What's in a Name? The Etymology of Armenian Surnames

From armeniapedia.org
Revision as of 16:28, 18 September 2018 by CKGarabed (talk | contribs)
Jump to: navigation, search

What's in a Name? The Etymology of Armenian Surnames

Curiosity was my first motivation for exploring the subject of Armenian family names. However, I then came to appreciate the diverse nature of Armenian surnames, which appear to cover the gamut of our ancestors’ life activities in the Old Country. I found that many interesting and unusual names cannot be deciphered merely by looking them up in books, but also require a knowledge of the circumstances leading to the formation of such names. In many cases, direct contact with their owners is needed in order to get the insiders’ views. “With names like Chukhasuzian, Haviters, and Soghanyemezian, sometimes I think we Armenians, more than any other ethnic group, possess the most fascinating surnames.”

In the late 1970s, I was struck by how many Armenians didn’t know the meaning of their names. For those who were interested, it was a pleasure to conduct research and then pass on the results. I felt gratified in helping people learn more about their names.

Now for my lecture:

What's in a Name? The Etymology of Armenian Surnames

Intro - I am a non-expert (not a Linguist or Philologist) on names/ languages. 40 years ago I started collecting names from church directories and donor lists as a hobby. Manually. Then on personal computer, which made alphabetizing, sorting and editing easier. 7000 names collected to date. The task of collecting names has been made easier by the publication of the Armenian Yellow Pages in California.

Whenever I came across a particularly unusual name and I knew a person carrying that name, I would ask him what he knew about the provenance of that name. Those who were familiar with the origins of their name would oblige me by telling me what they knew. I had begun writing a column for the Armenian Weekly newspaper in 1989 but it wasn't until 2004 that I began to include in each week's column an Armenian surname, its definition and background. This resulted in many readers contacting me who wanted to know if I could tell them what their own family names meant, as they didn't know. If I was able to oblige, I did so. And so my ultimate aim evolved from deciphering names for my own pleasure to publishing the results for the interest and pleasure of my fellow Armenians.

My library has been enhanced by my daughter, Lucine Kasbarian, who furnished me with dictionaries (Albanian-English; Arabic-English; Armenian-English; Assyrian-English; Azerbaijani-English; Georgian-English; Greek-English; Kurdish-English; Persian-English; Turkish-English) and my good friend Cesar Chekijian, who furnished me with Dikran Avedisian's book of Armenian names (Hayots Azkanuneri Pararan (Van Aryan Publishers, Yerevan, Armenia, 2000). I also consult The Bilingual Dictionary of Armenian Names by Ohannes Hannessian (Shirak Publishing House, Los Angeles, CA, 1990) and a book of Hebrew names, which comes in handy when working with names that have a Biblical background.

Indo-European language tree:

(Slide #1) – Mother Tongue

(Slide #2) – Indo-European Branch

(Slide #3) – Anatolia

International language - Esperanto/English?

(Slide #4) -- Ough – bough, cough, dough, rough, through

(Slide #5) -- Ghoti = fish (Shaw)

(Slide #6) -- Margaret Mead; Sol Tax; anthropologists.

Interaction among languages is quite common in history.

French, Italian and Spanish are derived from Latin.

English is Teutonic in structure, while its vocabulary is 75% French- Latin.

English has been influenced by the same languages that have influenced Armenian, notably Persian and Arabic.

Persian influence on English can be seen in the following:

Cummerbund = kamarband (waistband)

Orange = Naranj

Checkmate = Shahmat (The king is dead). (Persian/Arabic)

Arabic influence on English can be seen in the following:

Algebra = al jabra = reduction of parts to a whole

Cipher = zero = sifr, (Roman vs. Arabic numerals) Divide/Multiply (enemies/conquests)

Admiral = Amir al bahr = Lord of the sea. (Admirable?)

The Turkish influence on English is negligible. All we come away with is Turkish Bath, Turkish Towel, Turkish Coffee, and Turkish Delight.

