Polish Patronymics and Surname Suffixes

by Susana Leistner Bloch

Based on grammatical features, Polish surnames may be divided into:

Adjectival names very often end in the suffixes -ski, -cki and -dzki (feminine -ska, -cka and -dzka

Feminine Forms

Adjectival surnames: Like all Polish adjectives surnames have masculine and feminine forms. If a masculine surname ends in -i or -y, its feminine equivalent ends in -a. Surnames ending with consonants have no specific feminine form.

SKI vs. - SKA. Polish adjectives have different forms for the genders. Surnames ending in -ski are regarded as adjectives, so they , too, reflect gender in different endings. Thus Janowski is the nominative form for a male and Janowska is the same for a woman.

CKI - ZKI Essentially, these are just variants of - ski / ska. Certain words end with consonants that, when combined with the basic ending - ski, produce a pronunciation change.











Feminine Suffixes

Polish used to have special feminine suffixes which were added to a woman's surname. A woman who was never married used her father's surname with the suffix -ówna or -'anka. A married woman or a widow used her husband's surname with the suffix -owa or -'ina / -'yna. Although these suffixes are still used by some people, mostly elderly and in rural areas, they are now becoming outdated and there is a tendency to use the same form of a nominal surname for both a man and a woman.


Father / husband

Unmarried woman

Married woman or widow

ending in a consonant (except g)



ending in a vowel or in -g


-'ina or -'yna





Father / husband

Unmarried woman

Married woman or widow





















Cognominal, Toponymic and patronymic Surnames

Based on origin, Polish family surnames may be generally divided into three groups: cognominal, toponymic and patronymic.


Suffixes with a -k- generally began as diminutives. In other words, Jan is the Polish form of "John," and Janek or Janko is much like "Johnny." English, however, typically has only a couple of diminutive suffixes, -y or -ie. Polish (and the other Slavic languages) have tons of them. Most have a -k- in there somewhere, or the-k- has been modified by the addition of further suffixes (e. g., -czak, -czyk). As a rule, in surnames a suffix with -k- means something like "little" or "son of.

Thus Jan is "John," Janek or Janko is "little John, Johnny," Jankowicz is "son of little John," Jankowo is "[the place] of little John" (or "of John's son"), and Jankowski is "from the place of little John or John's son.


Essentially, the suffix -iak is the same thing as -ak; both are diminutive suffixes, but -iak differs only in that it involves softening or palatalization of the root's final consonant. Thus in some names we see -ak added directly to a root with no palatalization, e. g., Nowak, Pawlak; and in others we see the palatalization, e. g., Dorota + -iak = Dorociak, Jakub + -iak = Jakubiak, Szymon + -iak = Szymoniak.

The basic meaning of -ak/-iak is diminutive, but especially , when applied to first names, it tends to have a patronymic significance.


This suffix simply means "son of." Here, too, the difference between -owicz and -ewicz is of no great importance to non-linguists; some names tend to show up with one or the other, and some show up with both. But the basis meaning of X-owicz or X-ewicz is "son of X.

Given name / surname order

The given name(s) normally comes before the surname. However, in a list of people sorted alphabetically by surname, the surname usually comes first. Hence some people may also use this order in spoken language (e.g. introducing themselves as Kowalski Jan instead of Jan Kowalski), but this is generally considered incorrect.

Sources: Various, including: Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia, William F. "Fred" Hoffman, Author, Polish Surnames: Origins and Meanings

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