The earliest Polish surnames were patronymic. The personal names from which they were derived were mainly Slavonic, but as the Middle Ages progressed, traditional Slavic given names, began to give way to saint's names, mainly of Latin origin. Surnames derived from Slavonic personal names are of early origin, and tend to be borne by aristocratic families. This surname of BIERNACKI was a baptismal name 'the descendant of BIEN' a pet form of BENJAMIN. The name was originally from the Hebrew male given name BINYAMIN 'son of the south'. In the Book of Genesis it is treated as meaning 'son of the right hand'. The two senses are connected, since in Hebrew the south is thought of as the right hand side of the person who is facing east. Benjamin was the youngest and favourite son of Jacob, and supposed progenitor of one of the Twelve Tribes of Israel. It is also a rare English and French surname for although the given name was not common among Gentiles in the Middle Ages, its use was sanctioned by having been borne by a saint martyred in Persia in about AD424. In some cases in medieval Europe, it was also applied as a byname or nickname to the youngest (and beloved) son of a large family. Some names were changed by immigrants whilst on the boat heading for America. These transformations were usually to names thought by the immigrants to be more respected in his native land than the one he bore. Many Poles added 'ski' to their names to attain a higher social status since such names were accorded more respect from people of Polish extraction. Thus a larger proportion of Polish names carried this termination in America than in Poland. In the Middle Ages heraldry came into use as a practical matter. It originated in the devices used to distinguish the armoured warriors in tournament and war, and was also placed on seals as marks of identity. As far as records show, true heraldry began in the middle of the 12th century, and appeared almost simultaneously in several countries of Western Europe.
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