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Names are a crucial point of identity for individuals, no matter their background. Depending on where we’re from, trends in the most popular names given to both boys and girls are a reflection of the progression of culture and values for a society, and can greatly change over time. For example, the names that are the most popular in the US right now, are probably quite different then they would have been a century ago, or even a few decades ago.
Trends in names tell us what a culture values as important, as well as the place of origin an individual may come from. Polish names are no different, and the most popular names over time have changed in accordance with cultural shifts.
Traditionally, Polish people have remained quite conservative in naming their children, resorting to Slavic names that are more reflective of the names we typically might ‘associate’ with the culture and people of the European region. More recent years have proven otherwise, and of the top 10 names for both boys and girls, Slavic names remain in the minority as opposed to names that we are much more likely to see in places such as even the US.
The top 12 names for Polish boys and girls are as listed below (English equivalents can be seen after the names in parentheses):
Here are the top first names for boys in Poland:
These are the top girls names in Poland:
While some of these names are more similar to American names than others, the difference between these most popular names and the most popular names of the past can demonstrate just how far Poland has come in its cultural shift away from traditionally Slavic names.
For example, the previously popular boy’s name Stanisław (now ranking at no.19), was one of the most popular boys names for a large part of the 20th century. The name was ranked number 1 for several years in the 1920s, and was in the top 5 names in the 1950s.
The name Tadeusz (now ranking at no. 76) was ranked in the top 10 names throughout the 1950s. Further, the name Zbigniew which ranked in the top 5 names through the 1960s, now ranks at number 141. Many Slavic names traditionally also had 2 sepearte parts as well, a 1st part and an ending part such as -mir or -sław, which cannot be seen in any of even the top 12 names for boys or girls today.
Slavic names also would have traditionally had several variations on the same name, due to the influence of many national areas in a single confined space, for example the Mikołaj would have also seen variations such as Mik and Mikołajek in the past.
The catholic church actually attempted to ban the use of Slavic names in the mid 1500s, deeming the names impermissible for ‘any country living under God.’ Some names remained okay based on the Slavic name being associated with Slavic saints. That being said, in its history of transformation of leadership, identity, and occupation, the Polish people went against the church's wishes and reinstated the traditional Slavic names of their ancestors.
Naming children after individuals such as grandparents would have been traditionally quite popular in Poland up until recent times, with many of the most popular names for decades dating back in origin to the pagan Medieval era. Many of the names traditionally used throughout the 20th century were also used as a mechanism for showing patriotism.
When we take a minute to consider that the top 50 names make up 90% of names given to new children, we can see the large implications of what this might mean for the future of individual’s names in Poland, and the deviation names have taken from their more conservative roots.
Despite the deviation from the traditional Slavic names, some of these names still remain popular and make the list for the 90% of individuals being born and named in our day in age. For boys, some of these names include Wiktoria (no.11), Stanisław (no.19), and Miłosz (no.23).
Despite having given names, in the same way Americans have nicknames, Polish people have shorthand names that they often prefer to go by. While this can be increasingly complex considering there are many variations of names an individual could potentially go by, in order to seem as ‘authentically’ Polish as possible, knowing these nicknames (as well as when to use them with permission) could be a great way to gage your level of connection with a Polish individual. Listed below are popular Polish names as well as their common nickname counterparts:
Girls: Anna (for Ania), Maria (for Marysia), Katarzyna (for Kasia), Aga (for Agnieszka), Barbara (for Basia), and Ela (for Elżbieta).
Boys: Piotr (for Piotrek or Piotruś), Krzysztof (for Krzysiek or Krzyś), Jan (for Janek or Jaś), Tomasz (for Tomek), Staszek or Staś (for Stanisław), and Grzegorz (for Grzesiek or Grześ).
In the same way that surnames hold rich meaning for the Polish people, first names can work in the same way. Polish boys and girls both have varying meanings to their names. For boys, some common names and meanings are as follows: Jakub translates to ‘seized by the hand,’ Antoni translates to being ‘Priceless or Immeasurable,’ Szymon is a man ‘who hears everything,’ Jan is a ‘gift from god,’ while Filip is a ‘lover of horses.’ Popular girl’s names meanings include: Zuzanna which translates to Lily, Lena (formed from Helen) which translates roughly to ‘shining bright,’ Julia is Jupiters ‘youthful’ child, Zofia means wise and clever, while Amelia is industrious and hardworking.
In their transition from using the traditional names of their ancestors to using the names that are freed from their Slovak origin and ascribed a more universal meaning, understanding the history behind the names of the Polish people gives us insight into the progression of the culture and people behind the names, that are ultimately the future of the country.