My name is Teresa Stepien. I emigrated from Poland after I married my Belgian husband André Orban. Recently, I wanted to better know my roots. That's why I started to write these web pages.
These page are also YOURS. Please help me complete them; e-mail me any additional information you could provide. If I have written any mistakes, don't hesitate to tell me.
The name Stepien is originating from Poland and very common in that country, but it is also known in many other countries. What is its origin and its meaning? That's what this page is all about.
I will first try to give the etymology of the name Stepien, then I will successively review the various countries where I was able to locate people with the name Stepien.
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When Poles converted to Catholicism in about 900 A.D., they started to name themselves after Christian saints and martyrs. With regard to the name Stepien, it is of patronymic origin deriving from the Greek "Stephanos" (crown), a popular name throughout Christendom in the Middle Ages, having been borne by the first Christian martyr, stoned to death in Jerusalem, three years after the death of Christ. The popularity of the name in Poland is attested by the more than one hundred forms which developed. An English site has described the various forms derived from the name Stephanos in different languages throughout Europe.
Among early references to the name or a variant form we read of the marriage of Marianna Stepien to Stanislaw Wojchechowski on 30 January 1837, in Busko, and on 14 November 1839 the christening of Andrzej Stepinski, son of Jan and Tekla Stepinski in Koscielna Wies, Poland. Stanislaw Stepien was married to Barbara Synowcowa on 28 October 1861 in Luzna, and another marriage, that of Walenty Stepien to Wiktoria Oszczygiel was registered on 28 January 1863 in the Catholic Church, Wloszczowa, Kielkiego, Poland. The introduction of the name or a variant form into America would certainly have included references to the arrival of Peter Stepzynski in Baltimore in May 1872, upon his emigration from Europe.
I do not very much believe in the explanations of The Historical Research Center, Inc., a commercial outfit that did not that much historical research. Therefore, I started looking for other explanations.
Many other explanations for the name Stepien do exist. According to Mr. Hoffman's new book "Polish Surnames: Origins and Meanings - 2nd Edition", Stepien is an archaic word for next in line for position of authority or newcomer to a group.
Another source says that the name would be related to Stepor, which means pestle, the instrument used in conjunction with a mortar by druggists and chemists to prepare medications. Stepien could have been such a chemist who prepared medications from aromatic plants. Farmers in Czestochowa and South Mazovia regularly used stepors.
Another etymology could be stepic (to blunt) or stapac (to stride, step, tread)
A similar explanation relates the name Stepien to Stepa, an ancient Polish name. "Jechac stepa" means "to go slowly"; the one who goes slowly goes behind the sovereign, master, so he is well placed in the royal Court. Stepien would hence mean Courtier. Another quite similar theory says that Stepien was formerly written Wstepien, derived from the word "wstepowac" (to climb in the social hierarchy).
Many Polish surnames are derived from the names of cities or villages of origin of their most prominent bearers. Hence some variants of Stepien (Stepinski, Stepniewski, Stepniak, Stepkowski, Stepnowski, Stepowski) could come from the name of a place, which in turn would have the same etymology. Two Polish villages are named Stepina (30 km SW of Rzeszow) and Stepnica (30 km N of Szczecin, exact location 53°38'59" N, 14°37'25" E). And three much smaller hamlets are called Stepien, two in the North of the country (one 10 km N of Szczecinek - see map -, and one between Braniewo and Frombork,, not far away from the border with the Russian enclave of Kaliningrad - see map -. I visited the latter, but did not findd anyone with the surname Stepien there; see special web page on Stepien near Braniewo) and one far more South, somewhere between Wroclaw and Sycow (NE from Wroclaw).
Stempin is a variant seen in the province of Kalisz and resulting from a phonetic transcription of the original name by German occupation authorities during the partition of Poland between Russia, Austria and Prussia.
Stempien, Stempkowski and Stempinski are variants mainly seen in North America and resulting from a phonetic transcription of the original name by immigration officials, but some of these variants also occur in Poland. Stemp in the USA is a shortened version of Stepkowski.
The coat of arms
The coat of arms of the Stepien's has been described as "Azure, a unicorn springing argent", with the crest "on a crowned helmet, a demi unicorn of the shield". See special page on its history and meaning.
