Etymology of the name Poland

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Etymology of the name Poland

A denarius of Princes Polonie from the 11th century with the Latin name Poland minted by the mint of Prince Bolesław Chrobry.

The origin of the name Poland is not clear.


The oldest sentence recorded in 1270 in Polish in the Latin Book of Henrykow – Hoc est in polonico: Day, ut ia pobrusa, a ti poziwai.

Grammatically, the name Poland derives from the name of a field – an open space located in a given territory. It is composed of two parts: the name ‘Pol’ – ‘field’ meaning open space or cultivated field, and the suffixal adjectival formant ‘-ska’. The name “Polska” is grammatically an adjective formed from the noun “pole” with the suffix “-sk”, which is an adjectival formant, a continuant from the Proto-Slavic -ьskь-jь denoting belonging to something.

The original ‘-sk’ form is impersonal, but there are generic variants – neuter ‘-sko’, masculine ‘-ski’ and feminine ‘-ska’. When added as a noun ending, they form adjectives in Polish, i.e. words describing the qualities and characteristics of objects, concepts and phenomena, e.g. “modelar-ski”, “zielar-ski”, “lniar-ski”. The word “blue” in the 14th century meant “belonging to heaven” before it also became the name of the colour blue. This formant is also a characteristic feature of Polish surnames with an “-ski” ending, such as “Tarnowski”, “Zamojski”, “Sobieski”, “Leszczyński”, i.e. of people originating from Tarnów, Zamość, Sobieszyn, Leszno.

In Polish and Slavic nomenclature it is also a productive formant for topographic and possessive names, constituting a characteristic feature of Polish geographical local and spatial names. The inflections of this formant like “-sk”, “-sko”, “-ck”, “-cko” and “-zk”, “-zko” are characteristic of very old local names given to places in Poland, such as ca. 1000 – ‘Gdańsk’, as well as ‘Bużesk’, ‘Łańsk’, ‘Płońsk’, ‘Płock’, ‘Wąchock’, ‘Rajsko’, ‘Bielsko’, ‘Kłodzko’, ‘Radomsko’, ‘Sławsko’, ‘Słupsk’, etc.

Analogous names with the suffix -sk also occur in other native names of Slavic countries, e.g. in the Czech and Slovak names “Czech” and “Slovak” – “Česko”, “Slovensko” and in the name of “Croatia” – “Hrvatska”.

Until the 19th century, there was also an archaic variant of the name Poland according to the noun declension patterns “w Polszcze” instead of “in Poland”. This is the result of a linguistic process that occurred as a result of the replacement of the Proto-Slavic group “-sk” with “-sc”.


A document from 1154 noting that Zbilut (of the Paluk family) a citizen of Poland (“Poloniae civis”) founded a Cistercian monastery in Łekno.

The name Poland is recorded in many medieval sources written in Latin and appears in annals, geographical works, lives of saints and many gesta chronicles describing the histories of individual European states, nations and rulers. Poland has also been mentioned since the year 1000 in many letters, documents and papal bulls issued by popes in Rome archived in the so-called Elementa ad Fontium Editiones, edited by Stanisław Kuraś and Irena Sułkowska-Kurasiowa and published in seven volumes between 1982 and 2006 under the name Bullarium Poloniae.

The name of Poland also appears in many medieval documents written in Latin, such as yearbooks, location, legal and erection acts, grants of privileges, diplomatic notes and letters. These were published in a number of collections, of which the most relevant for Polish historiography are Monumenta Germaniae Historica published from 1826 initially under the editorship of Georg Pertz, and Monumenta Poloniae Historica published between 1864 and 1893 in Lvov under the editorship of August Bielowski.

Another group of sources consists of regional sources of historical documents concerning various regions of present-day Poland, such as the Diplomatic Code of Greater Poland, the Diplomatic Code of the Tyniec Monastery or the Kuyavian and Mazovian Documents.

