The origin of the surname LESHKEVICH-ZENOVICH-OLPENSKY

LESHKEVICH is a Belorussian surname, which is formed by the addition of the suffix “vich”. This type of surname is in use in central and western Belarus, and also in the territory of modern Poland. Similarly, surnames such as Levkovich, Kravtsevich, Zhdanovich, Sakovich, Tyshkevich and many others have been formed in the same manner.

According to the assertions of the Belorussian linguist and author of several studies on anthropology, professor Nikolai Birila, the surname LESHKEVICH derives from the spelling vocabulary and, obviously, originates from the word “Leshko”, which is in turn a derivative of the word “Lyakh” (Pole).

This hypothesis has documentary confirmation. Despite the fact that the surname LESHKEVICH has already been mentioned in the first half of the 16th century (in 1515 Prince Fedor Jaroslavovich affirmed the gift of Olpen to a certain Zenon Semenovich Leshkevich), during the census of 1795 many inhabitants from the outskirts of Olpen are recorded as “Zienowowicz Lezko”...

It is difficult to determine accurately, when and under what circumstances the surname of LESHKEVICH was first associated with the surname ZENOVICH. Moreover, this association most likely occurred when the ZENOVICH surname was already associated with the name of OLPENSKY. In turn, the formation of the surname ZENOVICH is as obvious as that of the surname LESHKEVICH. Nikolai Birila asserts that it originated from the male given name of Zenon. In some documents we encounter given names combined with versions of this name such as ZENOVOVICH and ZENONOVICH, which greatly resembles contemporary patronymics. Obviously, at that time surnames were not yet being used as they are today, rather they were attached to a given name to indicate clan or family association derived from a father, grandfather or an ancestor. Typically, the surname ZENOVICH was usually mentioned together with the name OLPINSKY in this locality. The combination of ZENOVICH-OLPINSKY is already encountered in 1479, when Princess Anna, widow of Prince Svidrigailo, presented Olpen to a certain individual named Zenovich-Olpinskiy. Although we do not know for sure, it may be that Princess Anna described this individual as Zenovich Olpenskiy so that it would be possible to distinguish him from others using the name Zenovich.

Actually, it is possible to speak confidently about the history of the formation of the third part of the surname. Taking into account anthropological processes in the 16th – 18th centuries, the surname of ZENOVICH could appear in several places independently from one another. For example, the Zenovich-Deshpotov family is well known from Belorussian history. So we can surmise that in order to emphasize their identity and uniqueness, the ZENOVICH family from Olpen likely assumed the additional name of OLPENSKY, because it indicated their geographical and, obviously, property and familial affiliation with their ancestral seat on the outskirts of Olpen. Surnames formed according to this analogy are still encountered in the territory of the Stolin region to this day. For example, Verenich-Stakhovskiy (from the village of Stakhovo) or Nozdrin- Plotnitskiy (from the village of Plotnitsa).

It is interesting to note that the name of OLPENSKY was not used as an independent surname in the old times in the territory of Belarus, and in any case, there have been no documents found yet which would indicate this. There are recorded instances of the alternate spelling variation of OLPINSKY being used, with the letter "E" substituted with an "I". Because of the relatively close proximity of Olpen to the city of Pinsk, this spelling variation may have simply described a wider geographic area, which would be understandable as Pinsk was better known than the small village of Olpen. It could also have been a clerical error or the intentional distortion by the very bearers of this surname in order to give it a kind of larger importance. It is only necessary to establish that the version ZENOVICH-OLPINSKY, which in my view is nevertheless inaccurate, received the widest use. (For this reason, let us agree that depending on the context, both versions may be used here.)

Obviously, the names LESHKEVICH and ZENOVICH-OLPINSKY became one surname as a result of a marriage between these two families. Both families descended from the nobility and valued and honored their independence, so it is no wonder that neither side wished to give up their surname. This resulted in the amalgamation of the three names into a triple surname, although there is nothing to indicate when this occurred historically. By the way, it is necessary to note that in Olpen and in the surrounding villages two versions - both ZENOVICH-LESHKEVICH-OLPINSKY and LESHKEVICH-ZENOVICH-OLPINSKY – were used side by side.