Armenian has likewise been influenced by interaction with Persian and Arabic.

Armenian use of Persian vocabulary – (English – Persian dictionary)

List: anginar, azad, bakht, bulbul, dard, dushvar, dumbak, gav, haiwan, jins, jan, lubiyah, mard, nishan, pishgir, parishan, panir, pambah, paiman, turshi, tut, yar.

Krikor Pidedjian, esteemed Armenian Ethnomusicologist, on Aryan languages: "There is some question as to which language influenced which when it comes to Persian and Armenian. Many people assumed Armenians derived words from the Persian. However, there are just as many words that the Persians derived from the Armenians."

Armenian staff member at the Armenian Prelacy of NY, Mardig Soghomian: "The father of the last Shah of Iran made a request to scholars. He commissioned them to study the Armenian language because he knew there were 200 load words that Armenians borrowed from Persian which were no longer in use by the Persian people. The Shah wanted to restore those words to the Persian language."

Persian names also end in IAN. Example: Rezvanian

Armenian use of Arabic vocabulary - (English-Arabic dictionary)

List: mashallah (beautiful! how strange!), tabak, (plate, dish), tanjara (saucepan, pot), Haji (pilgrim) vs. Mukhsi (Mahdesi). (Maqdasi-y: Arab.) Mecca vs. Jerusalem. Saatjian vs. Zhamakordzian,

Armenian has been heavily influenced by interaction with Turkish, especially in the formation of surnames.

Armenian use of Turkish vocabulary - Preponderance of Armenian surnames possess a Turkish root:

Sources: Lt. Col. H. Sachaklian, (Peynir, sheker); Hagop Kasbarian -- CK Garabed's father

The Armenians and the Jews

There was a time when people were known by one name, and if necessary to distinguish one from others, would be referred to by trade, location, or parent affiliation. For example, Resartus the tailor, Isaac of York, Abou ben Adhem. Then, some time later, not too long ago, people adopted family or surnames, so we got Herman Miller, Hovsep Shamlian, Jack Johnson.

An interesting parallel can be drawn between the Jews of Germany and the Armenians of Turkey. In both cases, sometime about the eighteenth century, the rulers of those countries mandated the adoption of family names in the language of the host countries. The difference is that whereas the German Jews were often permitted to select their names, the Turkish Armenians were often assigned names by local officials. Thus came about the adoption by Jews of beautiful names, such as: Morgenthau (morning dew), Schoenberg (beautiful mountain), Blumenthal (blooming dale), Mandelbaum (almond tree), Saperstein (sapphire stone). The Armenians, on the other hand, were often as not given uncomplimentary names, in derision. For example: Topalian (lame, crippled), Chirkinian (ugly), Dilsizian (mute, without a tongue), Chukhasuzian (without an overcoat), Jambazian (acrobat, swindler), Tekirian (marked with spots), Zulumian (cruel, oppressive).

Name Endings

Armenian names may possess endings such as ian, iantz, oghlu and ov, but their stems reflect royal lineage, trade, geographic location, description, and proper name.



Abahuni Amaduni Ardzruni (Armenian dynasty; Possessing eagles) Arshaguni (Royal house of King Arshag) Darduni Kachaznuni (Valiant, son of the brave) Marduni ? Pakraduni (Created or given by god – Mihr) Rshduni (Armenian dynasty)


Dulgerian, Doghramajian, Marangozian, Najarian, Hiusenian (carpenter) Demirjian, Nalbandian, Tarpinian, Chilingirian, Vosgerichian, Kalayjian, Haddad (smith) Kuyumjian, Jafargian (Javahirjian), Koharian (jeweler) Darakjian vs. Sandrakordzian (comb-maker) Tutunjian vs. Tombekjian (tobacconist): common tobacco vs. Persian tobacco for nargile (water-pipe) Deirmenjian vs. Chaghatsbanian (miller)

Geographic location:

Lachinian, Marashian, Shamlian, Terjanian, Stamboulian, Bolsetsian.


