Origin and history of the Pieniazek surname

Meaning and pronunciation of "Pieniazek"

     "Pieniazek" means in Polish "small coin".  According to Aleksander Brückner, the author of a dictionary explaining the origins of Polish words, this word is an old Slavic borrowing from German "Pfennig".  "Pieniazek" is spelled in Polish with two special letters (see below).

     The "a" with a cedilla in Polish represents a nasal sound, similar to French "on" in "mon".  The "z" with a dot accent represents a sound similar to French "j" in "Jean".  In English transliteration, the closest phonetic representation would be: "PyeNYONzhek".  The stressed second syllable is shown in capital letters.  We provided two recordings by Danuta and Norman Pieniazek that may help you to learn how to pronounce this surname.
Pronounced once (47k wav file)
Pronounced eight times (356k wav file)

Possible spelling variations of the Pieniazek surname

     Many immigrants to America and to other countries had their surnames corrupted by Immigration officers, especially if their surnames were difficult to transliterate.  Thus, some people that originally had the Pieniazek surname could have it changed to "Piniazek", "Piniosek", "Piniozek", "Pienioszek", "Pieniaszek", etc.  US white page Internet search shows that this may have been the case.  Some variations may have originated in Prussian-occupied Poland, where all official records were kept in German by officials that did not speak Polish.  Authoritative sources, e.g., William F. Hoffman "Polish Surnames: Origins and Meanings", Second Edition, 1997, Polish Genealogical Society of America, ISBN 0-924207 quoted from Kazimierz Rymut's monumental 10 volume work "Slownik nazwisk wspolczesnie w Polsce uzywanych", Instytut Jezyka Polskiego, Krakow, 1992, ISBN 83-855-25-7 these variations (and frequencies of occurrence) of the Pieniazek surname in 1990 Poland: Pieniadz (377), Pieniaszek (30), Pieniazek (3,374), Pieniazkiewicz (134), and Pieniezny (273).  Although the number of people with the Pieniazek surname in Poland seems high (3374), it pales in comparison with the number of people with such surnames as Malinowski (43,837), Kowalski (131,940), and Nowak (220,217).  We used the data from Rymut's book to prepare a map showing the breakdown per Polish provinces (in use from 1976 to 1998) of the persons using the Pieniazek surname.

History of the Pieniazek surname

     Although it is commonly believed that Polish surnames formed from names of things, professions, or names of animals ore younger than typical Polish surnames formed from names of places and ending in "-ski", the Pieniazek surname is one of the oldest Polish surnames and was used by many people that were prominent in the early history of Poland.  Early documents show that this name, probably first used as a nickname, was adapted by Andrzej Szydlowiecki, castellan of Sandomierz in Poland, who used the coat of arms Odrowaz.  As these early documents were written in Latin, the nickname was spelled "Obulo", what means a "small coin".  Szydlowiecki was know to love money, so the origin of this nickname is easy to guess.
    The Odrowaz coat of arms is one of the ten oldest Polish coat of arms.  Quite many Polish families belong to the Odrowaz clan and shortly, we will put this list on our Website.
     The history and genealogy of this oldest Pieniazek family is very well documented in the books on Polish nobility.  We will be adding this information to our Website.
    Sources show that the Pieniazek surname was very well known in early Poland.  Thus, people who fraudulently used this name and claimed to be members of nobility were listed in an controversial book published in Poland in about 1640: Liber Generationis Plebeanorum [Book of Generations of Plebeians], also known as the Liber Chamorum [Book of the Sons of Ham, i.e., Bondsmen] written by Walerian Nekanda Trepka.  A Pieniazek listed in this book who falsely claimed to be a descendant of the noble Pieniazeks, was a glassmaker in Krakow.

Different Pieniazek clans

     Polish heraldry books list three Pieniazek clans, each using a different coat of arms: Odrowaz, Jelita, Leliwa, Prus II, and according to some sources, also Glowa-Bawola.  As was said above, the oldest was the Odrowaz clan.  For this reason, some people from this clan changed their last name to Odrowaz-Pieniazek to stress their ancient noble roots.
    In addition to the aristocratic (Nobilis) Pieniazeks, this surname was used by families that were members of the craftsmen (Honoratus) and peasant class (Laboriosus).  It is very difficult to trace the origins of the surnames of these families, although any relationship to the Nobilis Pieniazek is rather highly unlikely.  Nevertheless, these surnames are also quite old.  For example, our ancestors, definitely of peasant stock, used this surname as early as 1713.  By browsing documents in the parish of Gorzno near Garwolin in Poland (map), we found a book that shows members of a certain religious society (we are still decoding the meaning of this list - any help would be appreciated).  The people in the list were most probably children, as the first name of our ancestor Tomasz Pieniazek is listed in the diminutive form "Tomek".  He was about eleven at this time.  Interestingly, this document shows that despite of the rigid class structure of the Polish society at that time, the members of this society were children of noblemen, craftsmen, and peasants.  A scan of this document is available (96 KB jpg image).  Click here to view this document.
    From our contacts with Pieniazeks that are not related to us, we know that they have their roots in Podole (now in the Ukraine), the region in northeast Poland between Lomza and Augustow, Sieradz, Warsaw, Rzeszow, Przemysl, and the region of Podhale south of Krakow.  In addition, we found that there is a Jewish clan of Pieniazeks, originating in the area between Lomza and Augustow.  According to the vital data records, they lived in Lomza, Radzilow, Szczuczyn, and Wasosz.  The descendants of this clan live in Argentina, USA, France, and possibly in Poland.  If you are interested in learning more about the Jewish culture, past, and present of this area, please visit the very well done website on Radzilow, created and maintained by Mr. Jose Gutstein.
    If you would like to contribute to the history of any of the above Pieniazek clans, please contact the persons listed on our home page.
Encyclopedia of Polish Herby - Coats of Arms (in Polish)
History of the families using the Odrowaz coat of arms (prepared by Bohdan and Andrzej Straszewicz)