In a previous Polandian post we looked at some of the differences in names used in Poland using male and female examples, and seeing how the diminutives worked. This time, we will try to understand how Polish names are adapted in international settings, sometimes for better and sometimes for worse.
Anglicisation and other ‘-isations
I work in an environment where about 95% of my co-workers are Polish, but inversely we spend 95% of our time dealing with international clients – and thus for most of my colleagues, this means doing business in a foreign language, whether in English, German, French or otherwise. One point I have always noted is how quickly Poles are willing to adapt their names to a more international version. I’ve heard colleagues called Krzysztof (and Krystian) introduce themselves as Chris on a telephone call. Other colleagues called Piotr have introduced themselves as Piotr, but then quickly ‘translated’ it to Peter before continuing with the conversation. And I have one colleague called Wawrzyniec, who is known as Lawrence every time he deals with English-speaking clients (Sorry Wawrzek, I mean Lawrence, I mean Wawrzyniec… I’m not trying to make you look bad!).
“My name is Szczęsław – please call me… John”
It remember similar situations when I lived in Ireland and met and worked with Polish colleagues such as Paweł (who became Paul), Zbigniew (who became Zbiggy) and Przemysław (who became Séamus, simply for the similarity in the sound of one syllable in both names!). The whole situation reminds me of hearing stories of European emigrants fleeing to America in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. When they arrived off the boat at Ellis Island in New York, they would be met by the immigration officer asking their name. He would invariably not understand it and would ‘translate’ it into something more manageable. Thus Jerzy Kaminski from Łódź would become George Kaminsky from the Bronx, and Pádraig O Caollain from Dublin would become Paddy Kelly from New Jersey.
It raised the question for me though, if Polish emigrées to other countries would also ‘adapt’ their name to try to fit in? Does Marcin from Poland become Marco when he lands in Rome? Does Piotr suddenly become Pierre in Lyon or Pedro in Valencia? Does Zuzanna drop the Z’s for S’s in Stockholm to become another Susanna?
Or, is it more just a circumstance of my experiences, where most of my Polish colleagues have needed to deal with clients who have had difficulty in writing and pronouncing Andrzej, Małgorzata and Wawryniec? When I first met my colleague Wawrzek and pronounced his name correctly, he was shocked, and he said that I was the first native English speaker to be able to pronounce his name. After 4 years of adapting his name to make it easier for clients, he still has the habit of introducing himself as Lawrence.
Polonisations of Slavs
I should admit though that there is one area where I have seen this trend reversed since being in Poland. Whenever I am watching news broadcasts or sports programmes where Slavic names appear, it seems that there is no problem for Polish television to ‘translate’ them into Polish, especially names that tend to be normally written in Cyrillic, such as Russian, Belarussian and Bulgarian. Thus, I have seen Russian President Dmitry Medvedev become Dmitrij Miedwiediew and Bulgarian Prime Minister Boyko Borisov become Bojko Borisow. I’ve found it particularly interesting when watching a football match on Polish television and seeing the Russian footballer with Arshavin written on his jersey while the name Andriej Arszawin appears on the caption written by ther Polish TV producer.
I suppose it’s only a small example, as I have seen how some other languages using Roman letters (such as German) also adapt Slavic names into their own languages. However it does show that Polonisation occurs with names as well as Polish names being Anglicised and Internationalised.