All About Armenian Last Names

I like Armenian last names because quite often they are easily identifiable. That combined with the fact that there are so few of us around the world makes for a fun game of “Spot the Armenians” in almost any list of names; whether they be movie credits, class attendance sheets, or whatever else.

The following is a brief overview on the composition and history of Armenian last names. It is reprinted from a recent edition of the Gibrahayer (Cypriot-Armenian) Newsletter. The one thing that is a bit odd is that they don’t talk about the Indo-European roots of the “ian” suffix.

*******************************************

Most Armenian names end in “ian” or “yan,” meaning the “son of,” but some Diaspora Armenians have changed these endings to blend in their host societies. Today in Turkey “oglu” often replaces “ian,” while Russian Armenians may change the endings to “ov”; e.g., Gary Kasparov, Serge Parajanov. A name ending in “ian” is not always exclusively Armenian, since the ending can also be occasionally found in names in Irish, Persian, English, Philippine and some other cultures. Armenian last names generally fall into five specific categories: Aristocracy, Parent, Geography, Occupation or Trait.

Aristocracy
The ancient Armenian aristocracy (“Nakharar” class) was derived from Parthian-Persian stock and many of their names ended in “uni” or “ooni.” Most of these families were destroyed over the centuries but some still survive today; e.g., Sasuni, Rshtuni.

Parent
Many Armenian names are derived from the first names of an ancestor; e.g. Davidian, “son of David,” Stepanian, “son of Stepan,” or Krikorian, “son of Krikor/Grigor.” Until the 19th century, virtually all first names had a religious origin, so most of those last names are also religious.

Geography
Some last names are based on geographic origin and end in “lian” (Turkish) or “tsian” (Armenian). Typical examples are Sivaslian “from Sivas,” Urfalian “from Urfa” and Vanetzian “from Van.” These names were typically given to an immigrant who migrated from a different region of Armenia. Obviously everyone living in Marash would not call himself or herself “Marashlian”.

Occupation
Most last names were taken from the professions of an ancestor. These names frequently originated with the tax collectors who needed to identify all individuals for tax purposes. Typical examples are Najarian “son of a carpenter,” Arabian “son of a wagon/ teamster,” and Vosgarichian “son of a goldsmith.” Many of these occupations are not Armenian, since the tax man (typically a Moslem Turk, Persian, Arab, etc.) would use his own native word for the occupation; e.g., the name Boyajian is based on the Arab/Turkish term “boyaji” “one who dyes.”

Trait
The most confusing and curious names are those based on some trait of an ancestor. Typical examples are Topalian “son of the cripple,” Dilsizian “son of the tongueless one,” or Sinanian “son of the spearpoint.” Many of the origins of these names are unclear unless one understands the original context. As an example, Dilsizian indicates that an ancestor had his tongue cut out by the Turks for using the Armenian language, while the term “Sinan” was a slang term applied to somebody either with a very erect military-like carriage or who was “hung like a horse.” Some of these traits are not physical, but rather reflect personality or social status; e.g., Melikian “son of the king” or Harutunian “son of the resurrection.” The name Harutunian could be based on an ancestor named Harutune (so-named because he was born around Eastertime), or adopted by a convert to Protestantism to show his status as a “born-again Christian.”

Many last names today have been shortened or modified to aid pronunciations by non Armenians; e.g., the name Mugerditchian/ Mkrtichian” becomes “Mugar,” “Husseniglian,” become s “Hewsen,” and Samourkashian” becomes “Samour.” These abbreviated names often drop the ian” ending, and are not immediately identifiable as being Armenian to an outsider. The name categories of Occupation and Trait can differ significantly between Eastern Armenians and Western Armenians, since the eastern names often have Persian, Georgian or Russian roots, while the western names may have Turkish, Arab, or Greek roots. Names with the prefix “Der” or “Ter” show that one of the ancestors was a “Der Hayr” a married parish priest), a position of great social status among Armenians; e.g., DerBedrosian, Ter Petrosian.

The study of Armenian Names is a fascinating exercise, since virtually every aspect of the culture is reflected in names. There have been extensive studies of Armenian names in the Armenian language, but little has appeared in English and many Armenians (born outside of Armenia) do not understand the significance of their own names.

103 Responses to “All About Armenian Last Names”

  1. Matt says:

    Do you have any idea of what the last name shamshoian means????

  2. mike says:

    So curious what Altoon root of Altoonian means! Anyone know?

  3. Lorena says:

    My last name is Kobian and is my maiden last name but my family background are mexicans. Is there a great population of Armenians decent in Mexico?

  4. Leda says:

    Mike, Altoon or Altin is Gold in Turkish. I don’t know whether the word is originally Turkic, but in Modern Turkish it means Gold.

  5. Paula says:

    Have been trying to find out where my last name comes from and if it was even translated correctly as there are only 5 of us worldwide. Can anyone provide any feedback that may assist me in my search (Bendikian)

  6. melissa says:

    do you know what monugian means?

