Discovering the Meaning of Your Armenian Family Name

August 20, 2020  - by 
an armenian woman

What’s in a name? More than you might expect! Family names can hold clues to a family’s origin or family relationships, interests, occupations, locations, and even connections to royalty. If you have Armenian heritage, understanding Armenian surnames will help you connect with your family as you discover your Armenian family history. Check out information on Armenia in the FamilySearch wiki to help you continue your search!

Armenian Surname Structure

Virtually all Armenian surnames consist of a root and one or more suffixes. The root may be a given name such as Petros or Samvel, or it may be a title, personal characteristic, occupation, or place-name. Examples of roots and their meanings include the following:

  • Kade (magistrate, judge, cadi)
  • Kabasakal (having a coarse or bushy beard)
  • Baghdasar (“Balthasar” in English, meaning protector of the king)
  • Zeytounts (a city in historical Armenia)
statues of the armenian alphabet

Armenian Surname Suffixes

By far the most frequently used suffix is -ian and its variations, such as -yan, -jan, ians, and others. This suffix means “issued from” or “family of.” For example, someone with the surname Zakarian would be the child or descendant of Zakar.

Other less common suffixes include the following:

  • -li, which denotes a place name. For example, the surname Sivaslian indicates a connection to the city of Sivas. (Note that this surname has two suffixes: “li,” referring to the place-name, and the modified “an” for “ian.” So this surname indicates someone who is the child or descendant of a person connected with Sivas.)
  • -tsi, which points to a place of origin. For example, the surname Shirakatsi indicates a family origin of Shirak.
  • -ji or -chi, which denotes a merchant.
  • -ter or -der is a title of respect for a priest. A surname such as Ter-Petrosyan indicates that the person had an ancestor who was a priest.
  • -uni indicates a family connection to Armenian nobility. Examples include Pahlavuni and Mandakuni.
armenian dolls

Patronymics in Armenian Surnames

The -ian and similar suffixes come from the patronymic naming system used for many years in Armenian surnames. In this system, the surname of the child is based on the first name of the father. So, for example, a man named Samvel Petrosian would be the son of Petros. And Samvel’s son Alex would be named Alex Samvelian.

Patronymics gradually fell out of use in the early 1900s as Armenians, like others, began using the same surname over multiple generations.

A New Land, a New Name

If you have ancestors who immigrated to the United States, you might have heard stories about immigration officials assigning new surnames to immigrants. Perhaps it happened at times. However, researcher Mark Arslan reviewed over 60,000 Armenian names on millions of ship manifests, and he found “no evidence that anyone of Armenian ethnicity was arbitrarily assigned an ‘American’ name on the ship manifest.”

Instead, he discovered other reasons immigrants chose to change their names. Often they wanted to adapt to a new culture and language. In addition, some chose to shorten their lengthy surnames.  Samourkashian might become Samour, or Aznavourian might become Aznavour. Sometimes Armenian surnames were simply translated—Ohannisian might become its English equivalent, Johnson. Other times, surnames were changed to a similar-sounding English word with no linguistic connection to the original—for example, Buyukian (Buyuk means “large person”) might become Bacon.

Whatever the reason, it helps to keep in mind possible surname changes when tracing your family back to Armenia.

an armenian man next to a church

Dictionary of Armenian Surnames

One of the most valuable resources for learning about Armenian surnames is the Dictionary of Armenian Surnames, a labor of love by C. K. Garabed. By his own account, Garabad is not a linguist or philologist; he started documenting Armenian surnames as a hobby. Over the years, he collected over 10,000 names and has noted meanings for many of the roots. The dictionary includes long lists of Armenian surnames, organized alphabetically. It’s fascinating even to browse through this dictionary.



Your Armenian Heritage

an Armenian family

Kathryn Grant

Kathryn is a writer, teacher, and family history enthusiast. Her specialty is mentoring new family historians and helping them find success--and maybe even avoid some of the mistakes she's made. She believes that with the right guidance, everyone can learn to love and do family history.

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Comments

  1. muy interesante el trabajo realizado al analizar y significar los apellidos de origen armenio. Pienso que el igual debe existir análisis de origen del apellido español, cuando a los moros y otros, les daban nombres y apellidos cristianos, caso de los chinos, japoneses. etc.

    Google Translate: Spanish to English: Very interesting the work done to analyze and mean the surnames of Armenian origin. I think that the same must exist analysis of the origin of the Spanish surname, when the Moors and others were given Christian names and surnames, in the case of the Chinese, Japanese. etc.

