From the Polish Genealogy Society of Connecticut and the Northeast

QUESTION
I have observed in various articles in both genealogical and non-genealogical periodicals conflicting statements regarding surnames ending in “ski” claiming that names of this type indicate noble status. Can you please comment?

ANSWER

The fact that your name ends in “ski” does not by any means indicate that you are irrefutably descended from nobility. While many noble families bore these type of surnames, they later became widespread among the peasantry. We have observed in parish registers dating from the beginning decades of the nineteenth century that priests added “ski” to peasant names to make them “sound nicer”. Our ancestors however had no idea that the priest was recording their names in this fashion because most were illiterate and it would never enter into their head to go check what the priest wrote in a baptismal register.

The peasants did not use these embellished names in their daily lives. Further along in the century names in the registers frequently reverted back to their original forms, although some families retained the surnames containing “ski”. So you may find in the course of your research that your surname appears in different forms.

To illustrate this here are some examples from a parish that our society has indexed. Names which appeared as Golik, Duchnik, Klim, Zając and Wojtasz were transformed by the record keeper into Golikowski, Duchnowski, Klimaszewski, Zajączkowski and Wojtaszewski respectively. NONE of these families were of noble origin. Essentially the ski suffix is simply a linguistic mechanism which changes a noun into an adjective .This can be clearly seen in the names of Poland’s current provinces which are all adjectives derived from nouns ( i.e. zielonogórski from  the city of Zielona Góra or podlaski from the noun Podlasie).

The name of the Polish language newspaper in Chicago (Dzienniik Chicagoski) also clearly illustrates this linguistic phenomenon. Chicagoski is simply the adjectival form of Chicago. So your ski name didn’t turn you into a noble. It turned you into an adjective.

And while on the subject of “fake news”, the next time you hear someone state “My grandfather’s name got changed at Ellis Island” immediately tell them NO! NO! NO! This is yet another false statement that has been circulating for decades. Names were NOT changed at Ellis Island by immigration officials. They were changed, either forcibly or voluntarily long AFTER your ancestor took his or her first steps into a new world.

QUESTION

 

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