Welcome to Monsterville? Bad Meat? The End of the World? Polish Nobel Prize winner Wisława Szymborska was especially fond of funny names of Polish towns and villages. Since great minds think alike… we take a gander at thirteen amusing place names in Poland and explain where they come from.
First up is a village that won an online poll a couple of years back for ‘The Place with the Weirdest Name in Poland.’ The lucky village, Złe Mięso, has a rather peculiar name indeed, one that translates as ‘Bad Meat.’ It is said to either echo an ancient battle that took place nearby leaving hundred corpses of both men and animals to rot for a lengthy time in the fields… or the surname of a German innkeeper, Bösenfleisch (which is German for Evilmeat), who once owned a place in the village.
Another tale tells of a local innkeeper who used to secretly treat his guests to human meat. In contrast to its not-so-tasty name, however, the settlement in northern Poland is beautifully located on the river Wda.
Here’s another name that’s linked to a story about an inn, but in this case the events aren’t as gruesome as the ones described above. The story is that a rich man drank and gambled away nearly all of his money at an inn. Left with just a single coin (and plenty of worries), he purchased a plot of land near a forest. That place in the Greater Poland region is now called Ostatni Grosz which plainly means ‘Last Penny.’ Funny name, cautionary tale…
Like money, looks can also be the source of worries. Why then, would somebody choose to name a village ‘Crooked Knee’? That's how the name Krzywe Kolano is translated. Well, the answer is that kolano means not only ‘knee’ in Polish, but also can be translated as a ‘bend.’ This other use is rather archaic so most people automatically think that the name of this village in central Poland describes a crooked leg whereas it most likely references a sharp bend that used to exist in the area, e.g of a border or a stream that no longer flows there.
A crooked knee or money problems don’t have to be the end of the world. Unlike Koniec Świata, a settlement in Greater Poland with a name meaning... ‘The End of the World.’ Some claim that the place was called that when a nobleman travelling on a local road, which abruptly ended, reached its end and cried in distress: ‘It’s the end of the world!’
After the world ends some, unfortunately, may end up going to hell. If, however, you’d like to see what hell looks like before the end, come to Piekło, a village in northern Poland. After all, the name of this place is the exact same word that is used to describe ‘hell’ in Polish. The village owes its spooky name either to the floods which often occurred in the area, turning the life of the inhabitants into a nightmare, or to an exceptionally tricky part of the Vistula, full of twists and turns, which is nearby.
England has its Shitterton, a village in Dorset, Poland has Biały Kał. The name of this village in Greater Poland translates as, more or less, ‘White Feces’ and some inhabitants must have considered it a hellish one, since in 1999 it got changed to Białykał. Still, despite its new ‘disguise,’ everybody remembers the original name and keeps making fun of it. It’s like people say: somebody's tragedy is somebody else's comedy. It’s worth pointing out, however, that the Polish word kał which means feces used to mean ‘mud’ or ‘boggy ground’ in the past. So Biały Kał originally most probably was meant as ‘White Bog,’ referring to the local terrain.
This place name will likely conjure up images of hellish beasts as it translates into ‘Monsterville’. Potworów, however, is not some house of horrors at an amusement park as its name might suggest, but a small village in central Poland. The settlement’s name comes from one of its 15th-century owners, the nobleman Paweł Potworowski.
A village about an hour’s drive south of Warsaw and a place you could consider for a romantic getaway. Całowanie means… ‘Kissing,’ so the name could (very subtly) hint at your feelings for that special someone. It doesn’t come, however, from the locals being especially affectionate. The place name came from, similarly to Potworów, belonging to the Całowański family in the 15th century.
Kissing can sometimes lead to something more... But the name Cyców, which one could translate as ‘Titville’ doesn’t refer to a stop on that road. The name is most probably reminiscent of the percale manufactory that once operated in this village in eastern Poland. Toward the end of the 18th century, the word cyc, a polonised version of the Dutch word sits, was used to describe a certain kind of fabric, known today as percale (perkal in Polish). In contemporary Polish, however, the word cyc is almost exclusively understood as a euphemism for a woman’s breast.
The percale manufactured in Cyców most probably wasn’t used to make undies – it wasn’t the right kind of fabric. So it’s link to panties is about as strong as the that of the word Swornegacie, which is the name of a village in northern Poland. To the average Pole this name means something like… ‘Dutiful Panties.’ Yes, you read that right. But, in this case the word gacie, which is Polish for panties, refers not to undergarments but to gacenie which in the local dialect means to ‘strengthen the banks of a lake.’ Also, some argue that the word swora in this dialect describes a pine root braid used for strengthening the bank and shouldn’t be mistaken with sforne which in Polish means dutiful or obedient. So the name Swornegacie most probably comes from past efforts to tame the lakes in the village’s vicinity and not from wearing dutiful panties...
Some undies contain a scrotum which in Polish is called moszna. Fortunately, however, the name of the Silesian village Moszna doesn’t have an anatomical etymology. Instead, it comes from the surname of a family called Mosce or Moschin that came into these parts in the 14th century.
About an hour’s drive East of Moszna lies Zimna Wódka, a village whose name translates plainly as ‘Cold Vodka.’ However, there’s no great vodka stash here nor some hugely famous, historical watering hole, which served this particular alcohol. Wódka, Polish for vodka, is quite similar to woda which is water. Taking this into account, it seems that the name more probably references the local stream which remaines pleasantly cold even during the heat of the summer. No chilled vodka for the people of Zimna Wódka...
In English the name of this Silesian village can be translated as ‘Dry Doggy.’ But, as you already suspect, it has little to do with the dampness of the animal’s coat. Psina which in Polish means doggy is also the name of the local river which often goes dry. The village’s name simply reflects that fact of life.
Well, it seems that the flow of funny names of places has dried up for now. Until next time!
Author: Marek Kępa, April 2017