You are here:

Polish Language/Nickname and diminutive


Hello.  My adoptive parents were first generation Polish-Americans. Their respective familes of origin spoke Polish in the home.  Mtbrother and I learned a few enderments and swear words, but that's about it. My legal name is Michlene, but my Grandmother(my BOO-sha)used to call me "Mihalinka". My parents used to call me by a nickname "MAH-gwa-sha". Is this a proper name or...? What is the correct spelling? Thank you!

Dear Michlene,
Michlene is probably a derivative of a female name Michaela - female form of Michael.
Although Google gives 15000 hits, it is not even listed among popular American English derivatives: - (try entering "Michlene" yourself). It is listed however as an Australian girl's name:, but with unknown origin. (Maybe someone tried to make a name that would sound "French", like Micheline, but didn't know how to do it?; or a clerk tried to record a real French name with English spelling? Who knows?)
(I have presupposed you are American, but maybe you are Australian?)
In Polish these names spell respectively: "Michalina" and "Michał" (Michal, but final L with a bar - this Polish letter is pronounced nowadays as the equivalent of English "w" in "water" or  "know").
A regular diminutive (you may call it "endearment") of "Michalina" is "Michalinka".
In Polish the cluster "ch" is always pronounced like "ch" in Scottish "loch" or German "Bach". It somehow resembles English "h" (the latter sound we do not have in Polish) so the Poles tend to replace one with the other. That explains why you've written it with "h". You've probably heard your Grandmother pronounce Polish "ch" but as she (and her child who was one of your adoptive parents, you probably mean your adoptive Mother, guessing by your use of the word "busha"), probably pronounced other occurrences of English "h" the same way - you might have perceived this as being that.
As with the nickname "Mah-gwa-sha" I think that this was "Małgosia" (see the L with a bar inside again?) - a regular diminutive of "Małgorzata" (Margaret) - so it will be something like "Maggy" or "Peggy". It has nothing to do with Michlene or Michaela/Michalina. Why this then? You would have to ask them (I suppose it's not possible any more, that's why you're asking me), probably they didn't like so much the sound of your legal name - or even they didn't like the name "Michalina" at all (for the reason unknown to me; maybe they didn't like it as this was something really unique if not at least uncommon [at their times]; maybe they wanted to avoid connotation with the French tyre company Michelin? yet I have to admit that even the name "Michalina" is quite rare one in Poland - it sounds old-fashioned and pretentious - so maybe that was the reason?) and/or (maybe) they had always dreamed about having a daughter whom they’d call like that? Or it was the first Polish approximation of the sound of name that came to their mind?
Anyhow, the Polish "Małgosia" is pronounced [mahw-GOH-shah].
* Polish "a" always sounds like Italian/Spanish "a" or "a" in "father" - I write it [ah]
- so do not pronounce "ahw" like English "aw" in "raw", but rather like "ow" in "how".
* Polish "o" always sounds like Italian/Spanish "o", or like English "aw" in "raw" - I write it [oh] (but, remember, my [oh] is NOT the sound of the English word "Oh!"; it's just a convention to remind you that you should not pronounce it like the English "o" in "not" - which to a Polish ear has a tendency to shift towards "a" - at least in some regional variants where it is pronounced almost as "u" in "nut" - and of course I don't know how it is pronounced there where you live, or you were living as a child when you've learned your pronunciation and accent, or where you are living now if you have ever moved and maybe changed your accent to a local one).
The capitalised syllable is the stressed one (I shouldn't have written that, you know it already from your experience).
Now, the pronunciation of it as [mah-GWA-sha] instead of [mahw-GOH-shah] may be a clear example of metathesis (search for this word in a good dictionary, or in Wikipedia). Without much theory here I explain what might have happened. Maybe as a small child you were unable to pronounce [mahw-goh] and you replaced it with a [mah-gwoh] or something similar, let's write it "Magłosia", and your Parents found it nice, cute, sweet, funny or whatever (in general: suitable to you and to your relations with them), and this form tended to be preserved in your and their usage. This is called the “private family language”. And although nicknames generated by family contexts have generally a tendency to be preserved for a lifetime, yet I suppose that due to the fact that this one was too close to the original and would generally be perceived as an obvious error (typo or slip of tongue; or even a speech deficiency requiring help from a logopedist), so in Poland it would have been corrected soon by the surrounding environment of Polish speakers. It might have continued to be used within the family, or if your had a strong personality you might even not let them use it any more even within the family context, as then YOU would perceive as not suitable to you (this fact might have been preserved in the memory of your parents telling years later during family meetings: "When our sweet Małgosia was 3, she tended to pronounce her name as 'Magłosia' and we called her so until her kindergarten time, when we stopped it for obvious reasons - the teachers and other children didn’t respect our small family custom and everybody called her 'Małgosia' and she wasn't strong enough to counter everybody telling 'I am not Małgosia, I am Magłosia', she just accepted that"). In English speaking surrounding this last situation never happened. So your nickname was preserved until today.