  7. Armen says:

    @Melissa, that seems to be a slight misspelling of the name Manugian which is not an uncommon one. The word manug means child. Manugner means children. I am not sure why someone would be named Manugian, but that is the best explanation I know of.

  8. stellar says:

    Hi all, may be someone knows whay the surname “Farakhian” means? I’ve been trying to find its meaning, nothing yet. Im living in Ukraine but my ancestors by father are from Armenia and Turkey. Just interesting what the family name means… Thanks in advance!

  9. Melissa says:

    I was wondering if anyone knows what Kalfayan means? Also, are -yan names less common? It seems like this post only mentions -ian endings.
    Thanks in advance!

  10. ken says:

    My last name is Torian, would you know what that means.

  11. Charlene Saroyan says:

    My last name is Saroyan I was wondering if any one know wat that means.

  12. tom says:

    Hello, great site, do you perhaps can help me figure out the last name of a friend? He’s Argentine-Armenian and his last name is Garibian, but he has the idea that his ancestors’ last name might have been something like Kharabedian-Garabedian bastardized along their many travels…

  13. Nicole says:

    @Mike, my last name is Altonian but was changed here in America by my grandfather, before it was Altounian

    I also am looking to find the meaning of my last name

  14. Nicole says:

    Oh I read the reply to Mike, it may be gold due to the fact my great grandfather was born in Istanbul, Turkey

  15. Daniel Surian says:

    Would you know what the last name SURIAN means

  16. Simon says:

    Dear Tom, I think that seems to be a slight misspelling of the name Garibian, I think it’s gharibian,gharib means stranger,so ur friend surname is son of a stranger.But remember,The most confusing and curious names are those based on some trait of an ancestor. Typical examples are Topalian “son of the cripple,”……………….

  17. Simon says:

    Dear Daniel, Sur “pronounced soor” in Armenian means sword or sharp, so the surname Surian most probably means Son of the Sword

  18. Simon says:

    Hi Daniel, Sur “pronounced soor” in Armenian means sword or sharp, so the surname Surian most probably means Son of the Sword

  19. Simon says:

    Dear Charlene, your surname is Saroyan, which means son of Saro which is a typical Armenian name.e.g. Davidian, “son of David,” Stepanian, “son of Stepan,” or Krikorian, “son of Krikor/Grigor.”

  20. Simone says:

    Anybody know what Hussussian means?

  21. matt says:

    does anybody know any possible origins of the last name shamshoian?

  22. Gabriela says:

    Hi. I m from argentina. Can anyone tell me whats the meaning of kasparian and Terzian surnames? I’ll appreciate your reply. Thank you very much

  23. Gabriela says:

    Hi. does anyone knows the origins of the last name Hairabedian and Djanzesian

  24. Armen says:

    @Gabriela, Hairabed and Kaspar (Gaspar) are Armenian names. Not sure about the other two.

  25. Dianne says:

    Husshussian may possibly be derived from the word Armenian’s use for “pork, ” which is “khoz”

  26. Levon Seferyan says:

    Melissa, Kalfa is a general term for a “contractor-builder” not necessarily in building trades, he’s between an apprentice and a master.
    Stellar, Farakh is used to denote, wide open, free in Turkish, another way to write is Ferahyan or Feruhan.
    Ken, Tor means grandchild.
    Charlene, Saro is the shortened version of Sarven, a man’s name.
    Gabriela, Terzi is a taylor, Djansiz means not so vivacoius, kasbar means treasurer., Hayrabed is a leader, chief, notable ancestor

  27. Halley cherkoian says:

    My dads last name is cherkoian and I’ve been told its polish English and other things but I was wondering if its Armenian

  28. Steve Mkrtschjan says:

    Armen,
    Great job on the blog.
    Keep it up.

  29. Zilka says:

    Hi! Does anyone know what ethnicity the last name Astiazaran is? My family is Mexican but everyone thinks I have middle eastern decent. Also, if anyone knows what it means, that would be wonderful. Thanks!

  30. Daniel says:

    I’m from Bolivia and I just talked to my aunt who told me that our ancestor´s last name escaped from Armenia during the war and her lastname was Abramian. I was looking info and I found this great article.
    I’m going soon to Turkey and I want to visit the zone where the Armenian massacre happened. By a great coincidence I’m also helping to an Armenian friend to organize a lecture about the massacre here in the Netherlands.

  31. Zilka says:

    Thank you, Daniel. Someone told me that Astiazaran is Armenian. Do you know if that is true?

  32. Historylover says:

    To Halley cherkoian. Halley , many Armenians sought refuge all over the known world at the time from the massacres by the ruling Moslem peoples.I can tell you that although Poland was not a main place of refuge it WAS certainly was a place Armenians settled in. In fact many famous Polish families in history have Armenian ancestors and say so. I am sorry I cannot give you exact surnames but a reputable site on the Internet- that I can not remember-had a comprehensive history of Armenians in Poland over last five hundred years or so. I can’t tell you if your surname is Armenian but I can tell you it certainly sounds so and that Armenians certainly did settle in Poland. Good luck with future research.

