If the name ends in "ian", it must
Most people around the world associate the ending
"ian" in the last name with the person being
of Armenian Heritage.
The meaning of "ian" in the end of last
name of most Armenians means "son of" or
"belonging to" . Lately in Diaspora, some
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" c lass)
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., Bagradouni, 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." I guess some where along my ancestry
there must have been an Ironsmith and since "Demirdjian",
my last name.
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 Easter time), or adopted by a convert to
Protestantism to show his status as a "born-again
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
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.