small, Slavic First Names Explained, slavic_first_names.jpg, Czesław Miłosz, 1981, photo: A. Jałosiński/Forum
Ever wondered abot the meaning of traditional Slavic names like Czesław, Stanisław or Bożena? Here they are at last properly explained, annotated and... pronounced.
As many of these ancient names are rooted in a historic reality predating the dawn of Christian era, thay oftentimes remain one of the very few traces of a once-thriving Slavic pagan civilisation with ">its rich mythology, which encompassed much of Eastern and Central Europe.
But while some of these names, like Sławomir, Władysław, Wojciech or Bożena, have been preserved by generations of Poles and are still in use today, others, like Mściwoj, Chociemierz or Świętobor, seem to have perished for good.
As these etymologies show, these names testify to the existence of a culture boasting the heroic ideals of masculine prowess, need for fame and respect, and physical struggle. So prepare for a lot of names with sława, mir and bor...
Let the Slavic names commence!
Bogdan (Bohdan) – 'God-given'. A popular name in Poland but also Ukraine (Bohdan). This is the only Polish name with the 'dan' suffix, something that makes linguists suspect a borrowing from the Scythes, who used the name Bagadata with the same 'God-given' meaning.
Bożydar – 'Gift from God'. Rare but still used. It's a translation of its Greek and Latin equivalents Theodor and Theodatus.
Bożena – Yet another name built with the Slavic root meaning of 'God' (Bóg). This old Slavic name was known in the Czech Kingdom from the 12th century onwards, but became popular in Poland during the 19th century.
Bogumił – 'Someone who is dear [miły] to God'. The name is sometimes considered a calque from the Greek Theophilos. The female variant is Bogumiła.
Bogusław – A theophoric name possibly meaning 'To praise God'. Known in all Slavic languages, popular since the Middle Ages. In Poland, the name peaked in popularity during the 1950s and 1960s. See Polish composer Bogusław Schaeffer
Bolesław – The root bole- comes from Slavic word bolye and means 'much', 'a lot', or 'more'; thus the name can be translated as 'he who will have a lot of/more fame'; initially used by the dukes of the Piast dynasty. Its popularity has been waning since the 1920s. See 1the 9th-century realist writer Bolesław Prus or 20th-century poet Bolesław Leśmian.
Bronisław – Another name with the sław- root; bronić means 'to defend' – the whole can be translated as 'he who will defend his fame'.
Czesław – The cze- in Czesław comes from the verb czcić – to worship. The whole name is sometimes translated as 'he who will worship or respect the good name [fame] (of the house)'. The name was popular until the 1950s – not so much these days. Polish Nobel Prize winner in literature Czesław Miłosz is one of its best-known bearers.
Jarosław – Jary as an adjective meant 'vigorous' and 'powerful'. Thus the name can be reconstructed to mean 'he who has strong fame'. The name has been popular in Poland only since the 19th-century Slavic name revival. It was very popular in the 1960s and 1970s. Other Slavic (but not Polish) variants with the jar- lexeme include Jaromir. See poet Jarosław Iwaszkiewicz.
Kazimierz – Combines the root mir ('peace'/'respect') and kazić ('to destroy') to give us 'he who destroys peace'. The name of many kings and dukes from the Piast and Jagiellonian dynasties, and one of the few Polish names to have become popular outside Poland. Compare Casimir Malevich, Casimir Ney, or Brazilian soccer player Casemiro (find out more here). See film director Kazimierz Kutz.
Lech – One of the rare single-lexeme Slavic names in Polish. According to legend, the brothers Lech, Czech and Rus are the founding fathers of the Polish, Czech and Russian people respectively. While Lech is a typically Polish name that remains very popular, its etymology is uncertain – most hypotheses lead to lścić, which means 'to act deceitfully'. It may be a diminutive from Lścisław.
Lechosław – A name created in the 19th century as part of the trend to revive ancient Slavic names.
Lesław – This name was likely introduced by the late Romantic poet Roman Zmorski (1824-67). It was especially popular in the 1950s.
Leszek – In all likeliness, a hypocoristic version of Lestek, which comes from Lech (see above).
Ludomir – 'He who secures peace for people'. From the root lud-, which means people.
Marzanna – While the name is not popular at the moment, it goes back to Slavic antiquity. Marzanna was a Slavic deity, and she is still present in Polish folklore. An effigy of the goddess is burnt on the first day of Spring.
Mieczysław – The older form was probably Miecisław, which comes from mietać – 'to throw'. Seeing as the sław- root means 'fame', it gives us 'famed for throwing'. Learn more about composer Mieczysław Karłowicz.
Mieszko – The name of the first historical ruler of Poland. Definitely rare but still surfaces as a given name. It's likely that it was originally a diminutive derived from Miecisław (see above).
