1768) Those Strange Sounding Armenian Family Names

Have you ever thought about the meaning of "ian"? 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.

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.

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.

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".

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."

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," becomes "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.


Large percentage of them have Turkish roots as part of the name. Most of these Turkish words denote names of occupation or cities (where Armenians used to live in the Ottoman empire).

Presumably, most of these surnames are carryovers from Ottoman times; however, in the case of very little orphaned children, probably names were assigned to them after 1918 by orphanage leaders, teachers and clergymen.

As known to most of you, the vast majority of Armenian names end in "ian" (Western Armenian) or "yan" (Eastern Armenian). Have a hunch "ian" is derived from Indian or Persian nomenclature; but, it ended up being the dominant mode of identifying Armenian families. Following the example of past aristocratic Armenian families, presently some Armenians have assumed surnames ending in "ouny", "entz/antz", or "iantz/yantz".
As to my family name "Havoonjian", its origin was "Havanjian" and is derived from the Turkish word "havan" meaning Muller/grinder. The Armenian word for "havan" being "sant", one of my intellectual relatives had changed his family name to "Santouny".

I used to think that we Armenians have to shake off the long Turko-Armenian names, and adopt new and simpler Armenian names. Then I realized the complexity of the issue, and the fact that we want to be able to trace our roots. The dominance of the Armenian genocide in defining our identity viz-a-viz others, must have something to do with it. An additional complication results when expressing Armenian surnames in foreign languages, e.g. Russian and English. For examples, some of my uncles and nephews spell the surname "Havoonjian" as "Havunjian", "Avunjian" and "Gavunjian"...
One will be especially attached to those names if certain publications and works of art are produced under those names!

Just for interest, the following is a listing of some of those Turko-Armenian names. I have bold-ed the Turkish root of the name, and given the synonym in English. To avoid the complication due to variances in spelling between English and Turkish languages, have shown those Turkish words in 'phonetic format', using diphthongs such as: sh, ch, dj, oo/ou.


Bakkalian Grocer
Balian Honey
Balikian Fish
Atashian Fire
Taslakian Design / Sketch
Fidanian Plant / Branch
Havanjian Muller / Grinder
Zarifian Elegant / Courtly
Demirjian Iron
Chobanian Shepherd
Chilingirian Locksmith
Boyadjian Dyer / Painter
Jebedjian Medic / Pharmacist
Geokgeozian Blue Eye
Kalfayan Head-worker / Master Builder
Shanlian Famous / Well-known
Keshishian Monk / Priest
Baliozian Sledge (hammer)
Papazian Priest / Minister
Abadjian 'Aba' Maker/Seller
Mangirian Money
Elmasian Diamond
Balabanian Huge / Large
Sarafian Money changer
Semerjian Saddle
Pandjarian Beet
Patrikian Patriarch
Pilavian Pilaf
Ormanian Forest
Basmadjian Cotton Fabric
Berberian Barber
Ferahian Relief
Trashian Shave
Chiftchian Farmer
Teuteundjian Tobacco
Bardakdjian Cup / Mug
Bezdjian Fabric / Cloth
Dudukian Reed / Flute
Ekmekdjian Bread
Hasirdjian Mat / Wickerwork
Keleshian Brave
Kiurkdjian Fur / Fur Coat
Saatdjian Clock / Watch
Shahinian Falcon / Buzzard
Geonian Tanned Hide
Halvayan Halva
Hakimian Master / Savant
Khanjian Khan
Kazanjian Cauldron / Vessel
Kasabian Butcher
Kalayjian Tin
Kademian Foot
Tabakian Tanner
Tarakjian Comb / Rake
Darakjian Comb / Rake
Tashian Stone
Tekeyan Billy Goat
Terzian Tailor / Dressmaker
Nalbantian Horseshoeer / Smith
Chorbadjian Soup
Kalipian Mold / Casting
Koundakjian Swaddling Clothes
Keulahian Conical Hat
Dishian Tooth
Altoonian Gold





Kirjilian: Turkish in derivation, identified as a descriptive term, kirjil, a variant of kurchul, is defined as sprinkled with gray.

