Sunday, 3 November 2019

Poland Place Names Explained

Having blogged samples of my books on English place names and also examined the etymologies of the nations of the world and their respective capitals I thought it time I cast my net a little wider. As English place names share some links to other tongues it would be interesting to see if any of the elements contributing to our place names could be found elsewhere. Continuing an alphabetical tour of the world and a look at the largest Polish cities.

Warsaw is thought to mean 'belonging to Warsz', this the pet form of the Slavic name Warcislaw, although there is no record of this individual.

Krakow is a reminder this is Krak's town. The legendary founder of the city, Krakus, is thought to derive his name from krakula a Slavic word meaning 'staff of the judge' or krak meaning 'oak'.

Lodz is simply the Polish word for 'boat'. During the German occupation of the Second World War, it was renamed Litzmannstadt after the German general Karl Litzmann who was victorious near here during World War I.

Wroclaw is said to be named after Wrocislaw or Vratislav, depending upon which tradition you read, the first Duke of Bohemia of that name. A member of the Premyslid Dynasty, he held office from 915 until his death in 919 or 921 in a battle against the Hungarians.

Poznan is almost certainly a personal name, possibly derived from the Polish for 'one who is known or recognised'. Knowing how stories of how place names came about, I predict the future will speak of the name being derived from some unknown ritual where attendees turn their backs on the action, wrap arms around neighbours shoulders in a long line, and jump up and down in unison. Just what explanations would be given for the origins of Doing the Poznan will doubtless beggar belief but, as many will be aware, was a celebration of football fans from the city first witnessed in the UK during a European competition when Lech Poznan played Manchester City and quickly 'pinched' by other British teams. It originated in Poland in 1961 where it has always been known as the Grecque.

Gdansk, famously where the Solidarity movement first came to the attention of the world, probably takes its name from the Gdania River. You will not find the river on maps for it is an old name for the Motlawa River.

Szczecin, also given as Stettin in German, are both of Slavic origin but speculation as to the true origin continues, with currently no less than eleven suggested explanations including 'hill', the personal name Szczota or szczyt which refers to the delightfully named plant fuller's teasel, cultivated and used (as the name suggests) for combing, cleaning and raising the nap on fabrics, particularly wool.

Bydgoszcz contains two elements which, when combined, probably refer to a specially constructed settlement. Unfortunately this does not explain the purpose for which it was constructed.

Bialystok translates as 'white slope' and has had several variations on the current name from different languages, a consequence of repeated border changes.

Czestochowa is simply 'Czestoch's place'.

Radom is from a personal name, Radomir, itself referring to a Slavic fortified wooden settlement.

Sosnowiec is thought to come from the Polish sosna, a reference to the pine forests once found here.

Kielce is derived directly from the tribe of Celts who stopped here on their migration across Europe.

Gliwice is thought to share the root in Slavic glive meaning 'mushrooms' and probably indictating wetlands.

Bielsko-Biala is a city created by the merging of two former settlements. Both names share an origin, for both are derived from the name of the Biala River, itself from biel or biala, both of which mean 'white' and, as explained in my English River Names, shows it was originally named where the river was young and vibrant and seen as 'white water'.

Zielona Gora translates as 'green mountain', an accurate description of the landscape around here.

Rybnik comes from its early beginnings as a fishery, for Proto-Slavic ryba meaning 'fish' is the root of a place name meaning 'fishponds'.

Tychy comes from the Polish cichy meaning 'quiet, still'.

Dabrowa Gornicza comes from the Polish root dab and refers to 'oak trees' and adds the adjective Gornicza to refer to mining.

Elblag comes from the city and the local river, known as such by Teutonic Knights who settled here but the etymology from here is uncertain.

Opole is a Slavic term referring to a group of settlements.

Walbrzych is from a German variation of the Polish for 'forest castle'.

Wloclawek is probably from an early ruler, Wladyslaw II the Exile, who reigned from 1105 to 1139.

Tarnow is ultimately from an early Slavic word meaning 'thorns', another reference to the local flora.

Chorzow is probably from the personal name Charz, short for Zachary and thus 'Zachary's place'.

Note the spellings of the places are English as the piece is written in English.


  1. Good day! I could have sworn I've been to your blog before but
    after browsing through a few of the posts I realized
    it's new to me. Nonetheless, I'm definitely pleased I
    came across it and I'll be bookmarking it and checking
    back often!

  2. I just like the valuable information you supply for your articles.
    I'll bookmark your blog and test again right here regularly.
    I am rather certain I'll be told lots of new stuff proper right here!

    Best of luck for the following!

  3. Now I am going to do my breakfast, when having my breakfast coming over again to read further news.

  4. I believe that is among the most important information for me.

    And i'm glad studying your article. However want to commentary on few basic things, The
    web site style is wonderful, the articles is really excellent : D.
    Good job, cheers