Polish name

Polish name

A Polish personal name, like names in most European cultures, consists of two main elements: "imię", or the given name, followed by "nazwisko", or the family name. The usage of personal names in Poland is generally governed (in addition to personal taste or family custom) by three major factors: civil law, Church law, and tradition.

Imię (given name)

A child in Poland is usually given one or two given names and it is illegal to officially use more than two given names. But it is customary to have 3, the last after "postrzyżyny" or confirmation.Parents normally choose a name or names for their child from a long list of traditional names which may be:
* a Christian name, i.e., a Biblical name or a saint's name, or
* a Slavic name of pre-Christian origin.

Note that names of Slavic saints, such as Wojciech (St Adalbert), Stanisław (St Stanislaus), or Kazimierz (St Casimir), belong to both groups. Additionally, a few names of Lithuanian origin, such as Olgierd (Algirdas), Witold (Vytautas) or Danuta are also quite popular in Poland.

Traditionally, the names are given at a child's baptism. Non-Christian but traditional Slavic names are usually accepted, but the priest may encourage the parents to pick at least one Christian name. In the past two Christian names were given to a child so that he or she had two patron saints instead of just one. At confirmation people usually adopt yet another (second or third) Christian name; however, it is never used outside Church documents.

In Eastern Poland, as in many other Catholic countries, people celebrate name days ("imieniny") on the day of their patron saint. On the other hand, in Western Poland birthdays are more popular. Today, in Eastern Poland birthdays remain relatively intimate celebrations, as often only relatives and close friends know a person's date of birth. Name days, on the other hand, are often celebrated together with co-workers, etc. Information about whose name day it is, can be found in most Polish calendars, web portals, etc.

It is required by law for a given name to clearly indicate the person's sex. Almost all Polish female names end in the vowel "-a", while most male names end in a consonant or a vowel other than "a". There are, however, a few male names, such as Barnaba and Bonawentura, which end in "-a". Maria is an exceptional name as it is a female but can sometimes be used as a male second name (never a first name).

The choice of a given name is largely influenced by fashion. Many parents may name their child after a national hero or heroine, some otherwise famous person, or a character from a book, film, or TV show. In spite of this, a great number of names used in today's Poland have been in use since the Middle Ages.

Diminutives are very popular in everyday usage, and are by no means reserved for children. The Polish language allows for a great deal of creativity in this field. Most diminutives are formed by adding a suffix. For male names it may be "-ek" or the more affectionate "-uś"; for female names it may be "-ka", or "-nia" / "-dzia" / "-sia" respectively. Maria, a name whose standard form was once reserved to refer to Virgin Mary has a particularly great number of possible diminutives, which include: Marysia, Maryśka, Marysieńka, Marychna, Mania, Mańka, Maniusia, Maja, Majka, Marusia, Maryla, Maryna, Marianna, Mariola, Marzena, Marlena, Marietta, Marita, Marika, Marisa. Some of those have eventually become treated as standard names of their own.

Also, as in many other cultures, a person may informally use a nickname ("przezwisko, ksywa") in addition to or instead of a given name.

As of 2004, the most popular female names in Poland are Anna, Maria, and Katarzyna (Catherine). The most popular male names are Piotr (Peter), Jan (John), and Andrzej (Andrew). [ [http://www.mswia.gov.pl/download.php?s=1&id=1019 50 most common given names in Poland] - Polish Ministry of Interior and Administration (PDF) pl icon]

Nazwisko (surname)

Polish surnames, like those in most of Europe, are hereditary and generally patrilineal, i.e., passed from the father on to his children.

A Polish marriage certificate lists three fields, the surnames for the husband, wife, and children. The partners may choose to retain their surnames, or both adopt the surname before marriage of either partner, or a combination of both; the children must receive either the joint surname or the surname of one of the partners, if they are different. However, a married woman usually adopts her husband's name and the children usually bear the surname of the father. The wife may keep her maiden name ("nazwisko panieńskie") or add her husband's surname to hers, thus creating a double-barrelled name ("nazwisko złożone"). However, if she already has a double-barrelled name, she must leave one of the parts out — it is illegal to use a triple- or more-barrelled name. It is also possible, though rare, for the husband to adopt his wife's surname or to add his wife's surname to his family name.

A person may also legally change his or her surname if:
* it is offensive or funny;
* it is of foreign origin;
* it is identical to a given name;
* that person has effectively used a different surname for a long time.

The most widespread Polish surnames are Nowak, Kowalski, and Wiśniewski. [ [http://www.mswia.gov.pl/download.php?s=1&id=1020 50 most common surnames in Poland] - Polish Ministry of Interior and Administration (PDF) pl icon]


Family names first appeared in Poland ca. 15th century and were only used by the nobility ("szlachta"). Originally the nobles belonged to chivalric clans whose names survived in the names of their coats of arms. Eventually, members of one clan would split into separate families with different surnames, usually derived from the name of the village they owned. Sometimes the family name and the clan name (associated with the arms) would be used together and form a double-barrelled name.

