Polish Language Blog

Diminutives of Proper Names Posted by on Apr 3, 2009 in Culture

Are you ready for more zdrobnienia (diminutives)? I’m not… But I thought I’d give them a shot anyway.

I told you already that I’m not particularly fond of diminutives. And if there is a thing I dislike even more, that will be diminutive forms of proper names. Hate the stuff. Really.

Lucky are the people whose names don’t lend themselves to casual diminution. That would be Jacek, Andrzej, Paweł, Michał, for example. Yes, you can say “Jacuś, Andrzejek, Pawełek and Michałek” but chances are you wouldn’t do it when talking to grown men. And the ladies? Agnieszka, Sylwia, Beata, Iwona come to mind. Agnieszki are truly lucky. Their name stays as is. Frankly, I can’t even think of what its diminutive form would be. If that’s the case, then this must be the proverbial exception that only goes to prove the general rule – that most Polish names are not even used in their “birth certificate” forms.

Take my name, for example. Anna. Simple enough, right? Not when, as Barb very helpfully pointed out, you can also have Ania, Anka, Anusia (or Aniusia), Aneczka, Andzia, Anula, Anulka, Anunia and probably a couple of others that I’d rather forget about.

My sister’s name is equally simple in its basic form – Maria. But I’ve never met a Polish person who would call her “Maria” – “it’s just too churchy,” as one lady explained. Instead, she’s Marysia, Marysieńka, Mania, Mańka, and so on.

Diminutive name forms are so ingrained into out collective Polish psyche that even professional men and women don’t see anything odd with introducing themselves as “Magda so-and-so” (really: Magdalena) and “Darek so-and-so” (really: Dariusz).

And so Barbara becomes “Basia” and Jolanta – “Jola”, Joanna – “Asia”, Izabella – “Iza”, Zofia – “Zosia”, Aleksandra – “Ola”, and so on. There’s no rhyme and reason to it. This is something that you will need to learn on a case by case basis.

Guys’ names are easier, but just a little. Most of the traditional Slavic names are simply impossible to use in everyday conversations in their proper forms – Zbigniew, Sławomir, Jarosław, Mieczysław, etc. They morph into: Zbyszek, Sławek, Jarek and Mietek. Other male names, especially when talking to adults you’re not all that familiar with, stay pretty much the same: Maciej, Piotr, Krzysztof (though you can say “Krzysiek” if you feel you know the dude well enough and he won’t mind), Mateusz, Łukasz, Janusz, etc…

As for my own name, I will tolerate “Ania”. The other diminutives of Anna – even my own family doesn’t use them. And what about my sister? My dad calls her “Marie.” When I asked him why, he simply said “it’s shorter.”

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  1. DeeAnn:

    I don’t know why, but I have always found diminutives of proper names (nicknames0 to be interesting. Maybe because it can seem like a puzzle to figure out what the “real” name is, and I love puzzles. Or maybe it’s because I never had one and always envied those who did.

    For some reason I always that Asia was a diminutive of Agneszka, so now I know better. Two English names that I find very confusing are Jack (dim. of John – why? what’s the point? They are both 4 letter words) and all the dim. of Elizabeth. (lisa, Lizzy, Liz, Beth, Eliza, Betty, etc…I found a site that listed over 50 of them.)

    Anyway, I enjoyed the post.

  2. russ:

    Joanna – Asia was a bizarre surprise to me that I didn’t realize until after about 2 years in Poland. Same for Aleksandra – Ola. I see no connection between these names and nicknames…

    As for Beata – it is not immune from diminutives, alas – I often hear “Beatka” used for an adult Beata…

  3. Mchl:

    Agnisia, Agninia, Agusia, Niesia, Aga… these are actual diminutives used by Agnieszki I know or used to know.
    Also note, that some diminutives are names on their own. You even mention one: Magda often exists as a ‘proper name’ not a diminutive.

  4. Agnieszka:

    Agnieszka is not so lucky name as you say. There is Aga, Agusia, Agniesia, Agnisia, Niusia, Nisia, and so on… And of course there Jagna, which sometimes is treated as the same name, which give us Jagusia, Jagnisia, Jagienka, Jagus, etc. And still, even in normal form, it is impossible that any foreign person would be able to say it properly… ;-(

  5. Melissa:

    What about the name Leszek? I’ve heard of the nickname Lechu, I think, but what happens to Leszek?