A separate group of sources mentioning Polish areas inhabited by Slavs are geographical works written down in Persian and Arabic by Arab travellers and merchants, which were collected in a series of materials entitled Arabic Sources for the History of Slavonic Lands, translated by Tadeusz Lewicki and published in four volumes between 1956 and 1988 by the Polish Academy of Sciences.

First use of the word “Poland”

The name Polonia in the 11th century Annales Quedlinburgenses in the 1550 copy.

Excerpt from the 11th century “Gesta Hammaburgensis ecclesiae pontificum” by Adam of Bremen mentioning the Polans living along the Oder “trans Oddaram sunt Polanos”.

The beginning of Gall Anonim’s Chronicle with the Latin name “Polonie” in the Zamoyski Manuscript copy from the 14th century.

The name Poland as a land appears for the first time in Latin before the Polish language was codified. In medieval sources written in Latin, many references containing the name of the country Poland in Latinised forms Polania, Palania, Polenia, Bulania and others have survived:

Mieszko III the Old’s brakteat with the inscription mšk⊃ krl plsk.

Between 997 and 1003, one of the earliest references to Poland came from the pen of John Canaparius, abbot of the Roman monastery of St Boniface and St Alexius, mentioning Sobiesław (Sobiebor) Sławnikowic, who set out in arms “cum Bolizlauo Palaniorum duce” (Polish: “with Bolesław the Polish prince”) in the First Life of St Adalbert. In 1001, one of the stanzas of the so-called St Adalbert sequence of the list of hymns written in Reichanau states: “Polania ergo tanti sepeliens floret martyryii pignora”. In 1003, the name Poland is mentioned in the Latin annals of the Annales Hildesheimenses (which are part of the History of the Saxons). They do so in the passage “Heinricus Berthaldi comitis filius, et Bruno frater regis, et ambo Bolizavones, Polianicus vide licet ac Boemicus, a rege infideliter maiestatis rei deficient.” i.e. translated as “Henry son of Berthold and Bruno brother of the king and both Boleslavs Polish and Bohemian are in the circle of friends of the emperor.”. The Quedlinburg Annals, written down between 1008 and 1030, mention Poland several times. Describing the Polish-German war from 1002 onwards, they mention Boleslaw the Brave in fragments: “Bolizlauonem Poloniae ducem”, “Bolitzlauus Polinensis” and “Bolitzlauua dux Poloniae” they also mention the name of the country “Polonia”, “Poloniam Sclauonia”. Between 1012 and 1018, the Latin names of Poland were repeatedly included in his chronicle Thietmari merseburgiensis episcopi chronicon by the Bishop of Merseburg and chronicler Thietmar. He did so both in reference to Polish rulers such as Mieszko I – “Miseconis Poleniorum” – and Bolesław Chrobry in the fragment “Bolizlavus Poleniorum” – as well as to the country of Polenia and the people living in Poland – Poleni, Polenii. In 1046, the Swabian chronicler Wipo, in his chronicle Gesta Chuonradi II Imperatoris (Polish: Glorious deeds of Emperor Conrad II), when describing Bolesław Chrobry, notes “Bolizlaus Sclavigena, dux Bolanorum”, i.e. in Polish “Slav Bolesław, prince of the Poles”. The Annales Altahenses maiorum, written down between 708 and 1073, also listed Casimir I the Restorer as a Polish prince under the designation “Kazmir Bolaniorum” in 1046, alongside other Slavic rulers.

In a letter of 1074 from Duke Vratislaus II of Bohemia addressed to Boleslaus the Bold, the sender titles the addressee “Glorioso Boloniorum regi Boleslao”. In a 1075 letter from Pope Gregory VII addressed to Boleslaus the Bold, the sender titles the addressee “Boleslao duci Polonorum”. In 1075-1080, Adam of Bremen, the German chronicler and geographer, mentions the Polans in his historical treatise ‘Gesta Hammaburgensis ecclesiae pontificum’, where he recognises the Oder River as the border zone between the Elbe Slavs of the Wieleck and Lucic tribes and the Pomeranians and Polans. According to his account, the land of the Polans borders the Pomeranian, Prussian and Bohemian lands and extends up to the borders of the Ruthenian state: “Trans Oddoram fluvium primi habitant Pomerani, deinde Polani, qui a latere habent hinc Pruzzos, inde Behemos, ab oriente Ruzzos”. The text also mentions Poland several times in various variations of ‘Polonia’, ‘rege Polanorum Bolizlao’, etc.

