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An 18th century map labeled "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] The full official name of the Polish state is Rzeczpospolita Polska which loosely translates as "Polish Republic" (see Rzeczpospolita for details).

All of the above names derive from the name of the Polans, a dominant West Slavic tribe, which inhabited the territories of present-day Poland in the 9th-10th centuries. The origin of the name Polanie itself is uncertain. It may derive from such Polish words as pole ("field"), opole ("group of villages belonging to one clan", an early administrative unit) or plemię ("tribe").

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 Western Bug 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".

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).


Variations of the country endonym Polska became exonyms in other languages. Exonyms for Poland in other Slavic languages bear particular resemblance to the Polish endonym (Kashubian Pòlskô; Czech Polsko; Slovak Poľsko; Croatian, Serbian, Slovene Poljska; Belarusian Польшча, Pol'shcha; Ukrainian Польща, Pol'shcha; Russian Польша, Pol'sha, Bulgarian Полша, Polsha). 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 (Italian, Galician, Romanian, Spanish Polonia; Catalan Polònia; Portuguese Polónia; French Pologne) and many other languages (e.g. Albanian Polonia; Greek Πολωνία, Polōnía). Germans, Poland's western neighbors, called it Polen from which exonyms for Poland in other Germanic (Dutch, Danish, Swedish, Norwegian Polen; English Poland; Icelandic, Faroese Pólland; Yiddish פױלן, Poyln) and other languages (e.g. Arabic بولندا, Bolánda; Hebrew פולין, Polin; Indonesian Polandia; Irish An Pholainn; Japanese ポーランド, Pōrando; Chinese 波兰, Bōlán) are derived.

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 Podlachia (Polish 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).[4] The former became the basis for Poland exonyms in a number of other Middle Eastern languages, including: Armenian Լեհաստան, Lehastan; Persian, Tajik لهستان, Lahestan.

In some languages the Polish endonym Polak became an ethnic slur used to describe a Pole. Examples include English Polack (pronounced Polock and 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), although the latter's diminutive form, полячёк (polyachyok) is pejorative as well.

Related words

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

  • Alla polacca, like a polonaise (in musical notation); Italian for "Polish style"
  • 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


  1. ^ Polani by John Canaparius, Vita sancti Adalberti episcopi Pragensis, or Life of St. Adalbert of Prague, 999.
  2. ^ Polenia by Thietmar of Merseburg Chronicle, 1002. (German: Polen}
  3. ^ a b (Polish) Wielka Encyklopedia Powszechna PWN
  4. ^ (Turkish) Lehistan in Turkish Wikipedia
  5. ^ "American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language, 4th ed., 2000". Retrieved 2007-01-25.  
  6. ^ Note that polaco is also used in Spain as a pejorative for Catalan people.
  7. ^ (Ukrainian) Ляхи (Lyakhy) in Ukrainian Wikipedia

External links



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