Did you know that of all the 111 letters in the word ‘Szczepański,’ exactly 72.72% are consonants, only 27.27% are vowels, and 0.01% is a rounding error?
This post explains the meaning and likely origin of the Szczepański surname (last name). It also has some background information about geography, Steve Jobs, and other Polish surnames, particularly the ones ending with -ski.
- It’s shche-PAHN’-skee. Mind the ń. Think ‘canyon.’
Write it right
Szczepański is a Polish surname and is properly written with an acute accent over n, which makes it look like this: ń.
The accent mark is not just for decoration but actually reflects a difference in pronunciation, which is similar to the way ñ is pronounced in Spanish.
Other spellings, such as Szczepanski or even Schepansky, do circulate but Szczepański happens to be the only one correct.
Not a noun
The -ski ending denotes an adjective in Polish (and in some other Slavonic languages, too).
Adjectives in Polish are inflected, so if you want the female version, replace -ski with -ska. Otherwise, it sounds bizarre.
Incidentally, the same applies to -cki and -dzki, which emerge when -ski meets a stem ending in -t or -d respectively (from *tski and *dski).
Szczepańscy is Polish for ‘the Szczepańskis’ if you’ve ever wondered. (I guess you didn’t but I’ve already written it, so it stays.)
The Czech connection
Hardly all people in Poland are ski-bearers. Other popular surname endings include -icz (of Lithuanian etymology) and -ak / -ek / -ik / -yk. Or they will just have surname equivalent to some common ordinary word.
In fact the most popular Polish surname, Nowak is of Czech origin (from Novák, meaning ‘new’).
What if Steve Jobs were Polish and lived in the Middle Ages?
Szczepański is a possessive adjective formed from the given name Szczepan.
Szczepan itself is a Polish cognate of the name ‘Steven.’ Nowadays however, these names would generally be translated as Stefan.
Szczepan is an older version that originated in the early middle ages, when there was no f-sound in Polish (yet), and continues to live on to the present day.
Thus, if Steve Jobs were Polish and lived in the Middle Ages, he probably wouldn’t have invented the iPhone; he might have had an apple orchard at some point in his life though. Also, most importantly, his given name would have been Szczepan.
The good ol’ times
The name Szczepan was popularized by an early Catholic deacon who received the dubious honour of getting stoned, when it was still a once-in-a-lifetime event.
He was stoned to death and then named a saint (not by the same people obviously).
The name however is much older than its Christian propagator and comes from the Greek Στέφανος, meaning ‘a crown.’
Intelligent design or an unfortunate accident?
The question that baffles scientists to this day is how exactly the given name turned into the surname. There could be at least three explanations here:
The surname could have been created from a patronymic.
Owner of some village named after Szczepan started to be nicknamed with an adjective referring to the place, and it eventually became his surname.
Someone just took the most obnoxious consonants available, put them together, and it stuck.
We can probably agree that it doesn’t really make much of a difference now that hundreds of years have passed but wouldn’t you agree it is the third hypothesis that sounds particularly compelling.
Nob nob nobility
Szczepański is a nobility surname and sports its own coat of arms, called Dołęga (pictured right).
The word dołęga, meaning ‘potent,’ did not make it to modern Polish. Its word root is preserved only in the antonym niedołęga (an ‘impotent,’ as you may have already guessed).
Poland’s capital and largest city is called Szczepański. (No, actually it isn’t. Wouldn’t it be cool if it were though?)
There is a Szczepański Square and Szczepańska Street in Cracow, Poland. Unfortunately they are not named for the surname but after a church, which itself was named after the martyr. (The church has relocated since.)
Some 30,000 people living in Poland nowadays bear the Szczepański surname, about 10% of whom live in Warsaw (the actual capital and largest city, just so you know).
- Feel free to share your Szczepański-related comment below, and I’ll feel free to moderate it if I don’t like it or if you insult me too much.