Created by Administrator Account in 12/27/2009 12:33:45 PM


My surname is Jalowiec, and I wasn't able to find anything about it on your Website (which is excellently done, by the way). I've come to the conclusion (though it may be wrong) that the -owiec was at one point -owicz. I was wondering if you had any information regarding the name.

This is a perfect example of how tricky name origins can be. The suffixes -owiec and -owicz can often mean more or less the same thing, or the meanings of words X-owicz and X-owiec will generally prove to be related in some obvious way. So your reasoning is perfectly logical -- and the conclusion is probably wrong, defeated by a simple fact you could not have foreseen!

Jalowiec in Polish is usually spelled with a slash through the L and which is pronounced much like our W. So it's Jałowiec, pronounced roughly "yah-WOVE-yets" (the second syllable rhymes more or less with the English words "trove" and "grove," although the Polish O isn't quite as long and deep as in those English words).

Polish name expert Prof. Kazimierz Rymut mentions this name in his book Nazwiska Polakow [The Surnames of Poles], and explains that the basic root is seen in the verb jałowieć (accent over the c), which means "to become barren, sterile," and in the adjective jałowy, "barren, sterile." So it would be perfectly natural to conclude Jałowiec would mean "son of the barren one, kin of the barren one." And in fact I suppose in isolated cases that is what the name meant (especially if it was meant ironically, as in "son of the supposedly barren one").

But it happens there is a noun jałowiec that somehow came to be used as the name for the juniper tree (perhaps because the juniper can grow on ground otherwise seemingly barren?). Since there is that specific noun that sounds just like the name, we'd have to figure in most cases the surname did point to some association with that tree. That's the conclusion Rymut comes to.

So a Jałowiec ancestor presumably lived near a prominent juniper, or did something with juniper berries -- something of the sort. Clearly it made sense to those who knew him to call him "Juniper," and the name came to be applied to his kin as well, until it became established as their surname. We cannot absolutely rule out the interpretation "son/kin of the barren one," but it's not likely to be right in most cases. After all, how often would a barren one have a son? And besides, saying Jałowiec has nothing to do with "juniper" is like saying the English surname Baker has nothing to do with bakers! When the name and the common noun match exactly, there will usually be a connection.

As of 1990, according to the best data available (the Slownik nazwisk wspolczesnie w Polsce uzywanych, "Directory of Surnames in Current Use in Poland," which covers about 94% of the population of Poland), there were 722 Polish citizens named Jałowiec. The largest numbers lived in the following provinces: Czestochowa 48, Katowice 139, and Tarnow 196. Unfortunately I don't have access to further details such as first names or addresses, so I can't tell you how to find that info. This data tells us the name tends to be most common in southcentral to southeastern Poland, although not exclusively.

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