  33. Paolo Giangolzian Agopian says:

    I am interested about my second family name GIANGOLZIAN. Can you help me? Agopian is most popular in the world, but not GIANGOLZIAN. Many tanks..

  34. Didi Putru says:

    My Mother, have had Armenian blood.Because her Father’s name is ZOHRABIAN. Amazingly that my grand grand father, around year 1900 so and so was living in Lombok, one small Island of Indonesia,eastern of Bali island.My Mother was born in 1915, and she married with a Balinese men in 1940.Until now I realy don’t know about my grand grand father.
    Would be happy if you know about the family tree of him,
    Thank you very much for your kindnesse’
    Didi Putru.

  35. brian colquhoun says:

    My mothers family name is Carrapiett. I am told it is an anglicised version of Karapatian . Please enlighten me further about this name. Thank You

  36. Armen says:

    Brian, Karapet is an Armenian first name (see: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Karapet). Based on the practices outlined in the post, there must have been someone in your family named Karapet that your family then took on his name as their surname.

  37. Bryan Hairabedian says:

    Hi my name is bryan hairabedian. Can you help me figure it out

  38. Armen says:

    @Bryan – As already mentioned above, Hairabed (or Hayrabed, Hayrapet, Hairapet) is an Armenian (male) name. Sounds like your family is named after someone by that name.

  39. gianna says:

    anyone know the meaning of barseghian??

  40. Farhan says:

    looking for an old friend Cyprus Armenian lady (margret papazoina)
    last letter from her was in 1988 she moved to USA , she told me that
    her father was working in cyprus embbasy in Ethiopia.

    her name margret family name papazoinia or miss spilling.
    iam now 46 and if she still life around 40s.

    please if you can help to gother old freinds.

    i asked many armenian (arab) in gulf they told family name wrong spilling.
    please help.

  41. Any info on Varjabedian appreciated. Apparently misspelled from Vartabedian, Granddad fled war and ended up in South America, Uruguay… Don’t know much at all. Cheers Pablo

  42. T. Pilafian says:

    Hello everyone,
    My Grandfathers family came over to America from Armenia and I am trying to find the original spelling of our last name. Unfortunately my Grandfather isn’t in the right state of mind to remember. I know that there are two Pilafian families, one from Greece and the other from Armenia. I hope that someone here can help.
    Thank you.

  43. Ani Anahit Lucine Aloian says:

    Hello and thankyou for this article. I am only now in my thirties beginning to understand the effects of being Armenian outside of Armenia, its a strange shadow that has been following me, always there but so very quiet. I just returned from Armenia, the first one in three generations to return and am still processing the fountain of culture that has been missing from my fingertips. In a particular way it was so familiar, possibly ancient memories are carried through our blood and we are attached no matter what, it was like going home, although Im sure if it was anything longer than a month vacation it would have a more cringing effect but as a whole it was so illuminating…. Anyway my last name is Aloian I was wondering if there is any chance someone might know the meaning or even which part of the lands it came from… thank you… Ani

  44. Silke says:

    Hi. Does anyone have any information on the last name Astiazaran? Thank you.

  45. Barbara says:

    Hi. Grandfather’s last name was Shohbozian. He escaped during the massacres and ended up in Illinois. Family knows of no Armenian relatives.
    Any clues in the name as to where his family lived in Armenia?
    Thanks.

  46. Laura says:

    Hi there!

    I’m looking for the origin of my family name which is Bichajian. Any help would be appreciated.

  47. Peter Magian says:

    Hi Armen , I would like to know about our surname Kapamadjian/Gapamadjian , I have an Idea that it comes from Persia ? I believe there were silk road traders and finally settled in Van . My DNA says the same between the Tigress river and the Euphrates River some 25,000 years ago . If you can help Please ,. Thanks

  48. Sharon Kreyer says:

    Hi, I am trying to help my husband research his maternal grandfathers side of the family. They are Armenian and lost lots of family members in the Armenian Genocide. The 3 surnames I’ve encountered so far are: Sevadjian, Der Kazarian and Sivaslian. What do these names mean? I’ve read that Der could mean that there was a Der Hayr in the family and that Sivaslian means someone from Sivas. Any help on this would be greatly appreciated.

  49. Armen says:

    @Sharon, I think you are on the right track with your interpretations of those two names. No idea about Sevadjian, but I am not an expert of any kind. I merely re-posted this content as I found it interesting, and it seems to have been informative to others over the years.

  50. Armen says:

    @Peter, this is a long shot that doesn’t make much sense, but here is the most similar word I know of: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ghapama

    For clues, I would look around for names of names, things, places, or professions in either Armenian or Turkish that bear a resemblance to your family name.

Leave a Reply