Today the independent surname OLPINSKI can be found only in America. It is possible that some immigrants who started their journey across the ocean with the surname LESHKEVICH-ZENOVICH-OLPENSKI decided to use only part of this long surname which had been inherited from their ancestors. But another explanation is also possible. The fact is that in reality, today's English-language OLPINSKI may be a variation of the Polish surname OŁPIŃSKI, which in Byelorussian is read as ОЛПІНЬСКІ, and in Russian as ОЛПИНЬСКИ. And this is an entirely different name, which originates from the Malopolski village of OŁpiny not far from the town of BIECZ.

Alas, today it is practically impossible to meet a man with the triple surname LESHKEVICH-ZENOVICH-OLPINSKY or similar. In the village of Olpen there are only a few inhabitants whose passports record their surname as ZENOVICH-LESHKEVICH-OLPINSKY, and some others who are recorded as ZENOVICH-LESHKEVICH. Others who still use the complete surname live abroad, especially in Poland. Our ancestors stopped using the triple surname when not all could prove their descent from the Polish nobility and their right to this surname. The years after the uprisings at the beginning and middle of the 19th centuries were especially dramatic. After the uprisings, Russian authorities conducted the so-called selection of Belorussian and Polish nobility, and those who could not produce the original documents outlining their privileges, were recorded as minor nobility, and were deprived simultaneously of their privileges and the triple surname. The second stage of bitter struggle occurred during the period of the Soviet regime. People independently rejected this uncommon surname, which identified that they were of noble origin, destroyed documents in order not to be punished and to ensure that they did not fall into disgrace, and so as not to bring misfortune on their families and loved ones.

An evil joke was played with our surname during migration. In each country they tried and try to rewrite it in accordance with the rules of local language or pronunciation. Let us take a look at what came out of this. Since our ancestors - for geopolitical reasons - lived in either a Polish or Russian state, and respectively used the Polish or Russian language, two written versions of the surname initially emerged: LESZKIEWICZ - in Polish and LESHKEVICH - in Russian. Migrating across the ocean, descendants from Poland preserved the previous written version of their surname as LESZKIEWICZ in their new homeland. To a degree, the use of Latin type contributed to this spelling. But those who arrived from the Russian Empire or THE USSR, where the Cyrillic alphabet was used, usually relied on a simple transliteration and wrote their name in accordance with the requirements of contemporary English. As a result it came out as LESHKEVICH..

Furthermore, one must take into account that frequently surnames were written with errors. For example, I obtained an e-mail from a woman who lives in the USA. Her surname is LEOSZKIEWICZ but, according to her family history, her ancestors were from the village of Olpen. We know with certainty that in Olpen there were never any individuals with the surname LEOSHKEVICH. Thus, it turns out that the present spelling of her surname is likely the result of a clerical error which occurred at the beginning of the last century when her ancestor’s papers were processed on entry to the country. Very often new immigrants were not familiar with the language of their new homeland and would not have been aware that their names were spelled incorrectly by the official who simply recorded it as it sounded or looked to them.

Thus far we have examined the spelling of the LESHKEVICH name only from a Russian, Polish and English perspective. Let us look at this from the Belorussian perspective, which gives us an additional version of the name, and which significantly complicates genealogical study and introduces unnecessary confusion. In accordance with the rules of the Belorussian language, which stipulates that if the letter “E” is accented, then it is compulsory for this letter “E” to be changed to a “Я” (YA sound). This provides us with the spelling LYASHKEVІCH, which as we know in Russian is written as LESHKEVICH. It is unfortunate that after this conversion the Belorussion spelling of the name becomes similar to the Russian spelling of another distinct family name, which from the Russian would be written as LASHKEVICH, and in Polish as LASZKIEWICZ. This is also a family of noble origin, with roots in Belarus that has its own coat of arms. But this is a completely different family despite the fact that in Belorussian these surnames sound absolutely identical.

But now let us try to translate our surname from the Belorussian language into modern English. We will obtain one additional version – LIASHKEVICH – which is relatively uncommon. Specifically, this English language version is recorded in my passport, which frequently causes confusion for my foreign friends, who have difficulty understanding how LESZKIEWICZ could become LIASHKEVICH. In conclusion a few examples of additional versions of surname in other languages: German - LESCHKEWITSCH and LESCHKEWITZ, Lithuanian — LEŠKEVIČINE,LEŠKEVIČIUS and LEŠKEVIČ.

Undoubtedly there are other spelling variations of this name – such are the consequences when people communicate in many different languages…: -)


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