How to get a Polish name day

This blatant discrimination has gone on long enough. I want a name day too. It’s not fair (stamps feet and tosses teddy from the pram). Polish people have birthdays and name days. On both occasions there is the potential to receive presents and compliments. For thirty something years now there has only been one opportunity each year to celebrate my existence instead of two. That’s thirty something occasions on which people could have given me stuff and felt compelled to be nice to me.

presentJust one of many presents that could have been mine

Polish people will tell you that they only celebrate their birthday or their name day, not both. This is a lie. The older generation tends to celebrate their name day and the younger generation their birthday. If you’re older this means you get presents and stuff from people your age on your name day and other stuff from people younger than you on your birthday. If you’re younger it’s the other way round. Either way it adds up to flagrant cheating.

Step 1: Find your Polish name

If you’re unfortunate enough not to have been born Polish you probably haven’t got a Polish name. Fortunately, if you’re from an historically christian country, you more than likely have a name that has a Polish version. You can have you name converted to a Polish one for a small fee at any gathering of Polish people, just tell them your name, buy them a beer each, and wait for the inevitable. It’s one of the top three guaranteed conversations between Poles and non-Poles.

My name, Jamie, turns out to be a little bit tricky, but not overwhelmingly so. ‘Jamie’ is, historically, a diminutive of ‘James,’ which turns out to be ‘Jakub’ in Polish. This is slightly confusing because in the English version of the bible there is a ‘James’ as well as a ‘Jacob’ – the first being an apostle and the second a ladder specialist.

the-jamiesThe unforgettable 1950s Doo-wop and giant-forehead
group that was The Jamies

Step 2: Choose a day

Look at any Polish calendar worth its salt and you will see a list of names for each day. These are the name days celebrated on that date. In the past you got one of the names associated with the day of your birth, so your name day and birthday were the same. Today parents tend to choose a name they like rather than being dictated to by the calendar. Popular names often have several name days associated with them. There are, for example, eighteen days in the year associated with the name ‘Paweł’ (‘Paul’). In this case you just choose the first day corresponding to your name after your birthday.

Names that were historically less common usually only have one day associated with them. This is why there are five name days for ‘Adolf,’ a less than popular name these days, and only one for ‘Kacper,’ (‘Casper’) which seems to be this year’s favorite.

casper kacperKacper the friendly non-fascist dictator

In my case I have an embarrassment of choice. There are 12 possible ‘Jakub’ name days ranging from February 5th through to November 28th. For the next three years I intend to celebrate all of them to make up for lost time. You may use this helpful name day resource to establish these dates and then heap adulation and gifts upon me accordingly. After this three-year name-day binge I intend to settle on August 6th, not because it is closest to my birthday but because my birthday is far too close to Christmas and I fancy the idea of a second party in the summer instead.

Step 3: Persuasion

Not all Polish people will believe that you have officially adopted a name day. This can be detrimental to the number of presents received and drinks bought in your favor and needs to be firmly stamped on. I suggest the following strategies:

1. Tell them the Queen of England has two birthdays, one factual and the other ceremonial, and that this is also common among her subjects. If you are not a subject of QEII you’ll have to think of something else. Don’t you have a President’s Day or something?

2. Pretend you have applied to become a Polish citizen and this is one of the requirement. It’s just crazy enough to work.

3. Complain how inconvenient your name day is because it coincides with Christmas, New Years, Corpus Christi or your annual appointment with the chiropodist.

4. In conversations with Polish people always translate the names of your nearest and dearest into their Polish versions and pretend to suddenly remember their name day is coming up soon.

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40 thoughts on “How to get a Polish name day

  1. Kuba says:

    I think the oldest name day for Jakub is 25 July. I have a name day calendar from the 1800’s

  2. Scatts says:

    Not easy when you’re called “Ian”. There’s a tendency for that to become “John – Jan”, which is where the name originates, apparently, but is of course a completely different name and not one I wish to celebrate.

    I use “Jan” from time to time when it is clear that someone is never going to get the hang of “Ian” but that’s because it is physically the closest to “Ian”, not the same meaning or name.

    My adopted Polish name is “Jasiek” but only that sweet version, no other. Because I’m a sweet guy, of course!

    I shall therefore remain namedayless.