Majarian: Turkish in derivation, identified as a nationality, Majar is defined as Hungarian (Magyar). Also, in slang usage, a louse.

Taneian: Turkish in derivation, identified as an occupation, Taneian is a truncation of Tanekermezian. Tane is defined as a grain, berry, seed; and kurmuz as red. Therefore, a cultivator of red grain.

Khaligian: Conjectured to be Turkish in origin, identified as a descriptive term, Khalig, a variant of halik, is defined as maker, creator.

Totoventz/Totovian: Armenian in derivation, identified as a descriptive term, totov is defined as stammering, lisping; stuttering, tongue-tied.

Seghpossian: Latin in derivation, identified as a descriptive term, Seghposs is the diminutive for Seghpesdros, the Armenian form of Sylvester, which denotes: bred in the country, rustic. Seghpossian was the family name of Armenian writer Levon Shant.

Norashkharian: Armenian in derivation, identified as a descriptive term, norashkhar is defined as new world.

Mkhjian: Turkish in derivation, identified as a trade, a mkhji is a dealer in carpenter’s nails.

Atanasian: Greek in derivation, identified as a descriptive term, athanasius is defined as immortal.

Haviters: 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.
(Compliments of grandson Mircan Haviters of Farmingdale, N.Y., whose ancestors moved from Van to Sepastia 1,030 years ago.)

Azizbekian: Arabic and Kurdish in derivation, identified as a descriptive term, aziz is defined as powerful, strong, glorious; bek, a variant spelling of beg, is defined as lord.

Cheblakian: Turkish in derivation, identified as a descriptive term, cheblak, a variant of cheplak, is defined as naked, bare, destitute.

Kaytanjian: Turkish in derivation, identified as a trade, kaytanji is a maker/seller of cotton or silk cords, braids.

Chanakjian: Turkish in derivation, identified as a trade, a chanakji is defined as a potter. The Armenian equivalent is Proudian.

Gakavian: Armenian in derivation, identified as a descriptive term, gakav is defined as partridge.

Atanasian: Greek in derivation, identified as a descriptive term, athanasius is defined as immortal.

Jazmadarian (T) var. of jizmedar: possessing a shoe with a sharp nose; also var. of chizmedar: top boot, Wellington; house or factory; also var. of yazmadar: possessing, holding an embroidered kerchief; scarf wearer.

Baghdasarian: Derived from Assyrian name Balthasar, biblically, protector of the king; name of one of the three magi.

Khaligian: Conjectured to be Turkish in origin, identified as a descriptive term, Khalig, a variant of halik, is defined as maker, creator.

Orakchi/Orakji: Turkish in derivation, identified as a trade, orakchi is defined as reaper.

Marashian/Marashlian: Armenian in origin, identified to a location, Marash is a city in Turkish Armenia, and the name is defined as a native of that city.

Azmelian: Of unknown derivation, but very likely identified as a place name. Azmay is the name of a village in the vicinity of Malatia, according to George Aghjayan. Therefore, the suffix li suggests a native of Azmay.

Setrakian/Setragian: Babylonian in origin, identified as a proper name after a Babylonian god, Shadrach is the name of a Biblical character described in the Book of Daniel. His original Hebrew name was Hananiah.

Lalayan: Turkish in derivation, identified as a descriptive term, lala is defined as a servant placed in charge of a boy; tutor, pedagogue.


Tallahassee, Florida, United States said...

Fascinating, enlightening information on Armenian culture and naming traditions!

M.Z said...

What does this mean Melikilchian?
It may also be -Jian

Unknown said...

Interesting I always liked their surnames!

Debbie said...

I had a friend whose surname was Ohanian. I first thought he was Irish as in O'Hanian.

Unknown said...

I descend from Artur DerTomasian. Crossed to NYC 1906. Settled in CT. Would like to find relatives of Katoon DerDerian DerTomasian or ANY knowledge of Denick community of Ezurum.

Unknown said...

Thanks for this page. Really helpful. From an Aroutiounian:)

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