As one of the earliest civilizations in the world, anything Greek is steeped in elaborate history. Names are no exception to this rule, which makes them especially important if you’re looking to retrace your Greek ancestry. Your surname can even be the first step to researching your family tree and finding out where your ancestors came from!
Whether you’re looking to take a Greek-inspired name for your baby or are hoping to reconnect with your Greek roots, we’ve got you covered. Learn all you need to know about Greek last names and their meanings in this guide!
When Did Greeks Start Using Surnames?
Hereditary surnames started being used in Greece around the 9th century, but they were very rare. Many upper-class families started using them more often in the 11th and 12th centuries. It wasn’t known when exactly family names became widely used in Ancient Greek society, but the 19th century saw the widespread use of patronymic surnames.
In ancient times, Greek women used the feminine version of her father’s surname and replaced it with the feminine version of her husband’s surname when she married – signifying that she is now dependent on her husband. As a rule of thumb, most masculine versions of Greek family names end with -s, while the feminine version and diminutives end with -u.
In modern times, a Greek woman keeps her father’s family name permanently but can choose to use her husband’s family name socially. Most legal documents in modern Greece list a person with three names: their given name, patronymic, and family name.
Anatomy Of A Greek Surname
You may have noticed that many last names from ancient Greece are long and can be tongue-twisters at times. There is a reason for that: a Greek last name typically consists of two parts Each part means something different, not unlike a sentence.
By putting these two parts together, it’s easy to get a picture of where a Greek person’s ancestors might have hailed from. The two parts of a Greek last name are:
Most Greek last names begin with a prefix that usually denotes a person’s origins, nicknames, or other noteworthy characteristics. Some common Greek last name prefixes include:
- Archi-: This prefix means “boss” or “superior”.
- Makro-: This means “long” or “tall”.
- Papa-: A surname beginning with papa- usually signifies the descendant of a papas or priest.
- Mastro-: This means “artisan” or “craftsman”.
Greek name suffixes are an easy way to tell where one’s ancestors hailed from because many of them are region-specific. Here are some of the most common suffixes in Greek last names:
- -akis: A diminutive suffix mainly found in names from Crete and the Aegean Islands.
- -idis: A suffix meaning “son of” or “descendant of”. Originated from Pontus and Thrace, now known as certain regions in modern Bulgaria, Greece, and Turkey.
- -opoulos: Another suffix that means “son of”, typically found in the Peloponnese region and derived from the Latin word for “descendant”. However, this suffix of Latin origin is also one of the most widely used suffixes in Greek last names.
- -oglou: A suffix meaning “son of” in the Turkish language. This suffix is usually found among Greeks of Turkish origin.
- -allis, ellis: A suffix commonly found among people from the Dodecanese, a region in the eastern side of Greece.
Common Origins Of Ancient Greek Names
Like many other countries, Greek last names come from many origins. However, since most Greek names have two elements, a surname can have multiple origins at the same time. The five main origins (along with examples) are:
Patronymic names come from the family patriarch’s name. Most Greek patronymics end with suffixes like -opoulos, -oglou, or -idis.
A good example of a patronymic name is Alexopoulos, which means “descendant of Alexios”. This name consists of the personal name Alexios and the -opoulos suffix which signifies family lineage.
An ancestor’s trade or profession is also commonly adopted as a surname by their descendants. An example of an occupational Greek surname is Samaras, which means “saddle maker”.
Physical And Personal Characteristics
A person’s most distinguishing feature can end up being immortalized in a surname. For instance, the name Galanis originated from galanos, which means “pale blue”. The ancestor of someone named Galanis might have had pale blue eyes.
Figures From Religion And Greek Mythology
Ancient Greece is synonymous with its vast pantheon of gods and goddesses, so it’s no surprise that some last names come from figures in Greek myth. For example, the last name Iraklidis means “the son of Herakles”. Funnily enough, this last name has two layers to it since the name Herakles also means “glory of the Goddess Hera”.
Some Greek last names also have indirect connections to Roman myth. The last name Markopoulos means “son of Mark”. Mark itself means “consecrated to the god Mars”, referring to the Roman god of war.
As Christianity made its way into Greece, many last names were influenced by the religion. For example, the Greek last name Christodoulopoulos means “the son of Christ’s servant”. Biblical names also made their way into the lexicon with names like Eliades, which means “Son of Elias”.
Place Of Origin
Some Greek surnames directly state a person’s place of origin. For instance, the ancestor of a person named Iordanou likely hailed from the Jordan River. Names can also state a person’s heritage, like the name Rousopoulos that means “Russian heir”, signifying their Russian descent.
Other surnames only imply where a person’s ancestors may have come from. Take the common Greek last name Kalogeropoulos, for example. The Greek word kalogeros means “monk”, while the suffix -opoulos is found in the Peloponnese. So the ancestor of someone with the last name Kalogeropoulos might have been a monk from the Peloponnese.
Common Greek Last Names
Many Greek last names are very descriptive, so it’s easier to make educated guesses on where your ancestors came from. Here are some common Greek last names and what they mean.
- Papadopoulos: This very common Greek surname means “priest’s son”.
- Oikonomou: An occupational name derived from the word oikonomos, meaning “housekeeper”.
- Papamichael: This popular Greek surname means “son of a priest named Michael”. Papamichael is one of the common Greek last names that feature a Biblical name.
- Vasileiou: This surname originates from Cyprus as a diminutive to the name Vasilios. Vasilios itself came from the Greek word basileios that means “royal”.
- Karagiannis: Meaning “Black John”, this popular Greek name likely refers to a person named John who had dark skin or dark hair.
- Papachristodoulopoulos: This extremely long surname is an ancient name that means “someone who serves Lord Christ and descendant of a priest”.
- Balaskas: This name in Greek means “drawer of lots” and originated from Slavic Jews in Greece.
- Loukanis: This occupational surname is derived from the Greek word loukanika which means “sausage”. The ancestor of a Loukanis was likely a sausage maker.
- Konstantinopolites: People with this ancient surname likely had ancestors that hailed from Constantinople.
- Christoforou: This Greek last name means “one who is bearing Christ”.
- Moralis: This surname is the Greek form of the Spanish name Morales. This name was likely derived from the Spanish word moreras meaning “mulberry trees”.
- Sideris: A Greek surname derived from sidero, a Greek word meaning “iron”. This is a reference to the wishful phrase “may the child grow up to be strong like iron”.
- Katseros: This name in Greek means “curly”, likely given to someone with curly hair.
- Agathangelou: This Greek surname means “son of Agathangelos”, referring to a historical figure of the same name.
- Thanos: This name is the short form of Athanasios, which means “immortal”.
- Calimera: This surname of Greek origin came from the word kalimera, which means “good morning”.
If you’re looking to know more about your Greek roots, your surname is a good place to start. Simply by translating your surname, you can make an educated guess about where your family came from.
For the next step to retrace your family’s origins, you can try looking through old family photos. However, time may not have been kind to them and they may be damaged. This is where Image Restoration Center comes in – contact us today to book high-quality photo restorations at an affordable price!