Polish name

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

It is required by law for a given name (imię) to indicate the person's gender. 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 (which are very old and uncommon), such as Barnaba, Bonawentura, Boryna, Jarema, Kosma, Kuba (a diminutive of Jakub) and Saba, which end in -a. The name, Maria, is an exception because it is a female name which can be also used as a middle (second) name for males.

Since the High Middle Ages, Polish-sounding surnames which end with the masculine morpheme -ski suffix (this includes -cki and -dzki) and the corresponding feminine suffix -ska/-cka/-dzka were associated with the nobility (Polish szlachta) who, in the early years, preserved such suffix distinctions to themselves.[1] They are widely popular today. Minor regional spelling differences also exist depending on whether the surname originated in Polish, Czech, or Slovak (e.g. -sky/-ský).

Imię (given name)

A child in Poland is usually given one or two names; Polish registry offices do not register more than two. Among Catholics, who form the vast majority of the population, it is customary to adopt the name of a saint as an informal, third given name at confirmation, however, this does not have any legal effect. (This is reminiscent of the pre-Christian rite of the "first haircut" (postrzyżyny), which also involved giving the child a new name.)

Parents normally choose from a long list of traditional names which may come from:[2]

The names of Slavic saints, such as Wojciech (St Adalbert), Stanisław (St Stanislaus), or Kazimierz (St Casimir), belong to both of these groups. Slavic names used by historical Polish monarchs, e.g. Bolesław, Lech, Mieszko, Władysław, are common as well. Additionally, a few names of Lithuanian origin, such as Olgierd (Algirdas), Witold (Vytautas) or Danuta, are 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 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 and other less-intimate friends. Information about whose name is assiciated with a given day can be found in most Polish calendars and on the internet.

The choice of a given name is largely influenced by fashion. Many parents name their child after a national hero or heroine, or a character from a book, film, or TV show. In spite of this, a great number of popular names have been in use since the Middle Ages.

Diminutives are 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 / cia respectively. Maria, a name whose standard form was once reserved to refer to the Virgin Mary, has a particularly great number of possible diminutives, which include: Marysia, Maryśka, Marysieńka, Marychna, Mania, Mańka, Maniusia, Maryna, Marianna, some of which (indicated by underlining) have eventually become treated as standard names of their own (probably having their own derivatives), while others (such as those in italics), are shared diminutives and are less popular (largely regarded as foreign).

As in many other cultures, a person may informally use a nickname (pseudonim, ksywa) or instead of a given name.

In 2009, the most popular female names in Poland were Anna, Maria, and Katarzyna (Katherine). The most popular male names were Piotr (Peter), Krzysztof (Christopher), and Andrzej (Andrew).[3]

Nazwisko (surname)

Polish surnames, like those in most of Europe, are hereditary and generally patrilineal (passed from the father 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 of either partner, or a combination of both; the children must receive either the joint surname or the surname of one of the partners. 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 (an example is businessman Zygmunt Solorz-Żak, who did both, taking his wife's name on his first marriage, and later appending his second wife's name to it).[4] The most widespread Polish surnames are Nowak, Kowalski, Wiśniewski and Wójcik.[3]

Suffix -ski/-ska

"Ski" (also "Sky" in other regions) is a formative adjective, from the Proto-Slavic "ьskъ", which defined affiliation to something. It was also used with names of territories and settlements to denote possession or place of origin.[5][6] The suffix, -ski (feminine: -ska), has been restricted to the nobility in eastern Europe and some parts of central Europe since the High Middle Ages.[1] It was the equivalent to nobiliary particles appearing in the names of nobility, such as in the Germanic von or zu. Almost all surnames borne by the nobility with the -ski (or -sky) suffix are preceded by a place name (toponymic) or other territorial designation derived from their main court, holdings, castle, manor or estate. For example, the Polish nobleman Jan of Tarnów whose name in Polish is "Jan z Tarnowa" was equally known by the name "Jan Tarnowski"; this highlighted his nobility unlike the preposition of "z" alone which could be construed as a regular prepositional particle.

In the 19th century, a wave of seemingly noble sounding surnames began to appear among the common population, where a significant number of the bourgeoisie class, and even the peasantry, began to adopt or bear the noble -ski suffix.[7] The -ski suffix was thus attached to surnames derived from a person's occupation, characteristics, patronymic surnames, or toponymic surnames (from a person's place of residence, birth or family origin).[7] This caused a blur between the -ski bearing territorial toponymic surnames once a characteristic only borne by the nobility. As such, and contrary to a popular modern-day misconception, a person simply bearing the -ski suffix in their family surname or merely sharing the same toponymic surname as members of Poland's nobility, does not in itself denote that person too is a member of the nobility, of noble origin, or indeed connected to that particular family.[7]

