JewishGen Discussion Group #JewishGen The Origin of the POLONSKY Surname #general

Jeffrey Mark Paull

The following analysis is >from my soon-to-be-published book: "The
Ancient Lineage of the Polonsky and Paull Family -- A Millennium
of Genealogy, History and Heritage."

If the Jewish-derived surname Polonsky actually meant ">from Poland,"
one would expect to see two distinct demographic trends:

(1) Polonsky would be a very common Jewish surname, since a
very large number of Jews descend >from Poland, and

(2) A significant proportion of Polonsky immigrants to America
would be of Polish nationality.

In reality, neither one of these demographic trends have been
observed, which lends support to the traditional definition of the
Jewish-derived Polonsky surname as a toponym, and that the place
of origin was limited in geographic scope to either the town of
Polonnoye, the village of Polonsk, or perhaps both.

The Polonsky surname is relatively uncommon, even among Jews. Of
862,949 Jewish immigrants who immigrated to the United States through
Ellis Island between 1882 and 1924, only 208 of them (0.02%) were
named Polonsky, and nearly all of them (200 of 208) were >from Russia.

This total of 208 Polonsky immigrants can be compared to the 35,960
immigrants with the Rosen surname (and its derivatives, Rosenfeld,
Rosenthal, etc.) -- a greater than a 170-fold difference.

There are at least dozens, if not hundreds of Jewish surnames that
are much more common than Polonsky among Jewish immigrants, including
the surnames Adler, Berger, Berman, Blum, Cohen, Davis, Eisen,
Friedman, Goldman, Gordon, Greenberg, Gutman, Hirsch, Horowitz,
Israel, Jacobs, Katz, Klein, Levin, Levy, Meyer, Rabinowitz, Rosen,
Roth, Rubin, Schwartz, Segal, Shapiro, Simon, Stein, Weiss, Wolf,
and Zucker, to name but a few.

There is another very telling fact regarding the Polonsky surname
that is revealed by the Jewish immigrant demographic data contained
in the Ellis Island database.

Surely, if the root of the Jewish Polonsky surname actually meant
">from Poland," one would expect that there would be many Jewish
Polonsky immigrants, of which a significant proportion would be
expected to be of Polish nationality.

However, not only was there an exceedingly small number of Polonsky
immigrants (barely over 200), over the entire 33-year period of mass
immigration of Jews >from Eastern Europe and elsewhere to the United
States, but only one of them was found to have been of Polish

The prevalence rate of 0.02% for the Polonsky surname among Jewish
immigrants to America was very low compared to the prevalence rates
for other common Jewish surnames. Hence, it should not be surprising
that the prevalence rate for the Polonsky surname in the United
States is also very low.

According to a 1997 survey, the Polonsky surname appears only 284
times in a sample database of 88.7 million names, representing one
third of the U.S. population. This yields a prevalence rate of
0.0003% for the Polonsky surname among the general U.S. population,
and 0.016% among the U.S. Jewish population.

Based upon these prevalence rates, it can be estimated that there
are only about 800 people with the Polonsky surname currently living
in the United States.

Despite these extremely low prevalence rates, there is a common
misconception that Polonsky is a very common Jewish surname. This
misconception may arise >from the mistaken belief that the
Jewish-derived version of the Polonsky surname means ">from Poland."
Intuitively, this sounds like a surname that would belong to a great
many Jews >from Poland, which, clearly it does not.

This misconception has been repeated many times, including by at
least one Jewish genealogist, who stated: "Many of our family
surnames, such as Bernstein, Friedman or Polonsky, are very common."
Oft-repeated misconceptions tend to lead people astray, and until I
conducted my own research on this topic, I certainly was one of them
(see my previous post).

Although Polonsky may not be one of the more common Jewish surnames,
I would not have it any other way. That is because, with respect
to Jewish genealogy, having an unusual or uncommon surname such as
Polonsky is a huge advantage, when trying to locate records for
one's ancestors.

My great-grandfather's name was Nathan (Menachem Nachum) Polonsky.
As soon as I located a marriage record for him, I knew that it had
to be his. Now, imagine that my great-grandfather's name was
something much more common -- say Samuel Cohen, for example -- and
that I found 40 or 50 marriage records under that name. How would
I ever be able to tell which one was his?

The level of complexity and the degree of difficulty in identifying
one's ancestors increases exponentially with the prevalence of the
name. Without the advantage conferred by the rarity of the Polonsky
surname, I seriously doubt that I would have met with anything close
to the success that I have been fortunate enough to have experienced,
in tracing my family's ancestry and lineage.

As always, I welcome and invite all of your thoughts, ideas, and
comments to the discussion.

Dr. Jeffrey Mark Paull

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