  3. Ania says:

    Could I suggest ‘Janusz’? Wiki says that Ioannis is the same as Ian, Eoin and Sean meaning John, and originatin from Yohanan. So Janusz is now a separate name from Jan, but has the same source. Like Ian.

    Congratulations, Jamie ;) So will you be Kuba now? Do you realise that people might take the liberty of calling you Kubek?

  4. I picked February 29th for my name day. :)

  5. emi says:

    Jamie, if you want to have a nameday you will have to celebrate other people’s namedays too (presents etc…). You can’t say anymore:
    “Sorry i didnt buy you any presents… It is just because we dont have namedays in England…”;)

  6. tordis says:

    I never understood the idea of name days. I mean, what’s there to celebrate? Should I jump for joy because I’m not called Kunegunda or Zdzislawa? I know, I know, I should embrace the fact that I’m Polish and accept all the gifts bestowed on me on my name day, but, to be honest, I don’t even remember when my name day is. Now, birthdays, on the other hand, are a completely different matter. Here it’s all clear: you celebrate being alive :)

  7. pinolona says:

    A Polish friend wished me happy name day last March. I had no idea I even had one :) It felt sort of nice…

  8. island1 says:

    Scatts: For a name with only three letters it’s a tricky blighter.

    Ania: People may not take the liberty of calling me Kuba, or Jakub. The adoption of a name day is purely for my convenience not that of others.

    Brad: Presumably your real name is Dobronieg then.

    Bartek: Adolf not a popular name? Who would have guessed :)

    tordis: Don’t understand the idea? Simple. Get stuff and have people be nice to you… or forget to be nice to you and cause depression.

  9. Ania says:

    No diminutive – no pressies. You’ll see.
    This remark has just reminded me of an American woman I spoke to. She was half Polish and wanted to discover all the heritage and stuff. She wanted a name-day. Her name was a variation on Elisabeth, something like Ellie. Well we didn’t have a name-day for each variation, so I told her that if she wants to use the full form, Elżbieta, she can pick from several days. Boy, did she jump at me.
    It’s all really silly in Poland. Listen to it: my name is Mała Elżunia, NOT Elżbieta!!!

  10. Kuba says:

    Ania.

    They should look at the root of the name. I have a cousin Elzbieta and she is call Ela. But some American ones just don’t get on the list.

  11. expateek says:

    My given name is Ellen, and I go by Ellie, but one (darling) Polish friend insisted on calling me Ella, no matter how many times he was (gently) corrected. I finally gave up and, truth to tell, really rather liked it. Yet another moniker, suitable for my life of crime and whatnot.

    I figure, as long as it starts with “e”, it’s fine.

  12. Ania says:

    My thought exactly. It’s originally a Hebrew name, like mine. Anna, Ania, or Hannah, Hania – the same name, menaing ‘graceful’. I suppose that in English it would be Grace.

    Have you noticed that we translate names and so do Czechs, Russians. Magorzata Tatcherowa, Królowa Elżbieta, Galileusz etc? We always expect you to do the same, and that’s why in the UK I go by AHN-nah, instead of Ania. And Łukasz is Luke. It’s just easier.

    Btw. Barrack is Benedictus in Latin.

    Enjoy the namedays, then ;) Don’t forget to sneak a bottle of cognac in the office on the occasion.

  13. island1 says:

    Ania: Not to mention Książę Karol. Prince Carol? Surely they mean Princess Caroline? I was confused by that one for quite a while.

    expateek: Non-standard names (that is according to Polish tradition) grate on a Pole’s sense of grammar. A woman with a name that doesn’t end in ‘a’ causes a big ‘does not compute’ sign to flash on and off behind their eyes. I believe it’s actually illegal to give a child a name that doesn’t clearly indicate its sex. Sounds outrageous but actually makes sense since gender is so integral to Polish grammar.

  14. Pawel says:

    Can I just say it was my nameday yesterday and I didn’t get any wishes from you Jamie:P Nor any reply to my last e-mail.
    Shame shame shame

    PS. Who’s a chiropodist?

  15. Ania says:

    Wszystkiego najlepszego, Pawle! Have you got a second name?

