Polish Language/Middle names in Poland
I hope you can help me. I met a Russian recently who told me that middle names, as we understand them in the UK, were not used in Poland, and instead Poles had "two given names" (and the second given name was generally only used for official documents). I don't understand how this is different from the concept of middle names we have in the UK and US, and I also notice you describe your name, Stanislaw, as a middle name – was this Russian man just completely wrong, or am I missing something? Is there any difference that you know of between the way we think of middle names in the UK, and the way you think of middle names in Poland?
Thank you very much.
ANSWER: Dear Bella,
I think that you are right and not your Russian friend. I do not see any difference between the English notion of the middle name and the Polish notion of the 2nd given name, except that we call them differently. As far as I know the differnece is only in the name. You seem to confirm to me this information.
Many (if not the majority of) Poles have two given names but most of them use two given names only for formal reasons. Yet there are those who use both constantly (like myself) or there are those who prefer using their 2nd given name in daily practice.
These two given m\names were given to a person by his/her parents about the birth time, and they were freely chosen (of course there might be some family traditions which influence that choise, yet in general the choise is considered to be free, i.e. not pre-defined. The use of the second given name is not obligatory, but facultative, even in most formal situations.
Afaik, this is also the common practice in UK and US, Canada and elsewhere. Please correct me if I am wrong.
I think that the problem is with the Russians, because they have a patronymic (otchestvo) instead of any 2nd given name, and that's what they consider to be a "middle name". Their "middle name" is predifined by the given name of the person's father, so cannot be chosen freely, and its usage is obligatory in formal situation and practically used in most of the daily situations by most of the population.
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QUESTION: Thank you very much for your answer. You are correct in your assumption of the practices in the UK, US, Canada etc. being the same as you describe in Poland.
However, in the UK (and the US and Canada too, I think), we sometimes have three or even four given names, though this is uncommon. Do you in Poland only usually have two given names, or do you sometimes have more than two?
Thank you very much!!
It is really very rare that someone has more that two given names in Poland. At least you don't hear about them. With one exception (see below). And the official forms of the registration of birth, of the i.d. papers, passports etc. have only space for two given names.
Yet, from time to time you may read about someone "pięciorga imion" (having five given names), like the former Mayor of Białystok "Gniewomir Gwidon Ireneusz Juda Tadeusz Rokosz-Kuczyński".
Then, the popular practice is to refer to the person with the first given name, next the phrase "pięciorga imion" and then the family name. "Gniewomir pięciorga imion Rokosz-Kuczyński", or just "pięciorga imion Rokosz-Kuczyński", or "Rokosz-Kuczyński pięciorga imion" or even "Gniewomir pięciorga imion". You may find more such instances with Google.
You don't hear about those having three (or four) names, however. The only exception is when the first given name of a male is "Maria" (i.e. Mary, yes!, referring to the Virgin Mary), then they quite often have two more given names, and in daily practice quite often (but not necessarily always) this first given name is used only in abbreviation M. I personally know one "prof. Maria Krzysztof Byrski", and one "prof. Maria Roman Sławomir Sławiński", but I have never aksed them how their i.d. cards or birth certificates look like.
There is a common practice of accepting a third name (or second, if one has jus one form the baptism) at the time of Catholic confirmation (bierzmowanie), but I have hardly heard about anybody using this name for whichever purpose apart form this single ceremony. Some people even don't remember which name they have chosen themselves. I remember mine but it is important for me only in my religious practice. But maybe the instances of those who use 5 names include the names obtained during the confirmation? I have never researched the issue.
In earlier times, however (let say: in the XVIIIth century) it was not so uncommon among Polish aristocracy and nobelty to have three up to five names (maybe more, who knows?). Apart from given names they also used the name of their coat of arms (very specific Polish and Lithuanian custom, you may read about it in Wikipedia), and this was addes before the family name (straightforwardly: different family names belonged to the same coat of arms), or after the family name prefixed with the word "herbu" (meaning: "bearing the coat of arms of...") in the situation that different branches of the same family (family name) used different coats of arms. Now these names of coats of arms are considered part of family name, and are written with a hyphen, like Pobóg-Malinowski (where Pobóg = coat of arms, Malinowski = family name) or Terlecki-Sas (where we have the second situation). "Rokosz-Kuczyński" quoted above belongs to the first group.