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Comparison of First names Given to Children "Old World & "New World"

By John L. Rys, (


This article examines “first names” given to children born to parents in Widełka, Poland, during the years 1784-1822.  It looks at the distribution and popularity of individual first names and analyzes this data as to customs used to select first names in Poland during that time period.  It then compares this data against first names for Polish births in the U.S. for the time period 1895-1909.

In the Winter 2006 issue of Rodziny, I published an article analyzing first names given to ethnically Polish children born in Minnesota.  After its publication I received a call from Stan Schmidt, longtime PGSA member and former PGSA President.  He had an idea about comparing my 1895-1909 U.S. first name data against the 1784-1822 records from Widełka indexed by Stan and John Gavel. 

Stan thought it would be interesting to compare “Old World” first names with “New World” first names. He said their database was available for me to analyze in a fashion similar to what was done with the 100 year old U.S. data.  I was delighted to have the opportunity to sort through this 200 year old data and do some comparisons.

Background information on Widełka, Poland

Both Joan (Smyrski) Schmidt and John Gavel have ancestral roots from the village of Widełka.  Widełka is in southern Poland (formerly Galicia) east of Krakow, north of the city of Rzeszow.  Widelka did not have a church at that time so baptisms took place at the parish church in the neighboring village of Przewrotne.  Joan posted Słownik Geograficzny translations for Widełka and Przewrotne on the PGSA website (

Joan’s personal website provides the following Widełka information:  “The first historical mention of Widełka comes in the 17th Century.  At that time the village of Widełka was part of the parish of Przewrotne in the diocese of Krakow.  It belonged to the diocese of Krakow until 13 May 1785, and was then transferred to Tarnow when Pope Pius VI formed that new diocese.  On 2 December 1786, the parish was again transferred.  This time to the diocese of Przemyśl to which it belongs at the present time.

After World War I, the citizens of Widełka began thinking of creating a new parish to honor the Blessed Mother in thanksgiving for giving them back their country.  Because of Przewrotne’s remoteness and the road difficult to travel, the Bishop gave Widełka permission to create a new parish, Mary Queen of Poland, on 2 August 1920.  A church was built and consecrated on 14 September 1935.”

Galicia, Source of First Name Data

The data compared is primarily from the Austro-Hungarian partition of Poland called Galicia.  The 1784-1822 data is from Widełka, Poland just east of Krakow.  The 1895-1909 data is from Holy Cross church in Minneapolis, MN whose Polish parishioners came primarily from Galicia.  Principle Polish villages associated with Holy Cross parishioners are Rabka, Jordanów, Sokołów, and Nowy Targ southwest of Krakow.

First Names - Given Names - Christian Names

First names may also be known as given names, forenames or Christian names.  “Given name” comes from the fact that parents can give a name of their own selection at their child’s birth or baptism.  “Forename” in that it is sequentially first or in front, it precedes the surname.  “Christian name” follows a custom to give a first name which is associated with important figures in the Bible and Christian faith.  This name may also be referred to as a “baptismal name”.

First Name Distribution Tables

Since this first name data is electronic, it was an easy task to sort and count.  The overall summary of the data, from Widełka is as follows.  There were 2,073 baptismal records for the 38 year period from May 4, 1784 to December 24, 1822.  1,064 (51.3%) were boys and 1,009 (48.7%) were girls.   The first names were sorted and separate distribution tables were prepared for boys and girls.  The tables below, arranged by frequency of occurrence, use the English version of the name or the most common way we see the name today.   

First Names for Boys:  Forty-four (44) different names were used to name 1,064 boys during this 38 year time period.  Thirty-seven percent (37%) of boys were named Matthew, John, Albert, Joseph or Jacob, the top five names.  The top ten boy’s names account for sixty-five percent (65%) of the boys.  On the bottom end, there were 12 names used once. 