When referring to two or more members of the same family and surname, the suffix -ski is replaced with the plural -skich, -scy or -ccy (plural masculine or both masculine and feminine) as well as -skie or -ckie (plural feminine).[8]

The -ski ending and its derivations are the only ones in Polish that have feminine forms, where women have the feminine version ending in -ska instead. Historically, female versions of surnames were more complex, often formed by adding the suffix -owa for married women and -ówna for unmarried women. In most cases, this practice is now considered archaic or rustic.[9]

History, heraldry, and clan names

Family names first appeared in Poland around the 13th century and were only used by the upper social classes of society. Originally the Polish nobility belonged to heraldic clans (Polish ród herbowy) whose names survived in their shared coats of arms. Eventually, members of one clan would split into separate families with different surnames, usually derived from the name of their holdings or estates. 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 concept of the Polish heraldic system is that a coat of arms may originate from a single family, but come to be carried by several non-related families of the Polish szlachta (nobility). Unrelated families who have joined the nobility by heraldic adoption can share the same coat of arms, even though that coat of arms bears the surname of the family who created it. Thus the total number of coats of arms in this system was relatively low — about 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 the clan Jelita.

From the 15th to the 17th century, 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.

Gradually the use of family names spread to other social groups: the townsfolk (burghers) by the end of the 17th century, then the peasantry, and finally the Jews. The process 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.

Changing the name

A person may legally change his or her given name or family name only for an important reason including, but not limited to, the name is offensive or funny, the person has used another name for a long time, the name was unlawfully changed, or the person uses a different name as a citizen of a different country.[10]

Poles in diasporas

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,[11] sometimes by transliteration into, for example, Cyrillic.

For example, in English, w is often changed to v and sz to sh. Similar changes occur in French. Changes in Spanish can be even more extreme; a Spiczyński may become simply Spika, for example, where the proper translation would be de Spiczyn.

Another typical change is the loss of the gender distinction in adjectival surnames, especially visible for those ending in -ski (fem.: -ska), -cki (fem.: -cka) and -dzki (fem.: -dzka). Western languages do not distinguish between male and female surnames, even if the language has gender-specific adjectives (like German, French or Spanish). As the surname is, in most cases, inherited from the father (or accepted from the husband), the Western registries of birth and marriage ascribe the masculine form (the one ending in -i) to the female members of the family. Slavic countries, in contrast, would use the feminine form of the surname (the one ending in -a). So the form Anna Kowalski would never be met within Poland, whereas it is commonly found in the US, Germany or Argentina.

Another change is changing the final vowel -i of the endings -ski, -cki and -dzki into -y. These endings are common in Czech, Slovak and Ukrainian languages, but they never occur in Polish.


Based on grammatical features, Polish surnames may be divided into:

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. In the case of '-ski', it holds true if the surname contains the name of a city, town, village or other geographical location.

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 profession, occupation, physical description, or character trait.

Examples of cognominal surnames:


Toponymic surnames (nazwisko odmiejscowe) usually derive from the name of a village or town, or the name of a topographic feature. These names are almost always of the adjectival form. Originally they referred to the village owner (lord). In the 19th century, however, surnames were often taken from the name of a person's town.[7]

Examples of toponymic surnames:


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

Examples of patronymic surnames:


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 usually have no additional feminine form. In the past, when the masculine form ended in a consonant, the feminine surname could have been derived by adding the suffix, -owa, indicating ownership. For example, Cezaria Baudouin de Courtenay, after her marriage to Janusz Jędrzejewicz, was named Cezaria Baudouin de Courtenay Ehrenkreutz Jędrzejewiczowa. In modern times, Jędrzejewicz may be both a masculine and a feminine surname.

The feminine form is not just a common usage form, it is also the form of the surname that appears in all official records, such as birth, death and marriage certificates, identity cards, and passports.

Neutral form

The neutral form ("rodzaj nijaki") may be used for neutral gender. For example, when talking about a child of the neighbours one may say "To małe Kowalskie jest bardzo spokojnym dzieckiem" ("That Kowalski little one is a very quiet child"), or in plural: "Wasilewskie wyjechały do babci" ("The Wasilewskis children went away to see their grandma"). Unlike the feminine form, this form is never used in official documents; it is an informal form used mostly in spoken language.

