Last names - derivations
> The "Yak", "Jak", "Iak" endings I have not firmly traced down to theI've seen many posts assuming this, but "son of" was not a concept
> diminutive, but translate simplistically in English to "son of"
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),
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.
votruba "at" pitt "dot" edu
> 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
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.
votruba "at" pitt "dot" edu