What's in a Name? – Place-names

Having looked at male and female names and how they can sometimes be internationalised, it’s now time to look at some of the place-names, street names and locations in Poland. I find the history behind names interesting, as some are chosen deliberately to honour a person or an event, while others seem to be absolutely random, and even the most curious mind cannot understand the reasoning for choosing such a name. For the most part, street names that I have seen tend to honour a person (such as Jozef Pilsudski, Marie Skłodowska-Curie or Ludwik Zamenhof) or they represent a type of memorial to a historical event, with military history featuring prominently. Streets commemorating Westerplatte, Monte Cassino, Plac Bohaterów Getta and even Bohaterów Wietnamu all feature in Kraków.

“All of the streets in this direction should bear my name!”

Despite the attempts to give meaning and gravitas to placenames and street names, I sometimes get the feeling that those with responsibility for providing possible names suddenly got very bored or decided to have some fun with providing names to be applied. The following are examples of names that I have found funny or interesting* where I guess the creative juices were flowing when creating the names.

*Funny and interesting being subjective, of course

Where the streets have no name?

Picture the scene – a committee meeting in some Krakowian urząd building – the late 1960’s

Urzędnik #1: “Ugh, is it this time of the year again…? More new streets to be named. Where are all these people coming from?”

Urzędnik #2: “Hey, I’ve got to go and meet a man about a dog. He’s told me there will be some whiskey involved. Can we make this quick?”

Urzędnik #1: “Yeah, let’s do this.”

Urzędnik #2: “Ok – how about ‘lovely’, ‘nice’, and ‘last’?”

Urzędnik #1: (sarcastically)Sure… and ‘nursery’ and ‘gardening” too while we are doing it?”

Urzędnik #2: “Ok, I’ve signed the document to submit the names”

Urzędnik #1: “Oh… crap. Well, maybe they won’t notice…”

Street names by committee

Thus you have names of streets such as Ładna (nice), Śliczna (lovely), Ostatnia (last), Szkółkowa (nursery) and Orgodnicza (gardening) – all within a few minutes walk of each other. This also adds to names such as Duża Góra (High Mountain street) and Długa (Long street) found in Kraków as well. I certainly believe some kind of alcohol had to be involved when some of these names were being considered.

A Town Called Malice

Finding names for streets can probably be seen as a difficult task, as even the smallest towns will have numerous streets and eventually you will run out of names of battles and heroes to apply the name from. However, what I have found more interesting have been examples where the name of the town or village is one that is quite funny and interesting.

A few have always caught my eye, with specific examples such as Łódź (meaning Boat) and Piotrków Trybunalski (Peter’s Tribunal) being interesting, as they seem to be very individual and specific in their meaning. However, while travelling in the Polish countryside I have seen some very interesting place names, such as:

Biała Wielka – Great White: “Great white… hope? shark? piece of paper?”

Klucze – Keys: “So that’s where I left them!”

Zielonki – Green: “Recently renamed from Environmentally Hazardous”

And these are just some quick examples – there seem to be thousands more when you consider all of the little towns and villages scattered throughout Poland.

“I live in Boat! No – not a boat-house, but Boat-town”

Interpretation

The final category considers items that are interesting mostly because of their meaning in a foreign language, usually in English for me at least. For example,  an immature smile comes to my face when I see a signpost for Szyce and I try to pronounce it. Then of course, there is the chance to go to Hel while you are still alive! Its location on the end of a peninsula north of Gdansk makes it interesting in itself, and it is popular as a holiday destination for Poles also. However, the below picture shows that someone has a sense of humour when it comes to public transport! Or perhaps alcohol was involved here as well…!

“You’re going straight to Hel – it’s the final stop. Have a nice day!”

So those are my examples I have seen of funny and interesting place names and street names within Poland. I am sure they are not the only ones, so feel free to submit your examples!

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16 thoughts on “What's in a Name? – Place-names

  1. biedrona says:

    Nice one :), My favorite one is Male Ciche – somewhere near Zakopane, it means: Small Quiet..

  2. Clock says:

    What about :
    Zimna Wódka
    Ameryka
    Tłuszcz
    Głuchy
    Czarne Błoto
    Piekło Dolne

  3. Pistefka says:

    Grochówka
    Gnojnik

  4. Street names have a habit of being either inordinately long (try fitting your address into the 15 squares provided for it on a bank transfer form if you live on ul. 26-go Pułku Marynarki Morskiej im. Gen. Bryg. Mieczysława Przegrzebowicza 23 /m.144).