Examples of feminine and neutral forms

Masculine Feminine Neutral Entire family (Mr. & Mrs.) - plural Children only (of unspecified sex) - plural
Malinowski Malinowska Malinowskie Malinowscy Malinowskie
Zawadzki Zawadzka Zawadzkie Zawadzcy Zawadzkie
Podgórny Podgórna Podgórne Podgórni Podgórne
Biały Biała Białe Biali Białe

Nominal surnames may or may not change with gender. Like other Slavic languages, Polish has special feminine suffixes which were added to a woman's surname. A woman who was never married used her father's surname with the suffix -ówna or -'anka. A married woman or a widow used her husband's surname with the suffix -owa or -'ina / -'yna (the apostrophe means that the last consonant in the base form of the surname is softened). Although these suffixes are still used by some people, mostly the elderly and in rural areas, they are now becoming outdated and there is a tendency to use the same form of a nominal surname for both a man and a woman. Furthermore, the forms "-anka" and "-ina/-yna" are going out of fashion and being replaced by "-ówna" and "-owa" respectively.

Father / husband Unmarried woman Married woman or widow
ending in a consonant (except g) -ówna -owa
ending in a vowel or in -g -'anka -'ina or -'yna

Examples of old feminine forms:

Father / husband Unmarried woman Married woman or widow
Nowak Nowakówna Nowakowa
Madej Madejówna Madejowa
Konopka Konopczanka, new: Konopkówna Konopczyna, new: Konopkowa
Zaręba Zarębianka, new: Zarębówna Zarębina, new: Zarębowa
Pług Płużanka, new: Pługówna Płużyna, new: Pługowa

Plural forms

Plural forms of surnames follow the pattern of the masculine and feminine forms, respectively, if such exist. For a married couple or a family where there is a mix of males and females, the masculine plural is used. Plural forms of names rarely follow the patterns of regular declension, even if the name is identical with a common name.

Surname masculine Plural masculine or both masculine and feminine Surname feminine Plural feminine Plural of the common name (for comparison)
Kowalski Kowalscy Kowalska Kowalskie ---
Wilk (translating to 'wolf') Wilkowie - (Wilkówna, Wilkowa) - (Wilkówne, Wilkowe) wilki, wilcy
Zięba (translating to 'finch') Ziębowie - (Ziębianka, Ziębina, new: Ziębówna, Ziębowa) - (Ziębianki, Ziębiny, new: Ziębówny, Ziębowe) zięby

Declension of adjectival surnames

The table below shows the full declension of adjectival surnames ending in -ki (-ski, -cki), using the surname "Kowalski" as an example.

Number: Singular Plural Mixed
(masculine and feminine)
Case Masculine
Masculine Feminine Neutral
Nominative ("Mianownik") Kowalski Kowalska Kowalskie Kowalscy Kowalskie Kowalscy
Genitive ("Dopełniacz") Kowalskiego Kowalskiej Kowalskiego Kowalskich Kowalskich
Dative ("Celownik") Kowalskiemu Kowalskiemu Kowalskim Kowalskim
Accusative ("Biernik") Kowalskiego Kowalską Kowalskie Kowalskich Kowalskie Kowalskich
Instrumental ("Narzędnik") Kowalskim Kowalskim Kowalskimi Kowalskimi
Locative ("Miejscownik") Kowalskiej Kowalskich Kowalskich
Vocative ("Wołacz") Kowalski Kowalska Kowalskie Kowalscy Kowalskie Kowalscy

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:

Formal language

Pan / Pani / Państwo

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 for hereditary nobles, and played more or less the same role 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." or the Japanese "san" suffix, while 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 unmarried women, but this is now outdated and mostly replaced by Pani.

"Państwo" is widely used when referring to a married couple (instead of using Pan and Pani) or even a whole family.



When addressing people, scientific and other titles are always used together with "Pan" and "Pani" and the name itself is dropped. However, when a person is spoken of but not addressed directly, then both the title and the name are used and the words "Pan"/"Pani" are often omitted.



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 when this order was sometimes heard in official situations. In many formal situations, the given name is omitted altogether.


On the other hand, it is not common to refer to public figures, while not addressing them, with "Pan" or "Pani". This is true for politicians, artists, and athletes.

In such circumstances, preceding a name with "Pan" or "Pani" would usually be seen as being ironical.

Semi-formal levels of address

In situations of frequent contact, for example, at work, people who do not change their status from formal into familiar, may remain for years at a semi-formal level, using the formal "Pan"/"Pani" form followed by the given name. This way of calling people is used not only when addressing them but also when referring to them to a third person with whom one remains at the same level of semi-formal contact.

In a situation where two people do not have the same status, for example an employer and employee, a subordinate person is addressed by his or her given name by their superior, but the subordinate never uses the given name of the superior, using his or her title instead.

This style is to a certain degree similar to the Vietnamese, Japanese or Icelandic usage.

NB. If the superior wants to behave more politely or show his or her friendly attitude towards the subordinate, a diminutive form of the given name may be used: "Panie Włodku!", "Pani Jadziu!". This, however, is usually not practised when the subordinate is much older than the superior, as it may be felt by the subordinate as being overly patronised by his/her superior.

