C.K. Garabed to lecture on etymology of Armenian surnames in New Jersey

TEANECK, N.J.—After years in the making, The Dictionary of Armenian Surnames, researched and compiled by writer and editor C.K. Garabed, is available online. The occasion will be marked with a slide lecture called “What’s in a Name? The Etymology of Armenian Surnames” to be delivered by Garabed at St. Thomas Armenian Church’s Ariyan Hall (174 Essex Drive, Tenafly, NJ 07670) on Sunday, October 20, 2019 following Soorp Badarak.

At this event, Garabed will discuss the origins of Armenian surnames and the detective work involved in researching name derivations with examples of some highly unusual surnames. The program will start at 1:30 p.m. and is sponsored by the Cultural Committee of St. Thomas Armenian Church.

“C.K. Garabed,” pen name of Charles Garabed Kasbarian, is the columnist behind “Uncle Garabed’s Notebook,” which is in its 30th year of publication in The Armenian Weekly.

This dictionary project first came about when, in the late 1970s, Garabed started collecting names from church directories and donor lists as a hobby. In 1989, Garabed started his weekly column in the Armenian Weekly newspaper, but it wasn’t until 2004 that he began to include in each week’s column an Armenian surname, its definition and background. This resulted in many readers contacting him who wanted to know if he could tell them what their own family names meant, as they didn’t know. To date, more than 10,000 names have been compiled, but not all of them defined. While curiosity was his first motivation for exploring the subject of Armenian family names, Garabed says he came to appreciate the diverse nature of Armenian surnames, “which appear to cover the gamut of our ancestors’ life activities in the Old Country.”

Included in The Dictionary of Armenian Surnames is an Introduction, a Pronunciation Key, and an A through Z listing. To make the dictionary widely accessible, the work is posted to Garabed’s author page on Armeniapedia.org, available to all at no charge.

“With names like Bajaksouzian (which means legless; assigned to a short man), Soghanyemezian (which means one who does not eat onions), and Srmakeshkhanlian (which means owner/worker of a factory where gold/ silver thread is drawn), I sometimes think we Armenians—more than any other ethnic group—possess the most fascinating surnames,” Garabed says. 

To carry out his work, Garabed consults Hrachia Adjarian’s Root Dictionary and Etymological Dictionary of the Armenian Language; Tigran Avetisyan’s Dictionary of Armenian Surnames; Stepan Malkhasian’s Explanatory Dictionary; dictionaries in Arabic, Armenian, Assyrian, Azerbaijani, Georgian, Greek, Kurdish, Persian, Turkish; other volumes; and many knowledgeable people to whom he is grateful.

“I was struck by how many Armenians didn’t know the meaning of their names,” says Garabed. “While I am not a linguist nor philologist, it still gives me great pleasure to conduct research in my modest amateur capacity and then pass on the results. I feel gratified in helping people learn more about their names.”

In recent years, people of part-Armenian ancestry have begun to discover their ancestral roots via genealogy tests. As such, Garabed hopes that they, too, may find this Dictionary helpful in deciphering their Armenian surnames.

One will observe that an Armenian name can denote a number of things about the possessor of that name: aristocracy, patronymic, occupation; geographic origin; physical traits; other special circumstances; and those assigned in derision by Turkish officials.

“People often are attached to their names because it gives them a sense of continuity and tradition,” explains Garabed, “There’s also the desire to honor their martyrs by perpetuating the memory of their identity as Armenian Christians. We should be grateful to our fellow Armenians for retaining their names as eloquent historical testimony to the oppressions their ancestors suffered at the hands of the Turks. Had the Armenians not clung to their names, I might not be working on such a project today.”

Prior to publishing this Dictionary online, Garabed produced, in 2013, The Dikranagerdtsi Vernacular Handbook, freely available here. Other books by Garabed in the process of being published include An Unusual Look at Biblical SubjectsThe Dikranagerd Mystique Armenian Cookbook; The Tales of Nasreddin Khoja; and The Tale of Shah Ismail. Garabed can be reached at ckgarabed@aol.com.

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1 Comment

  1. I still remember from back in elementary school how some of those Anglo-American and Jewish-American classmates of mine used to make fun of my Armenian surname; but then, I would immediately attack them back by saying, “Hey, at least my surname along with all the other Armenian surnames represent the beauty and nobleness of the Armenian culture, unlike all of your surnames which are gross and meaningless.” I would also remind them that both of their cultures are guilty of committing genocides, as well as guilty of stealing other people’s homelands. Yeah, they really hated my guts.

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