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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.



---------- FOLLOW-UP ----------

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!!

Dear Bella,

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.



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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)

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

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