    Or else bi-syllabic and ending in an ‘a’. Prosta, Pańska, Piękna, Chmielna. Chłodna, Zimna, Złota, Srebrna. If I’m due at a meeting in any one of the above I usually end up at any other one of the above, convinced I knew where I was going.

    And Decoy – you’re not the first to have a problem with the correct spelling of our favourite Polish life-form, the urzędnik.

  5. Grze$ko says:

    “Piotrków Trybunalski” is not, under any circumstances “Peter’s Tribunal”.
    http://www.piotrkow.pl/_portal/115641129244ed6f9cc49ca/History.html
    Here’s one for you: ul. Marynarki Wojennej – A war suit jacket street.
    There’s a “ul. Dlugiej Dupy” in London, Longbottom Street – how hilarious!
    I am glad our drunkenness and stupidity keeps you amused.

  6. Ah… and the longest single-element place name in Poland (17 letters)

    Jazgarzewszczyzna.

    We almost bought the land for our house there. If we did, my blog would be receiving a tenth of the traffic that the easier-to spell Jeziorki blog receives.

    Translations: May hell’s fury decend upon anyone who translates woj. świętokrzyskie as Holy Cross Voivodeship, or woj. kujawsko-pomorskie as Cuiavian-Pomeranian Voivodeship. They are NOT. They translate as Swietokrzyskie province and Kujawsko-Pomorskie province respectively.

    And what is Rue St. Michel and Bahnhoffstrasse in English? Answer: Not St. Michel St. or Bahnhoff Str. They translate as Rue St. Michel and Bahnhoffstrasse. So ul. Przemysłowa is ul. Przemysłowa in English too.

  7. Sylwia says:

    The a endings come from the feminine gender of the word “street”. Prosta means a straight street, Piękna a beautiful street etc. The word “street” may be omitted but remains a part of the whole phrase.

  8. Sylwia says:

    Decoy, I must point out one thing that you have shockingly wrong. Communist urzędnik in the 1960s openly admitting to drinking whiskey? The rotten liquor of the rotten West? It’s the end of his career!

    I don’t know if Szkółkowa means nursery in English. Szkółka is a place where we grow small trees before we replant them to the woods. So it’s in line with the Ogrodnicza (gardening) street nearby, suggesting it’s a place where such works are conducted. Likely it has something to do with the Geoinfo institute there or something similar that used to be there earlier.

    On the other hand Ogrodowa (garden) would suggest a park in its vicinity.

    Streets like Długa, Szeroka etc. tend to be old ones. Their names were customary centuries ago. Similarly Piwna in Warsaw or Katowska (I think it’s the name) in Wrocław. They indicate the existence of brovaries and prisons respectively.

    The communists named new streets, and you can find a parody of it at the beginning of Alternatywy 4 TV series. They ran out of names that weren’t controversial from the communist regime point of view. Warsaw’s Ursynów has a series of musical streets: Wiolinowa (The Violin), Pięciolinii (The Staff), Nutki (The Little Tune) etc. There is also a Meander Str. Good luck to anyone who tries to find a particular building there.

    “Biała Wielka – Great White: “Great white… hope? shark? piece of paper?””

    That’s actually Biała Wielka Wieś (village), and it’s quite obious to Polish speakers. We tend to skip nouns if redundant. Similary Małe Ciche is miasteczko.

    Łódź is really funny not because it means boat, but because there are no rivers there. There are some underground ones, but not ones where one could have a use for a boat. ;)

  9. Sylwia says:

    For non Polish speakers – Piotrków Trybunalski is called Piotrków after Piotr Dunin, a powerful noble who had to build 77 churches as a penalty for an unknightly deed. He founded the town in the 12th century and built the oldest church there.

    You’ll find many places in Poland called after real people, for example Izabelin after Izabela Czartoryska, or districts of Warsaw: Natolin (Natalia Potocka), Ursynów (Ursyn Niemcewicz), Bemowo (General Józef Bem aka Ali Pasha). There’s even one in Turkey – Adampol after Adam Jerzy Czartoryski.

    The word “Trybunalski” was added much later. Piotrków was one of the towns where the Crown Tribunal operated (others were Lublin, Poznań, Bydgoszcz, Kalisz, Łuck, Lwów). It was the highest court of justice for people living in the Crown (an old province of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth), like the European Tribunal is today. It operated since the 16th century to the late 18th century when Poland ceased to exist. There was also a Lithuanian Tribunal that operated alternately in Vilnius, Mińsk and Nowogródek (the latter two in today’s Belarus). It was a big thing to be a Tribunal town, and the addition of “Trybunalski” to Piotrków’s name reminds us of its glorious past. Many towns went into decline in the 19th century.

