A Polish personal name, like names in most European cultures, consists of two main elements: imię, the first or given name, followed by nazwisko, the surname or 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)[edit | edit source]

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 a name or names for their child from a long list of traditional names which may be:[1]

Note that names of Slavic saints, such as Wojciech (St Adalbert), Stanisław (St Stanislaus), or Kazimierz (St Casimir), belong to both 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 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 today 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 name which, however, can be also used as a middle (second) name for males (never as a first name for males).

The choice of a given name is largely influenced by fashion. Many parents 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 / cia 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, 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).

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 2009, the most popular female names in Poland are Anna, Maria, and Katarzyna (Katherine). The most popular male names are Piotr (Peter), Krzysztof (Christopher), and Andrzej (Andrew).[2]

Nazwisko (surname)[edit | edit source]

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, Wiśniewski and Wójcik.[3]

History, heraldry, and clan names[edit | edit source]

This article is part
of the Polish HeraldryWp globe tiny.gif
Coat of Arms of Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth
History of PolandWp globe tiny.gif

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. Thus 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 were 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.

Gradually the use of family names 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.

Poles in Diasporas[edit | edit source]

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[4] ; sometimes indirectly by transliteration into, e.g., Cyrillic.

For example, in 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 particulefr:Particule (onomastique)) 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 Spiczyński 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.

Classification[edit | edit source]

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. 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.

Cognominal[edit | edit source]

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 (i.e. "blacksmith"); or from Kowale or Kowalewo ("Smithville") in case of Kowalski and Kowalewski.
  • Młynarz, Młynarski, Młynarczyk—from młynarz (i.e. "miller"); or from Młynary ("Millersville") in case of Młynarski.
  • Nowak, Nowakowski, Nowicki—from nowy ("the new one"); or from Nowakowo or Nowice ("Newmantown") in case of Nowakowski and Nowicki.
  • Lis, Lisiewicz, Lisowski—from lis ("fox"); or from Lisowo ("Foxville") in case of Lisowski.
  • Kołodziej, Kołodziejska, Kołodziejski — from kołodziej (wheelwright) or koło (Wheel); or from Kołowice ("Wheeltown").
  • Kuchar

Toponymic[edit | edit source]

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. Originally they referred to the village owner, in the 19th century however they were mostly formed for people who were lacking surnames by then, from the name of the town inhabited.


Patronymic[edit | edit source]

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).

Other[edit | edit source]

  • There is also a class of surnames derived from the past tense form of verbs. These names usually have the feminine (-ła) or neuter (-ło) ending of the (ancient, now obsolete) active past participle, meaning "the one who has ...[come, applied, accomplished, settled, searched, found, etc.]", 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.
  • The most popular Polish surname, Nowak,[5],[6], has the original meaning "the new one".

Feminine forms[edit | edit source]

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:

Masculine Feminine
Malinowski Malinowska
Zawadzki Zawadzka
Podgórny Podgórna
Biały Biała

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.

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

However, the forms in "-anka" and "-ina/-yna" tend to disappear and are being replaced by the forms in "-ówna" and "-owa" respectively.


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[edit | edit source]

Plural forms of the surnames follow the pattern of the masculine and feminine forms respectively, if such exist. For the whole family (bi-gender situations, mixture of males and females), the masculine plural is used. Plural forms of the names quite rarely follow the patterns of regular declension, even if the name is identical with a common name. Uneducated people often use plural of the common names for plural of surnames, and feminine (felt as neutral) of the adjectival surnames for bi-gender situation.

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 Wilkowie --- (Wilkówna, Wilkowa) --- (Wilkówne, Wilkowe) wilki, wilcy
Zięba Ziębowie --- (Ziębianka, Ziębina, new: Ziębówna, Ziębowa) --- (Ziębianki, Ziębiny, new: Ziębówny, Ziębowe) zięby

Formal and informal use[edit | edit source]

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 / Państwo;
  • using the third person singular (formal) vs. the second person singular (informal) forms.

Formal language[edit | edit source]

Pan / Pani / Państwo[edit | edit source]

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." or the Japanese "san" suffix 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 now outdated and mostly replaced by Pani.

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


  • Pan Kowalski + Pani Kowalska = Państwo Kowalscy
  • Pan Nowak + Pani Nowak = Państwo Nowakowie

Titles[edit | edit source]

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.


