Tag Archives: Polish names

What's in a Name? – Internationalisation

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.

Paszport proszę!

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.

Slawik lands

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.

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What's in a Name? – The gender divide

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

Animaniac’s Yakko listing the nations of the world.

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?

Familiarising yourself

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.

“He called me Tomku – we must be buddies now! I’ll just rest my arm on his shoulder like so…”

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