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The Origin of Armenian Surnames

“Azgagun” (surname) is translated from the Armenian language as “family name”.

Originally people were referred to by a single given name. Family names didn’t exist because people lived in small settlements and knew each other personally. If there were several Arams or Barseghs in a village, people simply added an identifying feature or a nickname to their names, for example Bald-headed Aikaz or Bagram the Baker.

The need to create Armenian surnames to distinguish individuals arose after the foundation of large settlements and towns. People started to move from one place to another, and it became difficult to use just names and nicknames. It was necessary to add the person’s place of birth (for example, Amayak Tatevatsi, Ananiya Shirakatsi) or main occupation (for example, David Nakhash, Aram Magistros) to the name. That’s why some Armenian surnames were derived from geographical names and various professions.

If a family representative was famous for his skills and talents, for example, became a famous jeweler or baker, then his linear descendants received the corresponding surname – Voskerchyan (jeweler), Khatsukhyan (baker), and others.

Some Armenian surnames were created from nicknames describing a person’s qualities or appearance (Karchikyan – dwarf, Shatvoryan – having many children).

Nevertheless, the majority of Armenian surnames were formed from the name of a reputable ancestor. To the first name people added a prefix or a suffix that indicated the connection to a certain family. In the Ancient Armenian language the suffix was “zants”. Later it transformed into “ents”, and in modern Armenian – into “yan”/“ian” (from “iants”). For example, if a person was from the Ashots’ family, he/she was called Ashotzants or Ashotents.

The Armenian nobility and wealthy landowners, as opposed to the commoners, had used surnames from ancient times. They were formed the same way: such surnames signified the connection to a certain noble family, but the suffix was “uni”. That way, in ancient times and in the Middle Ages the representatives of Armenian noble families had such surnames as Khorkhoruni, Amatuni, Gnuni, Rshtuni. Later on, when talking about the nobility, they started to add the words “azg” (“family”), for example “Rshtuni family”, or “tun” (“home”) – “Artsruni home” to their surnames.

Now, several centuries later, linguists are still studying the origin and transformation of Armenian surnames. Sometimes they find out very interesting and valuable historical data.




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