From Siberia to the Andes, from Greenland to the South Pole, the world is full of Polish traces. Inscribed in both landscapes and on maps, Polish place names can be found on all 6 continents (check our map at the bottom of the article to see the places we've recorded so far! or go here).
Whether rooted in the heroic exploits of individuals or systematic explorations carried out by Poles at a time when Poland itself was not even on the map, the history behind these names and places often reflects the complicated history of the country.
Our hunt for Polish place names outside of Poland shall start somewhere close but not too close, that is (just) outside of Europe.
Located today on the outskirts of Istanbul, on the Asian side of the city, the small town of Polonezköy once really was a Polish village (which is also the meaning of its Turkish name). Founded in 1842 by the Polish émigré politician Prince Adam Czartoryski, the village was originaly called Adampol and was designed as the seat of the Polish diaspora as it readied itself to regain independence during the time of partitions.
But rather than being just a Polish name on the map of the world, Polonezköy continued to be a predominantly Polish settlement as late as the 1960s. Today, with around a thousand inhabitants and only 50 Poles struggling to maintain their language and identity, Polonezköy faces new problems as this small, charming resort slowly succumbs to pressure from developers and the sprawling metropolis nearby.
Moving further east, one of the regions of the world to bear the most tangible traces of Polish exploratory activity is Siberia. This goes back to the 19th century, when this remote, vast and still largely unexplored region became the ominous destination where thousands of Poles were deported following each successive national uprising. One of the biggest waves of deportations came after the January Uprising of 1863, which resulted in large masses representative of the Polish upper strata, the intelligentsia, being sent there, among them many researchers and academics. Some of them, like Dybowski, Czerski, or Czekanowski, were able to turn their painful exile into a fruitful period of unending research, performed under the auspices of Russian institutions. These Poles charted the most unexplored and desolate places on the globe at a time when their homeland was not even on the map. Their names are to this day inscribed in the hostile landscape of the Russia’s farther east.
One of the most famous of these brave men was Benedykt Dybowski (1833-1930). Born in present-day Belarus and educated in Minsk, Tartu, Wrocław, and Berlin, Dybowski found himself in Siberia in 1865 following the January Uprising, when his death sentence was commuted to 12 years of katorga in Siberia. Dybowski, by then an accomplished and respected scholar, took the opportunity to engage in pioneering research of the fauna and flora of Lake Baikal, discovering over 100 new species of crustacean. From Lake Baikal Dybowski then moved on eastward, exploring eastern Siberia (where he discovered a new species of sika deer) and ultimately Kamchatka. Although Dybowski was mostly active as a naturalist you can find his name on the world map thanks to Dybowski Mountain in Kamchatka. In 1934, shortly after Dybowski’s death, a glacial formation in Greenland was named after him.
Jan Czerski (Ivan Chersky, 1845-1892) was another January Uprising exile in Siberia. A geologist, Czerski gave his name to two Siberian mountain ranges ‒ which interestingly are both divided by many thousand kilometres. The first is in Zabalkalsky Krai, a southern Siberian region bordering on China and Mongolia. The other, Hrebet Cherskogo, is located in the remote Northern Sakha Republic between the Yana and Digirka rivers – the region where Czerski also died on an expedition in 1892.
To make matters more complicated, there are two mountain tops which bear the name of the Polish explorer ‒ Chersky Peak (Pik Cherskogo, 2090m) in the Khamar-Daban mountains and Chersky Mountain (Gora Cherskogo) in the Baikal range.
Those intent on finding more Czerski on the map will find also a town of this name, a waterfall (on the Chorek in the Angara Basin), a volcano (in the Tunkin Valley), a small town by the Kolyma River, and a valley in the vicinity of the Sayan Mountains.
Another Polish January exile to Siberia and another mountain range, Aleksander Czekanowski (1833-1876) made his name exploring the vast expanses of mid Siberia. The Chekanowsky Range which to this day bears his name is located in the Yakutia region of northern Siberia.
See these Polish place names on our Polish Map of the World
Polish explorers in the service of the Russian Empire also left their mark in Alaska. Zarembo Island and Wojewodski Island in the Alexander Archipelago go back to the times when the area was still owned by the Russian Empire.
The nearby Kosciusko Island (off the coast of Prince of Wales Island), named after the Polish hero of American Revolution, comes from the later era when the island was already owned by the US government. Surprisingly or not, this wild, rocky and largely unpopulated island boasts other Polish geographic names, like Krzyzanowski Mountain and Pilsudski Lake. These go back to the 1930s expedition of Stefan Jarosz, who embarked on an exploratory expedition of the island named after his great compatriot.