  10. Name says:

    In Warsaw there’s ul. Kubusia Puchatka (Winnie the Pooh St.). A politcally uninclined cousin of mine always gets a giggle out of the town Pułtusk.

  11. Steve says:

    Frogs’ Spawning Ground (Żabieniec), must surely be one of the best place names.

    One of the biggest problems when dealing with English people is the pronunciation. I originally thought the same as Michael Dembinski about Świętokrzysie and never saying “Holy Cross”. However, having worked in Kielce with regular English support workers I had to face reality. Having spent twenty minutes around a pub table with five Brit work mates trying to pronounce Świętokrzysie and roughly getting there, and then hearing an hour later someone saying “how do you pronounce it again”, with only one able to do it, you have to compromise. Since I love the region and want people to know about it, I find mysefl with no option, but to call it the Holy Cross Voivodeship – the Kielce Voivodeship is even more unacceptable (the Warsaw Voivodeship?). I still hesitate, but I am getting used to it. Any suggestions anyone?

  12. Przemo says:

    One of my favourite place-names is Całowanie, the name of a small village in Masovian voivodeship. When you go from Góa Kalwaria to Kołbiel you go past a road sign that reads: “Całowanie 2,5 (km)” – that has to bring a smile and giggles.
    I think that for this name alone it’s got potential to once become our own Gretna Green-counterpart:-)

  13. Cosi says:

    Moszna (scrotum)
    Swornegacie (???? trousers)

  14. misiek says:

    My fave: Obi-Wan Kenobi street, or rather the Polish ulica Obi-Wana Kenobiego :)

  15. island1 says:

    Somehow I completely missed this post—the perils of having intermittent Internet. Good one.

  16. Kekeke says:

    AFAIK, there’s a “Long Street” in almost every British city. While in Gdańsk it’s even the main one.
    How about all the “high streets” in London? How much pot was needed to name all of them?

    Let’s also look at some British towns’ names:
    Three Holes – famous for it’s bowling lanes!
    Claygate – it’s not really durable in a rainy climate, is it?
    Rope – famous for… it’s suicide toll?
    Hope – don’t want the Rope? move to Hope!
    Longhope – even better
    Waterlane – it’s called a river
    Picklescott – you certainly should not pickle a Scot
    Eskdaleside cum Ugglebarnby – how do I even… wait, what?
    The Fish – it’s not just some fish, it’s THE Fish
    Redmarshall – “The first five marshals of the Soviet Union: Tukhachevsky, Budyonny, Voroshilov, Blyukher and Yegorov.” [Wikipedia]
    Crook – amazingly, all tourist guides avoid this town
    Lower Down – redundant phrase is redundant
    Braintree – the nerd of the plant kingdom
    Great Tree – a.k.a. a sequoia
    Sevenoaks – not the biggest forest around
    Looe – the place where you take a shite
    Frog Pool – the Bud ads where supposedly filmed there
    Goldhanger – found in Bill Gates’ closet
    Littlesilver – now deserted, as everyone left for…
    Silver Hill – the English Eldorado
    Much Wenlock – the first place to go if you ever run out of wenlock
    Cross-at-Hand – the last place to go if you’re a vampire
    Martin Hussingtree / Berkeley Beverborne / Lyppard Woodgreen – all in a range of 5 km – now that must have been a fruitful naming session
    Liverpool – how tasty!
    Blackpool – how… racist?
    Blackburn – now that’s überracist
    Dyke – and that’s gay
    Bitchfield – neat…

    I usually enjoy the foreigners’ view of Poland and share a good laugh about everything that’s hilarious here (I always throw a few stories in myself), yet I found the pretentiousness of this article unbearable. I know some names are funny (even for Poles), or that others may seem strange… but that’s the case everywhere in the world, and suggesting Poland is on its own a booze-fueled funny name emporium is simply hypocritical. There’s nothing wrong about the subject and making fun of it, it’s the way it’s written that is just appalling.

    And yes, the bus nr 666 to Hel is a proof of someone’s sense of humour (and not just one person’s, as it had to be accepted by the board of the half-a-million-inhabitants city transport company the line belongs to). I fail to see how alcohol would have made this happen if it wasn’t on purpose…
    Oh, and Piotrków Trybunalski = the court-town of Peterborough

    @Cosi
    Swornegacie comes from “swora” – a bundle of pine roots used to warm houses – “gacić”.

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