Weaving Polish Pride: Connecticut Sisters Share their Love for the Motherland

Many children of immigrants lose their parents’ cultural identity, and with it, the language, customs and traditions brought over from the old world. In fact, many immigrants themselves often turn away from where they came from to fit into their new country.

The trick is, whether you’re an immigrant, or the child of one, to embrace your new country while also preserving your roots. It’s a trick that sisters Anna and Patricia Lakomy of Connecticut have mastered.

Daughters of Polish political refugees, the Lakomy sisters were born in Brooklyn, New York before moving to the Constitution State. “Being Polish is a huge part of our identity” says Patricia, who is currently in college. Her older sister, Anna, works as a market researcher.

The sisters attribute their strong Polish pride to the way they grew up. “We were always closely connected to Poland,” explains Patricia. “Our mom is from Elbląg and our dad is from Sanok, and we would visit those places very often as children.”

Stateside, the girls attended Polish school, spoke the language at home, ate the food and prayed in Polish churches. “I think that whether you embrace your Polish heritage comes down to the environment you’re raised in,” says Patricia, admitting that all too often the people who forget their traditions are the ones who weren’t truly exposed to them to begin with.

Polish sisters
Anna (left) and Patricia (right) Lakomy are passionate about sharing their Polish heritage with others.

Sharing Polish pride through clothing

The Lakomy’s Polish pride is so huge, they’re wearing it on their sleeves—literally. The sisters founded Apolonia, a Polish apparel company focused on instilling their love of Poland in others through clothing.

“Apolonia provides a means for Polish Americans to share their Polish pride through what they wear,” says Anna, who created the first t-shirt for her husband. “After I designed a shirt depicting a half-Polish, half-American eagle, I realized this could become something bigger.”

One of the company’s signature shirts depicts red and white lips—the Polish flag’s colors. “We try and go for a subtle, youthful look for our t-shirts,” says Patricia. The sisters also offer iPhone cases with similar Polish designs.

Although motivated by their Polish roots, the sisters recognize that every country can instill the same level of national pride in its people. “We are considering creating t-shirts for other nationalities as well,” explains Patricia. “We see Apolonia becoming a means by which people of all cultures and traditions can express their national pride.”

In a sense, the sisters are making it cool to act Polish, or whatever nationality you are. “Being Polish is our passion, and, ultimately, we want everyone to feel that same passion for their heritage, no matter what it is,” says Patricia.

To browse the sisters’ online store, visit https://www.facebook.com/Apolonia.Community/

What Does my Polish Name Mean?

Polish flagEverybody recognizes a Polish last name (surname). In fact, if it looks unpronounceable, it’s probably Polish. Kowalski, Młynarski, Brzęczyszczykiewicz…maybe yours is even crazier.

Much has been written about Polish last names, and I don’t pretend to be an expert. I did want to distill some of the information out there, though, in case you don’t have time to read pages upon pages of resources.

So, what does YOUR Polish name mean? Keep reading to get a better idea.

Polish first names

When it comes to Polish first names, most are chosen after either a Catholic Saint or a traditional Slavic hero or figure. This makes sense, since Poland is still a predominantly Catholic country and proud of its Slavic past.

Some examples include:

  • Stanisław (Stanek, Staszek), after Saint Stanisław
  • Wojciech (Wojtek), after Saint Adalbert, one of Poland’s patron Saints
  • Bolesław (Bolek), after King Boleslaw (966 – 1025), one of Poland’s greatest kings.
  • Wladysław (Władek), after King Władislaw Jagiełło (1351–1434), another great Polish king.

Another aspect worth mentioning when it comes to Polish first names is how they denote gender. Polish female names almost always end in “a” (i.e. Katarzyna, Małgosia, Anna). Sometimes, you can feminize a Polish male name simply by adding an “a.” For example, Stanisław can become Stanisława.

Male names basically end in a consonant or any letter other than “a” (i.e. Janek, Marcin, Ołgierd).

Polish last names

In explaining Polish last names, let’s start with the most common ones most people recognize: names ending in “ski.” The suffix “ski” essentially means “from.” When combined with the prefix of a location, it creates a last name denoting where you are from. Note that the female form of “ski” is “ska.”

