Polish Surname Meanings and Origins

Origins of Polish Last Names

A group of adult Poles in traditional polish costume in Krakow, Poland.
A group of adult Poles in traditional polish costume in Krakow, Poland. Getty / Moment Mobile ED

Is my last name Polish? Where did it come from? What does it mean? As with most European surnames, Polish surnames can typically be divided into one of three groups:

Toponymic Surnames (Geographical, Topographical)

These Polish last names typically derived from the location of the homestead from which the first bearer and his family lived, and are the most common type of Polish surname. 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, 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. 
Example: Cyrek Gryzbowski - Cyrek from the town of Gryzbow

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 suffixes (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.


Example: Pawel Adamicz - Paul son of Adam

Cognominal Surnames (Occupational, Descriptive)

Cognominal surnames were typically derived from a person's nickname, usually based on his occupation, or sometimes a physical or character trait. 

  • Occupational Surnames - these Polish last names are based on the person's job or trade. Some of the most common occupational surnames derive from what were the most important professions in Poland through history, such as blacksmith (Kowalski), tailor (Krawczyk), innkeeper (Kaczmarek), carpenter (Cieślak), wheelwright (Kołodziejski) and cooper (Bednarz).
    Example: Michał 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
    Example: Jan Wysocki - John the tall

​Interestingly, surnames with the -ski suffix (and the cognate -cki and -dzki) make up almost 35% of the 1000 most popular Polish names, and the presence of that suffix at the end of a name may indicate Polish origin.

Origins of 50 Common Polish Last Names

1. NOWAK26. MAJEWSKI
2. KOWALSKI27. OLSZEWSKI
3. WIŚNIEWSKI28. JAWORSKI
4. DĄBROWSKI29. PAWLAK
5. KAMIŃSKI30. WALCZAK
6. KOWALCZYK31. GORSKI
7. ZIELINSKI32. RUTKOWSKI
8. SYMANSKI33. OSTROWSKI
9. WOŹNIAK34. DUDA
10. KOZŁOWSKI35. TOMASZEWSKI
11. WOJCIECHOWSKI36. JASIŃSKI
12. KWIATKOWSKI37. ZAWADZKI
13. KACZMAREK38. CHMIELEWSKI
14. PIOTROWSKI39. BORKOWSKI
15. GRABOWSKI40. CZARNECKI
16. NOWAKOWSKI41. SAWICKI
17. PAWŁOWSKI42. SOKOŁOWSKI
18. MICHALSKI43. MACIEJEWSKI
19. NOWICKI44. SZCZEPAŃSKI
20. ADAMCZYK45. KUCHARSKI
21. DUDEK46. KALINOWSKI
22. ZAJĄC47. WYSOCKI
23. WIECZOREK48. ADAMSKI
24. JABŁOŃSKI49. SOBCZAK
25. KRÓL50. CZERWINSKI