  2. I am interested in the diaspora. Of Ukrainians to North America. I am finding endless Ukrainian immigrant Families who pioneered settlement of the Prairies of Canada. Has anyone found a collection of first and last name derrivations. The records they brought with them Reflect use of Latin First name spellings As written with Polish spellings . An example might be Basilius referred to as Wasyl in Ukrainian and then transposed to English as Bill or William.

  3. Esta página es muy muy importante para los buscadores de sus antepasados armenios, sirios-árabes, kurdos-sirios. Pues , desciendo de ellos en forma directa, y estoy investigando a mis ancestros profundos en el tiempo y en la historia. Solo me falta llegar a la fecha exacta de su partida desde siria, llegada a Nueva York, partida nuevamente hacia américa del sur, llegada a río de janeiro, partida nuevamente desde allí hacia montevideo, desde allí a Buenos Aires y finalmente afincarse en Gral Artigas, dpto de itapúa, Paraguay hacia inicios del siglo 20. Les felicito por esta valiosa información. Saludos cordiales de Alberto Giubi (Al Ayyub, en árabe, pariente ancestral de Yusuff Salah el din al Ayyub= Saladino, sultán de Siria y Egipto, hasta el año 1193 dc)

    Google Translate – Spanish to English: This page is very very important for the searchers of your Armenian, Syrian-Arab, Kurdish-Syrian ancestors. Well, I descend from them directly, and I am investigating my deep ancestors in time and in history. I just need to get to the exact date of his departure from Syria, arrival in New York, departure again to South America, arrival in Rio de Janeiro, departure again from there to Montevideo, from there to Buenos Aires and finally settle in Gral Artigas , department of itapúa, Paraguay towards the beginning of the 20th century. I congratulate you for this valuable information. Kind regards from Alberto Giubi (Al Ayyub, in Arabic, ancestral relative of Yusuff Salah el din al Ayyub = Saladin, Sultan of Syria and Egypt, until 1193 AD)

  4. I am 100% Armenian on both side of the family. However I have almost nothing to start my family tree. Any help

  5. My name is gerald villanueva I’m an hawaiian national to the kingdom of hawaii jus sanquinnesi I’m the third generation as a national and I exist today in this beautiful country of hawaii

  6. A truly fascinating article! I had long been perplexed by the insistence of Armenians to end their surnames with the suffix “ian” until I read your article which lucidly and delightfully uncovered the mystery. Thanks a lot.

    1. Hello,

      I checked the Dictionary of Armenian Surnames at
      http://www.armeniapedia.org/wiki/Introduction_to_Dictionary_of_Armenian_Surnames

      While your surname is listed, a meaning isn’t provided. We can be sure that “ian” means “child or descendant of.” But I wasn’t able to find any information about the meaning of “Bomoushak.”

      You might consider contacting the author of the dictionary, C. K. Garabed, to see if he can provide additional insight.

      I hope that helps, and best wishes finding the meaning of your surname!

      Kathryn

    2. Some names have Turkish roots and as a Turkish person, the lastname sounded to me as a compound noun made up from two words Bam and Usak.

      Bam = 1. Drum’s mallet 2. an onomatopoetic word for sound

      Usak = 1. child 2. a city in Turkey

      Also sounded as a mixture of Pamuk(Cotton) and Yumusak(Soft)

  7. I want to detail some point as it might help someone.

    ‘-ji or -chi, which denotes a merchant.’

    It’s not only merchant, but it’s like the English equivelant of `-er` suffix. It can be used for the professions and jobs that are not related to being a merchant. e.g. Ormanci/Ormanji = ‘forester’, ‘avci’/avji’ = ‘hunter’, ‘asci/asji’ = ‘cook/chef’.

    ‘-li, which denotes a place name. For example, the surname Sivaslian indicates a connection to the city of Sivas.’

    -li also indicates a place of origin. Like the ‘-n’ suffix as in how Californian, Coloradan. Sivasli is like Sivasian. Or respectively, a person from California would be Californiali ora person from Colorado would bu Coloradolu.

    Kade = the judges in Ottoman; https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Qadi

    Kabasakal = is a compound word that’s made from ‘Kaba’ (1. rough, 2. coarse, 3. impolite) and ‘Sakal'(Beard)

    Buyuk = big. If your lastname has ‘Kucuk’ or ‘Kujuk’ in it, as in Kucukian, in the opposite ‘Kucuk’ means ‘small’

  8. My Great-grandfather Karnig Jurjurian is featured in a fantastic Article “Kiss my children’s eyes.” I am desperate to learn as much as I can to honor our family, that knows not much. Can you help? Leslie Jurjurian Allen.

  9. Thx for a wonderful resource. What info do you have on the surnames Misserian and Mangerian. These are Palutsi names from Palu, Historical Armenia.