Polish Language Blog

What’s in a Name? Posted by on Sep 23, 2010 in Culture

There are many things we are born with that we don’t have a choice in. We can’t select if we’re going to be a male or female, short or tall, blond or brunette (well, this one many do change in every color in the spectrum, but whatever). Another thing we are given at birth is our name. Now, as a parent, I know I struggled with finding names for my children. You want something that won’t embarrass them, something that sounds good with the surname and, often times, it has to have some sort of meaning. My Polish name is Katarzyna, but my given name here, being born in the US, is Catherine. I am named after my paternal grandmother, and my middle name is Anna, after my mother. Now, given that Catherine can be spelled with a K as well, I asked my mother, why spell it with a C? I thought it would be something profound, something with so much meaning I might be overwhelmed. Her answer – I just wanted something different than the Polish. All right then.

There may not be significance in picking a C, but there is the family value of my name being passed down to me. Now Katarzyna is taken from the Greek as well, and its meaning is Pure. So this got me thinking. There are SEVERAL truly Polish names and it got me wondering, what’s behind the name?

I began my name research with my family. Since my parents names were of German and Hebrew origin, I decided to go into my uncles, aunts and cousins names to start finding some Slavic-origin names and break them down for their meanings. So, a name common to both sides of my family, and I would argue most Polish people know or have an uncle named so, is Stanisław. Or the short form is Staś. Well, this name translates into one that stands or achieves fame or glory. Translated into English, Stanisław is Stanley.

There are a lot of Polish names that end with –sław. Add an -a ending on some of them, and they are the feminine form. Here are some examples and their meanings:

  • Władysława – possessor of the fame (or glory)
  • Czesław – honor and fame (or glory)
  • Bronisław – protect of the fame (or glory) (name of current Polish President, Bronisław Komorowski)
  • Borzysław – fighter for the fame (or glory)
  • Mirosław – one who achieves fame (or glory) through peace
  • Radosław – one who is happy to have fame (or glory)

There are several more I am certain, and if you know them and their meaning, please add to the post via the comments below. You may help someone decide on a Polish name for their future son or daughter.

There are Polish names that derive from the root word that refers to God. These include Bożena (female name), Bogusław (male name that means God’s glory) as well as Bogdan (male name meaning God given). And then there are the Polish names that derive from the root for love mił-. The most popular of these names are Miłosz, a male name meaning love, and Milena, the female form.

In light of these good roots, there are also names that are rooted around destruction. For example, take the name Kazimierz. This name literally translates to one that “destroys prestige”.  Then there is also Mścisław, which roots its meaning in vengeance and fame (or glory).

And them there are a few that make me smile. For example, take the name Jarosław. We know the –sław ending means fame or glory. The Jar root means fire or blaze. So the name Jarosław literally means “blaze of glory”. How can you not smile at that? Or the name Zbygniew. It means to get rid of anger. But saying the name, you would think that it would command something angry instead of dispelling it.

Needless to say, there are many Polish names to choose from. It all depends on what you want out of your name.  And those these are Slavic-rooted names, there are many Polish derivatives for names rooted in other languages. All you need to do is your name research.

Hope this has been helpful. Again, if you have more names I have mentioned and their meaning, please list them in the comments. You never know who might be using them.

Do następnego czytania…

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  1. Karola:

    Wonderful post! I know how important and significant a name is in terms of spelling and meaning. A name in small and big ways can be a curse or a blessing. I know from experience.

  2. Do$a:

    u! Jakie… imiona!
    Władysława?! Nie znam nikogo o takim imieniu.
    Miłosz?! Też nie.
    U nas króluje imię Tomek, Kasia, Asia, Ola, Zuzia, Agnieszka, Piotr, Szymon. 🙂

  3. Karola:

    Many of the names like Władysława are older generation names I agree. The names in your post reflect older names. My father’s eldest brother had that name. The younger Polish generations have more modern names. Plus I am familiar with popular Polish names like Krzysztof, Karol, Damian, Marcin, Marek, etc. I know you were giving examples of names their derivation and meaning. Your posts are great! I am renewing my memories of the Polish language, culture and history. In my study of genealogy I see a change in the generations from traditional names to more nontraditional trendy names. Enjoy reading your informative posts! Thanks,

  4. Do$a:

    O tak!
    Krzysztof, Marcin, Karol, Damian… To zdecydowanie polskie imiona. 🙂
    Ale mi tez podobają się te mniej “używane”: Anastazja, Artemida, Irena, Diana, Tola, Iga, Nikola, Lila, Nina, Stefania, Malwina, Fasia(Faustyna)
    A dla chłopaka to np.:
    Dawid, Bartek(Bartek or Bartłomiej), Cyryl, Edzio(Edmund or Edward), Sylwek(Sylwester), Kajtek(Kajetan)

    Bez urazy, ale nienawidzę imion częstych typu: Kasia(Katarzyna), Asia(Joanna), Basia(Barbara), Ola(Aleksandra), Ula(Urszula), Ala(Alicja), Ela(Elżbieta), Iza(Izabela), Sandra, Kamila, Martyna, Julia, Ania(Anna) czy Magda(Magdalena)

  5. Karola:

    .. Wzrosły o żadne inne imię nie pachnie tak słodko … Zgadzam się z wyborem imion. Mój ojciec miał na imię Edward silną nazwę. Doceniam fakt, że w polskiej nazwy języka mogą być personalizowane na przykład moje imię Karola. Mój ojciec i bardzo bliskich przyjaciół zadzwonił do mnie Karolcia zdrobnienie. Podobne Ania, Anka, Hańcza, Andzia, Anusia, Anuska, Aneczka, Anula, Anuleczka! Proszę wybaczyć moje próby na polskich z pomocą tłumacza.

  6. Do$a:

    i tak dobrze Ci idzie, Karola! 🙂 You’re doing well! 😀

    Zdrobnienia imion są u nas bardzo popularne, jak na przykład przezwiska. W szczególności związane z nazwiskami. Mnie np. Nazywają Pelcia.(I’m Pelcia, of course this is only nickname)

    Sorry for my english… ;p

  7. Karola:

    🙂 Karolcia

  8. a.g.:


    my grandmother is of polish origin (may she rest in peace..) and i never got the chance to ask what her name means, my mother doesnt know. do you know the meaning of the name Tola? and if it is considered a nickname and not a full official name?

    thank you very much,


  9. a.g.:


    my grandmother was of polish origin (may she rest in peace..) and i never got the chance to ask what her name means, my mother doesnt know. do you know the meaning of the name Tola? and if it is considered a nickname and not a full official name?

    thank you very much,


  10. Karola:

    Tola means ‘priceless’. That’s all I know.