First Names for Girls:  Thirty-six (36) different names were used to name 1,009 girls during this 38 year time period.  The top five names, Marianna, Sophia, Hedwig, Catherine or Anna accounted for a large sixty-six percent (66%) of girl’s names.  The top ten girl’s names account for eighty-eight percent (88%) of the girls.  On the bottom end, there were 10 names used once.

Middle Names

Given names may be single or double.  We refer to the second given name as a “middle” name.  How popular were “middle names” during this time period?  In the Widełka database of 2,073 children, eighty (80) children were given middle names, or 3.8%.  Sixty-one girls or 6% of 1,009 girls received a middle name.  Nineteen boys or 1.8% of 1,064 boys received a middle name.

File written by Adobe Photoshop® 4.0 Church at Przewrotne, Place of early Widełka Baptisms
Boy’s First Names for Time Period 1784-1822 --Widełka, Poland

First names for Boys No. of times used
Matthew 93 (8.7%)
John 81 (7.6%)
Albert 79 (7.4%)
Joseph 73 (6.9%)
Jacob 66 (6.2%)
Stanley (Stanislaus) 63 (5.9%)
Martin 62 (5.8%)
Francis 60 (5.6%)
Michael 59 (5.5%)
Anthony 58 (5.5%)
Thomas 45
Lawrence 41
Bartholomew 37
Sebastian 34
Andrew 32
Valentine 29
Paul 28
Peter 18
Casimir 16
Adam 12
Stephan 11
Blaise, Lucas           9 each
Nicolas, Simon          8 each
Gregory          5 each
Carl, Felix, Philip, Vincent          3 each
Alexander, Gaspar           2 each
Ambrose, Anselm, Benedict, Dominic, Gabriel, Hyacinth, Ignatius, Leo, Matthias, Roch, Sylvester, Theodore           1 each
TOTAL 1,064

Girl’s First Names for Time Period 1784-1822 -- Widełka, Poland

First names for Girls
No. of
times used
Marianna 237 (23.5%)
Sophia 155 (15.4%)
Hedwig 109 (10.8%)
Catherine 85 (8.4%)
Anna 79 (7.8%)
Eve 64 (6.3%)
Agnes 58 (5.7%)
Agatha 46 (4.6%)
Frances 28 (2.8%)
Regina 28 (2.8%)
Rosalia 25
Margaret 23
Justine 11
Helen 9
Magdalen 8
Gertrude, Kunegunda         5 each
Dorothy, Thecla        4 each
Apolonia, Theresa        3 each
Elizabeth, Julianna, Lucille, Susanne, Victoria        2 each
Barbara, Brigid, Christine, Domicella, Josephine, Ludvina, Marcianna, Petronella, Salome, Ursula        1 each
TOTAL 1,009

Customs or Practices Used to Select First Names

There are a number customs or practices used to select a first name for a child.  With the available Widełka data, three naming practices were tested.  They are: 1) Naming a child after a parent; 2) Naming a child after a godparent; 3) Naming a child after a particular saint whose feast day is near the birth date.

Custom of Being Named after a Parent

To test this custom, data was sorted and printed with the first name in a column next to the parent’s names.  First names that matched were flagged.  Twenty-seven (27) boys had the same name as their father.  Since there is a total of 1,064 boys only 2.5% of boys were named after their father.  Apparently naming a “junior” was not popular.  Sixty-one (61) girls had the same name as their mother.  Since there is a total of 1,009 girls only 6% of girls were named after their mother, a little higher than for boys.  There appears to be little indication of a wide-spread practice of naming children after parents during 1784-1822.

Custom of Being Named after a Godparent

Fifty-two (52) boys bear the same name as their godfather amounting to 4.9%.  One hundred twenty-nine (129) girls bear the same name as their godmother amounting to 12.8%.  There appears to be some statistical evidence to support a custom of naming children after godparents and more commonly for girls.