    Island: Karol is a wider problem. That name came to us from the west as Karl, and since Karl is not easy to pronounce, it became Karol. But there were two occasions when it has happened. The first one was LONG ago. This is possibly due to legends of Charlemagne. We wanted to have a Charle as well, and Karl/Korl has in the course of ages been to transposed to Krol, and later lifted in the back of the mouth to Król.

    Król Karol kupił Królowej Karolinie korale koloru koralowego.

    This transposition was the same in PIE *orm: In English it’s arm, in Polish it’s ram-ię (-ię being diminutive).

  16. adthelad says:

    I’ve been hoodwinked!! For years I was told that Adam had only one name day, namely December 24 th, so imagine my surprise when I looked it up :o
    http://pl.wikipedia.org/wiki/Imieniny

    Three! Three name days – holy moly!! But that’s nothing compared to Alexander, Andrzej, Antoni, Feliks, Franciszek etc, etc.

    Ian, if I were you I would stick with the ‘Jan’ concept for your Polish name. Just LOOK how many days imieniny you could have!! Maria, Piotr and Paweł come close but you’re on to a winner :)

    p.s. You’re last imieniny were three days ago, so ‘many happy returns’, mind you the next one is 9th August, then ……. Looks like July is the only month when you DON”T have imieniny. LOL!

    p.p.s. It’s your round :)

  17. Guesto says:

    My nameday is the day before my birthday. It’s been always fun but last year the two days fell on weekend-days so the party lasted all through Saturday to early hours of Monday and was mad wild (no binge drinking, word). If there’s such possibility, I say don’t hesitate, Island1, have it this way.

    By the way, where do you subscribe for bits of Your humour:
    “Brad Zimmerman”: I picked February 29th for my name day. :)
    Island1: Presumably your real name is Dobronieg then.”
    Hilarious!

  18. guest says:

    A great story. Much more important than this name day thing.

    h ttp://www.monstersandcritics.com/news/southasia/features/article_1486490.php/Polish_engineers_refusal_to_convert_costs_him_his_life__Feature__

    Polish engineer’s refusal to convert costs him his life (Feature)
    South Asia Features

    By Nadeem Sarwar and Sajjad Malik Jun 29, 2009, 5:28 GMT

    Islamabad – Piotr Stanczak did not exhibit the slightest hint of hesitation when the Pakistani Taliban asked him to choose between execution and conversion to Islam.
    Whether the Polish geologist acted out of pride or religious conviction, he decided to pay through his blood to save his faith, a choice that bewildered his killers and keep them talking about him with respect after his murder.

  19. Pawel says:

    Thank you Ania:)
    My parents were too lazy to come up with a second:) But I’m open to proposals:)

    I think he West has yet to embrace celebrating nameday. It is the occasion on which you don’t feel old, and no one asks how old you are.
    Quite the opposite to birthday.

    Just think about it! It’s a better option. And it becomes a bit obvious why older people tend to prefer nameday…

  20. MaterialGirl says:

    tordis,

    is much better to celebrate NAME DAY than BIRTHDAY DAY!!!
    Why?
    Because you don’t have to make confessions to all people How old you are!!! It’s very useful, especially for the woman! It’s really barbarian custom to force women to celebrate BIRTHDAY DAY when they are not teenagers more! :D

  21. boattown_guest says:

    Mine is on the 13th of July when everyone is away on holidays. Last year we had a family meeting and they forgot about it. Then again, I didn’t remind them (with sweets and vodka), so it’s my fault:) The most popular Jacob’s name day is in the 25th of July, so be prepared, Island1.
    I’ll send u a postcard and some fish from my honeymoon:)

  22. GB says:

    The idea of nameday seems quite practical for me. It is much easier to remember (or even check) when is someone nameday (compared to birthday). Even if you make a mistake, it looks nicer and more logical if you say “I thought you are Piotr from 29th June” than “I thought you had a birthday today”.

    It is also quite easy to explain why small kids generally prefer birthday. If you are 3 and you are just about to become 4 it’s quite a milestone, while nameday seems quite abstract idea at this age. At the same time, one can understand also the popularity of namedays among 30+ y.o. people (especially women) who do not like to be reminded about their real age. Of course, you can switch to birthday again – if you are mature enough that you no longer care about it.

