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Etymology and History 


Ukrainian surnames are over 200 years old. It was as back as in 1780 that Austrian Emperor Joseph II by a decree assigned a stable family name to each of his subordinates. Heads of families were obliged to hand their surnames down to their descendants. Before that, every person may, apart from their Christian name, have had some individual nickname which did not necessarily have to be handed down to his offspring as an identification mark of their kin (i.e. nicknames more often than not were one-generation identification marks).

Prior to being established as stable multi-generation surnames, these nicknames had been content (= significant) words: apart from nominating a person, they also characterized him.

Additionally to that content word, many Ukrainian nicknames (later surnames) had so-called patronymic (used in a wide sense) suffixes, used to underline that their carrier is a son of the so-and-so-named father. These suffixes, like the nicknames themselves, were also one-generation patronymic names used to name a person after his father rather than to name all further descendants of that ‘forefather’. It is noteworthy that contemporary village nicknames continue to use these suffixes to name somebody’s descendants unofficially: father Petryshche – son Petryshchak.

-ак/-як/-чак (-ak/-yak/-chak) is an old Slav multipurpose suffix, widely represented both in common nouns and proper names. In Ukrainian, this suffix was highly productive to form such noun categories as names after one’s activities (співак, рибак), names after one’s outside or inside property (голодняк, пияк, слабак), names denoting one’s social status (бідняк, жебрак), relation (родак), residence or origin (лісняк, подоляк), ethnic origin (поляк, руснак).

This suffix is always stressed in Nominative Case, while when declining the noun the accent will move on to the inflexion (declinable ending of the word).

Surnames with this suffix are common throughout the Ukrainian Carpathians (in the territory of contemporary Ukraine’s Lviv and Zakarpatska oblasts, and Poland’s Subcarpathian province), but it is most widely spread in the western parts of the area. Extensive research has shown that the epicenter of the patronymic nicknames with this suffix was somewhere in the western part of the Ukrainian ethnic area. The accuracy of this hypothesis may be proved by the fact that this suffix is also used by such West Slavonic nations as Poles and Czechs.

Worontschak in fact is the German spelling of the original Ukrainian Ворончак. This was how this surname was registered by the German officials during WWII, and this spelling passed on to English documents when such were issued on the basis of the German ones. It has to be noted that grammar rules cannot apply when rendering proper names, especially Christian, patronymic names, family names and surnames into another language. That is why, one cannot claim that a certain proper name is spelt incorrectly and therefore the spelling mistake must be corrected. However, if we were to use the conventional rules of rendering Ukrainian phonemes (sounds) into English, the ‘proper’ spelling of the surname would be *Voronchak. To complicate the situation, it may also be spelt as Woronczak, which is the traditional Polish spelling of this surname. The fact is that until 1939, many (if not all) carriers of this family name had been Polish citizens (Galitzia, where this surname is found most frequently, was part of Rzech Pospolita until September 1939) and, therefore, this was how their surname was spelt in their Polish passports. Consequently, all carriers of the surname Worontschak, Voronchak, Woronczak (and maybe even Vorončák, if coming from Slovakia) may be treated as relatives or at least namesakes.

Let us proceed to the root of the initial word, from which the surname Worontschak derived. It may be either Ворон (a personal nickname deriving from the common noun ворон = ‘raven’; Voron is known as a personal name of South Slavonic nations) or Ворона (a personal nickname deriving from the common name ворона = ‘crow’).

So, the initial Ворончак may have been an offspring of somebody whose nickname was Ворон or Ворона. Both nicknames may have been one-generation names, assigned to a certain kin after Emperor Joseph’s decree. In the case of Ворончак, it was the diminutive name that was handed down to that person’s further descendants. The name may have appeared in the Ukrainian as well as Czech, Slovak or Polish ethnic media – but bearing in mind the original birthplace of the family, it may be asserted that these particular Worontschaks are of West-Ukrainian (= Galitzian, Rusyn = Ruthenian) origin.

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