Who is…Linh Kowalski?

Written by Amy Franz

Who is Linh Kowalski? The two parts of this name are very different from one another, making it an interesting case for determining the ethnicity of the individual.

First name first – what’s the origin of Linh? Linh, pronounced “ling”, is a Vietnamese given name that means “spirit, soul” and is used for both males and females.

Vietnamese flag on Vietnam country and Polish flag on Poland country

Kowalski has origins from the other side of the world, in Poland. Kowalski is the second most popular surname in Poland according to Poland’s Ministry of Interior. You can think of it much like the surname Smith – no, really! Kowalski is just as popular in Poland as Smith is in the United States. Both are occupational surnames with the same meaning; “kowal” is Polish for “smith”, someone that works with metals. –ski is a common Polish surname suffix to mean “son of.” When surnames became commonplace in Poland, people often used occupations, hometowns or relatives’ given names as signifiers. Therefore, an individual with the surname Kowalski was likely the son of a blacksmith. Kowalska is the feminine form of the name, as indicated by the –ska suffix.

How does one go about predicting the ethnicity of an individual with such mismatched names? The answer lies within the uniqueness of the first name.

Based on research done by Ethnic Technologies, if an individual carries a first name that is unique to a specific ethnicity, like Linh is to Vietnamese, they’re likely to be closely connected to that culture, probably even a speaker of the language. Therefore, we’d predict Linh to be a Vietnamese-speaking individual of Vietnamese descent, regardless of their surname’s origins.

While there’s no way to know how Linh ended up with a Polish surname, it’s likely because they’re the son or daughter of a mixed marriage, or they married someone of Polish descent.

Individuals with names from two very different roots raise a fascinating thought. Using Vietnamese to communicate with Linh could certainly be most effective, but there’s likely a part of Linh that resonates with Polish culture and heritage as well!