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A Yen for Yan

The vast majority of Armenian surnames end in ‘-ian’ or ‘-yan’. The former is usually western Armenian, the latter eastern, though it’s not a set rule. The suffix means ‘from’ or ‘of’, either from a town (Marashlian from Marash; Vanetsian from Van), from a parent (Davidian, son of David), from an occupation (Najarian, son of a carpenter; Boyajian, from the Turkish word ‘boyaj’ for someone who dyes fabrics), or from status or personal traits (Melikyan, son of a king; Sinanian, from a Turkish term for a well-endowed gent).

Names with the prefix ‘Ter’ mean a married priest (Ter Hayr) was an ancestor, eg ex-president Levon Ter-Petrossian. Western Armenian names may spell it ‘Der’, as in Der-Bedrossian. There are also families with the suffix ‘-runi’, such as Siruni and Artsruni. These families were once aristocrats. In this chapter we’ve commonly translated the last three letters of a surname as ‘yan’, except if that person was western Armenian or if that is the way their name most commonly appears, eg Robert Kocharian and Martiros Sarian.

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