If you are a person with an Armenian heritage, you may wonder what your surname means. And they mean a lot! They show relationships with ancestors, family origin, and a lot more. In this blog post, I will explore some Armenian surnames and their meanings. Keep on reading to learn where Armenian surnames come from!
And if you want to share with me some more information, don’t hesitate to ping me on Twitter or Instagram with #ArmeniaTravelTips. I would love to hear your suggestions. Let’s explore Armenian heritage together!
Armenian surnames and their origin
Tracking family lineage by surnames of Armenians is a bit tricky. Before the mid-30s of the 20th century, each newly formed Armenian family could form their own surname, different from their parental surnames. So, tracking each surname back to an ancestor living thousands of years ago is virtually impossible for Armenians. People started sticking to their parental surnames, typically the father’s family name, from around 1930-1940.
The general logic behind Armenian surnames is that they are composed of the ancestor’s name and a suffix “ian” or “yan”. So, if you meet someone whose surname is Asaturyan, most probably they have an ancestor named Asatur who lived at least a hundred years ago.
Here it’s important to note, that while most Armenian surnames end with the suffix “-ian”, you may also come across surnames with dialectic forms of “-yants”, “-iants”, “-unts”, or “-ents” like Bakunts or Dashtents. These surnames are not very common among Armenians, but not completely unheard of. Someone with such a surname wouldn’t throw off any Armenian if they come across it.
The above-mentioned main rule of using an ancestor’s name to form a family name has exceptions, though. For example, some Armenian surnames do not derive from the ancestor’s name but some trade title or personal quality. For example, the surname Jomardyan is derived from the word “Jomard”, which means generous. Sure, you will find some weird Armenian surnames.
Assigning surnames by personal qualities was especially common after the Genocide when people had no personal records of their family origin. So, surnames were assigned based on personal qualities, place of origin, or other attributes.
Armenian surnames not ending on “ian”/”yan”
Throughout the years many Armenians settled in different countries across the globe and along with people’s culture, their surnames have also been adapted to the local realities in many cases. For example, in many Slavic countries, and especially in Russia, you may come across people with Armenian heritage, who have seemingly Slavic-sounding surnames like Grigorov or Minasov. However, in reality, these are localized Armenian surnames Grigoryan and Minasyan.
Most probably, an ancestor of such a person was named Grigor or Minas, and at some point instead of taking the Armenian ending “ian” for their surname, they took the Russian ending “ov”. The same is true with some Georgian family names. For example, Zakariani is an Armenian family name that uses the Georgian suffix “-ani” at the end for localizations.
In some cases, the suffix “ian” was totally eliminated like in the case of Aznavour or Kochar. This is more common among Armenians who migrated to Western countries in the 19th and 20th centuries – France, Italy, the USA, etc.
Meanings of some Armenian surnames
Here are some interesting Armenian surnames and their meanings. Some of them come from ancestral names. Others have a foreign origin. Some surnames are literal translations and have a distinct meaning in the Armenian language.
Surnames of foreign origin
Since Armenians have a history of diaspora (Armenians living in other countries), some of the surnames have acquired the characteristics of the localities their owners lived in. Thus, we have Turkish, Persian, Georgian, Russian, and French family names. Here are some:
- Abajian – This surname has Turkish origin, actually. It is derived from the word “abaci” which means “son of a maker or seller of coarse woolen cloth”.
- Barseghyan – Barsegh is an Armenian name but it is also used in Turkish.
- Zakaryan – This is a Western Armenian surname and means “God has remembered”. It is synonymous with the word “Zechariah”.
Surnames that have a meaning in Armenian
Since surnames were assigned to people based on their characteristics like being the oldest child in the family or being a shoemaker, some of these surnames can be translated. Here are some:
- Avagyan – the Armenian word for ‘avag” means “elder”.
- Pstikyan – the word “pstik” means “small” in Armenian.
- Yengibaryan – this surname refers to the profession of the person in an Armenian church who’s responsible for ringing the church bells – “yengibar”.
- Khachatryan – this one consists of two words, actually, – “khach” (cross) and “tur” (give), referring to the religious clerk who hands you the cross while baptizing you.
Surnames that originate from ancestors’ names
As I wrote earlier, some surnames are derived from the name of some distant ancestor. For example,
- Torosyan – A patronymic name meaning “child of Toros”.
- Gevorgyan – Again, Gevorg is a name in Armenian making it another patronymic name. My readers from English-speaking countries are certainly familiar with the name George, so this is the Armenian equivalent of that name.
- Davtyan – Davit is the lead character in the Armenian ethos about “Sasuntsi Davit”. It is a popular name in Armenia and a common surname too, by extension.
- Petrosyan – The root word is “Petros” which is the Armenian version for Peter
- Vardanyan – The word “vard” means “a rose”, but Vandan is a very popular name in Armenia because of a national hero named Vardan Mamikonyan. So, the surname gained traction due to the fact many people were named Vardan before family names became constant in one lineage.
Most common Armenian surnames
Some surnames are more common than others. For example, there are 83617 people with the surname Grigoryan. Here is a list of the top 10 most common surnames. If you did not find your surname in the list, search this website for common Armenian surnames.
- Grigoryan (83617)
- Sargsyan (81339)
- Harutunyan (78613)
- Hovhannisyan (74919)
- Khachatryan (71668)
- Hakobyan (67454)
- Petrosyan (50265)
- Vardanyan (49699)
- Gevorgyan (49467)
- Karapetyan (48689)
In this blog post, I provided you with an overview of the Armenian surnames and their meanings. I’m glad that now you know more Armenian surnames than just the Kardashians only! 🙂 Names like Charles Aznavour, Serj Tankian, Aram Khachaturyan, and William Saroyan might tell you something. I believe Armenians have a lot to offer to the world in terms of rich culture and history. Btw, if you want to learn a bit more, check out my interesting facts about Armenian culture. And wrapping this post up, sure I couldn’t cover all the surnames, so if I missed something important don’t hesitate to ping me on Twitter or Instagram with #ArmeniaTravelTips. As always, I will read your ideas with great interest.
Featured image credit: Photo by Roman Kraft on Unsplash