In 1154, the Arab geographer Al-Idrisi also included information about Poland in the Book of Roger, which he called ‘Buluniia’, listing its major cities, including Kraków, Gniezno, Wrocław, Sieradz, Łęczyca and Santok:

“Concerning the land of B(u)luniia, which is the land of knowledge and Rumian sages (ar-Rum)[a], we have mentioned it before. It is a land of beautiful soil, fertile, abounding in springs and in rivers, with provinces and large cities stretching without interruption, rich in villages and houses…. It has vineyards, olives and a multitude of trees of various kinds of fruit. Its cities include: Ikraku, G(i)nazna, -r(a)t(i)-slaba, S(i)rad(i)ja, N(u)grada, S(i)tnu[b] All of them are famous capitals and strong centres, in which the prosperities of various countries are gathered. In addition, they command respect because scholars educated in the sciences and familiar with their professions reside in them. As far as the city of (I)kraku, the city of G(i)nazna and the rest of its (Bulunji) mentioned cities are concerned, they are towns with buildings standing close to each other…. It is surrounded on all sides by mountains stretching uninterruptedly and separating it from the country of S(a)sun(i)ja (Saxony), the country of B(u)amija (Bohemia – Bohemia) and the country of ar-Rusia (Ruthenia). – Al-Idrisi (1100-1166) – Book of Roger.

The name also occurs in sources written in Latin in Poland:

The earliest local monument with the name of Poland written in Latin is considered to be the Denar Princes Polonie, minted during the reign of Bolesław Chrobry between 992 and 1025 by the ducal mint. The Latin name of Poland was recorded in the medieval work Żywot Pięciu Braci Męczenników (The Lives of the Five Brothers Martyrs) by Bruno of Kwerfurt. He was a guest at the court of Bolesław Chrobry at the turn of 1005 and 1006 and mentions his host by name in the passage “(…) ignotae linguae Polanorum, invento serniore cui nomen Bolizlao”. He also uses the Latin term “terra Polonia”, “Polanicis terris” to refer to the entirety of the lands under his rule.

In his next work entitled The Life of St Adalbert, St Bruno also mentions Poland twice in a fragment dedicated to Bolesław Chrobry – ‘”ducem Polanorum Bolizlavum” – and the states under his rule “De terra Polanorum”. The Latin name of Poland – ‘Polonia’ – is contained in the oldest written sequence created on Polish soil, which was written by an anonymous author after 1090 in the fragment ‘Hac festa die tota Gratuletur Polonia’. In 1112-1116, the Polish Chronicle written by Gall Anonim mentions it under the title Cronicae et gesta ducum sive principum Polonorum. In 1136, the name of Poland as “Poloniorum regio” (Polish: country of the Poles) is also recorded in Latin in the so-called Bulla Gniezno (Gniezno Bull), regarded as the first monument of Polish speech. Among a list of more than 400 names in Polish, i.e. provinces, towns and villages mentioned in the Latin bull of Pope Innocent II, there is also the phrase “Mesco dux Poloniae baptisatur”, noting the baptism of Mieszko I under the year (966). The coins of Mieszko the Old (1173~1202) minted by the Jews in charge of the mint in Kalisz, who used Hebrew letters in the Knaan language, are considered to be the first reference to Poland (in this literal form). The inscription משקא קרל פלסק – mšk⊃ krl plsk on the brakteates is transliterated as mška krol polski

According to Krystyna Długosz-Kurczabowa, the Polan lands were called Staropolska and later Wielkopolska from the 14th century onwards, and in contrast the southern lands were called Małopolska. Witold Mańczak, analysing the occurrence of the terms magnus and maior in Polish toponomastics from the earliest times, and in view of the fact that in 99% of cases they appeared in local names they simply meant “great”, reduced the probability that Polonia maior meant “Old Poland” to a minimum (if this had been the case, Wielkopolska would most probably have been called Polonia antiqua or Polonia vetus). In the Middle Ages Wielkopolska objectively surpassed both in area, but above all in population, each of the other districts.

