How Did the Pomeranians Call Themselves? – Pomeranian Chronicles
Discovering what names Pomeranians were using for themselves is no easy task. One might think that the name Pomerania says it all. Well, it’s not so simple.
Names like Połabie, Pomorze, Pogórze, Pojezierze, Podhale etc. are geographical terms used with a perspective. It is widely suspected that all those names come from inland Poland, and are not regional but given from the perspective of the people of Greater Poland, the tribe that dominated Western Slavia. The name of Poland itself is not fully clear: it seems to come from the word pole which means “field”. The territories of Greater Poland and Lesser Poland are indeed giant flatlands without any significant hills or dales. Some derive it from the word opole, which was the name of ancient villages/strongholds, but the word “opole” itself comes from the word “pole.”
Another interpretation is related to the fact that in many languages, Poland and Poles are even nowadays referred to as Lechia and Lechites. Some claim that the noun “Polacy” (meaning Poles, pronounced po-lya-tsi) comes from the words “po-” and “lachy,” with the meaning “After-Lechites”. The word “po” itself can have a few meanings. It means “as far as” ,”over/next to” and “after”. Most historians take the names Pomerania and Polabia to be non-local. But in which meaning was “po” really used with those names? Actually, already in 12th century, Herbord wrote a passage about it with the following explanation:
“Pomerania provincia ex ipsa nominis etimologia qualitatem sui situs indicare videtur. Nam pome lingua Sclavorum iuxa sonat vel circa, moriz autem mare; inde Pomerania quasi Pomerizania, id est iuxa vel circa mare sita.”
which means ‘… the name itself points out the placing of this land. Because “pome” in Slavonic language means same as latin “iuxta” or “circa”, “moriz” means as much as “mare”; so Pomerania or Pomerizania is a land laying “over/next to” the sea.’This form of using “po”, according to some historians, may suggest that it could be local name
In the Kashubian language (one of Pomeranian dialects), this name was spelled Pue-muerze. Another example of a local usage of the name Pomerania are the royal titles of Serbian Tzars who were using the name Pomorie for the lands next to the Adriatic Sea. Those historians who analyzed the possibility that the name for a land could come from the name of the tribe are also pointing out that the Polish Piast dynasty, which conquered Eastern Pomerania, had a policy to change names of the regions so they would not be related to the names of the tribes which lived there. On the other hand, this policy is just assumed from observations of toponymic changes and there are no official sources supporting it.
There is a lot of tribes which took their names from the lakes or rivers over which their tribal identity was born (even if they later moved elsewhere). Henryk Łowmiański pointed out that both Wiślanie (Vistulani) from the river Wisła (Vistula), and Bużanie from over the Bug river were not living over the whole lenght of the river yet they took their name from it; in the same manner, Pomeranians, who were not the only people living next to the sea, could still derive their name from this place which was so important for their identity. Aleksander Bruckner had already analyzed this problem before and observed that Wiślanie and Bużanie were not after all called “Powiślanie” or “Pobużanie”. On the other hand, we have the Obodrites, who were related to the Pomeranians, and whose name is derived from “Ob-” and “Odr,” which means “next/over/on the sides of the Odra”.
Now, another theory is that the original name for the locals was “Kaszubi”, and “Cassubitae” in Latin; and “Kaszuby” for the land, “Cassubia” in Latin. Gerard Labuda in his books about the Kashubs wants to see it as the ancient name for Pomeranians. A group of historians who wrote History of Pomerania point out that this name may have old-Prussian origins and that it was popularized with the germanisation of the originally Kashubian lands at the end of the Middle Ages (it first appears in documents from 1238).
To complicate situation even more, the name Pomerania is said to have been popularized during the rule of the House of Griffites, Polish King tributaries who could even have some blood relations with the Polish throne. In titles of Pomeranian princes, names for the lands they rule are totally different. One is “Slavia” and the other one is “Leuticia.” The first one refers, of course, to the original name of all the tribes “Slavane” or “Slovane.” In the first case, it would mean “the glorious ones,” and in the second “people who (can) speak.” Most people assume that the second version is proper and that it refers to the opposition between the names “Slovane” and “Nemci,” which is translated as “people who cannot speak”. But actually, when we look into the liguistics and ethymology of the word “Nemci,” we discover that it also has different meanings. The words “nemoc” or “niemoc” is much closer to the names “Nemec” or “Niemiec.” Nemoc means things like “retardation,” “weakness” or “illness”. In this meaning, it may be as well put to stand into opposition to the word “Slava” meaning “glory”, “fame” or “noble.”
Both interpretations make sense in their own ways. For me personally, the main argument behind considering the name “Slavane” as older than “Slovane” were ancient sources, from many different languages, where the name was always written as “Sla-,” “Scla-“ or “Saq-.” The middle part of Pomerania is the territory of a tribe called Słowińcy was later called “Księstwo Sławieńskie” with capital in Sławno. They weren’t using the name Pomerania at all, and sources refer to them as “Slavinia” and “Slavna”.
Now, the other name used in Pomeranian royal titles was “Leuticia,” which is obviously related to the word “Luty” meaning “cruel.” In modern times, this is the name of the second month of the year, and in the past it was used as a taboo word for “wolf.” Also, “Lucicy” was the name of one of the Polabian tribes. The Polabians were the closest genetic, linguistic and cultural relatives of Pomeranians – their tribal conciousness and identity was formed in Pomerania before they went to conquer west. It is highly unlikely that the name Lucicy was the original name of Pomeranians.
Another interesting twist comes with the Prussians. There are well-known local and tribe-related names like Pomezania and Pogezania which were placed close to the Prussian-Pomeranian border. Indeed, it is worth pointing out that the Prussian border was the most peaceful of all in Pomerania. Some historians even suggest that the death of Saint Wojciech could have been caused by Pomeranian initiative or even by Pomeranian hands. He was indeed killed on the borderlands between the two countries. It’s yet another surprising hint that suggests the possibility of ancient sources of the name Pomerania after all.
Now let us try to somehow summarize and close this chaos. In my personal opinion, it is very possible that, as modern linguistics suggest, all Slavic tribes were calling themselves simply “Slavane” and were giving names to all others – to put it
humoristically – who wore pants which were a little bit different or who called a cow – “krava” instead of “krowa”. First to others, and then also to themselves. Researchers who work on the Proto-Indoeuropean language claim that names such as Slavi, Srbi, Suebi, Suedi etc., present among Slavs, Scandinavians, Celts, and Germanics, come from the Indoeuropean word “suedhnos” which means “(our) people.”
We will probably never know for sure how many of the names came to be or their etymologies. And it does not change anything. I may only add that we Slavs have it much easier, and we are thus much closer to the truth than for example Germanics, who, because of the few different admixtures to their language, sometimes have to go into almost esoteric fields with their desperate attempts to make sense out of it. With this optimistic accent let’s close this article.
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