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Polonius3 1,000 | 12,448  
17 Apr 2008 /  #1
Although all those dots, bars squiggles and acute accents may mean little more than fly specks to the average American, in Polish they can make all the difference, even changing a word’s meaning. Example: “los” means fate or destiny in Polish, while “łoś” is an elk (US/Canada: moose). If available, check the immigrant ancestor’s Old World documents (baptismal/birth certificate, passport, steamship-ticket stubs, etc.) for the pre-arrival spelling of his name. Naturalization papers are not good, because they show the post-arrival state of the name which may have shortened, respelled or otherwise modified.

Since the nasalizing little squiggles beneath the vowels “ą” and “ę” got lost and were meaningless in America, many Polish immigrants respelled their surnames to retain the original pronunciation. For instance, if left as it was, Dębkowski (something like Oakton or Oakwood in meaning) would end up being pronoucned by rank and file Americans as deb-COW-ski. But if respelled Dembkoski, it retained its perfect pronunciation. The same thing occurred when Bąkowski was respelled Bonkoski (dropping out the “w” gets rid of the “cow”!).

At times, Polish surnames were respelled in America to make them more pronounceable, and this one is a good example. For instance, since the letters “j”, “w”, “ch”, “cz”, “sz” and others were pronounced differently in Polish and English names such as Jabłoński, Nowak, Chomiński, Czajka and Szymański were respelled as Yablonski, Novak, Hominski, Chayka, and Shymanski. OTHER CHANGES:

Sometiems long names were shortened wtihout losing their Polish idnetity, eg Kołodziejczak > Kołodziej, Chrzanowski > Chrzan, Jeleniewicz > Jeleń or Tomaszewski > Tomasz. Still others were translated adn that usually obliterated the name's ethnic origin; eg Janowicz > Johnson, Bednarski > Cooper, Zima > Winters.

Many of the late 19th/early-20th-century immuirgatns were illiterate and unwillingly had their names Anglo-mangled at Ellis Island or other ports of entry. Some were pressured by bosses, teachers or naturalization-class instructors into changing their names or did so voluntarily for the sake of convenience, for business reasons or to avoid ridicule. No-one can be crueller than schoolchildren, and in a N. American school someone named Dombkowski could invariabnbly expect to be taunted with 'Does your DUMB COW SKI?'
plk123 8 | 4,150  
17 Apr 2008 /  #2
elk (US/Canada: moose).

elk is not a moose.. totaly different animals. please look it up before you lecture others next time. thanks

and actually most Novaks aren't polish in the 'new' world but come from other slavic countries like czech or slovania.. most of Nowaks are polish however. the name changing didn't necessarily happen the way you described at all. i've never seen one 'phonetic' polish name here in the US. it's either the same as it was back in PL, sans the marks, or it's so completely different that it's unrecognizable as Polish. see my first comment.

i am not sure where you pulled this info out but ellis island doesn't stink as bad, eh? rofl
Zgubiony 15 | 1,554  
17 Apr 2008 /  #3
elk is not a moose.. totaly different animals. please look it up before you lecture others next time. thanks

Moose (Alces alces) is the North American name for the largest extant species in the deer family.

The same animal is called the Elk in Europe. The name moose is derived from the Algonquian Eastern Abnaki name moz, meaning "he trims, shaves."

Look before you jump ;)
isthatu2 4 | 2,704  
17 Apr 2008 /  #4
most Novaks aren't polish in the 'new' world but come from other slavic countries like czech or slovania..

Yes,I was shouting at my TV te other night when a suposedly Polish person was called Novak :)
and this elk/moose thingy,am I cracking up or didnt this arguement spring up a few months ago on here?
plk123 8 | 4,150  
17 Apr 2008 /  #5
Look before you jump ;)

that's wiki definition which i don't always believe. i also checked the translation from polish and yes it did say elk and deer as the definitions but i know that dictionaries can be very generalising. i have never heard moose being called elk.

so i guess i'll say 'sorry polonius.' :)
Zgubiony 15 | 1,554  
17 Apr 2008 /  #6
Yes, I know wiki is shady, so its always good to also check it's resources
OP Polonius3 1,000 | 12,448  
17 Apr 2008 /  #7
Quite a few Polish surnames come off quite funny-sounding in Anglophonic mouths.
For instance Kwiatkowski (meaning the bloke from Flowerville of Bloomton) can end up sounding like QUIET-COW-SKI.
Then there is a large group of what might be called wicky-wacky surnames (Nowacki, Głowacki, Bielicki, Sawicki) which may even end up sounding like a Japanese delicacy or car marque: eg Szumacki = Soomiyaki.

Another is Wróblewski (the guy from Sparrowwood) which may sound like ROB-A-LOOSE-KEY. One bearer of that surname had an answer to anyone who butchered her surname. She would say: 'Rob a loose key? Hell, I wouldn't even want to rob a tight key!!!' Often the befuddled Anglo-mangler (office clerk, shop assistant, receptionist, whoever) would stutteringly reply: 'Er, um, uh, so that's not how you, er, pronounce it?'

However not every bearer of such a surname has the guts or patience to correct each mispronouncer and in time may give up and go with the flow.

Of course, there are Polish names that are utterly hopeless, and no probably amount of explaining and correcting can change things.
Imagine introducing yourself to your boss or landlord in Dublin or Baltimore if your surname was Szczebrzeszyński, Gżegżółeczka or Chrzęszczykiewicz!!!!!
isthatu2 4 | 2,704  
17 Apr 2008 /  #8
We have a very large old PL population in this neck of the woods in Yorkshire,when I first started learning Polish and had "cracked" the pronuntiation to a reasonable level I found myself constantly having to bite my tongue from correcting 3rd generation British Poles about how they said their surnames,for a while I worked in door to door sales(dont hate me) and would ask is Mr ******saying it Polish way and get either a blank look or "no but Mr****** is(mangled and sounding all wrong :)) hoo hum :)
OP Polonius3 1,000 | 12,448  
18 Apr 2008 /  #9
Ridicule and the fear thereof has been a powerful deterrent to many people, and the butchering of Polish surnames was one such area.
In addition to a Jabłkowski and Kosicki being called jabble-COW-ski and ka-ZICK-ee, there's the anecdote about the redneck drill sergeant taking one a look at a recruit's ID tag (with, let's say, Węgrzynkiewicz on it) and saying: "Hey, alphabet, get your arse over here OR you're on KP today!"

A well-meaning way of handling long, unrponounceable Polish (and not only Polish)surnames was to call Adam Szczygieł Mr S or Mary Przywrzejska Miss P.

Russians, Ukrainians, and Bulgarians with similar-sounding names do not run into such problems in the English-speakling world. When they transcribe their Cyrillic surnames into the Latin alphabet, Стоянковский and Яревич become a fairly pronounceablłe Stoyankovsky and Yarevich respectively. A Pole surnamed Stojankowski or Jarewicz would end up being called 'Studge and Cow Ski' and

'Jar o' Wits' respectively.
plk123 8 | 4,150  
18 Apr 2008 /  #10


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