For example, suppose your family originated from Krakow. Your last name might then be “Krakowski.” Someone from Tarnow might have a last name of “Tarnowski.”

Originally, during the high middle ages, the suffix “ski” was used exclusively by nobles. Since nobles were recognized by their land or territory, that’s how they referred to themselves. Going back to the Tarnow example, a nobleman, Jan from Tarnow, would be Jan Tarnowski. His wife might be called Anna Tarnowska. These are called toponymic surnames, named after topography, or location.

But wait, what if your last name has the “ski,” but the prefix is not a location. One of the most common Polish last names is Kowalski, and, although there is a town called Kowal in Poland, it doesn’t explain why so many people have that last name.

That’s because, in the nineteenth century, peasants began taking on last names ending in “ski” as well. Except, they couldn’t use a location because most didn’t own any land. Instead, they used either cognominal surnames or patronymic surnames.

Cognominal Surnames: A cognominal surname is one taken after your occupation, personality, or even physique. For example, the “Kowal” in Kowalski” means blacksmith in Polish (English names often work the same way. Think John Smith). The “Piekar” in Piekarski refers to the Polish word for baker, or “piekarz.” These two surnames would mean “of the blacksmith” and “of the baker” respectively, because, remember, the “ski” means you are from or “of” something.

What about an example of a surname referencing a personality trait? Try the surname “Lisowski.” The prefix “lis” is the Polish word for fox. So the name means “of/from the fox,” which probably meant the family was known for being cunning and wise, perhaps in business.

We will get to patronymic surnames momentarily, but this wraps up the discussion of “ski.” Something fun you can do to figure out what your “ski” surname means is to look at the prefix and use a Polish translator. Is the prefix a Polish town or location? Then you might be a noble. Is it an occupation or character trait? Then you probably have peasant origins. It’s not always super easy, and there’s always exceptions, but these rules of thumb should help guide you.

Patrynomic Surnames: Patrynomic surnames refer to those deriving from a person’s name or family relations. Sometimes, these surnames are used with the suffix “owicz,” “ewicz,” “czyk” or some other combination. These suffixes translate to “son of.” An example is Łukaszewicz, meaning “son of Łukasz (Luke).

Other examples of patrynomic Polish surnames are “Adamczyk” (son of Adam), and “Kowalewicz” (son of the smith). Notice, in the last example, a family name is substituted with an occupation. It can get pretty complex.

The takeaway: if you have a surname with one of these suffixes, look at the prefix. Is the prefix another name or an occupation? It probably translates to “son (or daughter) of.”

Other Surnames: Unfortunately, I can’t cover every possible type of Polish last name in this article, but I will provide additional resources for you at the end. It is worth mentioning a couple more, however.

The most common Polish surname is Nowak, which derives from the Polish word for new, or “nowy/nowa.” Therefore, Nowak means, “the new one,” and may refer to someone who was a pioneer in a particular town or region.

Sometimes, Polish surnames have so-called diminutive suffixes, which I like to think of as cute, pet names. Consider the English “Bobby” instead of “Bob.” Oftentimes, these surnames end in “yk” or “iak.” An example would be “Szymoniak,” or “little Szymon.”

Where do I go from here?

The above are just some general rules. As with any language, there are exceptions and intricacies that only a professional linguist will be able to distinguish. If you are interested in further reading, check out the links below:

For meanings of several specific Polish last names, visit http://surnames.behindthename.com/names/usage/polish

For more detail on Polish surname suffixes, visit http://www.polishroots.org/Research/SurnameSearch/Surnamesendings/tabid/118/Default.aspx

To geographically search for the frequency of a Polish surname in a particular part of Poland, visit http://www.moikrewni.pl/mapa/

Questions/Comments? Write to me below!

Five More Poles Who Changed the World

In a previous article, I discussed five Poles who I thought had made a global impact throughout history. You can read that article by clicking here.

Now here’s five more Poles whose lives arguably affected people across the planet. Inevitably, some of you will agree and some will disagree with this list, as you did with the last one. That’s great–it makes for awesome discussion.

My criteria were that the Polish person had to have made a global impact beyond one or two countries or made a major humanitarian contribution. Also, there’s no order. In other words, I’m not saying Chopin was more important than Irena Sendler, for example.

