Does anyone have any idea how Polish immigrants to the US would Americanize their name?

I'm having trouble tracing my great-grandparents, because I presume they Americanized their names. They immigrated from Poland in 1885.

My great-grandfather was John Feltman. To me, Feltman doesn't seem very Polish and I can't find any Polish records with that name. It's very generic, so there's a lot of records to wade through.

Any ideas what Polish name would be Americanized to Feltman?

My father insisted his first name was really "Jno" (spelled that way), which would Americanize to John.

Is that possible?

My great-grandmother at least had the very Polish name of Niespodziany (my father carefully spelled it). I've found some records that list her first name as Antonia or Antoinette or Antonina. Her name here was Emma, so I don't know if those records are even really her.

Is Antonia (or one of those variants) even a common Polish name?

  • 2
    What information have you found? A cursory search with the information you've given yields a John Feltman/Feltmann/Feldman in Manitowoc, Wisconsin, including a record of his marriage to Antonia Nespojani in 1892. In some of the records he is listed as being from Germany (but Polish), so it's possible he was from an area near the Germany/Poland border. Feltman(n)/Veltman(n) does sound somewhat German.
    – shoover
    Commented Jul 3, 2020 at 2:40
  • 1
    Please ask one question at a time.
    – Bregalad
    Commented Jul 3, 2020 at 20:27

2 Answers 2


Keep in mind, in 1885 Poland did not exist as an independent country, and the population was rather mixed between speakers of different languages. On top of this (and partly because of this), people did migrate internally, marry between different groups, and the family language (and later, own perception of their nationality) would change.

Feltman (and its other spellings, like Feldman) are most likely German or Jewish in origin. All forms were quite common in Prussia.

Niespodziany most definitely is Polish in origin, though it's the male form. Female would be Niespodziana. Could be that an American clerk didn't understand how names can differ slightly between genders or the family wanted to simplify their documents. The name is rare in Poland, with only 325 registrations in the national identity database (snapshot from 2002, newer data is protected by privacy regulations) - mostly clustered in Bydgoszcz and Piła - those were Prussia (so later, Germany) at the time.

Jno - this doesn't look like any German/Polish/Jewish names I know. Closest both in German and Polish is Jan, which translates to John.

Both Antonia and Antonina were common Polish names at the time, now mostly out of use. Also, Antonia could be shorthand for Antonina.

  • Excellent answer but my $2 - I'm fairly sure German family names always ends in -mann. Names ending in -man are usually a sign of poor foreign retranscription of a German name, such as what is common in France, the US, Poland, and other countries where German people settled. Also in Germany proper the name would most certainly have been Feltmann or Feldmann.
    – Bregalad
    Commented Jul 9, 2020 at 21:18
  • Also the proper German equivalent of "Jan" is "Johannes", most often shorthanded "Hans" or "Johan". I don't think "Jan" is a German proper name, it sounds either Slavic or Dutch.
    – Bregalad
    Commented Jul 9, 2020 at 21:23
  • @skolima Thanks, I did not know Poland wasn't a country then. My dad did say it was a part that went back and forth between Poland and Germany (Posen). So maybe I should be looking at German records after all, even though they spoke Polish.
    – bkb105
    Commented Jul 15, 2020 at 0:34
  • @bkb105 State registry of births/deaths/marriages was introduced in Prussia in 1874. Earlier, this information was only recorded by local church, so a) split by faith b) more likely to get destroyed with time. The state archives are mostly digitised and searchable at szukajwarchiwach.gov.pl ; the church archives (for Posen/Poznań) are being digitised by volunteers at basia.famula.pl . Sites have an English version, documents can be in several languages.
    – skolima
    Commented Jul 15, 2020 at 11:05

I have definitely seen the male name Jno on records. I always thought maybe it was a misspelling, but maybe it is correct. You can search for naturalization records, if doesn’t give original name, you may get date, ship name and town. Then you can search on Stevemorse.org and look up the ship and date, and check the manifest for all names, search for the town, or maybe first name, Jno.

  • 4
    "Jno" has frequently been used as an abbreviation for "John". That's something to bear in mind if you see "Jno" in any records.
    – AdrianB38
    Commented Jul 3, 2020 at 17:53

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