The most striking peculiarity of the Polish heraldic system is that a coat of arms does not belong to a single family. A number of families sharing male-line origin or sometimes even unrelated by blood but only by a formal adoption upon ennoblement (sometimes hundreds of them), usually with a number of different family names, may use a coat of arms, and each coat of arms has its own name, usually the name of the original blood-line the clan descends from. The total number of coats of arms in this system was relatively low — ca. 200 in the late Middle Ages.

One side-effect of this unique arrangement was that it became customary to refer to noblemen by both their family name and their coat of arms/clan name. For example: Jan Zamoyski "herbu" Jelita means "Jan Zamoyski of clan Jelita" (though it is often quite incorrectly translated as "...of the clan Jelita coat-of-arms" as if he was not a blood-member of the line).

From the 15th to 17th centuries, the formula seems to copy the ancient Roman naming convention with the classic tria nomina used by the Patricians: praenomen (or given name), nomen gentile (or gens/Clan name) and cognomen (surname), following the Renaissance fashion, thus: "Jan Jelita Zamoyski", forming a double-barrelled name (nazwisko złożone). Later, the double-barrelled name would be joined with a hyphen: "Jan Jelita-Zamoyski".

The use of family names gradually spread to other social groups: the townsfolk by the end of the 17th century, then the peasantry, and finally the Jews. The process finally ended only in the mid-19th century.

After the First and Second World Wars some resistance fighters added their wartime "noms de guerre" to their original family names. This was yet another reason for creating double-barrelled names. Examples include Edward Rydz-Śmigły, Jan Nowak-Jeziorański, and Tadeusz Bór-Komorowski. Some artists, such as Tadeusz Boy-Żeleński, also added their "noms de plume" to their surnames.


When Poles emigrate to countries with different languages and cultures, the often-difficult spelling and pronunciation of Polish names commonly cause them to be misspelled or changed; sometimes indirectly by transliteration into, e.g., Cyrillic.

For example, in German, "ski" and "cki" are often replaced by "sky" and "tzky", "sz" by "sch", and so on; English often changes "w" to "v" and "sz" to "sh". Similar changes sometimes occur in French, as well as the addition to aristocratic names of de ("la particule" [http://fr.wikipedia.org/wiki/Particule_%28onomastique%29] ) or von in German. However, it is not very correct as the ski/cki/dzki surnames already contain the de/von meaning.

Changes in Spanish may be even more extreme. A "Spiczynski" may become simply "Spika", for example. Hyphenated double-barrelled names are often rearranged: "Erasmus Bogorya-Skotnicki" becomes "Erasmo Bogorya de Skotnicki" or "Erasmo Skotnicki de Bogorya".


Based on grammatical features, Polish surnames may be divided into:
* "nominal", derived from and declined as a noun
* "adjectival", derived from and declined as an adjective.

Adjectival names very often end in the suffixes "-ski", "-cki" and "-dzki" (feminine "-ska", "-cka" and "-dzka"), and are considered to be either typically Polish or typical for the Polish nobility. However, this is not exactly true, exactly as in France or Germany where not all people with a de or von in their names were formally nobles: the adjectival suffix "-ski", "-skii" or "-sky" is found in many other Slavic languages, and in Poland, the adjectival form of a name was not reserved to the "szlachta".

Based on origin, Polish family names may be generally divided into three groups: cognominal, toponymic and patronymic.


A cognominal surname ("nazwisko przezwiskowe") derives from a person's nickname, usually based on his occupation, or a physical or character trait.

* Kowal, Kowalski, Kowalczyk, Kowalewski — from "kowal", or "blacksmith"; or from "Kowale" or "Kowalewo" ("Smithville") in case of Kowalski and Kowalewski.
* Młynarz, Młynarski, Młynarczyk — from "młynarz", or "miller"; or from "Młynary" ("Millersville") in case of Młynarski.
* Nowak, Nowakowski, Nowicki — from "nowy", or "new one"; or from "Nowakowo" or "Nowice" ("Newmantown") in case of Nowakowski and Nowicki.
* Lis, Lisiewicz, Lisowski — from "lis", or "fox"; or from "Lisowo" ("Foxville") in case of Lisowski.


A toponymic surname ("nazwisko odmiejscowe") usually derives from the name of a village or town, or the name of a topographic feature. These names are almost always of the adjectival form.

* Tarnowski — lord of Tarnów;
* Zaleski — lord of Zalesie;


A patronymic surname ("nazwisko odimienne") derives from a given name of a person and usually ends in a suffix suggesting a family relation.

* Jan, Jachowicz, Janicki, Jankowski, Janowski — derived from Jan (John or Ian), "Jankowo" or "Janowo" ("Johnstown").
* Adamczewski, Adamczyk, Adamowski, Adamski — derived from Adam; or from "Adamczewo" / "Adamowo" ("Adamsville").
* Łukasiński, Łukaszewicz — derived from Łukasz (Luke); or from "Łukasin" ("Luketown").