  • "Panie profesorze" ("Professor!"), "Pan profesor powiedział" ("Professor (X) said" or: "you have said, professor")
  • "Pani doktor" ("Doctor!"), "Pani doktor powiedziała" ("Doctor (X) said" or: "you have said, doctor")


  • "Pan profesor Jan Nowak" or: "profesor Jan Nowak" or: "profesor Nowak",
  • "Pani doktor Maria Kowalska" or "doktor Maria Kowalska" or: "doktor Kowalska"

Given name / surname order[edit | edit source]

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.


  • Pan Włodzimierz Malinowski
  • Pani Jadwiga Kwiatkowska

On the other hand, it is not common to refer to public figures, while not addressing them, with "Pan" or "Pani". It is rarely done with politicians, e.g.

  • "Jan Kowalski był dziś w Gdańsku." ("Jan Kowalski was in Gdansk today") (e.g. of a Prime Minister) and not *"Pan Jan Kowalski był dziś w Gdańsku."
  • "Pan Kowalski uważa, że" ("Mr Kowalski maintains that", e.g. of a government minister), better: "Jan Kowalski uważa, że" or "Minister Kowalski uważa, że"

and never with artists, athletes, sportsmen or sportswomen:

  • "Film reżyserował Jan Kowalski." ("The film was directed by Jan Kowalski.") and not: *"Film reżyserował pan Jan Kowalski."
  • "Złoty medal zdobyła Anna Kowalska." ("The gold medal was won by Anna Kowalska.") and never: *"Złoty medal zdobyła pani Anna Kowalska."

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

Semi-formal levels of address[edit | edit source]

In situations of frequent contact, e.g. at work, people who do not decide to change their status from formal into friendly, may remain for years at 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 while talking to a third person with whom one remains at the same level of semi-formal contacts.

The common situation is that of reciprocity (in case both people have equal, or close to equal, status). However, an asymmetric situation is also quite common, when 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:

  • the superior to a subordinate: "Panie Włodzimierzu!", "Pani Jadwigo!";
  • a subordinate to the superior: "Panie Dyrektorze!" (literally: "Mr Principal!"), "Pani Kierownik!" (literally: "Mrs Manager!").

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 etc., the diminutive of the given name of the subordinate may be used (like in the semi-informal way of addressing among co-workers or neighbours, see below): "Panie Włodku!", "Pani Jadziu!". This, however, is usually not practiced 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.

Semi-informal and informal language[edit | edit source]

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 (semi-informal form of address).


  • Pan Włodek (but also standard semi-formal form "Pan Włodzimierz") - in direct address "Panie Włodku" (standard: "Panie Włodzimierzu")
  • Pani Jadzia (but also "Pani Jadwiga") - in direct address "Pani Jadziu" (standard: "Pani Jadwigo")

Using the honorific style with a surname only, if used to refer to a given person directly, is generally perceived as rude (giving impression of patronising or irony; e.g., "Panie Idioto"). In such a case it is more polite to avoid this form and when referring to the person use just the form "Pan", without given or family name.

It is very rude to address someone whom one does not know well with the omission of "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 be very rarely referred to as friends. People will be called "colleagues" most likely only after the titling was mutually agreed to be changed from "Pan/Pani" to "you". To be considered a "friend" they have to feel closer relation and there must be mutual understanding of each other (usually, indicating that they believe they can share each other secrets without fearing that they will be revealed to others, and, more generally, when one can depend on another even in the most difficult situations). Thus "przyjaciel" ("friend") in Polish has a narrower meaning than its counterpart in English.

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!".

See also[edit | edit source]

References[edit | edit source]

  1. ^ "The most Common Baby names in Poland - History, Trends". http://culture.polishsite.us/. http://culture.polishsite.us/articles/art359fr.htm. 
  2. ^ 20 most common given names in Poland, Polish Ministry of Interior and Administration (PDF) (Polish)
  3. ^ 20 most common surnames in Poland, Polish Ministry of Interior and Administration (PDF) (Polish)
  4. ^ 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
  5. ^ [1]
  6. ^ [2]

External links[edit | edit source]

This page uses content from the English language Wikipedia. The original content was at Polish name. The list of authors can be seen in the page history. As with this Familypedia wiki, the content of Wikipedia is available under the Creative Commons License.
Community content is available under CC-BY-SA unless otherwise noted.