Source word

There are two versions on what word is the root of the name “Poland”. According to one of them, the name derives from “pola” (field), a name which has both a spatial and an agricultural meaning in Polish. The other sees the name of the Slavic tribe “Polans” as the source, whose name also derives from the previously cited name “pole”.


The foot seal of Conrad I of Głogów from 1253 with the Latin inscription “Conradus Dei Gracia Dux Zlesie et Polonie”.

According to one theory, the name derives from the Polan tribe, which inhabited the area of present-day Wielkopolska. In turn, the word Polans is usually derived from the word field, either in connection with agriculture as the main occupation of the tribe, or their inhabitation of flat areas (in contrast to other tribes, such as the Vistula or Mazovians).

Some historians (e.g. Przemysław Urbańczyk and Zofia Hilczer-Kurnatowska) question the very existence of the Polans, who do not appear in written sources until the 12th century, in the chronicle “Novel of bygone years” (Повѣсть времяньныхъ лѣтъ) written down by Nestor (who often invented ethnonyms from the choronyms he knew, and these do not appear in any other sources) in 1113: (ros. ) а от тѣхъ Лѧховъ прозвашасѧ Полѧне, Лѧховѣ друзии – Лютицѣ, инии Мазовшане, а нии Поморѧне (from these Lechs they nicknamed themselves jedni Polanami, drugi Lęchowie Lutycy, inni Mazowszanami, inni Pomorzanami), and in the Latin version ca. 1000 (but in the version of the choronym, i.e. the name of the land: Polania, Polonie, or Bolizlauo Palaniorum duce, Bolizlavonem Poloniae, Bolizlavo Polianicus), earlier the all-ethnic name used for Poland is; in Sclaviam, duce Sclavonica Bilizlavone susceptus, in Sclavania, Sclavonia, which may have caused confusion between Poland and Bohemia, which were referred to similarly (especially as both countries were ruled by the Boleslavs). However, irrespective of the controversial Polans (Przemysław Urbańczyk accuses historians of a logical contradiction: deriving Polans from the name of the country and then the name of the country from the Polans, and the astonishing fact that the “Polans” themselves would write down their own name with an error; Polonia, Polonie, Polonus and consistently stuck to this writing, while foreign authors in later records e.g. Bruno of Kwerfurt; Bolezlavo Polanorum duce, terra Polanorum, Polanis from 1005, provincia Polanorum, Polianici terra from 1008, or Thietmar; Polenia, Poleni from 1012, would use a more etymologically correct name) these authors do not dispute that the origin is in the Slavic word pole.

Tabula Rogeriana of 1154 by the Arabic geographer Al-Idrisi with a description of the country of Bulaniia listing the cities of Kraków, Gniezno, Wrocław, Sieradz, Łęczyca and Santok.

Generic Slavonic “pole”

Dei gratia rex Polonie on the silver Cracow penny introduced by Casimir III the Great in 1367.

Irrespective of the existence of the Polans, the name of Poland is derived from the all-Slavic word pole – originally meaning a plain suitable for cultivation (Proto-Slavic polje, Czech pole, Slovak pole, Ukrainian поле (połe), Belarusian поле (field), Russian поле (field), Croatian polje, Serbian поље (polje), Macedonian поле (field), Bulgarian поле (field), Lower Sorbian pólo). As late as in the 14th century, the adjective Polish meant as much as polny: God has shared heaven and earth and all Polish plants more than they came out on the ground (Szaroszpatack Bible), Polish road – in the dialects of the former Lesser Poland together with the Ruthenian borderland “a road passing through a field, a side road, not a highway”. Anyway, such an adjective from field is natural (compare the adjectives from the top: mountain and mountain) which can be seen in the 15th century names of plants interchangeably called polskimi or polne e.g. polny / Polish garlic (Allium oleraceum L.), polna / Polish dryjakiew (Scabiosa columbaria L., Centaurea scabiosa L.), polna / Polish carrot (Daucus carota L.) etc. This is how the name Poland came about. This etymology is nothing new; the origin of the name from “campi plani / level fields” was already given by Přibik of Radenin called Pulkava in his Bohemian Chronicle up to the year 1330, and was probably taken from Gervase of Tilbury, who gave it in Otia imperialia

