Polish Surname Meanings and Origins

A group of adult Poles in traditional polish costume in Krakow, Poland.
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Poland is the sixth largest nation in Europe, with nearly 38 million inhabitants. Many more millions of Polish nationals and people with Polish ancestry live around the world. If you are one of them, you might wonder at the meaning of your last name. As with most European surnames, yours likely falls into one of three groups: toponymic surnames, patronymic and matronymic surnames, or cognominal surnames.

Toponymic Surnames 

These Polish last names are typically derived from a geographical or topographical location—for instance, the homestead from which the first bearer and his family lived. In the case of nobility, the surnames were often taken from the names of familial estates.

Other place names that 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. In the past, many places in Poland shared the same name. Others have changed names over time, disappeared altogether, or were subdivisions of a local village or estate too small to be found on a map.

Surnames ending in -owski usually derive from place names ending in -y, -ow, -owo, -owa, and so on. 
Example: Cyrek Gryzbowski, meaning Cyrek from the town of Gryzbow.

Patronymic and Matronymic Surnames

Surnames in this category are usually derived from the first name of a male ancestor, although some are derived from the first name of a wealthy or well-respected female ancestor. Such surnames often have suffixes such as -icz, -wicz, -owicz, -ewicz, and ycz, which usually mean "son of."

As a rule, Polish surnames that include a suffix with -k (-czak, -czyk, -iak, -ak, -ek-ik, and -yk) also mean something like "little" or "son of," as do the suffixes -yc and -ic, most commonly in names of eastern Polish origin.

Examples: Pawel Adamicz, meaning Paul, son of Adam; Piotr Filipek, meaning Peter, son of Philip.

Cognominal Surnames

Cognominal surnames are typically derived from a person's nickname, usually based on their occupation, though sometimes based on a physical or personality trait.

  • Occupational Surnames: These Polish last names are based on a person's job or trade. Some of the most common occupational surnames are derived from what were the most important professions in Poland throughout history, such as blacksmith (Kowalski), tailor (Krawczyk), innkeeper (Kaczmarek), carpenter (Cieślak), wheelwright (Kołodziejski), and cooper (Bednarz).
    Example: Michał Krawiec, meaning Michael the tailor.
  • Descriptive Surnames: Based on a unique quality or physical feature of an individual, these surnames often developed from nicknames or pet names.
    Example: Jan Wysocki, meaning Tall John.

50 Common Polish Last Names

Surnames with the -ski suffix (and the cognates -cki and -dzki) make up almost 35 percent of the 1000 most popular Polish names. The presence of these suffixes almost always denotes Polish origin. The most common Polish surnames are listed below.

  1. Nowak
  2. Kowalski
  3. Wiśniewski
  4. Dabrowski
  5. Kaminski
  6. Kowalcyzk
  7. Zielinski
  8. Symanski
  9. Wozniak
  10. Kozlowski
  11. Wojciechowski
  12. Kwiatkowski
  13. Kaczmarek
  14. Piotrowski
  15. Grabowski
  16. Nowakowski
  17. Pawlowski
  18. Michalski
  19. Nowicki
  20. Adamczyk
  21. Dudek
  22. Zajac
  23. Wieczorek
  24. Jablonski
  25. Krol
  26. Majewski
  27. Olszewski
  28. Jaworski
  29. Pawlak
  30. Walczak
  31. Gorski
  32. Rutkowski
  33. Ostrowski
  34. Duda
  35. Tomaszewski
  36. Jasinski
  37. Zawadzki
  38. Chmielewski
  39. Borkowski
  40. Czarnecki
  41. Sawicki
  42. Sokolowski
  43. Maciejewski
  44. Szczepanski
  45. Kucharski
  46. Kalinowski
  47. Wysocki
  48. Adamski
  49. Sobczak
  50. Czerwinski