Polish last names, like many others in the region, tend to be based on occupations/jobs, places, or nicknames. Etymologically speaking, these three categories are known as cognominal, toponymic, and patronymic, respectively. Around the 13th century, it became trendy for people to add the suffix -ski (which means “of”) to their last names. It still remains one of the biggest clues that a name is Polish — roughly 35 percent of the 1000 most popular Polish surnames have the -ski suffix. Between the 15th and 17th centuries, most people had three names: a given name, a clan name, and a last name. Then, between the end of the 17th century and mid-19th century, most of the population dropped their clan names, with the focus then placed on the family name; many of which remain.
You’ll also see Slavic names among Polish last names. Legend has it that when these names were given, the bearer was meant to fulfill the prophecy of the name’s meaning. But when a ban on pagan names was imposed with the Council of Trent, these old Slavic names — and their suffixes used to create surnames — all but died out. As is true with naming in many cultures, though, trends and customs have seen several evolutions over time. In the 19th century, Poles reclaimed the old Slavic names and suffixes out of patriotism. Some of these are still in use today.
Did you know that Poland is the ninth largest country in Europe? But that isn’t the only cool thing you should keep in mind about this Eastern European nation. For one, it shares a border with seven other countries including Russia, Lithuania, Belarus, Slovakia, Ukraine, the Czech Republic, and Germany. (That’s a lot of neighbors!)
Its official name is the Republic of Poland and within their culture, they value health, faith, adaptability, generosity, justice, nobility, tradition, stoicism, sentimentality, and optimism. Poland is a vast country filled with millions of people with a million stories and in their culture, last names can give you a glimpse of it.
Ready to learn more? Here are 40 popular Polish last names, along with their meanings and origins.
Meaning: Hut, cabin
Meaning: Oak grove
Meaning: Derived from hoopoe, a crested Old World nonpasserine bird
Origin: Polish, Ukrainian, Czech, Slovak
Meaning: Derived from jabłoń, meaning “apple tree”
Meaning: Habitational name for someone from Jankow, Jankowo, or Jankowice
Meaning: Habitational name for someone from Jawory or Jaworze; derived from jawor, meaning “maple”
Meaning: Stone, rock
Meaning: From the town of the goat
Meaning: Habitational name for someone from Kwiatkow, Kwiatkowo, or Kwiatkowice; derived from kwiatek, meaning “flower”
Meaning: Grace, mercy
Meaning: Habitational name for someone from Majewo
Meaning: Habitational name for someone from Malinow, Malinowo, or Malinowka in Poland or Malinov, Malinova, or Malinovka in Ukraine; derived from Slavic malina, meaning “raspberry”
Meaning: Small nose
Meaning: Habitational name for someone from Olsze, Olszew, Olszewa, or Olszewo
Meaning: Patronymic from first name Pawel, meaning “little”
Meaning: Person from a place with snow
Meaning: A plodder, someone with a slow gait
Meaning: Habitational name for someone from Szymany in Konin or Lomza voivodeships
Meaning: Habitational name for someone from Wisniewo, Wisniew, or Wisniewa; derived from wiśnia, meaning “cherry”
Meaning: Habitational name for someone from Witkowo, Witkow, or Witkowice; derived from the first name Witek, meaning “to guide the people”
Meaning: Habitational name for someone from Wojciechowo or Wojciechow
Meaning: Son of Wójt