Polish names, just like the rest of the Polish language, aren’t always easy to pronounce. To add insult to injury, mispronouncing your Polish friend’s name can be quite embarrassing.
And these are just the first or given names. When we start to look at Polish last names, the difficulty goes up a level.
But look beyond the pronunciation difficulties. You’ll see that each name has not only a meaning but perhaps even a bit of a story to it. Like most things in the country, the Polish pronunciation of names is steep in history.
Warsaw or Krakow? Which is better for your next visit?
Some of the most common names in Poland reflect the county’s Slavic and Catholic roots. Some are even ‘borrowed’ from their German neighbours.
Just by asking ‘what does that name mean?’, one can uncover another facet of Polish life, history, and culture.
So let’s take a look at some traditional and modern names in Poland to see what they mean and where they come from.
Are you an American Pole?
Exploring Polish & Slavic names
Poland is a Slavic country and thus Slavic in culture. As a result, Polish is a Slavic language.
It’s a culture shared with a lot of other Eastern European countries, so a lot of names are similar.
Many Slavic names were dithematic – that’s a fancy way of saying they had two parts. A more common last part (-mir, -sław) and a somewhat interchangeable first part (Sławo, Jaro, Casi –mir and Stanis, Jaro, Rado, –sław).
Every Polish name carries not just a meaning, but often a fascinating story woven into its syllables.
These names are windows into the past, revealing snippets of Poland’s history and heritage. Exploring common names from Poland is akin to leafing through pages of a captivating historical novel, each name a character with a tale to tell.
Let’s look at the Polish male name, Mikołaj. Other variations of this name include Mik and Mikołajek.
In Slovak, we have Mikuláš, Hungarian we use Miklós, Belarusian is Mikalai, Ukranian we say Mykola (Микола).
In stereotypical Russian names though, we change it to an N and say Nokolay. Traditional Russian names often sound very similar to Polish.
Then, just be-be a little more confusing, the Greek use the name Nikolaos.
Follow this name next door to Germany and you’ll get Nickolaus, onwards to England and you see good ol’ Nicholas*.
*may or may not be related to Santa.
While Greece, Germany, and England aren’t Slavic countries, it’s easy to see how one name adapts into certain regional dialects.
It’s worth noting though that Mikołaj isn’t a Polish name. It’s rather a Greek name which means ‘victory of the people’ and stems from the word ‘Nike’. No, not the shoes, but rather Nike, the Greek god of Victory.
The church’s influence of naming conventions
But in the middle ages, around the time of the Baptism of Poland, where popular Slavic names were all but banned.
While some Slavic names were suppressed, others persisted as they bore the names of patron saints. This tussle between tradition and religious influence enriches the narrative of Polish names.
During the Council of Trent (1545-1563), the Catholic church forbade the use of Slavic names in any country living under God. A few names god around this rule (Kazimierz, Stanisław) as they were the names of Slavic patron saints.
In a typical Polish ‘you won’t get the best of me’ fashion, Poles bought back Slavic names while the country simply didn’t exist. After the country was cut up and given to its neighbours during the third partition of Poland, old Slavic names started returning.
Fun Fact: You may have noticed that all Polish girl names end in ‘A’. Agnieszka, Basia, Klaudia, Dominika. This is partly due to the Polish language itself – Female names are feminine, like lampa, mapa, and książka.
Polish Last names
If you think you can handle Grzmisława and Jacek, wait till you see some common Polish surnames.
Like the language itself, names don’t escape the beauty and complexity of Polish Phonology.
Polish surnames are a treasure trove of narratives, encapsulating ancestral trades, geographic affiliations, and historical events.
Every Polish surname seems to have its own backstory. It’s bathed in the glory of a famous composer, or some kind of hero or saviour. That’s one of the amazing things about names from this part of the world!
Most Polish surnames come from one of 3 places:
Cognominal – based on a ‘nickname’ or a name given to someone with a certain job, habit or physical description; an occupational surname. Kowalski, for example, comes from the word Kowal, which translates to blacksmith. ‘Dzień dobry, Kowalski’, said Pawelł on his way to marketing in the morning’.
Patronymic – These are Polish surnames that stem from a first name and usually finish with a suffix, implying a family relation. For example, Staszczyk comes from the male name Stanisław.
Toponymic – the suffix ‘topo’ is Latin for map or location (topography), so these are Polish surnames derived from a local town or city. For example, The name Lewandowski means ‘of Lewandow’, with Lewandow being a region near Warsaw. Follow the town name back a little further, and you’ll get ‘Lavender tree’.
Fun Fact: So many Polish Surnames end in -ski or -ska as that suffix was traditionally used to define affiliation with something. Warszawski means ‘…of Warsaw’.
Now you know how Polish family names are created, let’s take a look at some of the most frequently Polish Family names!
Common Polish Surnames and Last Names
Smith, Jones, and Thompson are some pretty popular English surnames.
What are some of the more common surnames in Poland?
According to the Główny Urząd Statystyczny or Central Statistical Office, these are some of the most common surnames in Poland being used today. It’s also worth noting that there’s a difference between popular and common!
Check out how to pronounce each name if you’re unfamiliar with Polish sounds. There’s no need to learn Polish just to address your Polish co-worker.
Remember that these are just rough – pronounce it the way it’s written, and that should be enough to impress your Polish friends.
Here’s a list of Polish last names:
- Nowak – (No-vak) from nowy, or new
- Kozłowski – (Kos-wov-ski) from Kozłów or kozioł or goat.
