How were Polish names handled by Prussian and German authorities during the times of the German empire? It is well known there was intense Germanisation throughout the area, for example all location names down to the street name were Germanized.

It is hard to find information about mandates or laws on individual family names and given names.

Did the authorities force a German-style spelling on existing family names and/or given names of the Polish population, and did they force new children names and their surnames also to be Germanized? Or rather, did people voluntary alter their name as the society back then made them feel shame for being of Polish roots?

Were there only respelling (example Stanisław -> Stanislaus) or was there also translations based on meaning (example Nowak -> Neumann)?

Contextually I am especially interested in the Upper Silesia region.

How did the Polish authorities find the original Polish form of Germanized names when Poland was restored in 1918 on German territory, and later when Poland annexed a huge part of Germany in 1945 (for the people with Polish roots which were allowed to say and become naturalized)?

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    I can see direct relevance of this question to G&FH even if it could also fit on the History site. – user2533 Jun 23 '15 at 10:35
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    Privacy certainly needs to be respected. I was just thinking that a question more along the lines of "my Polish ancestor X Y has a German sounding name, if it was germanized during the 19th century, can its (likely/possible) original form be uncovered?" might be easier to work through but I'll defer to @ColeValleyGirl and others who may be able to help with the more general case. – PolyGeo Jun 23 '15 at 11:57
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    @JanMurphy Is my family German, Polish, or both? is not a good question. We don’t know anything about the family (and don't need to know) and it is not about nationality but naming practices at a certain place and in a certain time. There is definitely literature to answer the current question. – lejonet Jun 23 '15 at 16:16
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    iz.poznan.pl/pz/news/9_06.%20Kowalski.pdf may be of interest. – user2533 Jun 23 '15 at 17:51
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    Upvoted because I appreciate your efforts in editing the question. We now have much more historical context instead of a vague reference to the 19th century. Well done. – Jan Murphy Jun 23 '15 at 20:42

I have performed some research and in fact it seems it was not very common, and if it was - being an unintentional result of mistakes or to make life simpler for officers.

In comments I've shown an example. One of main characters of All Quiet on the Western Front by E. Remarque (Am Westen nichts neues), being a Polish from Poznań (Posen), named Stanisław Kaczyński, was spelled in the book Stanislaus Katczinsky (compare German Wikipedia), however now I've changed my mind and think it is a spelling error of the author.

There is also another Pole in the book, Lewandowski, however there is nothing to change so it was more German-like.

The authors of Polish webpages concerning subjects like Kulturkampf, Hakata or germanisation do not say there was intentional changing Polish names to German ones (it was performed for Jewish names, but it's another story). Of course, a fact that something is not told about, does not mean it does not exist.

What is said above is rather concerning Posen.

This blog is titled "A word from a Silesia-woman about her tiny Homeland". The linked entry the author excerpts a book by priest Jan Nowak A chronicle of the city of Tarnowskie Góry and the land. The oldest Silesia events in Bytom-Tarnowskie Góry. A story about first Polish mining, written in 1927.

Then there goes a quote, however this dates 1743 (so earlier you expect):

I recall for example the surname Stefański; I've seen myself a signature with no errors, but on the very same page an annotation of a Prussian officer without any shame Stephainsky, so in one move five errors in a beautiful Polish name. This is not the end: later on in the document he'd changed the whole surname writing shortly Stephan.

So this made a German from a Pole. Some of surnames were changed unrecognizingly, eg. Szedoń was written by an officer Schädler, instead of Rajczyk - Reitzig and he without any consults baptised Poles as "native Germans".

Then the blog author mentions her own reminders:

I was once told by an old guy, that during "Hitler" times it was similar. People of Silesia were forced to change names, if only there was a shadow, a spark of Polish. It was also in his case. As a Silesian, he had a Silesian surname: Furgoł (...) They forced him to change to Flieger.

What might be also interesting for you: this is a Polish Wikipedia page Germanizacja na ziemiach polskich. There is a section Polscy działacze społeczni przeciwstawiający się germanizacji ("Polish social activists opposing the germanisation"). I have tried to open each of the person in Polish Wikipedia and then find out how it is spelled in German. This is an example of probably most notable person of the time: Dezydery Chłapowski, who is spelled correctly. For others you might need to follow cited sources. For Wojciech Korfanty it says he "was born Adalbert Korfanty" ("Adalbert" is German equivalent for "Wojciech", like German "Johannes" is equivalent for English "John").

Please also note that the examples I've found are dated outside the German Empire (before and after).

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  • If you perform any research keep also in mind there were mixed marriages (especially within nobility, but common people too) which may lead to confusing results if not taken into account. – Voitcus Jun 30 '15 at 10:48
  • That blog sounds like the most interesting source. I belive Silesia is different because it was already Prussian before the time of partitions. But most people didn't know how to read/write back then (in neither German or Polish). Also the WP article on germanisation of german's partition is bad, they say at least 4 times that "polish language was banned from scool", but after banning it once, I really don't see the point of banning it 3 more times (same goes for other anti-polish measures that are repeated over and over several times) – Bregalad Jun 30 '15 at 13:19
  • Most of the people from that list do not have German article for, and the few that does have unaltered names. However, I think it's a german article made from modern polish sources, as I doubt germans wouldn't at least remove the dash on the 'l's of their polish names. They still do that today, and it's not part of a discrimination process (and yes, this results in incredibly wrong pronunciations). WP is about the only thing that keeps the diacritics of foreign languages. – Bregalad Jun 30 '15 at 13:21

I can't really provide example of Polish names in Upper Silesia, but I can provide you with one example and reason for it in Sudetenland before WW2 and one funny story from one village in Northern Moravia

People in Sudetenland with the wake of nationalism often changed their names to pick sides. Be it to show more pro-German or pro-Czech sentiment. There is also a thing that marginalized people often chose to change their name into variant of major language spelling to escape certain (be it passive) persecution (job opportunities and so).

There was a guy in village near Ostrava (region that used to have big German and still has big Polish minority), who was called Schultz. He renamed himself Šulc in the wake of German nationalism (to escape possible reaction from Czechs). Under following Protectorate, he renamed himself as Schultz again. Then communist regime came so he renamed himself as Šulc and after fall of communism in Czech Republic, he is Schultz again.

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  • Interesting! Although I don't know why he would change his name after the fall of communism since the region remains in the Czech Rep. he'd want to "sound" Czech, although he might have personal reasons to want to "sound" German. – Bregalad Jul 2 '15 at 8:08
  • This is so widespread that it should be considered the rule. My paternal grandmother - and this branch of the family - was called... Führer during the Second World War. It was a nice name but after the war, they changed it to Fišer. The name may sound extreme to some - but there are actually still lots of families in Czechia that are called Führer. – Luboš Motl Aug 12 '15 at 15:05

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