  6. Mchl:

    Leszek: Lesio (that’s how we called a classmate of this name in primary school), also possibly Lesiu.
    And I think that a young Leszek would prefer that his friends called him Lechu… but that’s just a guess. 😉

  7. omartus:

    this is very right, as well my limited experience at polish soil. i met a nice girl called Joanna and after some time she told me: “you are the only one who call me Joanna” at first it wasnt easy to understand, but it was clearer in time 🙂 btw, i really like names of polish women, but in real form, as much as i dont like these diminutives 🙂 pozdro!

    omar z argentyny

  8. pinolona:

    If my friend or acquaintance is introduced by a standard diminutive like Magda or Asia but always signs emails with her full name, am I offending her by using the diminutive? Do people ever get upset by over-familiarity?

    In English, for example, my name is long and latinate and not easy to shout into someone’s ear in a club. I always sign with my full name but diminutives have sort of grown up organically over the years and I don’t consider them a familiarity (only very, very rarely): it’s just practical!

    Any guidelines to etiquette?

  9. Mchl:

    You should certainly avoid using diminutives towards people you barely know. As far as your friends or colleagues are concerned, you can either observe how other people talk to them, or just ask if they mind if you use a shorter form (and which one! I hate Michaś, while Michałek sits well with me).

    This reminds me of a practical joke me and my friend did to our common friend. She was going on a holiday with a student tourist club, but she was unable to attend an organisational meeting. So she asked us to be there for her. During the meeting, it occurred to us, that everyone in the club used diminutives towards each other. Since our friend had never met these people before, we told them that she didn’t not like to be called ‘Kasia’, but would rather prefer to be called ‘Katarzyna’ (which was not true).

    It sure must have been weird for her. Spend two weeks with people who generally use diminutives but not towards her 🙂

  10. Ola:

    I find our Polish diminutives very interesting and I’m pretty proud of this cute thing 🙂 However, I agree that using all these forms might be a bit confusing since there are really lots of “degrees” of being kind, and therefore, an equally great amount of diminutive forms. Eg., let’s take the name Piotr (Peter) as an example. I call my brother just Piotrek which simply shows that I know this person, whithout being over-kind, just natural. By this, one can guess Piotrek’s probably my brother/cousin/mate etc. This form is neutral if you know the person and your status is more or less the same ( = no evident need of using the official, serious and formal full form “Piotr” as one should say to somebody unknown/older and not being a relative/more important). However, as I think of our grandma, I can say she always uses the more-diminutive form: Piotruś, which can mean one of these: a) the boy is really young, a baby probably; b) the lady is really close to the boy and shows her attachment to him calling him in a tender way; c) the lady wants the boy to do something and is behaving over-politely ;D (this one does really happen! Poles do unconciously call one other using diminutives when they want to appease a well-known person! ^^)
    And these are only 3 basic forms! Look on how many situations they depend!
    Some names have much more common forms, not always obvious-looking.
    On the other hand, some names hardly have any diminutives. Or, one may actually say that every Polish name has got a diminutive (if not, you can think of one, there are a lot of diminutive-suffixes that enable you to create a huge variety of your own weird diminutives, as: -ek, -uś, -eczek, -uń etc. for male and -usia, -unia, -sia, -nia, -eczka, -eńka etc. for female) but they’re hardly ever in use. My name would be a pretty good example – Olga’s own diminutive would be Olgunia or Olgusia but believe me, these don’t really sound natural. Nevertheless, the full form does sound kinda affected so I just borrow Aleksandra’s diminutive, Ola 😉 But by the way – it often happens that Olgas don’t wanna be called “Ola” since they say (right somehow) this is another name.
    There are also some other names that don’t really need diminutives (they don’t sound so official) and are often used in their basic forms (although they do have their own polite and extra-polite forms, too). These are, eg.: Monika, Ewa, Ada (which can itself be a diminutive from Adriana or Adrianna), Marek, Kornel, Konrad, Karol, Jacek (not to be mixed with JaRek from Jarosław, see DaRek from Dariusz), Mariusz…
    NOTE: The opposite of diminutive (zdrobnienie) is augmentative (zgrubienie). While diminutives let us know that something/somebody is tiny/small/young/cute/beloved/dear to us/delicate or just shows a positive attitude or compassion (but sometimes also: irony, sarcasm, infantility or stupidity of somebody), augmentatives are often used in Polish to highlight openly that something is extraordinarily big/ugly/disliked etc. However, if somebody calls his/her friend using an augmentative, it doesn’t have to be an insult, can mean more or less the same as “an old chap” 🙂
    Common augmentative suffixes are eg. -uch for male and -ucha for female. So if the diminutive form from Magdalena is Magda/Madzia, the augmentative would be Magducha.
    Remember though, not every name “likes” being transformed into an augmentative 🙂
    I hope it helped you!

