On 6/26, this query from genealogist Randi Zwickel-Patrick (hereafter, RZ), offered as a comment on one of my very many postings on people named Zwicky (there’s a Page on this blog chronicling these postings):

Was the Zwicky family’s name originally Zwickel or another variation?

The query has no particular relevance to my posting “A Swiss thread in Paris”, from 6/24/18; that posting just happens to be about some Zwickys (and their thread company). So I’ve detached the query from that posting, to give something of an answer here.

But the briefest response is to say that a family name often has a number of histories (names are changed, inadvertently or intentionally, in ways small and large; names get mixed up with one another), but in any case almost never has something identifiable as the original name, and even for one version or variant of the name, we almost never have access to the first use of a name, to the circumstances surrounding that version’s choosing, an event or events that happened very long ago, far away, involving people who not only didn’t keep records of these things but were, most of them, illiterate.

So I can’t answer RZ’s query as it stands, and I don’t think anyone could. Even a much less ambitious query — what’s the history of the Zwicky name in the male line going back just from me? (forget about all those other people with the surname Zwicky) — runs aground 5 to 7 centuries ago, still in the same part of what is now Switzerland (a village in the canton of Glarus) that serves as Zwicky Central. (Brazil, where the nuts come from; Mollis, where the Zwickys come from.)

I have, however, looked at Zwicknames — not just Zwicky, but also Zwickey, Zwicki, Zwicke, Zwickie, Zwick, Zwicker, Zwickel, Zwickl — and also at Zwicky-adjacent names, like Zawicky, Swicky, Sowicky, and, oh my, Tsviki. This is all about names, not actual (genetic) ancestry, and given the naming conventions in Anglophone countries, it’s also all about descent in the male line, disregarding entirely all the female ancestors.

And going back 500-700 years ago is going back about 20-28 generations ago (with each generation about 25 years), so there are 20-28 ancestors in the male line, but (in principle) 2^20 to 2^28 ancestors total (1,048,576, or about a million, to 268,435,456, or about 300 million).

In either case, I can’t imagine much in this that could be actually relevant to Arnold Arnoldson. Swiss people can generally peg me as of Swiss ancestry from my facial features, but they also peg me (like my father but unlike my grandfather) as American, from my gestures, facial expressions, postures and gaits, speech, grooming, ornament, and dress. As for character traits, I (b. 1940) do have Swiss stubbornness, but I got that from the models of Arnold Melchiorson (b. 1914) and Melchior Johannson (b. 1879).

So this genealogical stuff, though entertaining, offers nothing revelatory. On to some of my postings on the subject.

Meanwhile, I note that today (6/28) is actual Stonewall Day, a major holiday in one of my worlds — for which I flaunt this t-shirt:

And Swiss (American) as hell too: better together.

On Sunday I got to watch pieces of two Gay Pride Marches, after pandemic-years away: New York City, on MSNBC; then San Francisco, on ABC’s local station KGO-TV. And followed that with two hours of spirited Sacred Harp singing; I led every shouting song in the book, glory hallelujah!

It’s not (so far as I know) in a shapenote setting, but there’s dead-serious background music for all of this good stuff:

While we seek mirth and beauty and music, light and gay
There are frail forms fainting at the door
Though their voices are silent, their pleading looks will say
Oh, hard times, come again no more

Highlights from my Page on Zwicky postings:

from 11/20/16 in “A near-Zwicky: Zwickey broadheads”:

The origin of the name Zwickey is unclear; name sites suggest that it could have distinct sources. Two obvious ones: as a variant of (Swiss) Zwicky, and as a variant of a Polish name variously spelled Zewicky, Zawickey, Zawicki, Sawicki, etc. The Zwickey name seems to be infrequent, entirely American, and concentrated in Minnesota, all of which suggest that it’s a variant of Zwicky, so the N. St. Paul water buffalo hunters are probably distant relatives of mine.

… Note: the name Zwicki seems almost always to be a variant of Zwicky, in Switzerland, Austria, and Bavaria …

from 12/8/17 in “Zwick, maybe from Zwickau”:

on still more near-Zwickys, traced to the Saxony region of German, close to the Slavic lands of what are now Czechia and Poland, supplying a probable Slavic source for the surname Zwick.

from 12/8/17 in “Zwicke”, about Dr. Dianne Zwicke of Milwaukee WI; Sheriff Arnold Zwicke of Seguin TX

from 12/9/17 in “Another Arnold Zwicky and several Arnold near-Zwickys”, about another Arnold Zwicky on Facebook; Arnold Zwicke, Arnold Zwick, Arnold Zwicker; and a possible source of all these names:

Zwicker history. This from the House of Names site (not at all an authoritative source on names and their origins):

The German state of Bavaria [from at least the 13th century] is the ancestral home of the Zwicker family …  Zwicker is a name for someone who lived in the town of Zwickl [or Zwickel] in Bavaria. [I find no trace of a modern town of this name.] In the eastern regions of Bohemia and Silesia, Zwicker or Zwicke was a short form of Zwickauer, which denoted a person from the Saxon city of Zwickau.

