I have long been intrigued by Polish names and how they are used, even before I moved to Poland. In the first of a series on names in Poland and how they are used, I will be looking at the differences in personal names, nicknames and diminutive names from a masculine and feminine perspective.
What name did you give me?!?!?
She’s the one
I’ve found it interesting how almost every Polish female name has a sort of nickname that can be applied. Trying to understand the connection between a name and it’s diminutive has often been challenging, as I have needed to ask a Polish person what a certain name is ‘short’ for. Recent examples have been understanding Ula (short for Urszula) and Iza (for Izabela). I have not yet been able to understood how Joanna became adapted to Asia, but perhaps one of our Polandian readers can inform me.
Some other examples of female diminutive names are listed following. There’s Asia (short for Joanna), Basia (Barbara), Kasia (Katarzyna), Gosia (Małgorzata), Zosia (Zofia), Zuzia (Zuzanna), Ela (Elżbieta), Ula (Urszula), Ola (Aleksandra), Aga (Agata or Agnieszka) and Iza (Izabela) – and that is just to begin with. If you begin to say the above names fast enough, they might sound like
There’s Asia and Kasia, Gosia and Basia…
It makes me wonder if parents sometimes deliberately name their daughters to have a ‘cute’ Polish nickname… However, I have seen how it may backfire also. While at Stansted airport in London once before a flight back to Kraków, one silly girl (in her twenties) had trouble getting on the flight because she had written her name as “Ola X” on her ticket, while her ID gave her name as “Aleksandra X”. She spent half an hour arguing with a Ryanair official to be allowed on board the flight, before the stewardess finally called a Polish colleague of her own who was able to confirm that Ola is used as a short name for Aleksandra.
What the ‘ek?
My understanding of the ‘-ek’ which is added to most male names in Poland is that it is used in a diminutive form of the name. It would be similar to ‘-ín’ used in the Irish (Gaelic) language or ‘-inho’ in names in Brazilian Portuguese, but in most cases in those languages, the addition is given either to a child’s name or as a nickname for an adult. However, in Polish the ‘-ek’ suffix seems to be applied more liberally, with most Polish male names having it added on in day-to-day use.
In many cases, adding the diminutive form makes sense, especially in longer names. Przemysław, Tomasz, Mirosław and Radosław are all simplified by becoming Przemek, Tomek, Mirek and Radek. I have to say though, that it sounds strange for me when a short name becomes lengthened by adding the diminutive form. This applies when names such as Piotr and Rafał are adapted. I saw an interesting example when out walking on a Kraków street once, where a mother shouted to her 3 year old son; “Rafałek – chodż!” I cannot understand why names such as Piotr and Rafał would not be shortened to Pit and Rafa instead of the Polish diminutives being Piotrek and Rafałek.
There are a few exceptions to the ‘-ek’ rule of course, with names such as Adam, Sebastian and Jakub becoming Adaś, Seba and Kuba. But, it seems in Poland, that the ‘-ek’ is applied to male names as much as possible. I’ve found it particularly interesting when meeting a 2 metres tall Polish policeman with a broad chest and a serious look on his face. He introduced himself to me as Włodek – and I had an image of patting him on the head like a little boy by translating his name to ‘little Włodzimierz’.
Who are you calling Włodek?
Just to complicate things slightly, the above examples can be used for personal names in Poland in almost any situation. It is not only in informal settings with family and friends, but can also include situations with acquaintances or in work with ‘koledzy’. However, once you do reach a level of high familiarity with someone (usually in the case of family and close friends), you can then address them with a ‘-u’ added to their name. And to make it more difficult to follow, the ‘-u’ suffix can also be applied on existing diminutive names. Examples can be Gosiu, Grzesiu, Mirku, Asiu and so on. This is something that can be added to both male and female names, and if someone uses it with your name, you know they are comfortable enough to consider themselves as being a friend.