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My own family is from the area south of Warsaw in the direction of Tarnobrzeg: Piaseczno, Zalesie Górne, etc. My family tree has its web page.
Some families in Grabow Wojtostwo (a village between two small towns Grabow nad Prosna and Mikstat in the province of Kalisz) have the name Stempin. The original name Stepien was changed by Germans, because it was easier to pronounce in German at the time when Poland was partitioned between Germany, Russia and Austria. There are many Stepien's (or Stempin's) also in the neighbouring villages such as Ksiazenice, Marszalki, Kaliszkowice Kaliskie. The number of Stepiens in these few villages could be more than 60.
A wave of emigration of Stepien's to Canada and the US occurred between 1909 and 1913 from the Sandomierz area (near Tarnobrzeg). You can find their stories in the paragraph on the USA. People from that area also emigrated to France and Germany. One priest from that area named Roman Stepien is now vicar the St. Adalbert church in Momin, near Kielce.
One individual who had another Polish surname emigrated to France after the revolution of January 1863: he was wanted by the Russians. After many years he came back to Poland and his surname was changed to Stepien.
However, the main mystery remains for me: Where in Poland did the name Stepien appear first, and at what period in History? I would appreciate any information on this.
Some early settlers are mentioned in the etymology and early references section.
The US Social Security Death Index CD-ROM lists the deaths of all Social Security holders for the period 1937-1995. The attached file gives this information for these two names Stepien and Stempien.
Hereunder is a list of some
Ste(m)piens who immigrated through Ellis Island (source: The American Immigrant Wall of Honor).
Not all names are mentioned here, because only donations made by a
family secure such a mention.
Sophie Stepien Wanter
Polish Russia Stopnica Prov.
Caroline Stepien Jozefiak
Kathryn Stepien Rybicki
Katarzyna Mol Stepien
Valentine J. Stepien Stephen
Stanley and Frances Stempien
Marianna Konieczny Stempien
Wojciech George Stempien
Josephine Stempien Borny
Mary Muciek Stempin
More complete records of Ellis Island
can be found on
the Ellis Island site. At the time of writing, it contained 269
records of the Stepien name,
mainly from Poland (although before 1918 it is often written as
Galicia, Russia and Austria, the countries that occupied Poland). And
of course, another 109 records were already altered to Stempien, 42 to Stempin, two to Stempion, seventeen to Stepian and four more to Stapien!
A young family immigrated to New Britain, Connecticut in 1892. The father was born in Wola Ranizowska, in the part of Poland then under Austrian rule; he was a bootmaker to Emperor Franz Jozef. Their family tree can be found here.
A whole family from Radwan (near Sandomierz) emigrated to the US between 1909 and 1913, some of its members working first in Germany before continuing to the US. The oldest son even went back to Poland to get official papers to avoid being drafted in the imperial Russian army (the czar then ruled over a part of Poland). Arlene Stepien has a detailed report about the history of that large family, whose family tree is detailed here.
Another family , after first emigrating from Sandomierz (near Opatów) to Canada in 1912, finally settled in Buffalo, NY, where quite a few Ste(m)pien's lurk to this day. This family is related to the one which emigrated to England and a member of this family also lives in France. Monica Stempien Courtney knows a lot about this family's history and made a family tree reproduced here.
Still later, the main reason for emigrating from Poland to the US and Canada was a severe crop failure in Southern Poland in the 1920's or 1930's.
As an example, a Stepien family from Dominikowice (near Gorlice in Mala Polska) emigrated also to the US.
The Stepien's immigrated to various parts of the US. Many of them live in areas of large Polish immigration, such as Illinois and Michigan. They did not all come directly from Poland: some of them lived in Europe (often in France or in Germany) for some time before emigrating to the US. Of course, after they first immigrated to Illinois and Michigan, they spread throughout the country, as far as Seattle, California (especially in the South, where a lot of Stepiens currently live), New York, Massachusetts, Pennsylvania, North Carolina, Florida. For many immigrants, the name was phonetically changed to Stempien (which eventually became more popular than Stepien), seldom to Stempion.
