The origin of the Kecman family is very ambiguous and very little is known for certain. A number of legends and theories exist:

he first theory says that Kecmans are descendants of the Sass. They were miners by trade and very often hired by rulers during the time of the Nemanjic dynasty. A similar theory was laid out in the book “River of Life - the Kecman Lineage” by Vlada Kecman. According to this theory, the Nemanjic rulers requested the Romanians to send them workers adept in the crafts of making swords, spears, and protective armour for infantry and cavalry, as well as those skilled in the mining of iron ore. In response to this request a number of Kecman families arrived from Romania and Czech lands, as well as Silesia. They were mostly miners, ironmongers, troubadours and priests… Here lies the origin of the legend that Kecmans originate from Romanians and Germans. With the arrival of the Turks in the Balkans, in Serbia, and in the Nemanjic lands in particular, the Kecman tribes promptly fled west - unlike the natives they had not yet developed ties to the land they had recently moved to. They went in three directions according to this legend. One column fled via Montenegro to the Adriatic coast. This group of about 300-500 families then embarked on three barges. On the way one of them, carrying 150 people, capsized and sank somewhere between Dubrovnik and Split. The other two barges disembarked close to Zadar, in a place called Perkovici. Only about 100 families survived this trip. They slowly disbursed in the area, and some of them even returned to Montenegro. The second column comprising 550-600 families fled toward Bosnia, crossing the Drina river somewhere between Zvornik and Vlasenica. Immediately upon crossing into Bosnia they received a hostile reception from the local heretics (‘Bogumils’) who slaughtered them all. The third column crossed the Drina river further downstream taking with them a substantial number of cattle. They made slow progress and crossed the River at Raca. They settled in the region of Banja Luka, Prijedor, Lijevca Polja, Novo, Dubica and Kostajnica. Some of them moved further into Prosic, Nikic, Dragic, Trikic, Materic, and Tubine. According to this legend, those who moved to Tubin chose a different patron saint, whereas all other Kecmans stuck to St Bartholomew. This legend is still alive in some regions where families Kecman, Prosic, Dragic and Nikic live.

he second theory says that Tsar Dusan had much difficulty whilst laying a long-drawn siege to some town. His army apparently would readily strike friendships with the locals and the siege would keep failing. In order to put an end to this he formed a mercenary army consisting only of foreigners. This army later became his personal entourage made up exclusively of young, strong, men with experience of war. The writings of Tsar Dusan distinguish Hetmans as especially good warriors. At that time a Hetman was a rank in the Cossack army, something like a chief, but possibly below the Ataman (the highest chief). The word Hetman is relatively close to Kecman so it is possible that this is the origin of the surname. As an aside, Cossacks were the warrior caste of certain Slavic tribes. They are mentioned quite often after the fall of the Kievan Rus (1240) when they fled the Mongols and settled in the region of the Dnipro and Donn rivers. Hence the theory that Kecmans descend from Cossacks and Russians who fled the Mongols and arrived in the Nemanjic lands.

he third, very interesting theory, claims that Kecmans originate from the Huguenots and Jews who fled persecutions in Western Europe. This theory unfortunately does not quite tally with the first mention of Kecmans as these persecutions happened around 1550 (Huguenots) and 1420 (Jews). The Huguenot Bartholomew’s Day massacre occurred in 1572, which in itself is interesting given the the Kecman patron saint is St Bartholomew.

he fourth theory belongs to the Russian academic Fyodorov who mentions the Kecman surname in his work on Slavic surnames. In 1967-68 he claims: “When the Slav tribes migrated from Teheran to the west, these tribes included unchristened Serbs and unchristened Croats (White Serbs and White Croats). They moved through the eastern regions of the former USSR, continued via the Caucasus and Carpathians, Czech and Polish lands, and finally arrived in the Rhein region. The local Gothic tribes promptly expelled them and they moved south-east into the Balkans. The Croat tribes settled around Trieste, Istria, and Croatia, whereas the Serbs continued between Dalmatia and the Sava and Drina rivers towards Zeta. In these Serbian tribes were found ‘Katzmans’ (craftsmen who made kace (bags) suitable for longer journeys - slightly longer and narrower than normal). In these kace horsemen carried salted fish, salted cheese and even fresh meat for shorter periods of time. On their way to the Rhein region the Germanic tribes called these people ‘Ketzman’, changing the ‘a’ to ‘e’. Hence Kecman. Even today there are Kecmans amongst the Lusatia Serbs in Silesia who are Kecmans descending from this great migration of Slavs.

he fifth theory belongs to Voja Kecman: Vuk Karadzic mentions in his dictionary that the person leading the kolo (Serbian folk dance) is called the Kec, so it is possible that one of the Kecman ancestors danced well and hence got the name Kecman.

And now some facts:

The first mention of Kecman (in this form) comes in the late 14th century in a letter by the feudal lord Vuk Brankovic. In this letter he lists all free men under his authority. We know that Vuk Brankovic was a Serbian feudal lord, the son of Branko Mladenovic, and that he was “Lord of Kosovo and Drenica”. He played a significant role after the death of king Uros. He was a proponent of political cooperation with the Hungarians. After the defeat by the Turks in Kosovo in 1389 he became a Turkish vassal. However, due to his pro-Hungarian stance he was expelled from his lands after the Hungarian defeat by the Turks in 1396. According to folk songs and stories he was a traitor and responsible for the defeat in Kosovo, which is a historical fabrication. He died in 1398. In the abovementioned letter he lists free men and mentions two brothers ‘tezhaks’ Kecman (one of them by the name of Dusan). The old-Serbian word tezhak probably means worker, lumberjack… The journey from Kosovo to the Bosnian Krajina can be reconstructed from several sources. At the beginning of the 15th century Kecmans flee the Turks into Montenegro where they settle down. From there they flee again between 1550 and 1650 most probably due to a blood feud. They settle in western Bosnia, in the area of the Grmec mountain and the river Unac.

Some quotes:

Settlements and the Origin of Settlers - Unac - Petar Radjenovic (page 502): The Kecmans fled Montenegro due to a blood feud.

Historical Background of Bosanski Petrovac and Smiljan since Settlement - Ostoja Jelicic: Kecman - came 360 years ago to Drvar from Montenegro. They were one father and three sons: one priest, one tezhak and one shepherd. From Drvar they move in various directions.

Skakavac, Petrovac and their People - Ilija Stupar: Kecmans came from Montenegro due to a blood feud and settled in the Unac (Drvar) area around 1650.

If you have any other sources please email me.