Polish Language Blog

One Town Three Names Posted by on Jun 13, 2008 in Uncategorized

Poland has had a complicated history. And that’s a boring historical fact. What’s not boring is how that history affected the names of all sorts of places. In certain regions of what is now Poland, people sometimes lived in three different countries, all within the span of a lifetime, and without ever leaving their home town. Each time when a place got new sovereign overlords, the first thing the new honchos did, was to impose a new national language. That in turn resulted in a change of the local name.

Anybody, who’s ever tried to research their Polish genealogy, knows how annoying this whole name changing business can be.

For example:

Hirschberg – Jelenia Góra
Allenstein – Olsztyn
Breslau – Wrocław
And the most infamous of them all: Auschwitz – Oświęcim.

Those are just the biggies that immediately come to mind. There are tons of others.
So, let’s say, you have some ancient papers that claim your ancestors came from Marienburg. Actually, mine did! And they’re not even all that ancient. My mother was born there right after WW2, but before the town reverted to its Polish name of Malbork. If you were looking for a Marienburg somewhere, you’d end up in Bavaria, most likely!

To add to the confusion, Malbork used to be spelled Malborg, and some older Poles might still write the name that way. So, you have one place and basically three different names! Fortunately, if your ancestors came from Marienburg/Malborg/Malbork, consider yourself lucky. Though the town is rather small, it’s also very well-known and easy to locate. Why? The castle!

Built by the Teutonic Knights (it took them more than 200 years to finish the job!), the Malbork castle is Europe’s largest Gothic fortress. And a mighty impressive one, I have to add! UNESCO thought so too, and in 1997 added the castle to its list of World Heritage Sites.

However, if your ancestors were not lucky enough to come from a World Heritage Site, sooner or later you will run into problems. Not only the names of places changed, sometimes from Russian to German, back to Russian, and finally to Polish, the spelling might not be consistent either (as we saw with the Malbork/Malborg example). What used to be two words, might now be just one (for example: Stara Wieś – Starowieś, which by the way, means “an old village”), or vice versa.

It can be quite confusing, yes I know. So, if you have a question about a Polish (or what you think could be Polish) place, leave me a comment! I will try to look into it and explain here in future posts. I’ll do my best, but no promises, though! But it just might help others, who are searching for their Polish roots.

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  1. Ed:

    Looking for info about a village named Bobrowniki Wielkie near Tarow.It is the birthplace of my mother.

  2. Billigflüge Bangkok:

    It´s just about the history of poland, that towns have German, Polish and Russian names as well. This beautiful country was devided so many times. There was a time when Poland dissapeared even totally from the world map!!

    PS: Your Blog is great! I love Poland!

  3. Holly Dominiak:

    We are trying to find the town from where my husbands grandfather came from. On his ellis Island record it says he is Polish/Russian and his residence was Szewst. It doesn’t say Poland or Russia. I have asked dozens of people if anybody knows or have heard where it is or what the closest name of a town it could match. Nota. Any help or suggestion would get us started in the right region.
    Thank You

  4. Denise:

    Does anyone know the meaning of the names Oldzia and Oldziu?

    What is the difference between “a” and “u”?

    I believe they are a diminutive form of Olga – but I am trying to find out iof the diminutive is Russian, Austrian, Yiddish, German – or what?


  5. D. Drzewiecki:

    Jedzilem w polsce w roku 1999 i sadzilem to jest bardzo ciekawy. Osobliwie pamietem XIV c. katedra pocysterskiego w Pelplinie!

  6. D. Drzewiecki:

    Hello, Ed:
    The village of Bobrowniki Wielkie is 8 km northwest of the city of Tarnow and has a population of 740, according to http://www.wikipedia.com. The name refers to the animal ‘beaver’ and ‘wielkie’ means ‘greater’.
    A few km to the west is Bobrowniki Maly (lesser or little).

  7. D. Drzewiecki:

    Hello, Denise:

    Oldziu? Are you sure it wasn’t Alciu? That is the diminutive for Alice.

  8. Larry Kulesza:

    Any information about a town or place called Lersidowswini? My grandfather who was Polish has this listed as his place of residence on the ship’s manifest at Ellis Island. It is listed as in Russia. Have not had any luck searching in Poland or Russia. Thanks.

  9. Larry Kulesza:

    Forgot to add the he arrived in the US in May 1910.

  10. Alex Herzog:

    Need to know the Polish names and perhaps locations of villages formerly named
    near Jarocin,
    near Poznan

  11. christine gatewood:

    My grandmother immigrated to the US through Philadelphia in the early 1900’s. The ship manifest lists her town of origin as Zatrop and (at that time) the country as Russia not Poland. Was Zatrop a town name given by Russian’s. It does not show up in Polish towns today.

  12. Michael Frank Socha:

    I am trying to locate the town that my grandparents came from. On the paperwork I have he was born in Lanictuc, Austria. His name was Francis Socha born 4 September 1880. His parents were Wojciech(Albert) Socha and Josepha Staron. My grandmother Michaelina Jopek born 8 October 1882. Her parents are listed as Joseph Jopek and Malgorrat(Margaret) Herc. They also are listed as living in Lanictuc, Austria. Any help in locating the town would be appreciated. I have tried looking at towns that have similar names without success.

  13. Richard Wisniewski:

    My paternal grandfather immigrated to the United States from Russian Poland in 1906.
    The ship’s manifest indicates that his last residence was Wesniki.
    I’ve tried to locate this town or village, but failed. Can you help?

  14. peter:

    Michael Frank Socha was asking about the village of Lanictuc, Austria where his grandparents were born. I will venture to say that given the dates his ancestors were born,the place where they came from was the province of Galicia in Austrian-Poland. The person who wrote the name of their birthplace on the documents was most likely spelling it the way it sounded. There’s a village named Budy Lancut in Galicia that could be where they were from.

  15. Roman:

    LANICTUC ? In my opinion it is possibly incorrect spelling of a place called LANCUT. If this is a case , have a look at this link:
    http://www.lancut.pl/asp/en_start.asp typ=14&menu=66&strona=1

  16. deb:

    Hi my grandmother wad agala socha and her husband wojiech kojder/kaider came from budy Lancut outside of Lancut.

  17. ken todzia:

    The village of Todzia how did it get its name

  18. ken todzia:

    Can you tell me how the town of Todzia got its name or why.

  19. Jan:

    So how do we know if the name our ancestors wrote down on paperwork wasn’t the town’s customary Polish name considering my grandparent’s only spoke Polish in the home to their children, not Russian, even though they were from Poland Russia. One listed their town as Trzcianka, Russia, Poland, the other Guty, Russia, Poland.

  20. Veronica Guertin:


    I like so many are trying to locate where in Poland my grandmother came from. On the marriage certificate to my grandfather the place of birth is listed as
    Vadoviec, Galicia, Austria.
    Although my grandmother only spoke Polish and said she was from Poland, I think that because of the year in which they were married 1914 this are was under Austrian control.

    Thank you for your help.