The most obsessive Alaska map readers have also located the Schwatka Mountains in the Brooks Range in North-Western Alaska, and connected the name with the American officer and explorer of Polish descent Frederick Schwatka (Schwałka).
The name of the oldest Polish settlement in Canada is Wilno, Ontario. It is a reference to the Polish name of today's capital of Lithuania, Vilnius. However, the original settlers in this area circa 1858 were mainly of Kashubian origin.
The name of Kościuszko, the hero of American Revolution, was perpetuated in the slightly disfigured form of Kosciusko, which is the name of several towns across the country. Kosciusko, Mississippi, inhabited today by some 7,402 people (2010), is where Oprah Winfrey was born in 1954.
Other notable Kosciuskos in the US can be found in South Dakota (Kosciusko Township) and in Indiana (Kosciusko County). The latter county's seat is fittingly called Warsaw, one of at least 15 towns and villages to bear this name scattered across the whole US (including North Carolina, Kentucky, Illinois, Virginia, Alabama, Minnesotta, and Texas).
Interestingly the many American Warsaws (and there's at least 15 of them scattered around the country) may actually also be a sign of the enormous popularity of Tadeusz Kościuszko, or rather the popularity of a certain book about the Polish-American hero. Entitled Thaddeus of Warsaw and published in 1803, that is, some twenty years after the American Revolution and ten years after Kościuszko's Uprising in his homeland, this historical novel written by Jane Porter was supposedly a huge success in the US and helped to raise new interest in Kościuszko's heroic life.
It was during this time that many towns, often without any significant Polish population, changed their names to Warsaw – a slightly ironic fact considering that Warsaw wasn't actually Kościuszko's birthplace. For more about American Warsaws see here.
Another Polish hero of the American Revolutionary War, Casimir Pulaski is the eponymous hero of arguably biggest ‘Polish’ town (that is, Polish-named) in the US. Pulaski, Virginia, is populated today by 9,086 people, and is the county seat of Pulaski County. Other Pulaskis can be found in Ohio, Georgia, and Tennessee, among others.
Fanatical name-hunters of the American Mid West can visit more Polish towns: Wisconsin has both Lublin and Torun.
How about a real Polish town in the American Wild West? And what better name than Panna Maria (Polish for Virgin Mary)? Located some 100 kilometres south-east of San Antonio and populated by around 100 people, Panna Maria was founded in 1854 by Polish migrants from Upper Silesia. Their original language known as Texan Silesian is still spoken among some of the locals.
However, Panna Maria also has a more dramatic story to tell. According to local legend, the first population of the town was recruited by a Franciscan missionary, Father Moczygemba, from among the locals of the several Silesian villages. Enticed by a vision of a new promised land, the migrants sold their property and sailed to the new world where, however, to their great dismay they found the new location rather disappointing. Virtually in the middle of the desert with no settlements in its vicinity, the locals eventually rebelled against their spiritual leader, who had to flee from his parishioners in order to save his life.
In 1873 another part of the population deflected from the town, moving 5 miles north of Panna Maria and establishing a town called Cestohowa, which was a reference to a Polish city of Częstochowa where the Jasna Góra Monastery is located. Cestohowa can be still found on the map with 110 inhabitants.
Located some 70 kilometres from the Haitian capital Port-au-Prince, in the western part of the country, the mountainous village of Cazale may be one of the most fascinating Polish places on the map, and of Polish place names for that sake. In fact, as one of the possible etymologies suggests the present-day name can likely be a variation of Creole word Kay (home; from French chez) and the Polish surname Zalewski (Zale).
This wouldn’t be all that surprising, considering that the town was established and populated by the descendants of Polish legionnaires sent to Haiti by Napoleon in 1802. Even today, some two hundred years later, the people of Cazale celebrate their Polish origins and call themselves La Pologne (Poland).
Despite some daring exploratory endeavours by Polish geographers, like that of Stefan Szolc-Rogoziński's (1861-1896) Cameroonian expeditions, Africa is likely the continent with the least palpable traces of any Polish presence. In search of a more tangible sign of Polish contribution, we have to visit the capital of Madagascar: Antananariva. There, the Rue Benyowsky reminds us of the fascinating story of Maurice Count Benyovsky (1746-1786), a Polish nobleman of Hungarian or Slovak descent. Following a successful escape from Kamchatka (where he was exiled after joining the Confederation of Bar, a Polish national movement against Russian intervention) and his return to Europe via Macau and Madagascar, he returned to the latter location to eventually become self-declared emperor of the island. He died in 1786 while fighting the French on his beloved island.