… The recorded spelling variations of Zwicker include Zwick, Zwickel, Zwicker (Saxony), Zwicke (Silesia), Zwickert (Silesa), Zwicken, Zwicki (Switzerland), Zwicky (Switzerland), Zwack (Bavaria), Zwacker, Zweck and many more.

(Note that this account takes the Swiss names back to the Bavarian names, and so to Slavic sources.)

Meanwhile, Zwickl is a much-praised restaurant in Munich, in the Viktualienmarkt

… and [Zwickelbier is] a type of beer

from 3/12/22 in “The Z of death”:

We can track the name back in Switzerland 500+ years ago, but eventually even Swiss record-keeping breaks down. The name doesn’t look very Germanic, and it does look at least superficially Slavic. Very many years ago, as a grad student at MIT, I ended up taking courses in Indo-European historical linguistics — extremely far from my scholarly interests (well, I wrote a dissertation on Sanskrit, but it was really a dissertation about the methodology of generative phonology, using Sanskrit as its exemplary language), but somehow it happened — from one of the great 20th-century figures of the field, who was visiting at Harvard and MIT from Poland. Jerzy Kuryłowicz, and if you think people have trouble with my name, you have no idea

… Early on, we started having brief chats, out of class, about the etymology of the name Zwicky, which he was familiar with as a common German Swiss name but hadn’t thought seriously about before. He worked out several possible Slavic etymologies (along with an account of Slavic populations moving west from, roughly, north of the Black Sea), but was never able to nail down enough of the details to publish anything.

People are forever moving around, for a variety of reasons. Melchior Arnold Zwicky was born (in 1879) in the Zwicky-Haus in Mollis (built in 1621-23), and here’s Arnold Melchior Zwicky, Jr. in downtown Palo Alto, a world away in several senses. From the farm and factory floor to an arcane professorship in two generations; you should try to think of this as a lateral movement in life, from one sort of accomplishment to another.

Meanwhile, some of us Zwickfolk probably have a Slavic ancestry, way back when, so there’s a kind of poetic symmetry in a migration of Swiss people, among them a notable Zwicky, east to Crimea in 1822, to establish vineyards there (in what was not very long ago Ukraine). Some stuck it out there, but others fled north to what is now Belarus. In the mid-20th century, the Crimean Zwickys fled back west on a tortuous route, eventually re-establishing themselves in Switzerland (one — Oskar Zwicky, born 9/23/30 — is, astonishingly, still alive and giving interviews; posting to come). And then more recently, many of the Tsvikis from Belarus also fled west, some to Switzerland, some to the United States (including the Miami area and NYC).

4 Responses to “Zwicknames”

  1. Mitch4 Says:

    (I think I have commented on this before.) In my nerdy youth, I enjoyed the annual occasion of the issuance of a new edition of the Miami phone book. I would always check my family’s listing for errors, then note format changes and the different kinds of front matter. Then in the White Pages listings section proper, there were many business listings at the beginning, with names using multiple AAAA.. It was interesting to understand the alphabetization rules they must be using.

    And at the very end, for a number of years, there was a Chester Zywicky. (I don’t know if there were any Zwicky’s, as they would have come earlier.) Eventually Zywicky was displaced by a Zzyzz listing, which I suspected of being a plant.

    • arnold zwicky Says:

      Zywicky is new to me; but Zywicki is reasonably common. The Zzyzz listing was surely a plant. Meanwhile, I am rarely last: Zwirner is a pretty common name, for example. In the Princeton NJ phonebook (not a huge one) many years ago. I lost out to Vladimir Zworykin (1888-1982), inventor of the kinescope and other components of early television technology, who lived in Princeton for many years.

  2. Mitch4 Says:

    Ah, sorry, I wrote with more confidence in my memory than it deserves. The final name I was recalling may have been Zywicki rather than Zywicky — my focus was on the front of those more than the back.

    • arnold zwicky Says:

      You probably did misremember, but that happens to all of us, all of the time. Meanwhile, the world being the way it is, it’s almost a sure thing that some Zywicki, probably a guy, somewhere sometime decided that his name would look better spelled with a Y instead of an I, maybe because the I looked too feminine to him (when it’s just a spelling feature of some Alemannic varieties — Bavarian, Austrian, Swiss, etc.), or because he knew Zwicky as a more common name than Zywicki (hard to believe, but it is so). So there’s probably a Zywicky or two out there. Who would, of course, come after even Zywiciki in the phone book. (If we still had phone books.)

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