'-ski' patrol defends its names Polish: From Tara Lipinski to 'The Big Lebowski,' Polish descent is in the ascendancy in the nation's press.

March 06, 1998|By Lisa Pollak

"I disagree with Hillary [Clinton]. I don't think it's a right-wing conspiracy. I think it's more of a Polish conspiracy. I mean, just look at the news in the last year. We had Ted Kaczynski, we have Monica Lewinsky. You know we have these politicians that are getting hurt in these freak accidents, participating in a sport called 'ski.' So, you know, you put it together."

-- Comedian Kevin Nealon, discussing the Lewinsky/Clinton sex scandal on "Larry King Live" last month.

There's a fine line between significant trend and meaningless observation. That said, perhaps Nealon is onto something. First Monica Lewinsky. Then Tara Lipinski. And today, opening in a theater near you, "The Big Lebowski."

FTC Lewinsky. Lipinski. Lebowski. Lewinsky, Lipinski, Lebowski. LewinskyLipinskiLebowski.

This could mean something.

Or not.

For a more insightful perspective, we turned to Les Kuczynski, the Chicago-based executive director of the Polish American Congress, a national umbrella group representing Polish-Americans.

Sun: Have you been noticing all these Polish-sounding names in the news?

Kuczynski: The Polish-American press has followed Tara Lipinski very closely and very proudly, as a matter of fact. Lipinski is a common Polish name.

And the others? Ted Kaczynski?

Unfortunately, I believe he is Polish-American, but what you have to remember is his brother David, who felt it was very important to provide information about his brother to the United States government. I think that courage is a positive that needs to be addressed.

And Monica Lewinsky?

I don't believe she's Polish at all. It's an "S-K-Y," not an "S-K-I." That tends to be a Russian derivative.

You probably wouldn't be eager to claim her anyway.

That is correct.

Can you tell by the ending of the last name if it's Polish?

Not always. There are some common derivatives like "-ski" or "-wicz." However, "Nowak" and "Lis" are also very common Polish names, which people might not realize.

Are you looking forward to seeing "The Big Lebowski"?

Well, I'd assume by the name, and our past experience with Hollywood that it does not paint Polish-Americans in a positive light.

Do you think having an unusual name makes life more difficult?

Let me give you an example. The No. 1-ranked team in men's college basketball is Duke. Their coach is Mike Krzyzewski. He ++ says it took several years before the people in North Carolina even came close to pronouncing his name correctly. They started calling him "Coach K" because it made it easier. But he says that to this day he is very, very proud of that name and would never change it. The name forces people to understand that he's Polish-American. And when you hear on national

television that the coach is Krzyzewski and the point guard is Wojciechowski, it really provides a lot of pride within the Polish community.

One more time: Lipinski, Lewinsky, Lebowski. Has this struck you the same way it's struck us?

No, it hasn't.

Pub Date: 3/06/98

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