Here we go:

Frédéric Chopin (1810-1849)

Important PolesThe name Chopin is right up there with Beethoven and Mozart when it comes to household recognition of famous musicians. Born near Warsaw in 1810, young Frédéric was a musical prodigy from an early age. By age 10, he had written a Polonaise in G minor and played numerous concerts, including one for the Russian Tsar.

At 16, he began formal training at the Warsaw Conservatory of Music and, three years later, traveled to Vienna to begin his professional career. After the failed Polish uprising against the Russians in 1830, Chopin decided to remain outside Poland, basing himself in Paris where he interacted with some of the greatest composers of the day, including Franz Liszt and Hector Berlioz.

Over the course of his career, Chopin produced many works that are today recognized around the world—from his Nocturne op.9 No.2, to his Fantaisie Impromptu, to the famous Funeral March.

Sadly, Chopin died young, at only 39. To this day, experts disagree as to what illness caused his death, although the traditional explanation has been tuberculosis. His body was buried in Paris, but his heart was sent to the Church of the Holy Cross in Warsaw, where it remains to this day.

Jan Karksi (1914-2000)

greatest polesJan Karski, born Jan Kozielewski in 1914 in Łódź, is the reason the west found out about some of the German Nazis’ most horrible atrocities in Poland and Europe during World War II.

He was an officer in the Polish cavalry during the German invasion in 1939. At the end of the campaign, he was captured by the Russians and handed over to the Germans; but he managed to escape and join the Polish resistance movement. Kozielewski changed his surname to “Karski” as a pseudonym to avoid detection.

As a member of the Polish resistance, he completed many courier missions between Poland and the Polish government in exile in Paris, and later Great Britain. One of his most daring missions was infiltrating the Warsaw Ghetto to observe the German Nazi-inflicted genocide against Polish Jews. Because of Karski, the Holocaust was exposed to the entire world.

After the war, he moved to the U.S. where he became a citizen and taught at Georgetown University. Among his students was a young Bill Clinton. He died in Washington D.C. in 2000.

Casimir Funk (1884-1967)

Important PolesDo you take Vitamin C when you feel like you’re getting sick? Perhaps you take a daily multivitamin to supplement your health. You can thank a Pole, Casimir Funk (born 1884 in Warsaw), for discovering the concept and existence of vitamins in 1912.

After noticing that beriberi disease became less likely in people who ate brown rice, Funk studied and isolated the substance responsible, calling it a “vitamine.” Today, it’s known as Vitamin B3. Following this discovery, he theorized the existence of other vitamins, including Vitamin C and Vitamin D.

He eventually became a U.S. citizen and president of the Funk Foundation for Medical Research. He died in 1967 in New York.

Irena Sendler (1910-2008)

Greatest PolesIrena Sendler is responsible for saving more Jews from the Holocaust than any other person. She was born in 1910 in Otwock, Poland and moved to Warsaw on the eve of World War II.

After the war broke out, Sendler dedicated herself to saving as many Jewish children from the Warsaw ghetto as possible, risking her own life in the process. She started out by bringing food, medicine and clothing to the victims inside the ghetto. After observing the horrific conditions inside, she was moved to smuggle as many children out as possible.

She helped them escape over time using ambulances, potato sacks, body bags, coffins, anything that would fool the Nazi authorities. After their escape, the children were often given new identities and sent to religious establishments for safekeeping. She saved 2,500 children this way.

In 1943, Sendler was captured by the Nazis and tortured to reveal the identities of the rescued children. Despite having her legs and feet broken, she never revealed anything. She was sentenced to death but managed to escape and was pursued by the Nazis for the rest of the war.

Most amazingly, before her capture, she had stored the true identities of the children she saved in jars, which she buried under an apple tree. After the war, she dug up the jars, tracked down the saved children and reunited them with their families. She lived a long life afterward, dying in 2008.

Lech Wałęsa (1943-)

lech walesaAlthough his name has become mired in politics and controversy today, Lech Wałęsa remains a symbol of communism’s fall in Eastern Europe and is recognized around the world.

An electrician by trade, Wałęsa co-founded the Solidarity Movement in 1980, a Polish labor union that placed huge pressure on communist authorities to implement social change in Poland. Through strikes and protests, the movement gradually exposed the communist government’s shortcomings to the rest of the world.

