On my bookshelf: Polish First Names

Well okay, I don’t technically own this one — it’s on loan from a friend — but I’ve been loving it: Polish First Names by Sophie Hodorowicz Knab.

Its claim to fame so far has been its bolstering of my argument that there are two acceptable pronunciations of Xavier, as it lists the Polish version as Ksawery. To quote that entry a bit more, because I love it: “A well-liked name in Poland, often given as Francis Xavier. Franciszek Ksawery Malinowski (1808-1881) was a notable priest and linguist from the Pozan region.”

That’s the thing I love about the ethnic name books — the ones that have a bit of commentary for each entry — I learn other things about the country, the culture, the language, the faith. I learned from the intro that,

Polish names are derived from two major time periods: from ancient times until the acceptance of Christianity in 966 A.D., and from 966 A.D. to the present. The former includes native names categorized as Old Polish or Slavic in origin … The second group of names dates from Poland’s acceptance of Christianity in 966 A.D. until the present. During this time, the Church required individuals to receive baptismal names with Christian significance. At baptism, when they were “born again,” early Christians assumed new personal names — invariably the names of exemplary people and saints who had gone before them. Popular Polish names such as Krzysztof and Magdalena can be traced back to the Old and New Testaments … the name was always a Catholic one, derived from the Old or New Testament or from the lives of the saints.”

I thought the bit about the Old Testament names being included in the general group of “Catholic names” was interesting, considering our conversation from the other day.

And, surprise surprise!, I love all the nicknames. The intro states that, “Christian name diminutives often became the ‘pet names’ or ‘nicknames’ used within the family and by close friends as terms of endearment. Some of the ancient Polish spellings would make for unique names themselves.” Some of my favorites from the book include Krysia from Krystyna (Christina), Gosia for Malgorzata (Margaret) (the L has the diagonal line through it), and Klimko for Klemens (Clement).

I found several of the other entries fascinating, like the one for Petronela: “Feminine form of Petroniusz (Petronius) … An old-fashioned name, commonly found among older generation women and nuns.” Isn’t that fascinating? I had to look it up on Behind the Name, to find out why nuns would be interested in this name. I suspected it might be a form of Peter, but what I found was much more interesting: “This was the name of an obscure 1st-century Roman saint, later believed to be a daughter of Saint Peter.” Had any of you ever heard of St. Peter’s possible daughter St. Petronilla? Isn’t it interesting that Poland grabbed onto it? It would take some more digging to find out why — and my hubs is making dinner for me for Mother’s Day Eve right now ❤ so I can’t look it up right now — but, again, it’s one of the things I love about name books. A little tidbit like that can take me on a research trail that I thoroughly enjoy, and I find out such interesting things along the way. All because of the names.

So! If you’re interested in Polish given names and/or Polish nicknames and/or the history and origin behind the traditional names, I think you’ll like this book.

Happy Mother’s Day to all the mamas in your lives!

Find out what other books and web sites I recommend on my Resources and recommendations page.


11 thoughts on “On my bookshelf: Polish First Names

  1. My family is Polish-American, and this makes me really excited! 🙂 I confess I don’t know much at all about Polish naming traditions and have struggled to find a way to incorporate it into our naming… the nicknames, once again, are a great approach!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. What a great book! I’d love to read it sometime. My dad’s side of the family is Polish, and I’ve always liked the Polish variations/ pronunciations of names. His grandmother went by Josephine but her tombstone said Jozefa- I would love to use that for a middle name. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  3. I really, really appreciated this post (as a half-Pole) when I got the email… but forgot I never clicked thru to comment! Thanks for profiling this book. A great resource!

    We actually use a Polish nickname for the current baby. His name is Arthur, but we despise Art and Artie. So when family demanded a nickname, we discovered the Polish version: Artek. It got them over the hump, now he mostly is just Arthur again. ;-

    Liked by 1 person

  4. I can’t believe I just stumbled upon this post!! We have been considering naming our next baby Petronela! The church we got married at is called St. Petronille and I’ve always loved how the name is a nod to St. Peter but also an awesome saint name in and of itself! Plus, my husband is very Polish and we like names that gently pay respect to our heritage (Polish and Irish). We have a Charlie right now (Charles Benedict, named for JPII and Pope Benedixt XVI) and we are pregnant with our second. Kathryn Felicity is our top girl name, honoring our maternal grandmothers (Kathryn and Phyllis). We would call her Kate. The problem is, my husband’s cousin had a baby yesterday and named her Kate! It doesn’t bother us much since we don’t live near them, but truthfully I was a little disappointed that our Kate wouldn’t be the first one in the family. If we went with Petronela, we would call her Ella. Ellie and Petra are totally cute nicknames too! I too am interested to see why the Polish nuns are taking the name Petronela because I haven’t found much information on St. Petronilla other than that she was St. Peter’s daughter and a virgin martyr. If I find anything else on that I will let you know!

    Liked by 1 person

  5. My birth name is Stephanie, but I’m called Panya [should technically be spelled Pania, but my mom’s a Kathy], by way of the Polish version Szczepana. My Polish g-g-g-g-grandfather was a Szczepan, so I feel a connection to him. His granddaughter [my g-g-grandmother], born in the U.S. to Polish immigrant parents, was named Stanisława, but she was called Stella. Interestingly, two of her sisters were Katharina and Joanna, and they were called Kitty and Jenny; so it seems they had very “American” nicknames.

    Liked by 2 people

      • Sz = sh, cz = ch, so SHCHEH-pahn/-ah, but the ‘szcz’ can sometimes get muddled into a fuzzy ‘sht’ since the ‘cz’ part is very short. I would love to use Szczepan as a middle name for a son, but my husband can’t pronounce it!

        Liked by 1 person

      • Wow, yeah that’s hard! I’d actually seen an explanation of Szczepan’s pronunciation before but couldn’t even get a rough sense of it in my head … your explanation (the “sht” part especially) is much more helpful! I love the idea of Szczepan as a middle name for a boy, but I can see not wanting to use a name that your spouse can’t pronounce!


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