Poland is a Western Slavic nation, a blending of the East and the West, resulting from the merger of several Slavic tribes (such as the Polanie), who joined together around the 10th century to create the Polish State (although Poles trace their tribal roots to prehistoric times). By this point in history, the diverse Slavic people already stretched from the northern oceans to the Balkan Peninsula. In their earliest development, the Slavs became prone to disharmony among their various tribes and therefore inclined to fight. Due to this constant early aggression between clans, the Slavs evolved into forceful even sometimes violent people. In other words, Slavic people are all business. They don’t mess around and they’re not likely to shy away from confrontation. Furthermore, given the rich and abundant lands they inhabited, Slavs developed into vigorous farmers and energetic traders.
The founding of the Polish State really coincides with the adoption of Christianity in the middle of the tenth century. The first historical ruler of Poland, Mieszko I, married into the Czech royal dynasty, became baptized and solidified Poland’s place in the West ensuring their independence (at least for now). The Polish Church had direct ties with Rome and could call upon the Pope for protection from Germany if need be. BolesÅ‚aw I the Brave would become the first crowned King of Poland in 1025 and elevated his nation’s prestige among the European elite. Various Western Slavic tribes continued to be united by force, trade or marriage.
The next three centuries were witness to military conflict, civil wars, dynastic struggles and pagan rebellions within Poland and neighboring lands which constantly threatened to weaken or destroy what little unity they maintained. However, Poland’s well-positioned commercial routes from all directions gave her the ability to develop commerce which was exploited in the 14th century under Casimir the Great who founded and planned towns along the highways. Casimir succeeded in more than doubling the size of Poland and building her into a major Central European power. Krakow University (the second oldest in central Europe) was founded in 1364. Poland had also established itself as a place where Jewish settlers were welcome and treated with tolerance.
Ongoing military conflicts with neighboring states forced the need for unions among allies. One such lasting pact was formed between Poland and Lithuania in 1386 which would last for two centuries. The Lithuanian Grand Duke took over the Polish monarchy kicking off the Jagiellonian dynasty and whose heirs ruled Czech and Hungary and maintained good relations with other prominent European royal families through political marriages. The 16th century marked the “Golden Era” of Poland, a time of military prowess, economic prosperity and major contributions to the arts and sciences (Copernicus was a Pole). During the Reformation, Poland became a safe haven for people of different religious denominations; a place where they could practice their chosen religion freely and without restrictions, just like Poland did for the Jews centuries before.
Between the mid-16th century and the late 18th century, Poland experienced intermittent periods of war and peace, peppered here and there with short periods of prosperity. During this time, Poland was weakened by internal disorder and lawlessness and politically undermined by the laziness and deterioration of its noblemen’s stature on the European stage. This made Poland ripe for the taking by super-powers of the time: Russia, Prussia and Austria. They just sort of helped themselves to Poland and carved her up like a cake. Poland lost its statehood for 125 years. The Partitions of Poland as they were known took place between 1772 and 1795.
Poland did not reemerge on the European map again until 1918 after the end of World War I and the signing of the Treaty of Versailles. Having been split for over a century, however, Poland found is difficult to unite and modernize. Then came the nightmare of World War II in 1939 as Poland was attacked from the West by the Germans and from the East by the Russians. The Nazis killed five million Poles, three million of which were Jews. The end of WW II brought communist domination over Poland, hidden under a facade of ‘soviet friendship’. Socialism dominated all fields of life to the detriment of industry and would ultimately lead to the birth of Solidarity – labor strikes under the leadership of Lech Walesa in the early 1980s for which he won a Nobel Peace Prize. Walesa later became President of Poland from 1990 to 1995 after the fall of communism as Poland moved from being a planned economy back to a market economy. Today Poland is a solid economy and often extolled for its positions and policies surrounding Human Rights.
Just like many other ethnicities of the Western World, the Poles have an interesting history of naming traditions. They generally fall into one of two main groups: Slavic names of pre-Christian origin and Christian names borne from the Bible or those of important saints from the Church calendar.
Catholics form the majority of the Polish population and although the Polish registry records no more than two names, they still hold the tradition of baptismal names which are held in church documents if not legally recognized by the registry. Catholics have always been encouraged to use names of Christian importance, although Slavic names with no Christian tradition have been accepted as okay. They also have a tradition of celebrating the name days of their patron saints. It is also required that children are given names which clearly indicate their appropriate gender so the vast majority of female names end in the feminine “-a” suffix. Today, fashionable trends and pop-culture influences figure high into naming choices. As with their fellow Slavs in Russia, the use of diminutives is also very popular in Poland.
In 2010, the ten most popular boy names in Poland were Jakub (Jacob), Szymon (Simon), Kacper (Jasper), Filip (Philip), MichaÅ‚ (Michael), Mateusz (Matthew), Bartosz (Bartholomew), Wojciech, Adam, and Wiktor (Victor). As you can see, all of these names are embedded in Christian naming traditions with the exception of the Slavic name Wojciech (meaning “soldier of comfort); although, Wojciech is the name of an early Slavic saint.
For girls, the Top 10 names in 2010 were Julia, Maja (diminutive of Maria), Zuzanna (Susanna), Lena (pet form of either Helena or Magdalena), Wiktoria (Victoria), Amelia, Oliwia (Olivia), Aleksandra (Alexandra), Natalia and Zofia (Sophia). The Poles have become more modern and trendy in their female naming choices. Many of these same names in their English language versions are high ranking names in the United States as well.