In 1989, Solidarity forced the communist government into the famous Round Table negotiations that paved the way for free elections in Poland. Then, in 1990, Wałęsa became Poland’s first freely-elected president since before World War II.

Recent evidence has come to light implying that Walesa collaborated with communist authorities in the 1970s. If that evidence is true, everyone can form their own opinion about whether that means he was a traitor, or just trying to survive the grim realities of life to fight another day. None of us was there. Regardless of his possible shortcomings, the Solidarity movement he created became globally significant in revealing and plucking out the rotted core of communism, and that’s why he’s on this list.

Fun Facts: Poland vs. the U.S.

When the United States gained its independence from Great Britain on July 4th, 1776, Poland was already more than 800 years old. There are buildings in Poland older than the 13 original U.S. colonies.

Despite being radically different ages, the two nations share much—a common heritage of democratic values and equality under the law (with exceptions like any other country) for one, and a valorous history of fighting and dying for those values for another.

At their heart, then, Poland and the U.S. have the same beat.

>> See what Poland and the U.S. share

Of course, it’s always interesting to see how other aspects of these two countries stack up against each other. Here’s some fun and interesting comparisons.

Poland vs. the U.S. Go!

The surface area of the U.S. is 3.797 million square miles. Poland’s surface area is 120,726 square miles, or about the size of the state of New Mexico (map not to scale).

poland vs. the u.s.

The tallest building in the US is One World Trade Center in New York at 1,776 feet. Poland’s tallest building is the Palace of Culture and Science in Warsaw at 778 feet.

poland versus us
One World Trade Center, New York City (left); Palace of Culture & Science, Warsaw (right)

The highest mountain in the U.S is Mount Denali in Alaska, soaring 20,310 feet into the air. Poland’s tallest mountain is Mount Rysy at 8,212 feet.

poland versus us
Mount Denali, Alaska (left); Mount Rysy, Poland (right)

Poland’s longest river is the Vistula, which runs for 651 miles. The Missouri River, at 2,341 miles, is the longest U.S. river.

poland vs us
Vistula River, Poland (top); Missouri River, U.S. (bottom)

Poland’s population is 38 million, while the U.S. population is 326 million.

crowd

Poland’s capital and largest city, Warsaw, has a population of 1.7 million. Washington D.C., the U.S. capital, has a population of 693,972. The largest city in the U.S. is New York, with a population of roughly 8.1 million.

us vs poland
Warsaw skyline (left); New York City skyline (right)

The GDP, or total value of all goods and services in Poland is $469.5 billion (2016). The GDP of the U.S is $18.57 trillion (2016).

BUT

When it comes to debt, Poland owed 54.1% of its GDP in 2016, while the U.S. debt to GDP ratio was 105.4% as of 2017!

money

While 88.5% of the U.S population uses the internet, 72.4% of Poland’s population is connected to the World Wide Web.

poland v.s. the u.s.

Poland’s largest religion is Roman Catholicism, practiced by more than 90% of the population. The largest religion in the U.S. is Christianity in general, with 70% of the population claiming to adhere to the faith.

polish religion
The interior of Saint Mary Basilica in Krakow, Poland

According to the United Nations’ 2017 World Happiness Report, the U.S. is the world’s 14th happiest country. Poland is the world’s 46th happiest country.

happy

Statistically, Poland has 0.94 males for each female; the U.S. has 0.97 males for each female. Guys, your odds are slightly better in Poland.  >>See more

man&woman

In the end, the U.S. is obviously larger than Poland in many respects. But remember that bigger doesn’t necessarily always mean better in everything. After all, something about Poland always makes me want to go back.

Remember to check me out on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/crazypolishguy/
Continue reading Fun Facts: Poland vs. the U.S.

Saint Faustina Kowalska: The Pole Who Met God

200px-faustina

Poland has no shortage of Saints. Saint Pope John Paul II (Karol Wojtyła), Saint John Cantius and Saint Maximilian Kolbe are some prominent examples. Another Polish Saint, who reportedly had visions of Jesus Christ Himself, is Sister Mary Faustina Kowalska.

Born in Głogowiec, Poland in 1905, Helena Kowalska was stirred from an early age to join religious life. At the age of seven, she already knew she wanted to be a nun, though her parents didn’t support the idea. Still, religious life drew her like a magnet, and her parents would ultimately prove unable to counter its force.