Khachadourian (given by the cross), Aznavourian (titan, hero), Melikian (king, prince), Melekian (angel), Manougian (youth), Mangasarian (small mountain), Shahdanian = Shah (king) + dan (house) vs. danil/danel = to take, carry, bear (tolerate)

Proper names:

Davidian, Garabedian, Sahagian, Mesrobian, Hagopian (Jackson). Dadoyan: Thaddeus > Tad > Dad (Karabagh) (Location?)

Names that require "Detective work":

Name changes - Bohajian, Kahaumjian.

Kerbeykian: Kur = grey, buyuk = moustache

(actor) Akim Tamiroff - (Hovakim Tamirian) - Hovagim: Biblical name, demir: iron.

Inchighoulian = what a giant! vs. inji + goul = pearl rose vs. inji + oghoul = pearl + son.

Shareshian = black silk , according to Nicholas Shareshian

ipek = (T.) silk metaqs (medaks) = (Arm.) silk (from Greek: metaxi) aprisoum (abrishoom) = (T.) sewing silk (from Arab: ibrishim) iprisim (ibrishim) = (Arab.) silk thread (from Persian: abrishum)

seram (sheram) = (Arm.) silkworm seramabou/oujiun (sheramapoodzootiun) = (Arm.) sericulture sarmaj (sharmagh) = (Arm.) silk-sieve Prof. Hagopian, Anatolia College, Merzifoun, turkey

esh (esh) = (Arm.) donkey, ass. esh = (T.) one of a pair; husband, wife, mate eshek = (T.) donkey, ass. eshik = (T.) doorway threshold, violin bridge.

sew (sev) = (Arm.) black kara =(T.) black siyah = (P.) black; also (T.) black, dark.

It is possible that share (of silk in Arm.) plus siyah (black in P.) = Sharesiyah plus ian = Sharesiyahian, which was contracted to Sharesian, subsequently became Shareshian.

Spelling and Country of Origin (Slide #7)

Keshishian vs. Kechichian

Harutunian vs. Arutunian (yan)

Ohanesian vs. Oganesian (yan) (Hopak vs. Gopak; Horowitx vs. Gorovetz)

Vapurdjian vs. Vapurciyan

Intermission (Q & A)

Other interesting or unusual names:

Adjeledjian (T): Someone always in a hurry

Altiparmakian (T): One with six fingers. (Interestingly, this name was also given to string musicians who displayed remarkable musical aptitude)

Arkun (T/A): According to Aram Arkun, currently an editor of the Armenian Mirror-Spectator, this is his reply to my question about the derivation and meaning of his surname:

“My Sepastatsi grandfather’s name was originally Yesai Karageuzian. He is said to have traced his genealogy back 400 years to Van, with clergy in the family tree. Unfortunately, the information is lost to us. My grandfather was a physician in the Turkish army during WW I. For obvious reasons he changed his name to Ismail Shevket. His last name was probably formally changed during the name law in the 1930s to Arkun.. My grandfather was an amateur philologist, and I perceive a correlation between Shevket and Arkun, which latter can be construed as both Armenian and Turkish. Shevket, in Turkish, means majesty, pomp. Arkun, in Armenian, is a form of arka, a term used to describe a king or royalty. Thus, Arkun (or Arkuni) would mean, of the royal court, or, belonging to the king. In Turkish, as far as I know, Arkun has two meanings: soft, gentle; the name of a Mongol Ilkhanid ruler Arghun (the gh sound changed to k in modern Turkish.) For the foregoing reasons, there is only one family group with the name Arkun. As an interesting aside, I would mention that during the 1930s name change law, those who had changed their names earlier now had to register their names. Others were forced to take on new names. For example, a couple on my mother’s side went together to the same registry official. One was given the name Karabulut, black cloud, and the other Siyahbulut, also black cloud, siyah having been borrowed from Persian. The official was apparently playing a cruel joke on the couple by assiging different last names with the same meaning. They had a great deal of difficulty in trying to get the same last name for both husband and wife.”

