Archiver > POLISH-SURNAMES > 2005-03 > 1111423545

From: <>
Subject: A little more on -ski and -ska
Date: Mon, 21 Mar 2005 10:45:45 -0600
References: <BAY103-F242FCC9573DEE35828E188BD4D0@phx.gbl>


Janice Gould <> wrote:

> Fred - just wanted to compliment you on the great piece you wrote and also
> for telling us all about it. I would not, of course, have known about it
> had u not mentioned it, so thank you so much.
> How interesting it was to read!!!!
> Thanks so very much. Very well done.

I'm very pleased you enjoyed it! I get asked about these matters a lot, so
rather than keep re-writing the same thing over and over, I figured I'd do
it once, put it online, and then refer anyone who asks to that site. Easier
for all concerned.

In response to the note that a -ski ending indicates a male and a -ska
indicates a female, Jim Dimmit <> wrote:

> I don't know if this applies 100% but I work in the cemetery system in
> Chicago. One of the largest Polish cemeteries is St. Adalbert's in Niles
> on Milwaukee Avenue.
> In our records there if the woman's name ends in -ski it meant she is
> single. If it ended in -ska she was married. (Or I may have that
> backwards, sorry - it's been awhile since I've been in that office and had
> to deal with those records.

Fascinating! I've never run into that before, but there is some logic to it.

In standard Polish surnames ending in -ski, -cki, -zki -- as well as a
certain number of surnames typically ending in -i or -y -- came from
adjectives, and as such change endings according to the gender of the person
referred to. So traditionally KOWALSKI was a male, KOWALSKA a female; BIAL~Y
(White) was a male, BIAL~A a female. The ending on a feminine name didn't
change because she get married; she just went by the feminine form of her
husband's name. But that's in Poland, of course. In this country, where the
dominant linguistic patterns didn't accommodate that distinction, things
could and did work differently.

Incidentally, there is a growing trend in Poland today for females to go by
the masculine forms of these names. In other words, today a KOWALSKI may be
male or female; it'd be a rare male who'd go by KOWALSKA, but some females
go by KOWALSKI. I imagine the traditional ways hold firm in rural areas, and
this phenomenon shows up more often in urban areas -- although I don't know
that for sure, it's just a guess.

In Polish-language documents from before World War II, the -ski/-ska
distinction will almost always be observed. This is a pretty recent
development, and probably won't affect anything you find in research. But
future generations won't be able to assume a -ski was necessarily male. This
is just one of a thousand ways I do NOT envy future genealogists. We think
we have it tough -- just wait!

Fred Hoffman
Author, _Polish Surnames: Origins & Meanings_

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