The Mysterious Ways of Polish Surnames, part 2 Posted by Anna on Sep 12, 2008 in Culture, Grammar
As David pointed out in the comment section to the previous post, we still have one more group of Polish last names to discuss. Actually, come to think of it, TWO more.
But let’s start with the easier one of the two:
4. Surnames ending in vowels OTHER than “a”, “i” and “y”. And yes, “y” is considered a vowel in Polish. Unfortunately, I couldn’t find any Polish Nobel Prize Winners in this category.
But there is a guy that no doubt will be familiar to my Polish readers, and whose name makes a fine example here: Aleksander Fredro.
He was a playwright, poet and author who lived a while back (19th century). One of his famous comedies “The Revenge” (Zemsta in Polish) was made into a film by Andrzej Wajda in 2002, and as I remember it, it was quite decent.
But anyway, back to our topic. The problem with those names that end in a vowel other than “a”, “i” or “y” is that sometimes they decline and sometimes they don’t. And how can you tell them apart? You can’t really.
Those that end in “o” are the worst. Fredro declines when combined with a guy’s name:
- Szukam Aleksandra Fredry = I’m looking for Aleksander Fredro. (“Aleksandra” here is not a girl’s name but means “Aleksander” in genitive.)
Last names that end in “e” or “u” are less common and the good news here is that they don’t change their forms, no matter the case. Such last names are normally of non-Polish origin, sometimes German, Yiddish, Hungarian, Czech or what not.
And all those last names in the nominative case, they stay the same for both males and females.
5. And finally, let’s take a look at surnames ending with a consonant. And yes, I have a Nobel Winner for you: Władysław Reymont. He wrote thick, mind-numbingly boring books, as was the style in his day. I remember being chained to my desk while in high school and forced to read one of his works. And trust me, poking my eyes with a pencil seemed like a very inviting alternative. But let’s get back to the guy’s name, shall we?
Reymont. Ends with a consonant. A lady with the same last name would also be “Reymont”. But because nothing is ever easy in Polish, things get a bit complicated here.
When combined with a girl’s name, they don’t decline (only the first name does), but when combined with a boy’s name, the whole enchilada changes according to cases. So, let’s look for this guy now:
- Szukam Władysława Reymonta – I’m looking for Władysław Reymont.
and a female example using Hanna Krall:
- Szukam Hanny Krall – I’m looking for Hanna Krall (also a Polish author, still very much alive, though.)
These names can be of Polish or origin, it doesn’t really matter, they all behave in the same manner.
Now one more thing. David pointed out that in some instances, a woman’s last name can be derived from her husband’s (or father’s) last name in a slightly different way – by adding either –owa or -ówna endings to the guy’s name. It’s kind of true. Why only kind of? Because this style of forming surnames is rather archaic. It was considered old-fashioned even when I was a child. I’m reasonably certain that the only place in Poland where you will see it now is in history books.
PS. Merrilee wanted to know how this Polish last name would be pronounced – Mozdrzew. Here it is – audio.
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