  23. steven says:

    If you happen to be a really good football player you can get instant Polish citizenship, and they will create a new name day for you if you happen to have a non catholic name.

  24. Mick says:

    I picked 5th July for my name day. Mick=Michael=Michał and my birthday is 20th June (the name day for Michał is also on 20th June, but I’m not sure if I can have both on the same day??!!) so I chose the next one, 5th July :-)

    Coincidentally that is my wedding day. Presents galore :-)

  25. Anonymous says:

    Mick,

    You get more presents if you have more days…………

  26. David Zieloni says:

    Jakub and James. Nothing to do with a slavic interpretation – Jakubus is the Latin version for James hence the Jacobite rebellion – was a rebellion by Scots wanting the return of King James of Scotland. cheers

  27. island1 says:

    David: But why is there a Jacob and a James in the Bible if one is just a latinized version of the other?

  28. Bronwyn says:

    Ania,
    Surprised to hear Karl is so difficult to pronounce. A Polish friend pronounced my name perfectly straight up – I was almost a bit miffed as it gives most people trouble…

  29. KK says:

    >>>>>>>>>>>>>Names that were historically less common usually only have one day associated with them. This is why there are five name days for ‘Adolf,’ a less than popular name these days, and only one for ‘Kacper,’ (’Casper’) which seems to be this year’s favorite.

    Not exactly.
    Number of days devoted to one name depends on how many Saints using the same name are recognized by Catholic Church!
    Please have a look on the link below – you will see, that there were many Saints called Paweł (Paul). Each nameday of Paweł is devoted to other Saint :) So choosing your nameday you choose your Saint – protector.

    http://pl.wikipedia.org/wiki/%C5%9Awi%C4%99ty_Pawe%C5%82

    In British or French tradition Saints were given their places – villages, islands, districts. In old Poland Saints used to get days in calendar instead :)

  30. aika says:

    A name day was a way of celebrating somebody’s “being in the world” in a more elegant way – as you know, ladies turn 25 and then they get older no more, so no birthdays for them ^_^.
    Also in elder days naming a child was more associated with giving it a saint patron and the name day was also the holy day of the appropriate saint. Of course since everybody wants to have name days many names were added to the classical calendar.

  31. aika says:

    “I believe it’s actually illegal to give a child a name that doesn’t clearly indicate its sex.”

    Yes, it is. However I think that there are a couple of old names of foreign origin but used in Poland for a couple of centuries, that would be accepted. E.g. Miriam, Beatrycze

  32. Anastazja says:

    I have been lucky enough to have been given a polish name ‘Anastazja’ sadly my name day is the 25th December so i don’t get anything xtra it sucks my brother does!!!

  33. Kristine says:

    Dzien dobry! :)
    Hi, is there a place where I could find a list of all the Polish name days? I was wondering if there was an equivalent to mine. My given name is Kristine, but my Polish friend calls me Krysiu.
    Dziękuje bardzo :D

  34. Kristine says:

    And I meant somewhere not Wikipedia..as it’s not known for being the most accurate site out there ;)

  35. Kuba says:

    Another URL.

    This is one I use…………

    http://www.behindthename.com/namedays/lists/pol.php

  36. Suzy says:

    Hi – I saw this blog post a bit late.

    I’m having trouble finding out how this word is pronounced:

    imieniny

    Would it be im – yem – nit – ee?

    Is this really true in Poland in present time?
    “I believe it’s actually illegal to give a child a name that doesn’t clearly indicate its sex.”

  37. island1 says:

    Giving pronunciation advice is dangerous in Poland, but I think we’re safe here in the archives:

    imieniny (name days) — im ee a nee ny

    The law says that the name-registering authorities have the right to refuse to register a name if they think it will harm the child. This can include giving a female child a name that doesn’t end in vowel (usually ‘a’), or giving a male child a name that does end in a vowel, because it makes proper conjugation in Polish (which is gender sensitive) very difficult or impossible. In other words, there is no list of officially approved names, but if you tried to call your daughter ‘Cloud-Willow’ you’d never be allowed to register it officially.

  38. Kuba says:

    Good for Poland some names that are given are just stupid in my mind.

  39. Suzy says:

    Thanks!

    I forgot to say last night: This is such an excellent article, I appreciate it.

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