Arnavoudian (Al): Eddie Arnavoudian, who is a regular contributor to “Groong Armenian News Network” on the Internet, has the following to say about his family name as it was handed down to him:

"My dad’s side of the family were from an area around Istanbul called Arnavoudkoy or something like that. The area was named after it was settled by emigrants from European Albania called Arnavouds. The Arnavouds were divided in their religion, one part Christian, the other Muslim. How they became Armenianised or why our family adopted this name if they were not actually Arnavouds will remain an eternal mystery."

Bajaksuzian (T): Legless; short man

Boynubouroukian (T): One with a twisted neck

Chekijian, a relative of author Puzant Granian: Chekich vs. cheki (500 lbs for measuring firewood – a horseload).

Chukhasuzian (T): Without a winter overcoat

Dilimetin (T): Firm, strong tongue; Trustworthy

Geuzugeutchugian (T): Small or deep-set eyes

Hajian (Mecca) vs. Mukhsian, Mahdesian, Mahdesi, Maqdis-y (Jerusalem)

Iguidbashian (T) Iguid: Var.of Yighit: brave. Bash: head; leader of brave men; (formerly) man responsible for carrying out the regulations of a guild.

Jafargian (T): From Javahirji: Jeweler, gemologist

Jingabedoghlu (T): A certain family migrated to the U.S.A. from Istanbul, Turkey with this unique name. The original name of the family was Mgrdichian. However, the grandfather, who had a given name of Garabed, earned the name of Jin-Garabed because he was shrewdly intelligent; jinni in Arabian folklore being related to genius. Jin-Garabed was, in time, abbreviated to Jin-Gabed, and thus the family name became Jingabedoghlu, or son of Jingabed.

Kantzian (A): Treasure. However, really Khantzian (T) Native of village of Khan to Sepastia

Kanayan (T): Blood. From Khudaverdi in the Lake urmia region came 5 brothers to Igdir. They were a rough crowd, and became land barons; then became respectable.(Mardig Kanayan, son of General Dro.)

Kavazanjian (A/T/A): Stick, staff, cane.P-gav + asa –prod/urge cow on path to meadow (Nasreddin Khoja - baby cow)

Kiledjian (T): (Kile: measure of capacity just over a bushel) – Weighmaster.

Mghtsavanchian (A): Nightmare.(Family in Florida per Angel Manoogian)

Oulouhojian (Wolohojian) T: ulu: high, great; Hoja: Moslem teacher, priest (Avak Kahana)

Soghanyemezian (T): One who does not eat onions

Tazian: – Greyhound (Retriever for Turkish hunters.)

Terlemezian (T): One who does not sweat. Folklore has it that Armenian fedayee Dajad Terlemezian carried out his assignments without a sweat. Legend has it that an invading shah of Persia taxed the citizens of Van so severely that when they met every fresh demand of his, he was prompted to say, “Don’t these people sweat?” (Dajad Terlemezian's granddaughter, Arpi Haroutunian, says that: "Terlemezian is a Turkification of Talamazi: those with long-hair in the current sense of intellectual, who were also guards of the Armenian rulers of former times."

Tololian: Corruption of Tel Volor (thread spinner), a name bestowed on the great great grandmother of Khachig Tololyan, professor of history at Wesleyan University, and the son of Minas Teoleolian, former editor of the Hairenik Daily. Before that, the family name was Sarkisyan. Totolian is a name unique to that family and Khachig is the last of the line.

Vapurciyan: Vapur = steamship, vapurji = S.S. builder, owner, operator, crewmember.

Hajakian: (As told to me by Mr. Yeghishe Hajakian)

"Once there lived a man named Hagop who was a supervisor at the stable of the Padishah of the land. His jovial disposition and assiduous attitude for his work had earned him an unswerving trust of his employer, his master, his king. The people around him, the Turks, could not pronounce his Armenian name Hagop, instead they called him AKUH.

