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Names of Poland

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Title: Names of Poland  
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Names of Poland

The ethnonyms for the Poles (people)[1] and Poland (their country)[2] include endonyms (the way Polish people refer to themselves and their country) and exonyms (the way other peoples refer to the Poles and their country). Endonyms and most exonyms for Poles and Poland derive from the name of the West Slavic tribe of Polans (Polanie), while in some languages the exonyms for Poland derive from the name of another tribe – the Lendians (Lędzianie).


The Polish words for a Pole are Polak (masculine) and Polka (feminine), Polki being the plural form for two or more women and Polacy being the plural form for the rest. The adjective "Polish" translates to Polish as polski (masculine), polska (feminine) and polskie (neuter). The common Polish name for Poland is Polska. The latter Polish word is an adjectival form which has developed into a substantive noun, most probably originating in the phrase polska ziemia, meaning "Polish land".[3]


Main article: Rzeczpospolita

The full official name of the Polish state is Rzeczpospolita Polska which loosely translates as "Republic of Poland". The word rzeczpospolita has been used in Poland since at least 16th century, originally a generic term to denote any state with a republican or similar form of government. Today, however, the word is used almost solely in reference to the Polish State. Any other republic is referred to as republika in modern Polish.

Language roots

Main article: Polans (western)

It is sometimes assumed that all of the above names derive from the name of the Polans, a hypothetical dominant West Slavic tribe, which inhabited the territories of present-day Poland in the 9th-10th centuries. However tribe name Polanie is only mentioned among East Slavs and on the area around Dnepr river. The origin of the name Polanie itself is uncertain. It may derive from such Polish words as pole ("field").[4] The early inhabitants, like many tribes, denominated it from the nature of the country. Inter Alpes Huniae et Oceanum est Polonia, sic dicta in eorum idiomate quasi Campania by Gervase of Tilbury, has described in his Otia imperialia ("Recreation for an Emperor", 1211).

According to this theories Polska was initially a name used by the Polans to describe their own tribal territory in the Warta River basin. During the 10th century, the Polans managed to subdue and unite the Slavic tribes between the rivers Oder and Bug River into a single feudal state and in the early 11th century, the name Polska was extended to the entire ethnically Polish territory. The lands originally inhabited by the Polans became known as Staropolska, or "Old Poland", and later as Wielkopolska, or "Greater Poland", while the lands conquered towards the end of the 10th century, home of the Vistulans (Wiślanie) and the Lendians, became known as Małopolska, or "Lesser Poland".

Nevertheless, those hypothetical claims contradicts known facts, that the name Polska was applied to Poland no earlier than around year 990 and the Poland before was known by different names like Vandalia or Shenzghe. There is also no confirmation of very existence of the Polanie tribe on the Warta river, yet no sign that the unified Poland was tribal state. Recent findings suggests that the new state performed large resettlement and melting of the population already in 10th century. The result was that we are not sure of any tribal name nor area in Poland, except those who survived in names of provinces (i.e. Masovia). The only exception applies to Silesia area, where tribes were reported by Bavarian geographer to disappear once and forever just after. The main areas of Poland are known simply under the names Greater Poland and Lesser Poland.

In Polish literature, Poland is sometimes referred to as Lechia, derived from Lech, the legendary founder of Poland. In the 17th-18th centuries, Sarmaci ("Sarmatians") was a popular name by which Polish nobles referred to themselves (see Sarmatism).


Main article: Polack

In some languages the Polish endonym Polak became an ethnic slur used to describe a Pole. Examples include English Polack (formerly a neutral term,[5] for example in Hamlet's neutral reference to "the Polack wars") and French polaque. In other languages this is the neutral word for Polish or a Pole (e.g. Swedish polack, Italian polacco, Portuguese and Spanish polaco[6]). In Russian and Ukrainian the old exonym лях (lyakh) is now considered offensive[7] and is replaced by the neutral поляк (polyak).


Variations of the country endonym Polska became exonyms in other languages.

In Slavic languages

Exonyms for Poland in other Slavic languages bear particular resemblance to the Polish endonym:

In Romance languages

In Latin, which was the principal written language of the Middle Ages, the exonym for Poland became Polonia. It later became the basis for Poland's name in all Romance languages:

Many other languages (e.g. Albanian Polonia; Greek Πολωνία, Polōnía) use the Latin name.

In Germanic languages

Germans, Poland's western neighbors, called it Polen from which exonyms for Poland in other Germanic languages are:

Name for Poland is derived from the Germanic name in:


There is, however, a group of languages, where the exonym for Poland derives from the name of Lendians, a proto-Polish tribe that lived around the confluence of rivers Vistula and San, in what is now south-eastern Poland. Their name derived probably from the Proto-Polish word lęda, or "scorched land".[3] Not surprisingly, exonyms of this kind are used primarily by the peoples who lived east or south of Poland. Among those exonyms are:

  • лях (lyakh) used in East Slavic languages. The historical region of Poland on the Belarusian border known as Podlasie derives its name from that East Slavic exonym. Today, Lachy Sądeckie is a name of a small cultural group around Nowy Sącz in southern Lesser Poland. In Polish literature, the word Lachy is used by East Slavic characters as synonyms for "Poles" and "Poland".
  • Lithuanian Lenkija
  • Hungarian Lengyelország
  • Turkish Lehistan (now considered obsolete and replaced by Polonya).[8] The former became the basis for Poland exonyms in a number of other Middle Eastern languages, including:
  • Armenian Լեհաստան, Lehastan
  • Persian, Tajik لهستان, Lehestan.

Related words

Some common English words, as well as scientific nomenclature, derive from exonyms of Poland in various languages.

  • Alla polacca, like a polonaise (in musical notation); Italian for "Polish style"
  • Polacca, a type of 17th-century sailing vessel
  • Polonaise, several meanings including a dance of Polish origin; from French polonaise, "Polish" (feminine)
  • 1112 Polonia, an asteroid; from Latin Polonia, "Poland"
  • Polonium, a chemical element; from Latin Polonia
  • Polska, a dance of Swedish origin; from Swedish polska, "Polish"
  • Poulaines, a type of shoes popular in the 15th century Europe; from Old French polain, "Polish"

See also


External links

  • List of exonyms for Poland at Geonames

Template:Poland topics

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