Čechův bratr nebo druh jménem Lech, který přišel s ním, přešel pak zasněžené hory, které dělí Čechy a Polsko. And when he discovered the mountain range, which stretches as far as the Moorish mountains, he sat down there and identified it with his family. Je totiž třeba vědět, že se ve slovanském jazyce campi plani [rovná pole] nazývají pole. A proto se nazývá Polsko, jakoby rovinatá pláň. (The Czech’s brother or brother-in-law named Lech[c], who came with him, crossed the snowy mountains that separate Bohemia and Poland. And when he saw a great plain stretching all the way to the coast, he settled there and populated it with his family. It is important to know that in the Slavic languages the term “campi plani” [plain fields] is used to call fields. And this is where the name Poland comes from, from a flat plain).

In the past, the Latin terms terra Poloniæ – the land of Poland or Regnum Poloniæ – the Kingdom of Poland – were used. The name Poland began to be used to refer to the whole state in the 11th century. Formations of this type are attested as early as the 9th century in s-c-s texts, e.g. in the Office in honour of St. Methodius, e.g. “Poland”.

Tę ima o(t’)če země Morawskaa stěną tvr’dą.

Other etymologies

Theoretical etymologies

Considered a critic of the existence of the Polans, Przemysław Urbańczyk gives an additional possible interpretation, found in the Word about Igor’s regiment:

Zagorodite poliu vorota svoimi ostrymi strelami/Загородите полю ворота своими острыми стрелами(Threaten [the people] of the steppe gates with your sharp arrows)

where field means ‘people of open spaces/steps’.

In Russian scholarship, there is also the derivation of the name of the native Poles not from ‘field’, but from a term associated with valour and the linking of this name with the ethnic name of the Antes. Russian historian Lev Gumilov explains this ethnonym in this way:

The Slavs spread to the north, where they were called Veneds (the word is still preserved in the Estonian language) In the south they were called Sklavins, in the east Ants. Ukrainian historian M. Brajchevsky has established that the Greek word “Antes” means the same as the Slavic “Polans”. The word of the feminine genus ‘polanka’ (поляница) in the sense of ‘heroine’ has been preserved. But the word “polanie” in an analogous sense is not used today, as it has been displaced from use by the Turkish word “bagadyr”.

Popular etymologies

Benedict Chmielowski, in his New Athens of 1745, gave several (often downright fabulous) etymologies: IN SARMACY AS A PERLUSION OF THE COSTLY KINGDOM OF POLAND, of the Slovenian nations the most famous, of which here essencyalne only things enarro, that I may not be, Poland my homeland having left censured, that I am foris Lynx, Domi talpa. POLAND was named from Pola, where Poles liked to live and die; or a Polo Arctico, that is, from the North star[d] towards which the Kingdom of Poland was named, as Spain called Hesperia from the West star Hesperus. Others think that the name was given to the Poles from the Pole olim Castle on the Pomeranian borders being. Others understand that from the City of Kolchic Pole, from where Lechus, Monarch of Poland, led the origin. It may also be that the Poloni per corruptionem of a few letters are the same as the Bulanes Nation in Sarmatia on the Vistula, according to Ptolemy, living. It is also the opinion of the Authors that the Poles, who seem to be Polachy, i.e. descendants of Lech, should be called Polachy, as Ruthenia has so far called us Lachs. Paprocki, on the other hand, ingeniosly states that during the reign of Mieczysław I, Duke of Poland, when Poles adopted the Holy Faith and joined Baptism in large numbers, priests from Bohemia, woken to this, distinguished poppies from poppies and asked: Are you polani? id est already baptised? then those who were baptised replied: We are polani, hence Polani, or Poloni went Polakia in nomen gloriosum.

