed upon them, by employers or
others who found it a hassle to pronounce the unfamiliar Polish. In an
instant, someone named "Czeslaw" could turn into "Charlie," or a "Malgor
zata" might become a "Maisie," whether these names corresponded to their
Polish ones or not. (In these examples, they *don't.* "Malgorzata"
actually corresponds with "Margaret," while there *is no* standard English
form of Czeslaw---though sometimes males with that name were called
"Chester" in America).

For wit, wisdom and invaluable practical help on the mysteries of Polish
and other European names, the 'bibles' I use are William ("Fred")
Hoffman's excellent books, "First Names of the Polish Commonwealth: Origins
and Meanings," and its companion volume, "Polish Surnames: Origins and
Meanings." Both are superb, and a must-have for anyone doing Polish family
research either in or out of Poland. They are available for purchase
through the Polish Genealogical Society of America in Chicago, whose Web
site (and specific book ordering information page) can be found at:


Some local LDS Family History Centers *may* also have copies of both books
in their individual collections (if they have been donated by a generous
patron)---my FHC does. Or check your local public library.

Take a moment to recognize that there is no hard, fast rule for the way
Polish names "match up" with English names. Our ancestors ultimately used
names they felt were the most suitable, regardless of what their parents
may have intended or what their official documents declared. Try not to
let yourself jump to conclusions about what anyone in your Polish family
tree may have been named. . .or what 'aliases' they may have assumed in
America---research carefully, to avoid the pitfalls.

With warmest wishes,
Los Angeles

This thread: