Polish Names and Feast Days

Name days, which are the church’s feast day of the saint that bears one’s name, have long been considered important in many Catholic cultures. Even today in Poland, a person’s name day, called imieniny, is celebrated in lieu of or in addition to a birthday. But in the past, the name day and the birthday were the same day, because Catholic Polish tradition held that you actually named the child after the saint who held the feast on the day the child was born or baptized! Sometimes the saint’s name was used if the feast was within a few days of the child’s birth and not the same day.

My family isn’t one for tradition, but I was quite surprised when I noticed this naming trend with some of my Polish families. Józef PATER ( 1864-1945 ) and Antonina PLUTA ( 1863-1938 ) had seven children. I don’t have birth dates for the two oldest, but the others proved the “name day” theory.

Child’s Name

Day of Birth

Saint’s Feast Day


24 Dec

22 Dec


28 Sep

28 Sep


24 Aug

25 Aug


02 Sep

02 Sep


16 Dec

23 Dec

Since the family obviously took this tradition to heart, I probably could easily find the birth records for the two oldest girls without much effort – I’d simply check the dates near the feast days of Sts. Regina and Franciszka. What’s interesting to note is that all of the family members were born in Poland, and the tradition did not continue with their own children as far as I can tell. Of the children, I only have detailed descendant information on my great-grandfather, Ludwik. Despite the fact that his wife, Elżbieta MILLER (1891-1972) has a birthday on St. Elżbieta’s feast in the same way that he owes his name to his birthday, they did not carry this tradition on with their own five children.

I was curious if this was simply a quirk of this one family or not, so I checked a different side of my family tree, the ZAWODNY family. Interestingly, I found the same thing with few exceptions. Józef ZAWODNY (1880-1944) birthday was on St. Józef’s feast. His wife, Wacława ŚLESINSKI (1885-1956), does not share the feast of her patron saint, but four of her seven siblings do. Of the couple’s own six children, all born in the US from 1904 through 1916, four out of six match. I may not have the most up-to-date version of the Church’s liturgical calendar as it existed during that time period either. From what I can tell, these children didn’t follow the Polish tradition with their offspring either.

Does this hold true for every Catholic Polish family? No, of course not. But, if you see it with one or more children, then chances are it isn’t just “chance” and it can provide a clue as to other birth dates in the family. For a listing of names and a chronological listing of feasts, see the Poland Gen Web’s list of common Polish first names. Also, if you really want to know everything there is to know about Polish first names, I highly recommend First Names of the Polish Commonwealth: Origins & Meanings by William “Fred” Hoffman and George W. Helon.

Why did Poles follow this tradition? Was it an expression of their Catholic faith, or just a cultural tradition? I can’t answer that for my own family, but I’d like to think it was a little of both. But just imagine if that tradition were revived in the US today! Consider the possibilities – wouldn’t this save expecting parents from one more thing to worry about? There’s no use arguing over baby names, whether or not to use a name from his side or her side, the name of a deceased relative, or the latest celebrity fad-name. Just wait until the child arrives, look at a church calendar, and there you go – the decision is made for you! There is some risk, of course. Just two days separate your chances of being either Adam or Zenon. Or Zofia and Wacława. But I think it’s a charming glimpse into our ancestors’ lives. Today, feast days and name days are still celebrated of course. My nephew’s name day is December 6th, the feast of St. Nicholas, even though his birthday is in June. But if we lived one hundred years ago in Poland (or had Polish parents here in the US), his name would be Paul!


8 thoughts on “Polish Names and Feast Days

  1. This is an interesting naming tradition isn’t it? I wish I’d been aware of it when my kids were born. I might have considered using it.

    I was aware of it by the time my daughter made her Confirmation in the Catholic Church. She had to choose a Confirmation name so we looked up the saints’ name days and she chose the name of a saint close to her actual birth date… Felicity.

    So we used this naming convention in our family too 🙂

  2. Hi Donna! Welcome to the Geneablogging community! I hope you find lots of fun stuff to read and maybe learn a little, too. I can tell by reading your first few posts that we’re going to learn a lot from you!

  3. Thanks for the info on name days. I am working on
    my husbands family branch. He has Frank, Francis,
    Theofil and Bazel and more. I think they also have name days in Bavaria, Germany also. Thanks for your interesting

  4. Lisa, I know that some other countries celebrate name days, but other than Poles and Russians I’ve never heard of naming the child after the saint for that day. In other countries like Germany, Ireland, and Italy, the child’s given name is usually based on some family name, and in a particular order — first son get’s the father’s name or paternal grandfather’s name, etc. I’m also curious if any other countries follow this since I was surprised by the “accuracy rate” in my own family.

  5. Dear Donna
    You have made some interesting links with name days and birthdays!
    I was interested to see your mention of your ancestor Jozef Pater. My late father was Wieslaw Pater of Warsaw (born Krakow 1923) and came to England after WWII. He celebrated the name day for the saint of his 2nd name, Antoni, on 13 June, though he was born in April, but maybe there is no St Wieslaw.
    His father was Bronislaw Pater, whose family I believe had connections in Lwow, now in Ukraine; had brothers I think whose names escape me.

  6. Hi, Angela,

    Thanks for leaving a comment on my page! According to the book by Fred Hoffman, the feast day for Wieslaw is 22 May. But, the tradition wasn’t always followed by every family. Feast days for middle names count, too!

    My Jozef Pater actually had a brother named Bronislaw, born 1879 in Zyrardow or Ruda Guzowska as it was called then. It’s not near Lwow, though. Too bad! I don’t hear from many Polish Pater’s, so it was very nice hearing from you.

    Take care,

  7. Pingback: Songs and Names » Polish Names and Feast Days What’s Past is Prologue

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