Mirosław – Like Sławomir, it combines (in reversed sequence) the two most productive lexemes of Polish Slavic names. It can be reconstructed as meaning 'he who praises peace' or 'he who gains fame by establishing order or peace'. It is considered one of the oldest Polish names.
Przemysław – May look like yet another -sław name, but it is not. In fact, Przemysław goes back to Przemysł, incorporating the root mysł meaning 'thought'. The -aw ending was supposedly added by assimilation. Prze- probably means przez (through). May refer to someone who likes to think things through, ie. 'thoughtful'.
Radosław – Combines the root rado- ('happy' / 'satisfied') and -sław. 'Satisfied from his fame' perhaps?
Radzimir – The root radzi- goes back to raci- which means 'fight', giving us 'someone eager to fight'. Definitely not a popular name but... see Polish musician Radzimir Dębski (known also as Jimek).
Sławomir – A variant of Mirosław. The name disappeared in the 16th century to reappear in the 19th century. Find out more playwright Sławomir Mrożek.
Stanisław – The stan- root means 'stand' or 'become', so it may express a wish for fame. One of the most popular Polish names. Recorded in the early 13th century as Stanislaus – a form which has made it to Western Europe, where it even gained some popularity, and beyond (compare the name of the Indian leader Estanislao). Learn more about Polish sci-fi author Stanisław Lem.
Tomisław – A Slavic name, more popular in the Balkans (Tomislav) than in Poland. The etymology links the tomi- in Tomisław with the Old Slavic verb tomiti, meaning 'torment' or 'harass'. The whole name could be translated as 'he who is tormented by the need to be famous'.
Wanda – A name very likely coined by Mediaeval historian Wincenty Kadłubek. One of the rare Polish names to be commonly used outside of Poland.
Wacław – According to linguists, Wacław goes back to Więcław, which is a diminutive of Więcesław (the Russian equivalent is Vyacheslav). With więce- meaning 'more', semantically this is basically another variant of Bolesław (see above). In the first half of the 20th century, it was very popular – but its popularity has been waning ever since the 1920s.
Wieńczysław – This may look like an old name, but in fact it only appeared at the beginning of the 18th century. Wieńczyć- means 'to crown', therefore 'he who should be crowned with fame'.
Wiesław – Known since the 14th century. It could be a short form of Wielisław (wieli- means 'a lot'), another name meaning 'someone who should be more famous'... (compare Bolesław and Wacław)
Wisława – Wisława is probably derived from Witosława, a 12th-century name. It is not very popular today but the poet Wisława Szymborska definitely immortalised the name.
Władysław – Came to Polish through Czech (the Polish equivalent would be Włodzisław). The wład- / władz- root means 'to wield power' or 'to rule'. Fittingly, it has been the name of many kings in Central Europe starting with Ladislaus I of Hungary (Saint Ladislaus), Władysław Jagiello and Władysław IV Waza. It was extremely popular early on in the 19th century. See Polish avant-garde painter Władysław Strzemiński...
Włodzimierz – Formerly used as a polonised version of the Russian name Vladimir – Lenin is known as Włodzimierz in Polish, whereas Putin goes by Władimir. It was popular in Eastern Poland during the 19th century and gradually reached the entire country during the 20th.
Wojciech – This ancient name combines woj - , 'warrior', and ciech- from cieszyć się, which means 'to be happy' or 'to rejoice', leading us to the meaning 'one who rejoices in battle'. The name of a martyr and the first Saint and patron of the Polish Catholic Church (known in English as Saint Adalbert of Prague, although the name Adalbert has no etymological connection). One of the oldest and most popular Polish names of all time. See film director Wojciech Jerzy Has.
Zbigniew – The name is derived from the root zby- ('to rid', 'get rid of') and -gniew ('anger') and could be interpreted as 'someone who is rid of anger', which in this understanding has more of a Buddhist than Slavic taste. Found in written sources as early as the 11th century (as Zbygniew). There are other names with the same affix, like Zbysław, Zbylut, Zbywoj, but they are definitely not popular these days. See film actor Zbigniew Cybulski.
Zdzisław – Zdzie- in Zdzisław is supposedly derived from działać ('to act'), so it means 'one famous for acting'. The name was known as early as the 12th century but was forgotten in the next century; it reappeared in the 19th century. See painter Zdzisław Beksiński.
Ziemowit – A distorted version of Siemowit made of Siemo- (Pre-Slavic*sěmьja which could mean 'family' or 'house') and -wit ('sir', 'lord'). The meaning can be reconstructed as 'lord of the house'. Siemowit was a frequent name of the rulers of the Piast dynasty. Nowadays, the name is not so easy to find, but see writer Ziemowit Szczerek.
Author: Mikołaj Gliński, February 2017