It is worth knowing that the “water etymology”, i.e. the derivation of the name Poland from pouring water during baptism, first appeared in the Czech Chronicle by Václav Hájka of Libočan from 1541, and was revived by the German historian Johannes Fried in his book Otto III and Bolesław Chrobry

Other names of Poland

Other names for Poland (Lechia, Persian Lachistan, Lithuanian Lenkija) and Poles (Turkish Lehce, Ruthenian Lach, Hungarian Lengyel) probably derive from the name of the Lędzian tribe (Proto-Slavic *Lęd-jan-e), which is believed to have inhabited the south-eastern part of present-day Poland.

The word “Poles” (15th century), earlier “Polans” in the Latin form Polani, Poleni, Poloni first appeared at the turn of the 10th and 11th century in the Lives of St. Adalbert, probably written down in Rome between 999 and 1001. For a long time the name Pole was applied only to the upper classes (nobility), regardless of ethnicity.

The Polish state was first called Rzeczpospolita by Wincenty Kadłubek (d. 1223). The word rzeczpospolita means public thing (common to all) or republic and is a carbon copy of the Latin expression res publica. The word republic, being a direct borrowing, is not used in the Polish language to refer to Poland. Under the current legal order, the only official name of the country is Rzeczpospolita Polska, and the name “Poland” does not appear in any current Polish legal act. In terms of linguistic correctness, the word Polska in the official name is an adjective, not a noun (Latin: Respublica Polona, not: Respublica Polonia), hence the correct complement form is Rzeczypospolitej (Rzeczpospolita) Polska (not: Polski).

Before the 19th century, the conjugation was still polska ziemia – polski ziemia – in polszcze ziemi. Later, the name was shortened to “polska” and the adjective began to be treated as a noun and also capitalized as a proper name.

Węg. Lengyelország, lit. Lenkija, tur. Lehistan (pre-partition Poland), pers. لهستان (Lahestân), orm. Լեհաստան (Lehastan) – from the Lędzian/Lędzic tribe, this in turn from the Old Russian or Old Polish ethnonym lęděnin and its thickening lęch, perhaps from the Pronov. *lędo – “field”. The name Lędzianin in Russian was shortened to Lach – this form became widespread in the East and was adopted by the Turks. The Poles, on the other hand, from the time of Wincenty Kadlubek, called themselves Lechites, believing that they descended from the legendary Lech. Latin, Italian, Spanish, Basque, Romanian, Breton Polonia, port. Polónia, katal. Polònia / Polônia (Braz.), gr. Πολωνία (Polonía) fr. Pologne

German, Danish, Swedish, Norwegian, Dutch. Polen

Frisian Pollen

English Poland, isl. Pólland

Finnish Puola, est. Poola

cz. Polsko, słow. Poľsko

ros. Польша (Polsha), Belarus. Польшча (Polshitsa), Ukr. Польща (Polshitsa), Bulgarian Полша (Polsha) – according to Maks Vasmer the Russian name, known since the 17th century, is a borrowing from the Ukrainian and Belarusian forms, which in turn derive from the Old Polish singular locative from Polska (this in turn from Polska ziemia/ *Роlьskа(jа) zemia = field, flatland).

serb.-chorv. Poljska/Пољска, Slovene. Poljska

Lat. Polija

tur. Polonya (Poland of the partition period and modern Poland) Arabic بولندا (Bulanda) Hebrew פולין (Polin), פולניה (Polania) Yiddish פּױלן (Poyln) afr. Pole

Chinese 波兰 (Bōlán) Scottish Gaelic a’ Phòlainn

Welsh Gwlad Pwyl

Japanese ポーランド (Pōrando) Korean: in DPRK 뽈스까 (Ppolsukka), in K.Pd. 폴란드 (Phollandu) Vietnamese Ba Lan

Indonesian Polandia

Esperanto Polio, Polujo, Pollando

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