  11. khrystene:

    For Agnieszka I always hear Aga; even heard something like Nisza. (not sure on spelling tho)

    As to Beata – Beatku, Beatka. Same with Iwona – Iwonka, Sylwia – Sylwiu….

    My friends and I sometimes exaggerate them, just for kicks.

    Being Krystyna (trad. spelling) I get the usual Krycha, Krysiu, Krysiuniu/a. I don’t mine my very close friends saying Krycha. My family usually uses Krysiu.

    In English, I’ve always hated (with a passion) my name being made diminutive. Also find it weird when non-Polish speakers use Polish diminutives of my name. Just doesn’t sound right.

    Great posts, I like your journal a lot. 🙂

  12. Carole:

    Found this while looking for Polish nicknames, and I thought it was fairly interesting. I really like nicknames, maybe because they’re rarely used in my country (Usually we simply use a shorter form, if the name is long enough. For instance, my brother is called Alexis (pronounced Aleksi), and we call him Alex.). I’ve always thought it was cute/interesting how the use of a nickname/diminutive can be an indicator of the relationship between people. And I was more interested in Polish names ’cause I’ve met a Polish girl (who made me discover a series called Stawka Wieksza Niz Zicie) and that made me quite interested in the Polish culture.

    I was wondering about what diminutives could be used for my name in Polish (Carole – guess it would be Karol) ? I’ve seen Lolek somewhere, and I think I heard someone say it could be Olek once, but I’m not sure. Guess it could be Karek too, but that one sounds really weird.

  13. vox libris:

    i want to know the Diminutives of frida , katja and carla

  14. George:

    Hello Anna!

    I’d like to know the exact equivalents of George (my name) and Gerard and their diminutives. I’m a huge fan of Bolek i Lolek and I want to give my cousin, Gerard (Gerardo) a surpirse, a mug with a drawing of Bolek i Lolek bearing our diminutives in Polish. Do you think you can give me a hand with that, please? That’d be greatly appreciated!

    All the best!


  15. Richard 1960:

    Agnieszka is already diminutive by suffix “-szka”, “-czka”, “-śka” and so forth. This suffix is quite common in diminutive words- pieszczocha-pieszczoszka, mysz- myszka(the little mouse), szklanka- szklaneczka (little drinking glass). By the way- who have good idea how to translate piesczoszka?- Google translator is comming out with “kitten”- but I don’t really think so. Or yes?

  16. Terese Umbras Fehlberg:

    Can you tell me what names have the diminuative Hodos (polish from Belarus) and Savlik (Савльик)?
    These are among names like Kleoface, Ignatcy, etc.

  17. Rune:

    Thanks. It was interesting stuff. Got a polish woman at work and tried to understand the Joanna-Asia link. Perhaps not smarter, but I certainly grasp more of it.

  18. Andy:

    Dictionary of diminutives of first names:

  19. Vivien:

    Great post, thank you! Can someone tell me what the diminutives are for Slavic female names (e.g. Czesława, Wisława, Mirosława)?

  20. Christina Smith:

    As a British born Pole I only use my full name, Krystyna on forms. Everyone knows me as Krysia as it was by far easier than explaining all the different forms. I like to think of diminutives as being the “affectionate” form. All the different forms possible reflect the levels or degrees of the relationship. As for the …sia, or …siu ending that is from the form if you are talking about someone (sia) or to someone (siu) that is nominative or vocative form. Polish nounds (and therefore names) are declined as in Latin.

  21. James Batton:

    This is a great website. Bookmarked!

  22. Alecia:

    This is very interesting to me…we’re Canadian but growing up my Ukrainian grandparents would call my sister Oksana, “oksanka”, my brother Michael “michilo” and me, Alecia “Aleshka”

  23. Krysia:

    To say that Poles use short forms of names would be a mistake. They are actually terms of affection so the different forms used vary according to relationship. In English names morph into a new form which is used be everyone, other than official forms etc. Lately however, people use the short forms as registered names, never referring to the original eg Betty who is never known as Elizabeth. We Poles tend to keep the original and only use the short form with friends and family. Languages are living things and evolve, mingle, change.