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!
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.
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:
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:
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”.
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.
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”.
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.
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.
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!