- Jankowski – (Yank-kov-ski) from Janek, the name John
- Mazur – (Mah-zur) from Mazury, the capital region of Poland
- Kowalski – (Ko-vall-ski) from kowal, or blacksmith
- Zieliński – (Zhe-lin-ski) from zielony or green.
- Szymański – (She-man-ski) from Szymon, the name Simon
- Lewandowski – (Lev-an-dov-ski) from the town of Lewandów which comes from the ‘lavender tree’
- Dąbrowski – (Dow-brov-ski) from dąbrowa or oak forest
- Wójcik – (Voi-chick) from wójt, a word describing the head of a group of villages
- Wożniak – (Voz-knee-ack) from wożny, or apparitor
- Wiśniewski – (Vish-knee-yev-ski) from wiśnia, or cherry
- Kamiński – (Kah-min-ski) from kamień, or stone
- Kowalczyk – (Ko-val-chick) from kowal, or blacksmith
- Wojciechowski – (Voy-cheh-hov-ski) from the name Wojciech.
One unusual thing about these names is that the wife of a married couple will often have a slightly different surname to that of her husband.
As mentioned earlier, this is due to the Polish language itself, with feminine words usually ending in ‘a’.
Robert Lewandowski and his wife, Ania Lewandowska.
Same family name, different ending.
How many names can you see in this picture? [image source]
Polish Female Names
Polish women are known for their…well, everything.
Polish girl names dance elegantly, often culminating in the melodious “a” sound. Zuzanna, Lena, and Julia embody timeless beauty, while Agnieszka and Katarzyna radiate spirituality.
These names, adorned with meanings that range from lilies to wisdom, mirror the multifaceted nature of womanhood.
In 2015, these were the girl names most popular in Poland:
- Zuzanna – Polish form of Suzanna, meaning lily
- Lena – From Helen, meaning shining and bright
- Julia – Jupiter’s Child, youthful,
- Maja – Splendid
- Zofia – Polish form of Sophie – wise and clever
- Hanna – God’s given gift
- Amelia – Industrious and hardworking
- Aleksandra – Defender warrior, protector of people
- Alicja – Noble, honourable
- Natalia – Newcomer
Some more common Polish girl names and their meanings:
- Agnieszka – Holy
- Bożena – God, from God.
- Justyna – Fair
- Katarzyna – Pure
- Magdalena – From Magdala
As a native English speaker, it’s easy to see these names and pick the English equivalents.
In most situations, the English versions replace the ‘y’ with an ‘i’ or even remove the ‘j’ completely.
Polish Male Names
Polish boy names exude strength and significance. Jakub, Szymon, and Jan bear seizing, listening, and godliness gifts.
Names like Antoni and Mikolaj reflect immeasurable worth and victorious spirits. Each name bestows a distinctive identity, representing Poland’s valiant history.
These are the most common and popular Polish baby boy names:
- Jakub – Seized by the hand
- Antoni – Priceless or immeasurable
- Szymon – A man who hears everything
- Jan – A gift from God
- Filip – Lover of Horses
- Kacper – Treasure
- Aleksander – Defender of men
- Francisek – Frenchman
- Mikolaj – The victory of mankind
- Wojciech – Warrior
Polish baby names
As for baby names in Poland, here are some popular ones:
Baby boy names in Poland
- Andrzej – manly, masculine
- Bartosz – son of Talmai
- Darek – gift ruler
- Grzegorz – Watchful, vigilant
- Jakub – supplanter
- Janusz – gateway
- Kamil – perfect
- Krystian – believer
- Lukasz – excellent
- Marcin – warlike
- Mateusz – god’s gift
- Olek – defender of men
- Tomek & Tomasz – twin
Traditional Polish boy names also ‘translate’ into English quite easily. My name, for example, Phillip, simply has the ‘ph’ sound replaced by an ‘F’. (Which, in my honest opinion, has always been easier).
I find the name ‘Kamil’ interesting, as I can’t seem to find an English equivalent.
Baby girl names in Poland
Here are some common names for Polish baby girls:
- Marzena – Warlike
- Monika – Advisor
- Patrycja – Noble
- Sylwia – of the woods
- Urszula – from the sea
- Dorota – Gift from God
- Gosia – Pearl
As you can see, like the Polish language, female girl names always end in ‘a’. Anglicised versions of the name are common – for example, Katarzyna and Catherine.
Navigating the Maze: FAQs About Polish Names
Q: Why do many Polish surnames end in -ski or -ska?
A: The suffixes -ski and -ska signify affiliation with a place or characteristic, a tradition steeped in history.
Q: How did Catholicism influence Polish naming conventions?
A: Catholic saints’ names often became Polish nomenclature, reflecting the nation’s deep religious ties.
Q: What’s the significance of the ‘a’ sound in Polish girl names?
A: The ‘a’ sound at the end of female names is a linguistic and cultural convention, signifying femininity.
Q: Are there similarities between Polish and Slavic names in other countries?
A: Slavic names often share linguistic traits, reflecting the interconnectedness of Slavic cultures.
Q: How have Polish surnames evolved over time?
A: Surnames have evolved with historical events, trades, and cultural influences, showcasing Poland’s dynamic identity.
Q: What role does pronunciation play in Polish names?
A: Pronunciation is key to understanding and appreciating Polish names, offering insights into linguistic nuances.
One thing that I love about common names in Poland is that each one seems to have a history behind it. As you saw in this article, a name can result from an ancestor’s occupation, where they came from, or even just another way of saying ‘god’.
Names and last names in Poland are complex and difficult to pronounce. But like most things in Polish culture, once you know a little more about it, it’s got a beautiful story all to its own.
Are you Polish? What does your surname mean? What’s one of the most interesting Polish names you’ve ever encountered?
Let us know in the comments!