There is also a class of surnames derived from the past tense of verbs. These names usually have the feminine (-ła) or neuter (-ło) past tense ending, e.g. Domagała, Przybyła, Napierała, Dopierała, Szukała or Podsiadło, Wcisło, Wlazło, Przybyło. A smaller number of surnames use the masculine form, e.g. Musiał. Note that in foreign countries, where the letter "Ł" is not available, "l" will be used instead, e.g. Domagala.

Feminine forms

Adjectival surnames, like all Polish adjectives, have masculine and feminine forms. If a masculine surname ends in "-i" or "-y", its feminine equivalent ends in "-a". Surnames ending with consonants have no specific feminine form. Examples:

Formal and informal use

Poles pay great attention to the correct way of referring to or addressing other people depending on the level of social distance, familiarity and politeness. The differences between formal and informal language include:
* using surnames vs. given names;
* using vs. not using honorific titles such as "Pan" / "Pani";
* using the third person singular forms vs. second person singular.

Formal language

Pan / Pani

"Pan" and "Pani" are the basic honorific styles used in Polish to refer to a man or woman, respectively. In the past, these styles were reserved to hereditary nobles and played more or less the same roles as "Lord" or "Sir" and "Lady" or "Madame" in English. Since the 19th century, they have come to be used in all strata of society and may be considered equivalent to the English "Mr." and "Ms." while the nobles would be addressed "Jego/Jej Miłość Pan/Pani" (His/Her Grace Lord/Lady). There used to be a separate style, "Panna" ("Miss"), applied to an unmarried woman, but this is outdated and replaced by "Pani".

Given name / surname order

The given name(s) normally comes before the surname. However, in a list of people sorted alphabetically by surname, the surname usually comes first. Hence some people may also use this order in spoken language (e.g. introducing themselves as "Kowalski Jan" instead of "Jan Kowalski"), but this is generally considered incorrect or a throwback to the Communist era during which it was a common form of address. In many formal situations the given name is omitted altogether.

* Pan Włodzimierz Malinowski
* Pani Jadwiga Kwiatkowska

Informal language

Informal forms of address are normally used only by relatives, close friends and co-workers. In such situations diminutives are generally preferred to the standard forms of given names. At an intermediate level of familiarity (e.g. among co-workers) a diminutive given name may be preceded by formal "Pan" or "Pani".

* Pan Włodek
* Pani Jadzia


ee also

* Name of Poland
* Polish clans
* Polish heraldry
* T-V distinction
* Family name
* Family name affixes

External links

* [http://www.edziecko.pl/ciaza_i_porod/0,79473.html Database of Polish given names] pl icon
* [http://www.futrega.org/etc/nazwiska.html Most common surnames in Poland] pl icon

Wikimedia Foundation. 2010.

Look at other dictionaries:

  • Polish clans — ( pl. Rody) differ from most clan systems in that while they are mostly composed of families sharing male line origin there can also be some genealogically unrelated families bearing the same coat of arms and clan name because of a formal… …   Wikipedia

  • Name of Poland — An 18th century map labeled Poland The ethnonyms for the Poles (people)[1] and Poland (their country) …   Wikipedia

  • Polish heraldry — The history of Polish heraldry is an integral part of the history of the Szlachta, the Polish nobility. HistoryUnlike the case of Western Europe, in Poland, the szlachta did not emerge from the feudal class of knights under Chivalry, but stemmed… …   Wikipedia

  • Name days in Poland — In Poland, name days (Polish: imieniny) are widely celebrated, and most calendars contain the names celebrated each day. Name day celebrations in Poland traditionally involve a gathering of friends and family at the celebrant s home at the dinner …   Wikipedia

  • Polish Academy of Learning — The Polish Academy of Learning (Polish: Polska Akademia Umiejętności ), headquartered in Kraków, is one of two institutions in contemporary Poland, having the nature of an academy of sciences.HistoryThe Polish Academy of Learning (Polish: Polska… …   Wikipedia

  • Polish–Czech Friendship Trail — Signs on the route The Polish–Czech Friendship Trail (Czech: Cesta česko polského přátelství, Polish: Droga Przyjaźni Polsko Czeskiej) is a public walking path in the Karkonosze Mountains (Giant Mountains). The path runs on both sides of the… …   Wikipedia

  • Polish cuisine — Kotlet schabowy served with salads. Various kinds of Polish Kielba …   Wikipedia

  • Name — For other uses, see Name (disambiguation). Ceremonies, such as baptism, can be used to give names. A name is a word or term used for identification. Names can identify a class or category of things, or a single thing, either uniquely, or within a …   Wikipedia

  • Polish United Workers' Party — Polska Zjednoczona Partia Robotnicza First leader Bolesław Bierut Last leader …   Wikipedia

  • Polish cochineal — Life cycle of the Polish cochineal in Breyne s Historia naturalis Cocci Radicum... (1731) Scientific classification Domain …   Wikipedia

Share the article and excerpts

Direct link
Do a right-click on the link above
and select “Copy Link”