You might know Poland to be a country that was heavily affected by WWII, Nazi Germany, and the death of millions of Jews in the Holocaust and thankfully, survivors who have either stayed in Europe or were able to come to the United States. Nonetheless, if you’re of Polish descent, you know that there’s a lot of research to be done about your family tree, your family name, its meaning, and its origin—and with the Polish language, it’s so much more than you’d think.
Quick History of Poland
An ethnic group of people, known as Slavs, entered Europe and divided into East, West, and South. East Slavs are Russians and Ukrainians, West Slavs are Poles, and Czechs, and South Slavs are Croats and Macedonians. The Slavs decided into 2 religious groups, either Russian Orthodox or Roman Catholics. Religions like Judaism and Protestant were minority religions in Europe. Now, evidently enough, Poland is a Slav country.
It’s a controversial discussion on the habitat of Slavs, but nonetheless, most Polish people today have Slavic names. Although Poland’s official language is Polish, it has influences of foreign tongues from Germany, Lithuania, and Ukraine—thanks to these countries also being a Slav country.
During the years 1892-1954, a small island in New York known as Ellis Island was an established port for over 12 million immigrants. Polish immigrants made up of 2.5 million of those people (10%). So if you’re living in America with a Polish-sounding name, that’s why.
History of Polish Names
Polish last names derived from locations, nicknames, or family patriarchs. Place names typically ended in -ski meaning “of” and were reserved for nobility. But over time, it was was one of the most identifiable aspects of Polish last name. Cognominal surnames, also known as nicknames, were either based on occupations, character traits, or physical descriptions. Patronymic surnames were typically from a person’s given name and a suffix of family relation.
Names and Marriage
Feminine Polish words typically end in “a”. Now, a married woman will take her husband’s surname, however, because of the feminine form of it, she’ll add an “a” to the end.
For example, Robert Lewandowski and his wife, Ania Lewandowska. This last name is basically the same name, but it just changes slightly with the suffix.
Common Polish Family Names
As mentioned briefly before, the -ski suffix was originally used for location or possession. For example, the surnames Tarnowski, Brezezinski, and Chometowski are from Tarnow, Brezezie, and Chomatow. The pronunciation of Polish words and names is complicated if you don’t speak Polish or understand Hebrew.
Some Polish surnames can also be considered “Jewish names” too, and these surnames are related to the religion and written and pronounced in Hebrew. Some Jewish names you might have heard before are Singer (“song leader in shul”), Klausner (“rabbi for small congregation”), and Schaeffer (also “Shofer” or “Sofer” meaning “scribe”).
Nonetheless, here are some of the common surnames in Poland:
Nowak (No-vak) from the polish form nowy
Kozłowski (Kos-wov-ski) from the polish form Kozłów or kozioł
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
Zieliński (Zhe-lin-ski) from zielony
Szymański (She-man-ski) from Szymon
the name Simon
Lewandowski (Lev-an-dov-ski) from the town of Lewandów
meaning “lavender tree”
Dąbrowski (Dow-brov-ski) from dąbrowa
meaning “oak forest”
Wójcik (Voi-chick) from wójt
“head of a group of villages”
Wiśniewski (Vish-knee-yev-ski) from wiśnia
Kamiński (Kah-min-ski) from kamień,
Popular Polish Names
Some Polish first names are often “translated” into American names/spelling. For example, the first name “Jacob” and the first name “Filip” have Polish origin.
Here are some popular Polish names for girls:
meaning “shining and bright”
“Gift from God”
Here are some popular Polish names for boys:
“Seized by the hand”
“Lover of Horses”
Do you have a Polish family name?
More Cool Last Names and Their Origins
Below are more last name articles that lead a reader to discover more about their surname and family history.