Polish geographical names in South America traces seem to be inevitably connected with the achievements of Polish exiles. The most famous of them was undoubtedly Ignacy Domeyko, a schoolmate of Polish national bard Adam Mickiewicz who went on to become one of the most accomplished geologists of his day.
Like many Poles forced to emigrate after the November Uprising, Domeyko eventually established himself in Chile, where he spend the next 50 years of his life and which became his adopted homeland. Domeyko made major contributions to the study of the country's geography, geology, and mineralogy. As the long-time dean of Santiago’s University of Chile, he paved the way for the Chilean education system. In recognition of these achievements a mountain range in the Andes was called Cordillera de Domeyko following his death in 1889. According to some, it's one of some 200 Domeyko place names across the whole Latin America.
As it turns out, this is not the only Polish cordillera in Andes. In Peru there’s a Malinowski Cordillera named in honour of Ernest Malinowski, a Polish engineer and the builder of the highest railway line in the world – Ferrocarril Central Andino.
Brazil had its own Polish railway builder. A municipality in the state of São Paulo called Brodowski commemorates a Polish engineer and important contributor to the Brazilian railway system, Aleksander Brodowski (1856-1899).
Making a big leap, we are now in Australia, and it’s Kościuszko again. His name (in a more orthodox spelling than in the US) is preserved in the name of the highest mountain of the continent (2,228m / 7,310 ft). Located on the Main Range of the Snowy Mountains in Kosciuszko National Park, Mount Kosciusko owes its name to the 1840 pioneering expedition of Kościuszko's compatriot Paweł Edmund Strzelecki.
For Strzelecki, the shape of the mountain was reminiscent of the Kościuszko Mound in Kraków, a superficial structure erected in honor of Kościuszko in 1823. In the Aboriginal languages (Ngango) of Australia's indigenous population, the mountain is variously called as Jagungal, Jar-gan-gil, Tar-gan-gil, Tackingal, all of which mean "Table Top Mountain."
Strzelecki who was arguably the greatest Polish explorer of the 19th century, travelled across the country in 1839–1843, contributed to the first geological studies of South New Wales and Tasmania. As with Kościuszko, here also the difficult Polish orthography was no deterrent: eponyms in Australia include a mountain range (Strzelecki Range), two mountain peaks (Mount Strzelecki, Northern Territory, and Strzelecki Peak, Flinders Island) as well as Strzelecki Creek, Strzelecki Desert (east of Lake Eyre in South Australia), and Strzelecki Town (near Korumburra).
And if you didn't think Poland really is to be found all over the world, this example should convince you. On the Pacific Island of Kiritimati (formerly known as Christmas Island), Poland is the name of one of the four settlements (others being London, Paris, and Banana). The name was supposedly given in honour of Stanisław Pełczyński, a Polish sailor who helped the local community to build an irrigation system. The church in the village is fittingly named Saint Stanislaus.
Thought we were done with Kościuszko? Not a chance. Mount Kosciusko in Antarctica is even higher than Mount Kosciuszko in Australia. The mountain rises to 2,910 metres (9,550 ft), and comprises the central portion of the Ames Range in Marie Byrd Land. Only this time, it was named for Captain Henry M. Kosciusko, U.S. Navy, Commander of the Antarctic Support Activities group, 1965–67.
A more tangible Polish mark on the snowy landscape of Antarctica is the Henryk Arctowski Polish Antarctic Station on King George Island. Arctowski (1871-1959) was a Polish meteorologist and a member of the pioneering Belgian expedition to Antarctica (the first one to overwinter on the continent). The Polish research station of his name was established on 26 February 1977 and is still very popular with researchers from all over the world, with its immediate whereabouts offering plenty of material for all seekers of Polish geography, including Arctowski Cove, Warszawa Dome, and Zalewski Glacier. See on the map
Arctowski’s name is further memorialised in the highest mountain in Spitsbergen, as well as the name of the local glacier.
Author: Mikołaj Gliński, 13 April 2016
Help us improve our Polish Map of the World! We feel like we've only touched upon the task of charting the entirety of Polish place names around the globe. So if you've heard of a Polish place name, please let us know by writing in the comment section below, and we'll take care of the rest.