One bright day the Padishah receives a gift from some prince. It was a most ravishing, gorgeous looking, a rare breed of an Arabian white horse. Akuh, the horse keeper, falls in love with this horse and decides to steal it and ride all the way to Jerusalem. He disappears for seven years never to be heard from.

The Padishah, realizing that Akuh was more valuable to him than just a horse, issues a Firman (an edict) declaring that he has forgiven Akuh for his misdemeanor and that wherever this Akuh is he should return to the court and resume his work at the stable.

Lo and behold, Akuh returns home with a big welcome to spend the rest of his life as a contrite employee and determined to make up for his mistake. The horse had passed away but in Jerusalem he becomes emblazoned with a cross tattooed on his wrist thus becoming a Hadji. The Turks, therafter, call him HADJI AKUH."

Hadji Akuh was Yeghishe’s great, great, great, great, great grandfather.

Yeghishe was born in Lebanon as Hadjiakuian (son of Hadji Akuh). It was too long, so he shortened it to Hajakian.

Haviters (T): Contrary nap (rug). In the city of Sepastia in Turkish Armenia, there lived and worked two master rug weavers. A wealthy resident of the city wished to have a rug woven and commissioned one of the weavers to do the job. The weaver commenced the work, but when halfway through, died of consumption. The wealthy man who had commissioned the work then approached the other weaver to complete the job. This other master weaver accepted the offer, but being a proud artisan, decided to complete the job his own way. So, instead of picking up where the other had left off, he commenced from the other side and when he had gone for enough, joined the two parts. In doing so he ended up creating a rug with the nap going in opposite directions. This became a source for his being named haviters, hav (khav in old Turkish) meaning nap, and ters meaning contrary. Previously, the family name had been Manougian. (Background compliments of great grandson Mircan Haviters of Farmingdale, NY, whose ancestors moved from Van to Sepastia 1030 years ago.) (Armenian Heritage Cruise VIII)

Now, you might ask why people perpetuate strange, unusual or even uncomplimentary names. After all, it’s easy to just change them by adaptation. I’ve known Armenians who have done so: Fourounjian to Baker; Baghchajian to Gardner; Kaprielian to Gabriel; and Terzian to Taylor.

Well, people often are attached to their names because it gives them a sense of continuity and tradition. There’s also the desire to honor their martyrs by perpetuating the memory of their identity as Armenian Christians. We should be grateful to our fellow Armenians for having retained them as eloquent historical testimony to the oppression suffered by the Armenians at the hands of the Turks. It’s fortunate for me that Armenians have hung on to their names; otherwise I wouldn’t be here talking to you today.

An Armenian appears in court in connection with an application he made for a legal name change. The presiding judge asks, "What is your current name?" The applicant replies, "Joe Beshigtashlian." The judge says, "I don't blame you for wishing to change your name. What name do you wish to change it to?" The applicant replies, "Jack Beshigtashlian."

I have not published anything on Armenian names, but my daughter, Lucine, has a few passages on names in her book about Armenia. (Slide #8)

I wish to publicly thank the Organizing Committee including Messrs Bandazian and DerBedrosian, and all those who have been helpful in sharing their knowledge with me. The following individuals in particular provided me with a great deal of assistance and I am indebted to them: Mr. Cesar Chekijian; Ms. Arpie Dadoyan; Mr. Onnik Dinkjian; Mr. Aram Khachadourian; Dr. Herand Markarian; Mr. Ashot Merijanian; Mr. Vahe Surenian; Mr. Jirair Tutunjian; and Mr. Alfred Yeznaian.

Note: This lecture, with modifications, was delivered on the following dates, at the given locations:

St. Thomas 2001 AAHPO 2003 APCLG 2004 ACAA 2006 HMLG 2006 St. Leon 2007 AASCO 2008