As diminutives concerned, you might find plenty of discussion of their forms and usage in Polish in my previous posts. I have no time repeating it here. Sorry for this type of a short answer but I do not have much spare time today and there is another question waiting.
About "boosha" (busia) and "babcha" (babcia) you'll also find some earlier posts of mine, probably under the subject "How do you say Grandmother in Polish".
If you do not know much about Polish, and you want to learn, read more of my previous (and maybe also future posts) independently of the fact how they may appear unrelated to your questions by the subject and the original question and the general look. I've always tried to be comprehensive in my answers so you might find many interesting details about names, surnames, place names (cities, villages), words for relatives and (rarely) other words. This last category is underdeveloped so feel free to ask me - not only about endearments, but also about swears ;) and  just plain words and phrases.
Good luck with your search for your family's history,
> You wrote:
Clearly you have a great deal of knowledge, and I did learn quite a lot from your answer. Thank you.  However, I would have preferred a more succinct answer with less extraneous speculation.  Perhaps you misunderstood my inquiry; my adoptive parents GAVE me the name Michlene.  
> My follow up:
Dear Michlene,
I am sorry for having disappointed you with my answer. That's the way I have answered most of the questions here. Maybe my answer was not clear enough, with too many hypotheses - but that's the life! - you never know everything and you have to answer a question (anyhow, my answer was based ONLY on what you had written, more on that – see below). Maybe, it’s because some sentences were not correct (contained typos, or repetitions, or were truncated, or otherwise stylistically incorrect). But I have told you while answering that I had little time then (I didn’t have time to reread and edit my answer afterwards), so I sent it as I had written it, the 1st draft. (I have now corrected all the errors I could detect, and added a few explanatory sentences, so you might read it anew, it should be clearer now).
But to write that I was not polite enough to you - that's an exaggeration, indeed.
I could ask you: “If you didn't like my way of answering questions on All-Experts, you could had asked someone else, why haven’t you?” (That was a rhetoric question so I do not await your answer, anyhow I know it [or at least part of it] in advance – unfortunately, I am now the only one in the section on Polish language to answer questions. Or maybe you didn’t read my previous answers and you didn’t know my way of answering?... Who cares).
But let me explain to you (and maybe to some other questioners) my approach. In fact and first of all I consider as impolite giving short and straightforward answers to ONLY what someone DIRECTLY asked, without giving a wider context to my answers - impolite to the person asking me the question... I always give longer answers, including that what was assumed, or underestimated as certain, or INDIRECTLY asked (at least: suggested). This is my way of showing people that I care for them and their questions. And also of showing that the issues of my (Polish) language, of my (Polish) culture and of those people’s (and my) Polish origin are something very important to me – as it seems to be to them, if they asked me those questions. I want to share my knowledge with those who are interested  to get acquainted with them (at least interested enough to ask questions).
The questions are typically very short, and they lack plenty of details. People do not care for the details, they think that what they know is also known to others (in fact many of them do not even think about that issue at all, they just write one sentence question – the rest seems so obvious, why bother writing it?). I try to answer the questions having only the little information as they give to me. The whole context has to be guessed by me, and sometimes even the basic facts or details are not made fully clear in the questions so they remain unclear to me. That’s why I have to posit some hypotheses.
Those who ask questions usually don't take into consideration that what is obvious to them may absolutely not be obvious, lest even clear enough, to someone living in another part of the world who is going to answer them. They do not realise it – and I do not blame them for that. I am a teacher so it’s my duty to make people realise presuppositions they make and certain missing parts to their questions. That's why I have to guess from what you write to me what was their real intention, what was the background, what are the missing details. What do you mean by having written this or that? And for that purpose I have to take into account every single word of yours.
