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Last names - derivations

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  • Martin Votruba
    ... I ve seen many posts assuming this, but son of was not a concept that played a role when last names were made obligatory by the Habsburgs. People
    Message 1 of 51 , Jan 23, 2006
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      > The "Yak", "Jak", "Iak" endings I have not firmly traced down to the
      > diminutive, but translate simplistically in English to "son of"

      I've seen many posts assuming this, but "son of" was not a concept
      that played a role when last names were made obligatory by the
      Habsburgs. People sometimes assume that a diminutive, like _Petrik_,
      always meant "little Peter" and therefore "child." Not at all when
      employed as a family name or nickname. If anyone ended up with this
      family name, it was because the diminutive was already quite
      traditional for a particular household in the village and, originally,
      it would typically distinguish two households in the village with
      originally identical names -- "the Peters" and "the Little Peters."
      It all goes back to individual nicknames, not to concepts like "child
      of." That "child of" (Peterson) was the case in Scandinavia, not in
      the Habsburg lands.

      What happened in Slovakia was that someone was customarily nicknamed
      Johnnie in the more distant past, and then his whole family,
      household, farm, manor was referred to with that nickname (Andrew of
      the Johnnies, Mary of the Johnnies, etc.). Of course, then the number
      of the Johnnie-households (and the Pete-households, and the
      Mike-households...) in the village multiplied and new nicknames
      gradually replaced the old ones in order to distinguish them all.
      Sometimes the core name was kept and a variety of endings
      distinguished the households:

      The Petraks, the Petrovskys, the Petriks, the Petrovickys, the
      Petrovs, the Petric~eks, the Peters, the Petrechs, the Petras~es --
      all these are real Slovak family names derived from someone's first
      name _Peter_ in the distant past.

      Slovak is substantially different from English (no kidding, right?),
      so although it may appear almost unfathomable when viewed through
      English, a multitude of variations like the above are perfectly
      regular and took place on a massive scale in Slovak: there was no
      "meaning" in these endings when they were employed in nicknames and
      eventually family names. They were merely variations of the original
      first name Peter. The variations were "petrified" when the last names
      were decreed and entered in government records.

      The ending -ak/-a'k/-iak in your name (all three are merely versions
      of the same ending), Ron, is a very common derivational ending used
      with nouns (rebrinak - "wagon" based on "rib" and -ak; perinak
      "bedding cabinet" based on "feather comforter" and -ak; bodliak
      "thistle" based on "stab" -ak; and hundreds more). A lager number of
      Slovak family names end in this suffix: Novak, Hrivnak, Spisiak,
      Maliniak, and dozens more.

      Matviak (the pronunciation -tv- and -tf- is just a difference between
      Slovak and, say, Polish pronunciation, a difference which most Slovaks
      and Poles will not notice) is a completely standard formation along
      the same lines: the name "Matthew, "[mat-vey] or [mat-fey], was
      modified with the ubiquitous ending -ak: [mat-viak]. It's exactly the
      same as other common Slovak family names based on first names and
      modified with this ending:

      Petrak, Martinak, D~uriak (from George), Ondrak (from Andrew),
      Matusiak (from the Slovak version of Matthew), Kubiak (from James),
      Jozefiak,

      There's no mystery about the makeup and meaning of your family name.
      Its original meaning was "pertaining to the Matthews, pertaining to
      the Mattehw farm," etc., and was formed along a well established
      pattern of Slovak word- and name-formation.


      Martin

      votruba "at" pitt "dot" edu
    • Martin Votruba
      ... There are quite a few, Vladimir, as well as in the Czech lands, Hungary, Ukraine... At the same time, there are also plenty of originally British
      Message 51 of 51 , Feb 27, 2006
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        > I would not be surprised, if there were also many in Poland.

        There are quite a few, Vladimir, as well as in the Czech lands,
        Hungary, Ukraine... At the same time, there are also plenty of
        originally British Matlocks, Matlacks, and similar names in the
        English-speaking countries.

        That's why this name alone is rather an unreliable indicator of an
        American's ancestry: these two completely independent names, one
        Central European and the other British, overlap here and are
        impossible to sort out without checking the person's lineage.

        The spelling with just a -k is probably indicative of Central European
        immigrants, but the spelling of some of their names has been changed
        to -ck, so that group includes both British and Central European
        immigrants to the US.


        Martin

        votruba "at" pitt "dot" edu
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