Polish Tribal Origins
Map showing the ancestral tribes of Poland
The Polish words for a Pole are Polak (masculine) and Polka (feminine), Polacy being the plural form. 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 noun substantive, most probably derived from polska ziemia, or "Polish land". 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, one of the strongest of the tribes inhabitating 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", from Proto-Indo-European *p(e)la, "flat, plain", opole ("group of villages belonging to one clan", an early administrative unit) or plemie ("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 (Wislanie) and the Lendians, became known as Malopolska, or "Lesser Poland".
Around the 17th century, the Polish nobility (szlachta) were seeking proofs of their ancient ancestry in classical Greek and Roman sources and often claimed to descend from the non-Slavic tribes, such as the Venedes or the Sarmatians, that inhabited Central and Eastern Europe in ancient times. In the 17th-18th centuries, Sarmaci ("Sarmatians") was a popular name by which Polish nobles referred to themselves.