Naming a Child Based on Proximity to a Saint’s Feast Day

The following is a quotation from the book Polish Roots by Rosemary A. Chorzempa, Publishing Company, Baltimore Maryland, 1993, page 169: “Considering how important the saints and their feast days were to the Poles, it is not surprising that many Polish parents consulted their pastor or the Proper of the Saints to select a name for their child.  They searched for an agreeable saint whose feast day was near their child’s birth or baptismal date.  The feast day was most often on or just after the child’s birth or baptismal date, usually no more than three (3) weeks after the event”.

Names and birth dates were compared against a list of saint’s feast days.  This was a difficult analysis to make and is not be as precise as one would hope.  First, there are multiple feast days for a given saint’s name, such as, John with at least a dozen feast days.  Secondly, there are varying feast day selection lists.  Many of the Polish Mass or prayer books included a list of saint’s feast days.  The inclusion of a “days of the saints” calendar indicates that saint’s feast days were an important part of their Polish church year. 

The birth date entries were compared against the common Polish feast day list in Polish Roots by Rosemary A. Chorzempa, on pages 171-180.  Selection of this list was made on the basis that it was a manageable list, and it is for “common Polish names”.   

Number Of Birth Dates Where The Child’s Given Name Is Within 14 Days Of The Namesake Saint’s Feast Day

Proximity of Birth to Saint’s Feast Day Number of Children Percentage of Children Running
Running Percentage
On the day 81 3.9% 81 3.9%
Within 1 day 91 4.4% 172 8.3%
Within 2 days 93 4.5% 265 12.8%
Within 3 days 103 5.0% 368 17.8%
Within 4 days 74 3.6% 442 21.3%
Within 5 days 71 3.4% 513 24.7%
Within 6 days 58 2.8% 571 27.5%
Within 7 days 67 3.2% 638 30.8%
Within 8 days 56 2.7% 694 33.5%
Within 9 days 64 3.1% 758 36.6%
Within 10 days 56 2.7% 814 39.3%
Within 11 days 57 2.7% 871 42.0%
Within 12 days 35 1.7% 906 43.7%
Within 13 days 35 1.7% 941 45.4%
Within 14 days 30 1.4% 971 46.8%

The heading “On the day” indicates that there were 81 children with birth dates falling exactly on the feast day of their namesake Saint.  To illustrate:  A girl is born on January 21st.  The feast day of St. Agnes is January 21st.  She is named Agnes.  An assumption can be made that she was named Agnes because of her birth on the feast day of St. Agnes.

Reading the running total and percentages in the table columns, we see that 638 or 30.8% of the children bear the name of a saint whose feast day is at least one week (1-7 days) in front or after their birth dates.  There were 971 children (46.8%) who bear the name of a saint whose feast day is at least two weeks (1-14 days) in front or after their birth dates.

The use of feast day names for naming children in the “Old World” seems to have been more of a factor than in the “New World”.  Keep in mind that this comparison is not as precise as one would hope.  Again, there are multiple feast days for a given saint’s name and there are varying feast day calendar lists.  

The Name Mary (Maria)

The name Mary (the Latin form is Maria) was popularly used for naming many girls in the “New World” data 1895-1909 (used 72 times), but the name Mary (Maria) was not used once in the “Old World” data 1784-1822.  Maryanne (Marianna) continued to be very popular in both Poland and in the U.S data.  This finding supports the notation found in the reference book, First Names of the Polish Commonwealth: Origins and Meanings by William F. (Fred) Hoffman and George W. Helon, 1998, PGSA. 

The information for “Maria” in Hoffman’s book indicates “it has been a favorite feminine name among Christians -- but for centuries Poles avoided naming girls Maria because they felt that name was special and should not be used for anyone but Christ’s mother: instead they used similar names, especially Marianna….. In the 20th century this reluctance subsided and Maria has become a very popular name.”

 Comparing “Old World” First Names to “New World” First Names

Below is a chart comparing first names from Widełka, Poland (1784-1822) to the first names from Holy Cross Church in Minneapolis, Minnesota (1895-1909) as reported in the article “Analysis of Polish First Names at the Turn of the 20th Century” in Rodziny, Winter 2006 pgs 9-15.  From 1784-1822 to 1895-1909, the variety of first names expanded by a significant number.  The number of different first names increased from 44 names to 94 names in the “new world” for boys.  For girls it increased from 36 names to 96 names.