For one of the Stempien families in Michigan, the ancestors are believed to have come from the Ukraine and to have settled first in Pennsylvania.
Another family emigrated from Moszczenica (South of Tarnów) through Ellis Island to Detroit, Michigan, in 1890; they are the ancestors of a large number of Michigan Stempiens, since their name was also changed at immigration. Their family tree will is here.
A family from Rzeszów, related to Janek Stepien who was executed by the Soviets in the massacre of Katyn Forest, has now descendants in California, as well as a distant cousin who is a judge in Gorlice (Poland).
A family with the last name of Stemp says the name was shortened from Stempkowski in the 1940s. The family originally named Stepkowski immigrated from Poland and settled in the Buffalo, NY area.
See here for the names some Stepiens buried in Illinois cemeteries.
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Some immigrants in Canada had their name changed to Stempien, as in the US. They live in the Niagara Falls area. This area was a natural place for the Stepien's to settle, given its proximity with Buffalo, NY in the USA where a lot of Ste(m)pien's live.
Four young brothers emigrated together at the beginning of the century, leaving Stempien offspring in British Columbia.
A family in Ottawa emigrated to Canada in 1944 from Suwalki, Poland (after some time spent in Germany). Some of their relatives emigrated to Sao Paolo, Brazil after the Second World War. The family seems to have originally been from Lodz and was connected to the textile business there.
The brother of my own grandfather emigrated to Ontario via the Netherlands in the early 1950's. His offspring now lives in Laval (Québec).
Information on some Ste(m)pien's buried in Ontario cemeteries can be found here (source: OCFA)
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The Swedish telephone directory lists Stepiens Malmö, Sandviken, Leksand, Hägersten, Västerhaninge, Angered and Stepinskis in Uppsala.
A family from Wloszców (near Kielce) moved to Aalborg at the beginning of the XXth century and the descendants are still there, as shown in their genealogy.
An individual emigrated to Scotland during World War II to marry a local woman and his offspring is still in Dundee. A family from Wojska, Walowice, settled in Northwich after WWII.
Other Stepiens went to the UK after World War II before going to Australia.
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Many Polish students learning at German universities, e.g. in Hannover, Göttingen, Zwittau or Frankfurt/Oder near the Polish border. Many other Stepien's settled in neighbouring Germany, often close to the Polish border. It is more surprising to see a family with the name Stempien in Erlangen, unless a name change occurred the same way as in the USA.
The name Stepina is present. Its origin is in Czechia.
Others went to the Rhône-Alpes region to work in the steel industry, both between World Wars I and II, and just after World War II. They originated from Osiek in the Sandomierz area. Four children from a family of eleven in the Rzeszów area came to France during World War II with the military and settled in Nancy.
Still another person went to the South, in Montpellier; she is related to one of the US families in Buffalo and the English settler.
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The first Stempin in Australia was Paul Stempin, a soldier born in Poland at the end of the 18th century. On the 25th of August 1813, he was convicted in Spain together with Theodore Herenzack, a soldier from Wallacia. They received deportation for life to Australia (It was so easy to get here then!). They arrived to Sydney per Somersetshire 15 October 1814. Paul was assigned to John Oxley, the Australian explorer, and finally received a ticket of leave. He was described as an industrious and deserving man. Probably in another Australian document of 1822 he was recorded as Stempion.
One family from Lodz emigrated first to England, than to Newcastle, NSW in 1960. Another family emigrated to the U.K. in the early 1950's after World War II. They lived in Salisbury, approximately 200km from London. They moved to Australia in the early `60s, arriving in Melbourne by ship, then going to Adelaide by train. They lived in Germany for five years during the war on German farms. They did not return to Poland after the war, but were sent to Italy before moving to the U.K.
Still in Adelaide, a single man moved from Poland in the early 1950s to marry in Australia.
A family in Perth had Polish ancestors who moved first to Amberg, Germany where they lived for a long time before plunging down under. They also have relatives in England.
Another family emigrated first to the US (Chicago and Texas) before some children moved further to Australia in 1950.
Some of the Stepiens of Brazil came originally from Canada.
Another family who was opposed to the communists in Poland originally emigrated to England in 1949, and from there to the São Paulo area in 1957.
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