On the other hand some people submit more information that would be needed for a straightforward answer to an otherwise simple question, like: “How do you spell in Polish something that is pronounced like...?” If someone submits some information I consider it as an important part of the question, as something which should be taken into consideration while answering. Otherwise why would that be written to me?
One of my typical assumptions is that if someone gives me two different pieces of information, typically joined by "but" or “on the other hand”, one expects me to know the reason for those two being different (seemingly incompatible with each other) and to explain this reason to him/her. That’s my experience what people expect me to do. But once in a while someone’s expectation might be different. The latter was probably your case. Sorry for having erred.
All-Experts service gives me another opportunity: I could always reject answering the question immediately telling that this is missing or that is not clear, and requesting the questioner to submit more information (more details, more facts) or to explain me what she/he meant by writing this or that, eventually even why did they write to me about this or that. But I practically never do it. But I prefer to try to guess the context and the intention of the questioner.
E.g. I could have asked you: "Why have you written to me about the adoption if this fact is (or at least seems to be) completely irrelevant to what you want to obtain as an answer from me?" Of course, a priori I don't know whether it is relevant or irrelevant so asking such a question could be considered impolite. I have to assume that this information IS very relevant –at least it seemed so for you – so I try to adapt my answer to this fact, imagining the hidden dimensions of your question. To err is human, so sometimes I may also not guess the "right" way the intention of the questioner, but then, again, I may be not clear enough about answering MY guess and not the questioner’s HIDDEN intention, but surely not impolite about my trying to guess it and trying to answer.
But, as I said, I prefer to guess the context and the intention and to give more details in my answer than would be otherwise needed if I had known them (the details, context and intentions) exactly, hoping that among the many possibilities of my answer one would find what one was thinking one was asking for directly (but what was not obvious to me). I also want to give a wider context to my answer so that one learns more about related issues in the area within which her/his question has been asked. And I also hope that the excess of information would do no harm, and that this would make the other person curious about the hidden dimensions of and the (hitherto probably unknown) import of her/his own question. That it may make her/him reflect upon it for a while (or longer), that it might make her/him want to dive into the subject, and finally become more interested in the wider context of the Polish language and culture, if not its fan. I answered basing only on what you had written. Your way of formulating your question was the basis for the above mentioned misunderstanding - you made the strong opposition between your LEGAL name and the way how your adoptive parents and your (adoptive, as I suppose) grandmother called you. As far as I understand the terms, "legal name" is something you have on your birth certificate (unless you have officially changed it later), and "adoption" can happen only AFTER you are born – so you already have something on your birth certificate. Typically adoptive parents do not change the given name of their adoptive child, only its surname is changed. But maybe there where you live (I don't know where it is, you haven’t written, it might be anywhere - the world is wide, although I assumed - maybe erroneously? - that it is somewhere in the USA, wherefrom 75% of the questions arrive to me) a typical practice is different (the laws differ from country to country, and in the USA – from state to state; and the customs and daily practices differ even from place to place).
So adding to my hypotheses about your
Now that I know that the issue of adoption was in fact irrelevant to your question, I could make it even stronger, asking: "Why, the heck, have you written that?" That would be really nasty! But I won’t do it. I accept that you have also the right to err – both while questioning and while judging my answer. But I have the right to answer your judgement as well.
There is another issue: Answering short is boring for me. You have to understand that to be a volunteer answering (for free) questions of unknown individuals (practically anonymous people) for already 10 years has to give me some satisfaction as well. It has to be fun also for me. Otherwise why do it? Many others who were giving answers in this section in earlier times have quit years ago, but I do continue my service. I do it my way, and I will continue like that. Someone may not like it, but nobody is obliged to ask me questions. However, if after having read the entire explanation above you would like one day to ask me a question again, remember that you are really, really welcome. But the answer will be done my way – except when you expressly ask me NOT to do so.
I have also learned something form you so now I am going to change my instructions to questioners, to include this last issue.
This follow up is probably longer than the original answer, but I hope you will not feel displeasure reading it.
With friendly greetings,

