Teaneck, N.J. – After years in the making, The Dictionary of Armenian Surnames, researched and compiled by Armenian Weekly newspaper columnist C.K. Garabed, will be 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. Illuminator’s Pashalian Hall (221 E. 27thStreet, NYC 10016) on Sunday, December 9, 2018 following Holy 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 pm and is sponsored by the Regional Executive of the Hamazkayin Armenian Educational & Cultural Society and St. Illuminator’s Armenian Apostolic Cathedral.
“C.K. Garabed,” pen name of Charles Garabed Kasbarian, is the columnist behind “Uncle Garabed’s Notebook,” which is in its 30th year 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. 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 then 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 to the Dictionary, a Pronunciation Key, and an “A” through “Z” listing. To make the Dictionary widely accessible, Garabed has decided to post the work on Armeniapedia so that it will be available to all at no charge. Since updating a Dictionary is a never-ending endeavor, using an online format will also allow him to continue adding names. “Even so, as a nonagenarian, I thought it better to begin publishing it now,” Garabed adds.
In due course, the Dictionary will be available here:
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.”
Whenever Garabed came across a particularly unusual name and he knew a person carrying that name, he would ask that person what s/he knew about its provenance. Those who were familiar with the origins of their name would oblige Garabed by telling him what they knew. Garabed had begun writing a column for the Armenian Weekly newspaper in 1989 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. If Garabed was able to oblige, he did so. And so his ultimate aim evolved from deciphering names for his own satisfaction to publishing the results for the interest and pleasure of his fellow Armenians. 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.
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. One can observe that an Armenian name can denote a number of things about the carrier of that name: aristocracy, patronymic, occupation; geographic origin; physical traits; other special circumstances; and those assigned in derision by Turkish officials.
Why would people perpetuate strange, unusual or uncomplimentary names when it would be easy to just change them? Garabed explains, “People often are attached to their names because it gives them a sense of continuity and tradition. 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 Subjects; The Tales of Nasreddin Khodja; The Tale of Shah Ismail; and The Dikranagerd Mystique Armenian Cookbook.
Says Garabed of The Dictionary of Armenian Surnames, “Like everything else, there are bound to be missing names, explanations and even errors, in which case readers are encouraged to bring them to the attention of the author.” Garabed can be reached at [email protected].