It is rude to call a person by his/hers surname in the presence of unknown people. In a random crowd, a person calling another person should use a form of "Proszę Pana/Pani" ("I'm asking you, Sir/Madam") or use the semi-formal form with first name, like "Panie Włodzimierzu" ("Mr. Włodzimierz"). This comes from a general rule that one has the right to be anonymous in a crowd of unknown people; this rule is observed in most countries of western culture. To disclose one's given name does not fall under this rule, as many people can be named Włodzimierz for instance.

Semi-informal and 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 (for example, among co-workers) a diminutive given name may be preceded by formal the Pan or Pani (semi-informal form of address).

Using the honorific style with a surname only, if used to refer to a given person directly, is generally perceived as rude. In such case, it is more polite to use just the form "Pan", without given or family name.

It is very rude to address someone whom one does not know well without using "Pan" or "Pani", and with the second person singular instead of the polite third person singular pronouns and verb forms. Traditionally, the act of moving from this form to a friendly "you" must be acknowledged by both parties and it is usually a mark of a close friendly relationship between the two people. The change can only be proposed by the older or more respected person; a similar suggestion initiated by the younger or less respected person will usually be perceived as presumptuous and arrogant.

There is a clear distinction between "friends" and "colleagues". For example, co-workers will rarely be referred to as friends, but often as colleagues. Being a colleague in Polish means that people share their time or aims to some extent. To be considered a "friend", they have to feel a closer relation, such as sharing secrets or feeling that they can depend on one another. Thus "przyjaciel" ("friend") in Polish has a narrower meaning than its counterpart in English.

There is yet another type of relation – "znajomy" which means "acquaintance"; this is distinct from "kolega" (a colleague) in that it implies a social, not professional, relationship.

It is not uncommon to use a half-informal title with the name omitted. This is, however, usually found only in the vocative case: "Panie Kolego!" (much less common: "Pani Koleżanko!") which literally means "Mr. Mate!".


  1. 1 2 Zenon Klemensiewicz, Historia języka polskiego (History of Polish), PWN, Warsaw 1985, ISBN 83-01-06443-9. (in Polish)
  2. "The most Common Baby names in Poland - History, Trends". Polish culture/.
  3. 1 2 "20 most common given names in Poland". Polish Ministry of Interior and Administration. Retrieved July 4, 2016.(Polish)
  4. Forbes Zygmunt Solorz-Żak (Polish)
  5. Zarębski, Rafał (2013). Studia Ceranea; Possessive Adjectives Formed from Personal Names in Polish Translations of the New Testament. 3. Łódź: Journal of the Waldemar Ceran Research Centre for the History and Culture of the Mediterranean Area and South-East Europe. pp. 187–196.
  6. Stanisław Rospond, Gramatyka historyczna języka polskiego z ćwiczeniami (Polish historical grammar..), Wydawnictwo Naukowe PWN, Warsaw 2009, p. 114, ISBN 978-83-01-13992-6. (in Polish)
  7. 1 2 3 4 "Akta instytucji powołanych do badania szlachectwa (XIX w. deputacje szlacheckie i Heroldia Królestwa Polskiego): Literatura" [Official documents for the heraldry searches]. Naczelna Dyrekcja Archiwów Państwowych (The Head Office of the State Archives Poland) (in Polish). Warsaw: Naczelna Dyrekcja Archiwów Państwowych (The Head Office of the State Archives Poland) www.archiwa.gov.pl. Retrieved 19 May 2014. ... Wymienienie czyjegoś nazwiska w herbarzu nie oznacza, że współcześnie żyjąca osoba pochodzi od rodziny w herbarzu tym występującej. Wiele pozornie szlacheckich nazwisk z końcówką "-ski" należy do osób pochodzenia chłopskiego lub mieszczańskiego, które nazwisko otrzymały od nazwiska właściciela majątku, w którym mieszkały lub na fali panującej w XIX w. mody na dodawanie do nazwiska właśnie tej końcówki. ...'
  8. Angela Adams (2010). "Special Report, Law Enforcement Guide to International Names". ROCIC Publications. p. 11. Archived from the original on October 29, 2013. Retrieved July 4, 2016.
  9. http://kehilalinks.jewishgen.org/suchostaw/polish_patronymics_and_surname_suffixes.htm
  10. Dziennik Ustaw Ustawa z dnia 17 pazdziernika 2008 r. o zmianie imienia i nazwiska (Polish)
  11. A Translation Guide to 19th-Century Polish-Language Civil-Registration Documents: Birth, Marriage and Death Records, Northbrook, Illinois, Jewish Genealogical Society of Illinois, 1989 (second edition); ISBN 0-9613512-1-7
  12. "Polskie nazwiska." Zgapa.pl (Polish)
  13. "Nowak." MoiKrewni.pl (Polish)

External links

Further reading

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