Polish surnames – how did it all started

polish surnames
Highlander family

Kowalski, Nowak, Zielinski, Kwiatkowski, Wiśniewski, Lewandowski, Kaleta, Wójcik, Kowalczyk, Szymański, Mazur, Krawczyk, Piotrowski, Grabowski, Borowiec, Skiba, Paluch, Karp, Woźniak, Zając, Król, Stępień, Dudek, Sikora, Baran…. So a few words on Polish surnames history.

Back in the days...

Back to XII century a person was described only by one word – his name. There was no distinction for names or surnames whatsoever. Designations that were used to describe people were not inherited and consist of one word. Among others typical names from that historic period were: Bogdan, Sulen, Micherz, Suluj, Niesiebud, Gościrad, Boguchwał, Kuczek, Dalestryj, Radost, Dobruj, Kuzior, Paweł, Suta, Chocian, Przewodek, Gwozdan, Chwalisz, Krobza, Miłostryj, Żydowin, Bożek and Chociemir. Contemporary meaning of the word surname, Polish nazwisko takes roots to XIX century. Previously that word was used in reference to people, plants and objects in general. Than gradually it started to be used in order to express inheritance and finally at the end of XX century it developed to its present day meaning.

How to create a Polish surname? Origins

 In XII and XIII century first Polish family names were created. At that time they were not hand down from parents to children. There were various ways family names were built:
  • Describing someone by father’s name: Radost son of Gwozdan, it was particularly useful when there was more than one person with the same first name.
  • Describing someone by brother’s name: Radost brother of Dobruj, used when the first method was not decisive – fathers have the same name as well.
  • Describing someone by profession: Radost the armourer, back than different villages were responsible for producing different kinds of goods. Thus usually all folks from one village had the same surname and that is how their landlords could tell them apart from others having the same name but living somewhere else.
  • Describing someone by father’s name and profession: Radost son of Gwozdan, the armourer, more precise description, created by joining two previous methods, that was helpful both inside and outside the village.
  • Describing someone by place of birth or residence: Radost from Haczów, over 8% of Polish surnames were created that way.
  • Describing someone by place of birth or residence and profession: Radost from Haczów, the armourer.
  • Describing someone by nickname: Radost Leśny (Leśny – as for living in forest, Polish las).

How to create a Polish surname? From XIV to XIX century

In XIV century using two words to describe someone became common among nobility and townspeople. In XV century two-words designations were also used among peasants and in formal documents such as birth or marriage certificates. In XVII century almost everyone used two-words designations however the second word was still not quite stabilized. One person used different surnames depending on situation. At that point surnames still were not inherited. At the end of XVII century especially among nobility second names began to be handed over. That tendency quickly reached all social classes. Till 1850 family names were strongly modified. In most cases there were changes in the way how last names were written or by adding various kinds of prefixes. After that year the process of last names’ evolution was finished.

Polish surnames on Poland’s map

Now you can check how the Polish surnames are located on Poland’s map. Quite often it happens that the area where the particular surname appears nowadays is connected with their family history!

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