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Genealogy / Heritage /  Surnames - Meanings and Origins

The Origin of Polish Surnames

What do Polish Last Names mean?

As with most European surnames, Polish surnames developed from four major sources:


  • Geographical Surnames (Place Names) - The most common type of Polish surname, these Polish last names are derived from the location of the homestead from which the first bearer and his family lived. In the case of nobility, the surnames were often taken from the names of their estates. Other place names which were adapted into surnames include towns, countries, and even geographical features. While you might think that such surnames could lead you to your ancestral village, that isn't often the case with Polish surnames because so many places in Poland had the same name, changed names or disappeared in the centuries since the surnames developed, or were subdivisions of a local village or estate too small to be found on a gazetteer or map.


    Surnames ending in -owski usually derive from place names ending in -y, -ow, -owo, -owa, and so on. (Marek Gorzowski - Marek from the town of Gorzow).


  • Patronymic & Matronymic Surnames - Based on an ancestor's first name, this category of surnames is usually derived from a father's first name, although occasionally from the first name of a wealthy or well-respected female ancestor. Such surnames can often be identified through the use certain endings including -icz, -wicz, -owicz, -ewicz, and -ycz which usually mean "son of." As a rule, Polish surnames which include a suffix with -k- (-czak, -czyk, -iak, -ak, -ik, and -yk) also mean something like "little" or "son of." More commonly found in eastern Poland, the suffixes -yc and -ic also mean "son of." There are also cases of patronymic surnames where the ending has been dropped and only the original root word remains. (Szymon Adamicz - Simon son of Adam).


  • Occupational Surnames - these Polish last names are based on the person's job or trade (Micha³ Krawiec - Michael the tailor).


  • Descriptive Surnames - Based on a unique quality or physical feature of the individual, these surnames often developed from nicknames or pet names (Jan Wysocki - John the tall).


If you would like to discover more about Polish genealogy or want to discover something about your own Polish ancestry, a good place to start is: Polish Ancestry

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