What’s In A Name?

Turns out more than meets the eye.
My Dad’s parents came to the US
from Poland. My Dad researched
his family history in Poland. Or was it Poland?

Immigration papers listed the family
as Austrians. Or were they? Maybe
Prussians , Austrians or Polish? Birth
records were in Radgoszcz, Poland.

Poland emerged as an independent nation
again after WW I. My Dad’s family settled in Western
Massachusetts and considered themselves
Polish. Between 1772-1795 Poland was

partitioned between Russia, Prussia and Austria.
As a Fulbright Teacher to Germany, I was intrigued
when colleagues guessed my name to mean “the
German Girl” which fascinated me since I

had a Ph.D. in German and taught it.
The beginning of my family name meant
a “person who did not speak
the language” which made sense to me. In

border countries, people suddenly had a new
language to learn. Before my Polish grandmother
came to this country in her twenties, she
told us of walking over the border and working

in Germany. Maybe it was Prussia or Austria?
Another colleague in Germany was
convinced that I was German “in my other
life” which confused me. Later I learned that

this individual believed in reincarnation.
My Dad researched family history and
wrote the family genealogy after researching
church records in Radgoszcz, Poland.

Speaking with a former student today, I was
reminded of my family history. As a German
teacher of almost 50 years, I consider my
name to be German or Austrian. Who

knows? My Dad considered it Polish since
he traced and visited several distant relatives
located in Poland. Since borders frequently
changed, so too did countries. And family stories.

This entry was posted in Austria, Niemczura, Polska, Prussia, Radgoszcz and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

27 Responses to What’s In A Name?

  1. cindy knoke says:

    Yes, my family history/ethnicity is confused in a similar way.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Cindy, thank you for the comment. With borders changing and people moving, it is sometimes difficult to trace one’s roots. My Dad managed to go back to the 1700s. What are your stories? Where from? German/Austrian/Czech?


  2. Lisa Mahony says:

    I like this so much I am going to read it when I have the time, instead of rushing through it.

    Liked by 2 people

  3. Darlene says:

    That German/Polish/Austrian border was always moving. Both sides of my family consider themselves German with names like Frisch, Hoffman, Mehrer. Although they did live in Russia before coming to Canada in 1911. I love that first picture. We have some similar in our family. A great post.

    Liked by 2 people

  4. Fascinating, Mary Ann… My maternal grandmother’s family’s last name was changed three times by the Swedish government for record keeping purposes before she emigrated to the US in 1879. Other than that I have discovered very little about their life in Sweden. ❤ Have a lovely weekend, dear friend.


    • Thank you, Bette. I just found this comment now. Names are indeed fascinating. I have been to Sweden several times. What were the three names the Swedish government changed for records? I am curious whether the US government also changed the name in 1879. Like most countries, churches are a good place to start for family searches and family bibles if they still exist. A former aunt, wife of one of my father’s brothers, changed our name to what she thought was “easier” for people to say. I did not agree with her sounding of the name either. It was the language teacher in me. Names can be changed for many reasons too. Legally in courts for example and of course by marriage. When I studied Old Norse and read about Erik the Red, I discovered many Scandinavian name endings. “dottir” was the daughter of a particular family. Or the masculine ending “sonir” meant son of a family as in the name Anderson. German does something similar with both masculine and feminine endings of places to indicate where a person was from. Frankfurter, therefore, could indicate a man who came from the city of Frankfurt. Intriguing how names changes and how they originated. Have a grand week. oxox


  5. Peter Klopp says:

    In a geographical region which belonged during the course of history to many different countries, it is problematic to define a person’s original nationality by his or her birthplace. Great family photos to decorate your lovely post, Mary Ann!

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Clare Pooley says:

    What an interesting post, Mary-Ann! With all the border changes in Europe I think your ethnicity is often different from the country in which you are born. With a close-knit family you know where your family originated as it is passed down to you from parent to child. It is more an emotional feeling than a geographical fact. You use certain words, use special recipes, are a member of one type of church/religion – or not! It must be so difficult to discover who you are if you have lost your family with those close ties and everything that goes with membership of a family.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Smitha V says:

    Glad to meet you here Mary Ann. Found this post really interesting. Beautiful pictures to go along with it too. Thank you for visiting my blog.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Nice to meet you as well, verbose as I tend to be. Glad you enjoyed the post and photos. I admire your tenacity i.e. ability to study and to blog. Most of my free time now that I am retired is spent with music and with writing. Reading too.


  8. Annika Perry says:

    Mary Ann, a wonderful and fascinating post about your family history. Obviously, a topic that deeply fascinated your father and he must have worked hard and long to discover so many connections to Poland. As others have pointed out this had a very fluid border and it is not easy to pin down. I love the photos accompanying your post and you and your family have a rich past and an amazing close and loving present! What more could one ask for?! xx

    Liked by 3 people

    • Annika, thank you. Truly appreciated. With my mother’s Irish side of the family along with the Polish/Austrian/German influences on my father’s side, I think my love for music and the written word are strongly influenced. And, of course, the love of languages! When I commenced university studies in Colorado, a foreign language was required. My father encouraged me to study German and my mother to study French. I did both. You are correct about a close, loving present in my family. I am truly blessed and could ask for nothing more. (well, maybe more sunshine) Have a grand week. oxox

      Liked by 1 person

      • Annika Perry says:

        😀 I’m with you on the more sunshine! It peeked out for ten minutes today and I dashed out to the garden to see if I was dreaming!

        What a wonderful diverse family history and I think you’re right, with those roots a life in the arts and humanities was a given. You were wise to study two languages, so rare nowadays! Wishing you a great week too … my son coming home for the weekend so I’m really looking forward to seeing him, spoiling him! hugs xx

        Liked by 1 person

      • Haha. I do that as well when the sun comes out. You are a proud, happy Mama Bear with your son coming home for the weekend. Everyone needs to be spoiled from time to time. Our daughter reminds me of that sometimes too. Of course, she’s right. My other languages are no longer spoken but still interest me: Old Norse, Latin, Middle High German. I still understand some of the Polish I heard growing up in MA. Spoil away, Annika, and take photos. Is your son still composing music these days? ox

        Liked by 1 person

      • Annika Perry says:

        How wonderful to know the old languages … we touched upon some in my university degree and I almost moved over to another course so I could learn more. It is fascinating to see how our languages have evolved.

        Thank you, we had a most special weekend … although it’s always hard to say goodbye again. My son is still playing the piano and recording covers when home but alas does not have time for his own composition whilst at university .. so much computer science coursework & exams. Thank you so much for asking and remembering. xx

        Liked by 1 person

      • Since Latin, Old Norse, Old High and Middle High German are no longer spoken, it was always interesting to have my professors and teachers speak in those languages in classes. Some foreign language associations are scrambling to record and try to write down languages which are becoming extinct. Fascinating. More so, when some languages have only been oral languages and not written.
        Glad to hear your visit was pleasant if brief with your son. His music will always be with him, and he’ll most likely return to composing once university studies are completed. Our two children still play piano from time to time even though both are busy with careers now. I am glad to have returned to music full-time once I retired. It is so rewarding as you know. Enjoy, Annika! oxox

        Liked by 1 person

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