Alan Crosby: What's in a (Polish) name?

By Jon Bauckham, 14 May 2015 - 9:37am

Despite having Polish relatives, Alan Crosby still struggles to get his head around some of that nation's unusual naming conventions

Dr Alan Crosby is the editor of the Local Historian and a columnist for WDYTYA? MagazineThursday 14 May 2015
Alan Crosby
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Alan Crosby and his cousin Wojtek

Alan's cousin Wojciech (right) is known as 'Wojtek' to friends and family. The name has no English equivalent, but does have a Czech translation – Adalbert!

Last month I visited Warsaw with my Polish cousin Małgorzata.

Her name, translated into English, is Margaret. Both derive from the Greek word μαργαρίτης meaning ‘pearl’. But nobody ever calls her Małgorzata, except in very formal communications, because in Poland almost every first name has a ‘familiar’ diminutive used by anyone who actually knows the person in question. Girls called Małgorzata are generally known as Małgosia, which in English is something like ‘Maggie’.

But Poles really love diminutives, so often Małgosia is reduced further to ‘Gosia’, with no exact translation. Maybe ‘Meg’ would be close. And there are yet more options – some girls called Małgorzata are known affectionately as Małgośka, Gośka, Gosieńka, or Gosiunia! Likewise, her sister-in-law is Kasia, a diminutive of Katarzyna, or Katherine.

However, diminutives are not just for the female of the species. Małgorzata’s husband Piotr [Peter] is invariably referred to (except in business matters) as Piotrek. Her brother is called Wojtek, the familiar form of his ‘proper’ name Wojciech, which has no English equivalent but does have a Czech translation, Adalbert, and how that comes about I have absolutely no idea!

Poles have even invented diminutives for non-existent formal names – the very popular name Marek is the familiar form of Mark (it has the masculine ‘ek’ ending) but Mark isn’t actually found in Polish.

It’s all extremely confusing – especially as to those of us in her immediate family, and among her friends, my cousin Małgorzata/Małgosia is never known by either name anyway. To us she is always Daisy, by which her English grandmother Marjorie (my great aunt) was known in childhood.

To complicate matters very much further, when Marjorie grew up and had children they usually called her ‘Jim’. It all makes ‘Alan’ seem so simple!
 

Alan Crosby lives in Lancashire and is editor of The Local Historian. He is an honorary research fellow at Lancashire and Liverpool universities

 

 

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