For the years 1784-1822, the top ten names for girls accounted for a very large proportion of girls, 88%.   Top ten girl’s names dropped to 57% for the years 1895-1909.  For boys, the top ten given names surprisingly remained constant at 64%. 

Six of the top ten boy’s names from 1784-1822 remained popular and are part of the 1895-1909 top ten list.  Five of the top ten names given to girls still remained popular and are on the top ten list from 1895-1909.  Use of middle names was very limited in 1784-1822 (2%) and expanded in 1895-1909 (18%).

Comparison of “Old World” First Names with “New World” First Names

  “OLD WORLD” Data
from Widelka, Poland
from Minneapolis, MN

Number of years covered

38 years 15 years

Number of records examined

1,064 Boy births (51.3%)
1,009 Girl births (48.6%)
2,073 Total birth records

1,189 Boy births (52.3%)
1,085 Girl births (47.7%)
2,274 Total birth records


Number of different names Used

44 different names for boys

94 different names for boys

Top ten names given to boys

(*Indicates this name appears on the “old world” top ten list and the “new world” top ten list.)



Top 5 names Used:

For 37% of boy’s names

For 51% of boy’s names

Top 10 names Used:

For 65% of boy’s names

For 64% of boy’s names


Number of different names

36 different names for girls

96 different names for girls

Top ten names given to girls

(*Indicates this name appears on the “old world” top ten list and the “new world” top ten list.)


Mary (Maria)

Top 5 names used:

For 66% of girl’s names

For 40% of girl’s names

Top 10 names used:

For 88% of girl’s names

For 57% of girl’s names


Middle names or “second given” names.

61 (3.6%) Girls
19 (1.7%) Boys
80 (2%) of all children with middle names

202 (18.6%) Girls
211 (17.7%) Boys
413 (18.2%) of all children with middle names

Comparison of “Old World” First Names with “New World” First Names

  “OLD WORLD” Data
from Widelka, Poland
from Minneapolis, MN

Named after parents

27 (2.5%) boys after father
61 (6%)    girls after mother
88 (4.2%) Total

85 (7.1%) boys after father
38 (3.5%) girls after mother
123 (5.4%) Total

Named after godparents


52 (5%)     boys after godfather
129 (12.8%) girls after godmother
181 (8.7%) Total

156 (13.1%) boys after godfather
138 (12.7%)  girls after godmother
294 (13%) Total

Named after a saint’s feast day corresponding to their birth date or within two weeks.

81 (3.9%) on the feast day

638 (30.8%) within one week of saint’s feast day

971 (46.8%) within two weeks of saint’s feast day

67 (2.9%) on the feast day

420 (18.5%) within one week of saint’s feast day

678 (29.8%) within two weeks of saint’s feast day


The first name data shows some trends from the “old world” to the “new world” relating to naming customs.  1) First, there was a trend in the increase of the variety of given names.  The number of different names increased from 44 names in the “old world” to 94 names in the “new world” for boys.  Different names for girls went from 36 to 96.   2) Second, there is a trend for assigning “middle names” from 2% in the “old world” to 18.2% in the “new world.”  3) Third, there is a slight trend to name children after their parents (from 4.2% to 5.4%) and godparents (from 8.7% to 13%).  

It is a key point to note the redundancy of first names usage in both the “old world” and the “new world” data.  The top ten names accounted for large percentages of first names given to both girls and boys.  This was especially true of girl’s names in the “old world” where only ten names accounted for 88% of all first names given to girls. 

Genealogists should be vigilant to this fact when a “finding” depends on a popular first name during the time period being searched.  Conversely, a unique first name is more advantageous in that percentages favor the fact you may have found the correct record.

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Last Updated on October 7, 2012