Hundreds of variants of the name Pohl derive from the Latin word 'paulus' , meaning small, humble. It has found extensive use throughout the Christian world and even predates it, being thought to be of Roman origins. Examples are Paul, Paule and Pawle in the UK, Paolo and Paulo (Spain, Portugal), Pauli and Polo (Italy), Palle (Germany), Pabel (Czech) and Pal (Hungary), to all the patronymic and diminutive forms such as Paulson, Pauly, Paolozzi, Pavek etc.
The particular Pöhl name discussed below can trace its roots in Estonia, the usage beginning in a family with its origins in the alleged Estonian minority culture of Estonian Swedes, sometimes referred to as Aibofolke¹. It’s a constructed family name, in the sense that it’s not patronymic, though there has been some valid speculation hinting at derivatives from personal names such as 'Påvel' while pointing out that members of older generations from the areas of Noarootsi and Riguldi during the 1920s insisted on pronouncing Hans Pöhl's family name in lines of 'Po'el' .² Hence the heritage of the name also displays some shifting forms and variants throughout its history, branching flavors can spell Pöhl, Poell, Pöel, Pöell and Poëll. Although the late variants seemingly pull some linguistic influences from Estonian, Swedish, German—the name started out on its journey attached to a wearer in a small farmhouse, in a small village, in a small country, on the eastern edges of Europe.
A research paper compiled in 1939 by E.J. Dahl³ nicely details the first person ever taking the name upon himself.
Christian Hansson, * 1796-02-28, † 1855-05-08
Being the oldest son of Hans Christianson, Christian Hansson himself became master of the Peters Farmstead when his father died in c. 1830 and is also attached to a job title of “Kirchenvormünder” in church records.⁴
The name Hansson, a patronymic by definition, was discarded due to a historically fairly significant event taking place during Christian’s lifetime—the Estonian peasants and farmers were given family names. Of interest might also be that on Christians known paternal side, the direct ancestry stretches to the early 1500s with a little goodwill when it comes to source criticism. The suggested progenitor would then be Falentin * c.1530 (Dahl 1939, pp. 8—9). Be that as it may, the bloodlineline implies a Swedish origin, popularly bunched together and marketed as Aibofolke.⁵ It so happens that these Aibofolke, living in villages with a very shifting degree of interconnectedness, often with various dialects of Swedish being the only common denominator, though still fairly autonomous and enjoying certain privileges—backed by the Swedes⁶—were during Christians lifetime in a steady cultural decline. And they were also farmers, generally without a family name proper. So, the Estonian Swedes got their names “fixed” in the process, just as everyone else.
Anno 1835, in the family naming register of Taebla Manor—on p. 114 even,⁷ and in the parish of L.-Nigula, village of Aulepa, aka Dirslätt—it is stated that the above mentioned Christian together with his wife Marri, their sons Andrus, Gustav and Christian, brother Hans, sisters Eva and Leno—have all taken the family name Poell. In the same register, the name has been given a sequence number of 91 and in the following revisions it's written as Poel. Christian Hansson Pöell, as it's also spelled in the church records, passed away on May 8th 1855,⁸ and wife Marri on June 20th 1862.⁹
E.J. Dahl’s basic research turns out a very valuable source, offering a light but solid note apparatus to go. Unfortunately however, the original initiator of the research is not disclosed—though it's clearly centric to Hans Pöhl—the 'final destination' remains a mildly irritating question mark.
To conclude the origins: before Christian himself went, the newly created family name had managed—almost right off the bat—to lay the groundwork for future name variations; starting out strong as Poell, transform into Poel, visit Pöell and finally pass on as Pöel during a window of 27 years, all in official documents. Later his son Andrus also adopted and kept the Pöel spelling.
A few more name variations have surfaced since 1835, people seem to enjoy the playful flexibility paired with the easily recognizable foundation, it adds flavor and the name has persisted. Some kept it after divorce, others switched back to it, its been adopted, etc. Its all an acquired taste in the end.
To be continued …
- The 'Aibofolke' or Estonian Swedes, the 'Island People' (Swedish: estlandssvenskar, Estonian: rannarootslased, eestirootslased) first settled in 'Aiboland', the costal regions of Estonia during the 13th and 14th centuries.
- Nils Tiberg, "Estlandssvenska Upsalaundersökningen." Estlands Svenskar 25 år i Sverige: Jubileumsskrift Kustbon 1944—1968 (Stockholm: Svenska Odlingens Vänner, 1968): 191.
- Dahl, E.J., 'Pöhl'i suguwõsa' , pp. 1—32. Tartu, 1939. Download the 120 MB PDF-file.
- Noar. kir. pers. rmt. II Sisemin. Per.-s.Arhiivis, Tallinn.
- Actually, the romanticized use of 'Aiboland' & 'Eibofolke', was early popularized through von Rußwurm's 1855 work on Estonian Swedes—Eibofolke oder die Schweden an der Küste Esthlands und auf Runö—but originally only denotes the people on the Pakri Islands (i.e. English: islander. Standard Swedish: öbo. Rågömål: äibo and sometimes even S-P specific: äibo-fol'ki or V-P specific: äibo-fölke), not the Estonian Swedes as a whole.
- The main difference between a regular Estonian farmer and an Estonian Swedish farmer was the latters greater access to special written concessions, outlining inheritance rights to farmed lands and not being forcefully tied to a manor lest they lived on the land specified by the concession. In practice, they became mere leaseholders and the impact of the privileges dwindled over time, always contested and never exclusive.
- Taebla Mõisa perek.-nime andm. register, p. 114.
- Noar. kir. pers. rmt. a.1750—1860 RKA-s.
- Noar. kir. pers. rmt. IV, pp. 213—214 Sisem. Per.s.Arh.