At age nineteen, while attending a dance, Helena had a vision of Christ, who told her to drop everything and immediately travel to Warsaw to join a convent. It was a testament to her faith and piety that she set off for the capital in obedience. She joined the Congregation of the Sisters of Our Lady of Mercy and received her habit and religious name of Faustina in April 1926.

In 1930, Sister Faustina was transferred to a convent in Płock, Poland, an assignment  that would have an inconceivable impact on her life and on Roman Catholics everywhere.

Christ’s Visit

Faustina home
Sister Faustina’s residence in Vilnius, Lithuania

One February night, Sister Faustina was in her room when she said Jesus appeared to her, dressed in white, with red and white rays emanating from His heart. He told her to paint an image of the way He appeared, signing it with the phrase “Jezu, ufam Tobie” (Jesus I trust in you). Initially, few took her story seriously. It wasn’t until after Sister Faustina took her final vows in 1933 and was transferred to Vilnius (today the capital of Lithuania) that she was able to begin fulfilling Christ’s request of her.

While working as a gardener in Vilnius, as part of that city’s convent of the Sisters of Our Lady of Mercy, Sister Faustina met Father Michael Sopoćko, who was the nuns’ confessor. She told him about her conversations with Jesus, and he was initially skeptical, going so far as to order that Sister Faustina undergo a complete psychiatric evaluation. After taking all the necessary tests, she passed and was declared mentally sound.

After that, Father Sopoćko was fully dedicated to helping Sister Faustina complete the mission given to her from above. He tasked an artist, Eugene Kazimierowski, to paint a picture based on Sister Faustina’s vision of Christ.

At one point, Sister Faustina had written in her diary that Christ elaborated on His image proclaiming,

The two rays denote Blood and Water. The pale ray stands for the Water which makes souls righteous. The red ray stands for the Blood which is the life of souls. These two rays issued forth from the very depths of My tender mercy when My agonized heart was opened by a lance on the Cross. These rays shield souls from the wrath of My Father. Happy is the one who dwell in their shelter, for the just hand of God shall not lay hold of him. (Diary of Sister Faustina, 299)

Divine Mercy Image
The original Divine Mercy image, depicting how Sister Faustina saw Christ.

The artist painted the original Divine Mercy image, which today can be visited in Vilnius. It is meant as a “vessel” to remind people to continuously ask for God’s infinite mercy.

Painting the image wasn’t enough, however, as Sister Faustina had received further instructions from Christ to ensure that it would be publicly venerated and that the second Sunday of Easter become a feast day called Divine Mercy Sunday. Unfortunately, Sister Faustina would not live to see all of this come to fruition.

In 1935, she had another vision, which inspired her to write the Divine Mercy Chaplet, a rosary-based prayer recited by faithful Catholics to this day. Not very long after, Sister Faustina was diagnosed with tuberculosis and moved to a sanatorium in Krakow, Poland. She died on October 5, 1938. She had reportedly spent her last moments praying in ecstasy.

The Road to Public Veneration

Before her death, Sister Faustina had predicted a terrible war. World War II more than fulfilled that prediction. Despite this, veneration of the Divine Mercy image was spreading across the globe. Father Sopoćko, who had gone into hiding during the war, founded a new religious congregation afterward, based on the Divine Mercy message. Today it is called the Congregation of the Sisters of the Divine Mercy, and the image is recognized by Catholics everywhere, whether or not they know the story behind it.

In 1965, Archbishop Karol Wojtyła of Krakow began the investigation to determine whether Sister Faustina could eventually become a saint. In April 1993, Wojtyła, now Pope John Paul II, beatified Sister Faustina. Seven years later in 2000, he canonized her a saint. From that point forward, the Catholic Church declared the Sunday after Easter to be Divine Mercy Sunday.

Based on words that Christ reportedly told Saint Faustina, Catholics believe that souls who receive Holy Communion and go to Confession on that day receive a full pardon for their sins. With that, Christ’s request of Saint Faustina was fulfilled, 62 years after her death.

For more information on Saint Faustina Kowalska, what Christ told her and everything associated with Divine Mercy, please visit https://www.ewtn.com/devotionals/mercy/backgr.htm