Polish Language

All Answers

Answers by Expert:

Ask Experts


Maciej St. Zięba


I am native Polish and from time to time I teach Polish to foreigners. I know (passively of actively) more than 15 other languages - so I can answer many questions concerning Polish grammar, pronounciation, spelling, etymology and usage - as compared to English, French, German, Russian, Dutch, Esperanto or Norwegian. Also questions concerning other Slavic languages, Sanskrit, Chinese, Tibetan, or general linguistics, especially scripts (writing systems and transcriptions) - are welcome.


Teaching English, French, and Esperanto to Poles, Polish to foreigners, teaching Sanskrit, Mandarin Chinese, Classical Chinese and Tibetan. Tour Guide in English, French, Russian and German. Former President of the Regional Examination Committee for Tourist Guides (English and French)(1999-2005).

Polish Oriental Society (since 1979); International Association of Buddhist Studies (since 1986); Klingon Language Institute (since 1986); Learned Society of the John Paul II Catholic University of Lublin (since 1989); Polish Philosophical Association (since 1997); Universala Esperanto-Asocio (since 1978).

Books: "Origin of the World According to Rigveda" (Montreal 1996); "Our River Bug. Creating Conditions for Development of the Border Areas of Poland, Ukraine and Belarus through Enhancement and Preservation of Natural and Cultural Heritage" (Lublin 2008); "Migration - a Challenge to the 21st century" (Lublin 2008); "Migracja zarobkowa do Woch" (Job migration to Italy) (Lublin 2008); more than 100 articles in "Powszechna Encyklopedia Filozofii" (Universal Encyclopedia od Philosophy) vol. 1-10 (Lublin 2000-2009); many more in Polish, some of them available online, see: here and here (a list up to 2012.

Studying philosophy at Catholic University of Lublin (Poland) 1976-81; PhD in Philosophy (1989). Having learned languages in Gdansk and Gdynia (Russian, Esperanto, Latin, English - International Bacalaureate), Lublin (KUL - French, German, Dutch, Sanskrit, Latin, Ancient Greek; UMCS - Chinese, Japanese; elsewhere - Esperanto, Spanish, Italian), Paris (IIAP - French; INALCO - Tibetan, Chinese, Japanese; Sorbonne - Sanskrit), Asker (Norwegian, while working in a kindergarten!), Montreal (McGill - Chinese); Rome and Venice (Italian); Taichung, Taiwan (Chinese), Shimla, India (sanskrit). Self-taught: Slavic languages (other than Polish and Russian), Hungarian, Korean, Vietnamese, Klingon and several other.

Awards and Honors
2012 Golden Medal of Civil Service of Poland; 2012-13 Taiwan Fellowship - Tunghai University (Taichung)

Past/Present Clients
AllExperts users (since 12/03/2003); Wikipedia readers in many languages (since 2004); students learning languages (since 1979).

©2017 All rights reserved.