What’s in a Name

Besides written records, onomastics ( the science and study of the origins and forms of proper names of persons and places)  may be used to study and interpret the historical, linguistic and cultural development of an area.  Slavic tribes living in isolation fostered dialects, whose particularisms were reflected in names.  As tribes moved to new locations, new names were coined.

The Christianization of the Sorbs undoubtedly resulted in the adoption of some Christian names.  Germanization, without a doubt, also had an impact on names.  The spelling of names were altered by changing conditions, environment and the like.  A person need not be overly concerned by variant spelling because people who recorded names in early records often spelled names by what they thought they heard.

Immediately after World War II the writer became acquainted with a geologist in Midland, Texas, who had a good knowledge of the German language.  He told me that while working with a geophysical crew near Giddings, Texas, he ran across some people who said their ancestors came from Germany, but had rather unusual names.  He said that names, such as Moerbe, Kieschnick, Miertschin, Symmank, etc., were not German.  In the course of our conversation I pointed out that these names did indeed originate in Germany and that he could add my own name of Biar to the list.  People with these names were Wendish.  Some were Germanized, some were Slavic, while others were derivations of Wendish and German names.

Listed below are some examples of names of Texas Wends followed by the Wendish or Sorbian forms and their meaning:

Dube – Duba: oak tree

Kieschnick – Kéčnik: cotter or cottager

Lehmann – Wičaz: vassal                          

Moerbe – Mjerwa: disorderly or tangled straw

Schmidt – Kowar: smith or blacksmith

Schneider – Krawc (Krautz): tailor

Of course, not everyone who has the surname of Lehmann, Schmidt or Schneider is of Wendish or Slavic ancestry.  Many Wends assumed German names which are  translations of their of Wendish names.

Listed below are some examples of names of Texas Wends and what they mean:

Biehle (Biele): white

Noack: new man or Noah

Michalk (Michałk): little Michael

Malke (Małke): little, small or short (Klein in German)

Niemtschk: German (When the Wends first met the Germans they could not understand their language and called them dumb.

Wuensche: the Wend

Wukasch (Łukaške): Luke (in German Lucas)

Listed below are some examples of names of Texas Wends which are derivations of German names or were taken into the Wendish language from the German.

Biar: taken into the Wendish language from the German “Baehr” (or Bär), meaning “bear.”  Other forms are Bjar, Bihar and Biehar.

Handrick: derivation from Andrew (in German Andreas)

Miertschin: derivation from Martin (in Sorbian Merčin)

Patschke: derivation from Paul

Simmank and Symmank: derivation from Simon, meaning little Simon

Zieschang: derivation from Christian (Kristian)

Some Wends have the surname Urban.  It is believed by some that the Biblical name Urban (Urbane or Urbanus) [Romans 16: 9] was adopted by some when they became Christians.  DeBray in his book Guide to Slavonic Languages states: “Vowels [in Sorbian] occur initially only in exclamations and words of foreign origin.”  This explains the variant spelling of Urban: Hurban, Urban and Yurban, in some records.  This also explains why the initial letter of Handrick is h.  That is also the reason why Amen is Hamen in Sorbian.

1 thought on “What’s in a Name”

  1. Nancy Hendreschke

    My husband’s great grandfather, Robert Hendreschke, was a Wendish immigrant to the US in the 1860’s. He first immigrated to the northeast and worked in a textile mill before returning to Germany to assist another migrating group. His travels ended in Nebraska and Colorado.

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